In an op-ed piece by Rabbi William Handler published by the Jewish Press, May 26, 2013, he warns that secular authorities, in particular New York child protection services and law enforcement, engage in overzealous investigations of reports of child maltreatment within the Orthodox communities, and persecute those accused of sexual crimes against children. With the same breath, he offers his “sincere” concern that no one should minimize the harm done by the sexual abuse of a child. His solution: let the gedolei Yisroel (true experts in matters of the laws of marriage and divorce) handle it. This position is naive at best, and dangerous if taken seriously.
The sexual abuse of children in our society is a national epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1-in-4 girls and 1-in-6 boys will be sexually abused by the time they are 18 years old. This is not a problem unique to the Orthodox Jewish Community and crosses all social, religious, and economic strata of our society. For at least the past decade, since the exposure of the depth and breadth of the problem with Catholic Priest abuse, this issue has been at the forefront of our collective consciousness. We have learned, in great detail, how predators engage and groom their prey; about the incurable nature of the psychological disorders of pedophilia (abuse of pre-pubescent children) and ephebophilia (abuse of post-pubescent children); about the latent and delayed psychological injuries that manifest later in adult life; and about the cost to our society in general. These issues have been the subject of studies by leading authorities in the field of child maltreatment who engage in scientific methodologies and peer-reviewed presentations.
To suggest that the work of these experts should be rejected in favor of someone who has studied the biblical laws of marriage and divorce belies any sense of reason. To conjure up the fear of persecution and advocate a “them against us,” Shtetl mentality as a way of protecting sexual predators is criminal. This kind of advocacy within the Jewish Community by community leaders such as Rabbi Handler does a disservice to the community, makes the Orthodox community suspect in the eyes of law enforcement, and provokes distrust within the larger national community. This kind of approach becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you have more concerned about avoiding scandal and protecting sexual predators than you do for the welfare of children, you can be sure that the world will come to disrespect you. Ask the Catholic Church how it feels about that.