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Hynes Warns That Rabbis Could Face Prosecution For First Vetting Abuse Allegations
Special To The Jewish Week
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After months of equivocal statements about Agudath Israel’s longstanding position that — with very limited exception — child sexual abuse allegations must first be investigated by rabbis, the Brooklyn district attorney has issued a clear warning to the haredi umbrella organization that its policy puts rabbis at risk of running afoul of the law.

According to a spokesman for Charles Hynes, “DA Hynes told Dovid Zwiebel [Agudah’s executive vice president] that it was a mistake to advise someone with information about child abuse to first speak with a rabbi.” In doing so, the spokesman, Jerry Schmetterer, continued, “Zwiebel … risks having the rabbi prosecuted for obstructing a law enforcement investigation.”

When asked by The Jewish Week to clarify what someone should do if he or she had information about allegations — rather than “information” — about abuse, Schmetterer said the individual should “report [the allegations] to authorities for investigation.” 

James A. Cohen, associate professor of law and the director of the Trial Advocacy Program & External Affairs at Fordham University School of Law, concurs with the district attorney’s position. “Encouraging delay in reporting a crime, particularly a crime against a child, is obstructing justice,” Cohen told The Jewish Week.

Some believe that the Agudah’s position in and of itself may constitute a crime, as Rabbi Zwiebel has made it clear that unless a person is a victim or a direct witness of sexual abuse, reporting allegations to the authorities without first seeking rabbinic counsel constitutes mesirah —  a sin that was once punishable by death and today often results in threats, acts of intimidation and social ostracism.

According to Orthodox attorney and author Michael Lesher, “Under federal law, it is a crime to use the threat of force to interfere with someone’s right to the benefits of state law, including the criminal justice system, if you make that threat because of the victim’s religion. By invoking the language of mesirah — a religious offense that authorizes the use of deadly force against any Jew who ‘informs’ to the authorities — Agudah’s stated policy amounts to a deliberate call for the use of force to stop a Jew, because he or she is a Jew, from going to police against a rabbi’s instructions.”

As such, Lesher told The Jewish Week, this “could make Agudah complicit in a civil rights crime any time an Orthodox Jew gets a threat for talking to the police when a rabbi told him not to.” It’s an “appalling step for any Jewish organization to take,” he added.

In an interview published yesterday in the Forward, Rabbi Zwiebel continued to affirm the organization’s position that most abuse allegations must first be vetted by rabbis, even when those allegations come before a mandated reporter.

(Indeed, just yesterday WCBS News reported that Hynes plans to back legislation making clergy mandated reporters. However, because Agudah’s position requires even mandated reporters to consult with a rabbi before making a report, such a law would seem to have little effect on rabbis’ behavior as they too, would presumably have to consult with other rabbis before reporting.)

According to the Forward, Rabbi Zwiebel defended Agudah’s stance by noting that “having rabbis assess claims of abuse” was no different than the standard set for all mandated reporters, which “he characterized as a requirement for teachers and therapists to establish ‘reasonable suspicion’ before reporting a case to law enforcement under New York’s mandatory reporting laws.”

In an e-mail to The Jewish Week, Rabbi Zwiebel reiterated that the “threshold standard for reporting according to [rabbinic responsa] is similar, if not identical, to the requirement of NY law that a mandated reporter have ‘reasonable cause to suspect’ before reporting.”

However, Rabbi Zwiebel appears to have mischaracterized the mandated reporting law in a way that would make it erroneously appear to conform to the Agudah’s position on the issue.

New York State law does not in fact require the establishment of reasonable suspicion of abuse to trigger a report. Instead, the law says only that a report is mandated when there is reasonable cause to suspect abuse, something that is left up to the mandated reporter — who has typically received training in this area — to determine.

Indeed, according to the Administration for Children’s Services’ Web site, reasonable cause to suspect child abuse or maltreatment “is based on [the mandated reporter’s] observations, professional training and experience.” 

Dr. Michael Salamon, a psychologist with expertise in treating victims of sexual abuse, told The Jewish Week that “mandated reporters are not required to determine whether or not an actual act of abuse has occurred, just that there is a suspicion.”

“Professionals are trained to look for cues but even in the absence of specific indicators the law is clear — any suspicion triggers the mandate to report,” he added.

Last Update:

06/03/2012 - 07:48
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When they were handing out "You're Jewish" certificates, I wasn't there. So my comment might not be welcome, but, or, if I may say for dramatic effect, BUT, I seem to sense some similarities with Korean communities transplanted to the USA, and Haredi communities, (beyond the fact that I'm an outsider in both worlds, I mean). However, if I say the wrong thing here, it could blow up in my face. So I'll just leave it at that.

Lana, a person can suspect abuse without there being any "reasonable cause to do so"; the law only requires reporting when there is "reasonable cause to suspect abuse".

If someone wants to speak to their Rabbi to help them determine if their suspicion is reasonable, it does not seem illegal for the either the potential reporter or Rabbi to do so; in fact, to deny the right to do so would seem to me to violate the bill of right and infringe on the person's right to practice his/her religion according to its laws.

I would even say that the wording of the law was intended to provide for this situation; they could always amend the law to require anyone with suspision to report without the suspision having to be reasonable.

Child predators depend on silence, so they can continue to sexually abuse kids and not get caught. And those who cover up their crimes need to be held accountable.

The victims of child sex abuse are given a life sentence of pain and suffering, they NEVER deserve to be re-abused in this manner.

Something to keep in mind- It is a crime to sexually abuse a child, and it is a crime to cover up these crimes against innocent kids.

Child predators are very cunning and manipulative. They know every trick on how to groom, threaten, lie, and put the fear of god into their victims and sometimes even their family members.

They also appear to do a lot of goods things, they can be very charismatic and you may think they would never harm a child. They have to be this way, in order to not get caught and to continue to abuse

Sexual predators are often powerful and well-loved. It would be comforting if those who preyed on the vulnerable were obvious social misfits whose appearance would somehow set off alarm bells and give us ‘the willies’ or ‘the creeps.’ They rarely do. Usually, predators are among the last people we would suspect of sexually violating others. At a party, the predator isn’t some oddball sitting alone in a corner because others feel uncomfortable with him. Most often, the predator is the guy throwing the party.

We must overcome the dangerous myth that because someone is successful or warm or caring, he or she “couldn’t have done that!
Also, we must stop thinking that because a man is old, that somehow he’s automatically “safe.” It’s just irresponsible to endanger kids by assuming an adult is “harmless” simply because he or she may be losing hair, wearing glasses, using hearing aids or walking with a cane. These can be signs of advancing age, but they are not signs that an individual is safe around kids.

It is extremely rare that a child predator has only one victim.
Keep in mind your silence only hurts, and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.

Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world's oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 12,000 members. Despite the word "priest" in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers and increasingly, victims who were assaulted in a wide range of institutional settings like summer camps, athletic programs, Boy Scouts, etc. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

You are missing the subtlety here, Trent S. Both Zwiebel's quotes to the Forward and the Jewish Week say essentially the same thing, and in both he misrepresents the legal standard for reporting. According to the law there is no REQUIREMENT to first establish the suspicion of abuse. Rather the law says that when a mandated reporter has suspicions of abuse he or she must report those suspicions. After all, how could someone report suspicions of abuse if he or she did not have them in the first place? That makes no sense. Zwiebel's quotes make it seem as if secular law disallows or even punishes a person for reporting without first establishing some objective threshold, when in fact the law says only that if the mandated reporter suspects abuse--based on his or her own training, experience, observations, etc.--this mandates a report. In short, the determination of suspicion rests with mandated reporter, and unless he or she files a knowingly false report, there is no negative consequence for the reporter if the suspicions turn out to be unfounded.

Thanks to Ms. Winston and Survivors for Justice and other champions of the abused who have tirelessly fought against the repugnant stonewalling by Agudah and other Charedi leaders, their reign of terror will hopefully come to an end. What is appalling is that even now they will try anything to save face - notwithstanding virulent public opposition and the D.A.'s reassertion of the law. After so many years of aiding and abetting these monsters (in the name of what?), one would think the time has come for them to bow their heads in shame, begin to atone for all the damage they've caused and commit instead to protecting our children.

Outraged and Disillusioned

interesting that Winston purposely misleads the reader into believing Winston's assertion that "Rabbi Zwiebel appears to have mischaracterized the mandated reporting law in a way that would make it erroneously appear to conform to the Agudah’s position on the issue." How?
First Winston quotes the Forward paraphrasing Zweibel and subsequently gives us A DIRECT quote from Zweibel. The Forward's RENDITION of the conversation with Zweibel says: " According to the Forward, Rabbi Zwiebel defended Agudah’s stance by noting that “having rabbis assess claims of abuse” was no different than the standard set for all mandated reporters, which “he characterized as a requirement for teachers and therapists to establish ‘reasonable suspicion’ before reporting a case to law enforcement under New York’s mandatory reporting laws.”
Why does she quote this FORWARD paraphrase and indict Zweibel with it when she subsequently concedes that she has Zweibels actual words from an email- words which conform to the very wording she claims the law makes, as follows: " that a mandated reporter have ‘reasonable cause to suspect’ before reporting.” Why doesnt Winston explicitly point out that there is no evidence that the Forward's wording " reasonable suspicion" isn't EXACTLY what Zweibel also meant in the email to the Jewish Week when he uses the legal language ‘reasonable cause to suspect’ which Winston concedes is correct according to the law? WHY Doesnt Winston explicate this! Why is Winston lying by asserting that Zweibel maintains a position different from his quote in the email to the Jewish Week? Why doesnt the Jewish Week have a fact checker who would have caught Winston creating a paper tiger.

Surely there are some situations when it will not be clear to the mandated reporter whether his suspicions are or are not reasonable. The law books are full of case where whether something is “reasonable” is litigated with judges and jurors coming to opposite conclusions. I cannot believe that in a situation where a mandated reporter (who contrary to the article has not necessarily or even usually receive any training that would enable him or her to be better at detecting abuse than anyone else) observes something that he or she is not sure constitutes reasonable grounds for suspicion of abuse that person should shoot from the hip by making unreasonable accusations rather than seek guidance from someone who can evaluate what the mandated reporter observed objectively . Accusations are easily made but the repercussions of a false accusation are impossible to retract. I for one would never, except in the clearest cases, make an accusation that could have such severe consequences without running the situation by a third person (although it would more likely be my wife rather than a Rabbi) to make sure that I was not totally misreading the situation. I don’t think that any fair person would do otherwise.


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