Childhood Victims of Sexual Abuse Shunned by Hasidic Community

By Sammy Hudes (Shalom Life)
May 11, 2012

A Hasidic man living in the Williamsburg neighbourhood of Brooklyn told the New York Times he and his family were shunned after he accused a prominent member of the community of sexually abusing his mentally disabled son, leading to the alleged abuser's arrest.

After learning that his mentally disabled teenage son had been molested in a Jewish ritual bathhouse in Brooklyn over two years ago, Mordechai Jungreis decided to notify the police, however this was quickly met with backlash from the local community.

Jungreis says his answering machine was filled with anonymous messages cursing him for reporting a fellow Jew and his family's landlord kicked them out of their apartment. Even old friends of the family would storm past them while walking through the streets.

Approximately 250,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews live in the New York City area. The culture among the Hasidic communities encourages the preservation of centuries-old customs by resisting any influences of the secular world.

Many rabbis strictly adhere to an ancient prohibition against turning in a fellow Jew to non-Jewish authorities, as they consider public allegations against fellow Jews to be a desecration of God's name.

In addition, abuse accusations are often encouraged to stay quiet as they are seen to harm the reputation of the community and the family of the accused, according to Dr. Samuel Heilman, a professor of Jewish studies at Queens College.

"They are more afraid of the outside world than the deviants within their own community," Heilman said. "The deviants threaten individuals here or there, but the outside world threatens everyone and the entire structure of their world."

Last year, Rabbi, Shmuel Kamenetsky, vice president of Agudath Israel of America, a powerful ultra-Orthodox organization, said that "only after speaking to a rav" should a victim of sexual abuse report the crime to secular authorities.

"You can destroy a person's life with a false report," said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel, the current executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America.

Scholars believe that abuse rates in ultra-Orthodox communities are approximately the same as those in the general population.

According to 1in6, an organization that aims to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood, researchers have found that 1 in 6 boys experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. For girls, this statistic is 1 in 3, according to The Advocacy Centre.

Jungreis, 38, told the New York Times that those who come forward to report child sexual abuse against members of their own communities are often intimidated by their neighbours and rabbinical authorities and are pressured to drop the case.

One of Jungreis' neighbours, a mother of a child in a wheelchair, told Jungreis' mother-in-law that the same man who was arrested had abused her son as well, but she chose not to turn him in because that would have been wrong.

"Try living for one day with all the pain I am living with," said Jungreis. "Did anybody in the Hasidic community in these two years, in Borough Park, in Flatbush, ever come up and look my son in the eye and tell him a good word? Did anybody take the courage to show him mercy in the street?"

Pearl Engelman, a 64-year-old great-grandmother who lives just a few blocks away from Jungreis, described similar circumstances in her community.

She says that in 2008, her son, Joel told rabbinical authorities, rather than the police, that he had been repeatedly groped as a child by a school official at the United Talmudical Academy in Williamsburg.

The school denied the accusation and merely removed the teacher temporarily. Once Joel turned 23 and was too old to file charges under the state's statute of limitations, the man was allowed to return to his job at the school.

"There is no nice way of saying it. Our community protects molesters," Mrs. Engelman told the New York Times. "Other than that, we are wonderful."