“Victims Who Choose Silence When They Could Prosecute Have A Moral Obligation To Remain Silent When They Can No Longer Prosecute,” Leading Orthodox Rabbi Says

By Shmarya Rosenberg (Failed Messiah Blog)
December 19, 2012

In response to the new Yeshiva University high school scandal, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky argues that if you're sexually abused as a child and didn't go to police soon enough to prosecute, you're now obligated to be silent about your abuse forever.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky writes:

…But here’s my main problem with the lurid allegations that surfaced last week. Of course, we have sympathy for the alleged victims, and we must have sympathy for the alleged victims, both genuinely and because it is politically correct to have sympathy for alleged victims. But the limits of my sympathy are tested when victims do not come forward and prosecute in real time – when the events occur – and instead wait for 20, 30 or even 40 years to come forward and do nothing more than besmirch the reputations of their alleged abusers.

The flip side of coming forward and lodging a complaint with the police is that the accused then have the ability to defend themselves, to have their proverbial day in court. The victims inform the police, testify before the Grand Jury (if appropriate), and testify at trial. They are cross-examined. The victim’s credibility can be impeached. The defendants can testify as well and mount a defense. A jury of their peers decides their fate. At the end of the process, the accused are either convicted and punished, or exonerated and pray that they can recover their reputations. Either way, the system is set up to protect both the victims and the accused.

Today, we are operating in an absolutely reprehensible system in which victims choose not to prosecute, and then long after the Statute of Limitations has run and prosecution is impossible, they prosecute through the media – and anonymously to boot. In the judicial system, the accused have a presumption of innocence. In the media, the accused have a presumption of guilt. They cannot defend themselves. They are tarred and feathered, hung out to dry, losing friends, family and supporters. They lose their jobs, and no one wants to be seen with them publicly. A lifetime of good deeds with a sterling reputation is erased in an instant, never to be regained and never to be recovered.

That is mob justice, and it is grossly unfair, not to mention an odious violation of Torah law. It is rank lashon hara, which Jewish law obligates us to disbelieve. It serves no one well, and serves no legitimate purpose.

Well, there could be a purpose, a to’elet (a benefit, in the language of Jewish law) that would permit such exposure: if future harm to others will thereby be prevented. I.e., if the accused – say, a teacher – is still in a position to harm children, then there is an interest and a justification in going public, exposing him and his misdeeds, and protecting children. (Was that a realisitic factor in this case? I don’t know, but from the information to date, it certainly doesn’t seem so.) One might then fairly ask: if that is the motivation of the victims, then why didn’t they seek to protect their peers 20, 30 and 40 years ago? Why didn’t they prosecute when they should have?

Pure vengeance is not a legitimate purpose, nor is catharsis a legitimate purpose. One who wants vengeance should confront the accused directly, and one who seeks catharsis should speak to a therapist, not the media. But civilized people do not address grievances by anonymously running to media decades after the event. It is outrageous and shameful conduct, notwithstanding the sympathy one feels for them, whatever happened.

Again, there are often cogent and plausible reasons why victims do not come forward, usually to avoid stigma, publicity, or other personal issues. To me, it is the most vexing aspect of these squalid stories. I reported some incidents to the local police last year – and the local prosecution – both of which investigated but were stymied because the victims refused to cooperate. Will those same victims come forward anonymously in 2040 and castigate their abuser? I would hope not, despite my revulsion toward the accused. NOW is the time.

Victims who choose silence when they could prosecute have a moral obligation to remain silent when they can no longer prosecute. The media grant the charges an aura of credibility that would necessarily be challenged in a courtroom. It is simply uncouth, these days, to even question the reliability of these anonymous complainants to the media. Their allegations are invested with an authority that they may or may not deserve. We have thus created a system that is inherently unjust, pat ourselves on the back for our imagined superiority, and then smirk at the accused – never imagining that some vengeful or disgruntled contemporary of ours might someday do the same thing to us. (Indeed, allegations of sexual abuse of children by one spouse are staples in custody/visitation litigation.)…

First of all, Pruzansky's stated position is to report child sexual abuse to police. He says rabbis can't investigate or punish such crimes, and the police and the courts must be allowed to do it. Not only that, he considers it to be pekuakh nefesh, meaning you must break Shabbat laws when necessary to make that report.

What bothers Pruzansky here is the tendency of many victims to wait years – even decades – before reporting the crimes against them, and their reliance on the media to publicize what happened because police and the courts no longer can play a role due the statue of limitations.

Pruzansky thinks media rely on "anonymous" allegations. But that is rarely, if ever, true.

I won't do a post on an alleged sex offender unless I have documentation. That might be court documents or an on-the-record victim combined with some other documentation corroboration. Newspapers and television stations have similar standards.

People close to the case of Rabbi Yehuda Kolko will tell you that I turned down the Kolko story and deleted comments about him before the New York Magazine piece ran in 2006, because no victims were willing to identify themselves. (They'll also tell you I urged them to find a NYC media outlet with the money and time to do an investigative piece and try to get that outlet to do the story, which they did.)

Victims of child sexual abuse suffer a type of trauma that makes coming forward very difficult. This is documented in criminal justice and medical literature.

Yet Pruzansky frames their decision to stay silent or delay reporting as some type of selfish vindictiveness, rather than what it really is – damage from a specific type of trauma.

A specific problem in New York State is that the Statute of Limitations is far too short, and Agudath israel of America, Satmar and the Catholic Church – the unholy troika of child sex abuse enablers – have long fought any attempt to lengthen it.

So to blame victims for not coming forward soon enough is at best disingenuous.

But this misses the logical failure of Pruzansky's main point.

If reporting child sexual abuse is pekuakh nefesh as Pruzansky claims, then child sexual abuse must be treated as similar crimes – murder, for example – would be treated.

There is no Statute of Limitations for murder, and there is a move to try to make that the case for child sexual abuse, as well.

Past that, there is no Statute of Limitations in halakha at all, as Pruzansky surely must know, further weakening his argument.

His claim that because neither Finkelstein or Gordon are currently teachers, the need to tell the public that they allegedly sexually abused children has been removed because their access to children ended with their teaching jobs is, quite frankly, insane. Their access to children may have changed, but it has not ended.

Pruzanky's claim that, "[v]ictims who choose silence when they could prosecute have a moral obligation to remain silent when they can no longer prosecute," is moral, legal and halakhic BS. It has no merit at all. It is typical Steven Pruzansky.