Threatened and Harassed

By Francise Wolfisz (TotallyJewish.com)
January 31, 2013

Members of Britain's strictly Orthodox community are living in fear of reprisals if they report allegations of child sexual abuse to the police, claimed a damning investigation which aired last night.

Britain's Hidden Child Abuse, from Channel 4's Dispatches, featured an interview with a Charedi rabbi who said a young family had been targeted and driven out of their community after telling the authorities their child had been sexually abused in a synagogue.

The rabbi, who wished to remain anonymous, took the extraordinary step of breaking rank and speaking out against Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, who leads the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC), based in Stamford Hill.

Speaking to an interviewer, the rabbi said there were "tremendous ramifications" for the victim's family if they go to the police with such claims, "because in certain segments of the Orthodox community being labelled as an informer is one of the most terrible things that can happen."

He alleged that after the police were contacted, Rabbi Padwa told the child's father: "How dare you go and be an informer? It's forbidden for you to pursue the case."

Then hours later, the rabbi claims the family were approached by a man, who threatened to call social services and have their children taken away. He also alleged they were harassed with cars driving up close to them and that they were "cursed and spat at in the street".

The programme also showed Rabbi Padwa being secretly filmed and telling a man, who alleged he had been sexually abused as a child, that it was "mesira" or forbidden to report a suspected Jewish sex offender to a non-Jewish authority.

In another part of the documentary, a group of young Charedi men claim to have become so disillusioned with their rabbis that they have turned to vigilantism and physically attack the alleged perpetrators.

Over the course of a year, Dispatches claims it uncovered 19 allegations of child sex abuse across England that have not been reported to authorities out of fear of reprisals.

Ben Hirsch from Survivors for Justice, a New York-based organisation which supports victims of sexual abuse and their families, said the situation outlined in the broadcast was "a familiar one to many victims within strictly Orthodox communities worldwide."

He added: "We have spoken with numerous victims in the US and abroad who have been threatened, harassed and ostracized after they reported their abusers to the police. Rabbis in these communities regularly protect child molesters at the expense of child safety."

Rabbi Alex Chapper of Ilford Federation Synagogue, who is also the Children's Rabbi, said that while such allegations are "a shock" to the community, "the suggestion it has not been dealt with appropriately is a source of shame and dishonesty."

He added: "Any cover up of any abuse only benefits the abuser and not the victim. Our priority is to stop this happening. We have a duty of care to protect the young and vulnerable."

The UOHC however refuted any claims that its leaders do not take allegations of child abuse seriously and called this "a slur on our community."

A spokesman added: "We have a duty and a responsibility to protect our children. They are our future and we do all we can to protect them from these unspeakable crimes.

"We may once have thought that our community was immune from such matters, but we now know that we are not.

"For a number of years now we have worked closely with the local authorities and where appropriate the police, and we have robust procedures in place within all our schools."

He added the UOHC has a special committee to deal with such cases and that ahead of the programme's broadcast, Rabbi Padwa had written to rabbis and head teachers "reminding them of their responsibilities and pledging once again to do all we can to protect our children by creating a safe environment within our community".

But Survivors For Justice claims the UOHC was still not doing enough to report allegations to the police or to provide support to alleged victims.

Mr Hirsch said: "The Orthodox Hebrew Congregations' "special committee" has no business acting as a gatekeeper between crime victims and the police. They, not rabbis or a "special committee," have the training to filter out false allegations."

He added: "In the US there is a growing grassroots movement providing support for victims of abuse and this has helped many to come forward. Our impression based on discussions with victims from the UK is that they are much more isolated and have little support. This has to change."