By Paul Berger (Jewish Daily Forward)
June 27, 2013
It’s billed as “a friendly message to camp summer staff.” But the six-minute video, targeting Orthodox summer camps, is far from amicable.
“This is your first and final warning,” Meyer Seewald threatens camp counselors. “If you touch a child even once you have destroyed him for the rest of his life.”
“We will make sure that the tables are turned and your life will be destroyed,” adds Seewald, founder of the anti-abuse group Jewish Community Watch, a Chabad-oriented organization.
The video, which was viewed more than 16,000 times the first three days after it was uploaded to YouTube, is intended to combat sexual abuse during summer camp season, a particularly vulnerable time for children.
Potential molesters are warned by rabbis and anti-abuse advocates that their actions cause “untold levels of misery and pain and suffering” and that if they act on their “intense instinct and craving” they will be caught.
“Prison is no place for a frum child molester,” warns Benny Forer, a deputy District Attorney in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office and an Orthodox Jew.
But missing from the video is a crucial and, in the Orthodox community, controversial point — that those who suspect abuse must report it to police.
Instead, Forer, the only law enforcement official in the video, tells counselors to report suspicious activity to a camp director or to Jewish Community Watch who will ensure “it will be investigated.”
“You touch a child and we will find out about it,” Seewald adds.
The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, which works closely with Seewald, and Forer’s bosses at the LA County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the video.
Following a call by the Forward to the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office, Forer contacted the Forward to “clarify” his message in the video.
Forer said that it was probably a “simple oversight” that the video did not advise those who suspect abuse to contact police. He also stressed his public record of urging Orthodox Jews to turn to law enforcement in cases of abuse. “I guess there should have been more words on that matter,” he said.
Seewald said the omission was “a mistake” in a video that was hurriedly produced.
He said the primary goal of the video was to warn molesters that abuse would not be tolerated and to educate inexperienced camp counselors to report their suspicions.
The video was produced to publicize Jewish Community Watch’s Project E.M.E.S. — Educating Mosdos [institutions] on Eradicating Sexual abuse.
The program targets camps affiliated with North America’s Hasidic Chabad Lubavitch community. It has been endorsed by leading Chabad rabbis and anti abuse advocates such as Rabbi Yosef Blau and Asher Lipner.
Participating camps ask staff members to sign a responsibility agreement, which states that camps will “thoroughly investigate” suspicion of abuse. “We will report any legally mandated violations to appropriate authorities and take necessary steps to remove individuals who violate these principles,” the form says.
Camps also share their list of prospective staff with Jewish Community Watch, so that the watchdog group can check whether prospective counselors present a threat to children.
Jewish Community Watch, which publishes an online list of alleged and convicted molesters, has built up a database of suspected pedophiles around the world, Seewald said. He added that two names it received from camps during the past two years as prospective counselors matched people in its database, so they were not employed by the camps.
But camps are reticent to sign up with Project E.M.E.S., he added.
According to Seewald, only one camp signed up for the program last year. This year, two camps, one in Pennsylvania and the other in Vermont, participated.
That’s why, Seewald said, he rushed the video out onto Youtube, so that its message could reach a wider audience.
“If we can’t [educate people about abuse] through the camp we have to a send message to people that we are not tolerating this,” Seewald said.