By Megan Sher (The Jerusalem Post)
August 7, 2013
Reported instances of child abuse among ultra-Orthodox Jews in Beit Shemesh is on the rise, according to a recent report by Magen, a local child protection organization.
In the first six months of 2013, Magen received over 75 new cases of suspected sexual child abuse – a dramatic increase compared to the 70 new cases they received during the whole of 2012.
According to David Morris, director of Magen, the organization anticipates receiving up to 150 new cases of suspected abuse during 2013.
Morris has previously decried what he believes to be “a deepset culture of non-reporting and cover-up” among ultra- Orthodox Jews. Haredim, he told The Jerusalem Post in January, prefer “dealing with child abuse within the community,” via “parents, professionals and community leaders” and “some community leaders implicitly discouraged victims and their families from reporting sexual abuse allegations to the police and social services.”
The uptick in reports does not indicate an increase in actual incidences of child abuse, Morris told the Post. Instead, he asserted, it a sign that Magen’s education and awareness programs are working, and that Magen is now well-established and trusted and more people are willing to come forward with their stories.
“Magen has earned a reputation as being able and willing to champion and promote the safety of children from abuse, even when cases involve powerful parties in the community,” Morris said.
“With each case that Magen handles compassionately and effectively, we win an ally. Some of these [victims and their families] become active advocates for Magen within the community.”
Magen released the statistic about the increase in cases of suspected child abuse during a visit to Magen’s office by MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, a Beit Shemesh resident, on July 28.
During their meeting, Morris presented Lipman with a list of improvements to the existing child protection legislation.
These were recommended by The Israel Center for the Child.
The list that Morris provided included getting rid of a section of law stating that some age groups of children victims of sexual abuse are required to prove that they didn’t consent to the alleged perpetrators – even where the perpetrator is a family member. It also reformed a section of the law that would enforce a child victim’s right to therapy – paid for and supervised by social services – by holding the government accountable for providing the resources.
Magen also calls for more rigorous enforcement of the mandatory reporting laws – which require any adult who suspects a case of child abuse to immediately report to the authorities, or face criminal charges and potentially a three to six month prison term for failure to report.
“This is a strong law upholding the Torah principle of ‘You shall not stand by the blood of your brother,’” Morris said. “However, this law has only been rarely enforced in practice.”
He further explains that of the cases of sexual abuse of children that are reported, only between five and 10% lead to a conviction.
“For a family to report an incident, they sometimes have to go against their communities,” Morris said.
“These families expect justice, but at the end of the day they may be let down by the justice system they put their trust in.”
By pushing legislators like Lipman to tighten child protection laws, Morris hopes that there can be a judicial system that better serves and protects victims of abuse.
In response, Lipman stated that he will use his influence in the Knesset to “do whatever I can to partner with Magen to protect children in Beit Shemesh and throughout Israel.”