Call The Cops: Ohel Recommends Alerting The Authorities

By Sergey Kadinsky and Michael Orbach (The Jewish Star)
June 17, 2010

Ohel, the largest Jewish social service agency, has come out and explicitly stated that parents should contact secular authorities if their child has been abused.

"If an individual has a sense that the child is abused, Ohel encourages people to contact law enforcement," said Barry Horowitz, a child sexual abuse specialist and coordinator of OHEL's Long Island services.

Horowitz spoke at "Keeping our Children Safe: Summer Vacation and Beyond," a government-sponsored program run by Ohel at Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere on June 9. 

"When there is trouble within the community, it is more horrible than the end of time," said Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, the rav of the shul, in his introductory remarks. Rabbi Weinberger described a young man he knew who had been abused over the course of seven years. The victim, and others like him, fought a silent war and deserved the protection of the community, Rabbi Weinberger said.

The Ohel panel was initially greeted with disdain by activists who expressed concern over what they say is Ohel's history of offering treatment to predators but often choosing not to report them to the police. As recently as 2007, Ohel ran a treatment program for Jewish sexual abusers. When one member of the program, Stephen Colmer, dropped out before treatment was complete, he was not reported.

In 2008, Colmer, who had fled to Israel, was extradited to the United States to face criminal charges for molesting two boys.

Two years ago, in an interview with The Jewish Press, Horowitz himself said that there should be guidelines in place for those in the community to decide "when to use therapy and when to call in law enforcement."

Horowitz's brief statement during the question and answer session could be taken as a tacit admission of the failure of those previous policies.

The main discussion of the panel was how to combat childhood sexual abuse.

"The field of abuse prevention in the 80s and 90s was on empowering the children, but we also have to take our role," explained Horowitz. He urged parents to tell their children about possible signs of unwelcome advances, and avoid the feeling of failure should a violation occur.

"We should be saying 'you can always come to us,'" said Horowitz. "Our job is to make you feel safe. We will not be angry with you."

Horowitz urged parents to teach by example, by changing clothes at home only in a closed room, demonstrating that certain body parts should not be seen by others. Another method that has emerged in recent years involves open-ended stories where parents can discuss ideal solutions with their children.

Sitting among the 100 audience members, abuse survivor Dr. Asher Lipner of Brooklyn commended Ohel for speaking out, while urging that more be done. "If you don't say it strongly and publicly, parents are still afraid to go forward," said Lipner.

Lipner urged Jewish schools and summer camps to have background checks for employees and a safety plan should an abuse occur.

"In the past, there was so much denial and shame," he explained. "Having a protocol meant that they may have a molester here."

A row behind Lipner, Joel Engelman, 24, also took comfort in Ohel's public stance on reporting abuse claims. Engelman has publicly condemned his elementary school, United Talmudical Academy in Williamsburg, for not firing Rabbi Avrohom Reichman, who is accused of molesting Engelman when he was 8 years old.

"It was very affirming to hear Ohel say that people should report sexual abuse to authorities," said Engelman. "The message should be that sexual abuse is a crime and needs to be reported to the police. It is not a halachic question."