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Child Sexual Abuse advocacy losing its way?

By ReligionMarch, 2014January 19th, 20247 min read

It started last October, with the release of a statement by advocacy group Tzedek announcing serious allegations against a current teacher within the Yeshivah College. The details of the alleged offence were especially heinous, namely that the alleged victim was lured into the synagogue and then raped on the bimah in front of the Sefer Torah. At the time, Tzedek facilitated media interviews for the accuser, one which was published in the Australian Jewish News, all of this activity ostensibly to protect children as the alleged perpetrator was still teaching, and to cause additional victims to come forward. The editor of Galus Australis declined to do an interview for ethical reasons.

Within the community, the word quickly spread that the accusation was directed against Rabbi Glick, former principal and current teacher at the school.

The coverage triggered a flurry of discussion on online and social media (some of which has been removed), with many people suggesting the claims were too outrageous to be true. This in turn led to a bizarre game of chicken between Manny Waks, CEO of Tzedek and Rabbi Smukler, Principal of Yeshivah College, as to whether there was or was not a police investigation into these allegations. Waks maintained there was an investigation but refused to name the person or contact the school. Smukler’s statement countered that he was not advised by the police of any investigation and therefore could not take any action. Neither party was prepared to pick up the phone and talk to the other about the issue.

In early December, the school was formally advised by police that a staff member was under investigation over the alleged offence. Rabbi Smukler communicated that in accordance with school policies, said staff member had been stood down from his position pending the outcome of the inquiry. Rabbi Glick’s name was leaked to the media, and the cat was fully out of the bag.

Rabbi Glick made direct contact with the police and volunteered to be interviewed. This led to the next wave of media flurry, headlined by the ‘arrest’ of Rabbi Glick by police, and furious online debates as to whether or not he was arrested. Both the Jewish online media and broader media (The Herald Sun and The Age) initially led with the ‘a-word’ but then edited their headlines and stories and even the URLs to remove that detail. The fact is that anyone who is interviewed by police is technically ‘under arrest’ for the duration of the interview, even if they are immediately released. But while the use of the word was correct, it was certainly inflammatory and sensationalist.

As more details of the alleged abuse became public, there was outrage from many parts of the community as the story became even more incredible. People who were at the Yeshivah during the years of the alleged abuse (this writer included) felt strongly that the incident as presented simply could not have happened. Back in the 1970s, the shul itself was used for classes and was a very public thoroughfare throughout the day, and it would have been impossible for a rape to take place at the time suggested (after mincha on a weekday) without witnesses. Further, the victim was in primary school at the time, and boys from primary school did not attend mincha.

In the heat of the scandal, there were calls that Waks resign his position, and after the Glick family launched a defamation action against Waks personally, the posts and comments on Tzedek’s web site and Waks’ Facebook page were all removed. The defamation action is still pending.

Finally, last week the news broke that the police had closed their investigation with the determination that there was insufficient evidence to press charges. While the headline read that ‘charges were dropped’, in fact no charges were ever laid. Fans of Law and Order would know that the police investigate crime, and the district attorney (in Australia, the DPP) prosecute the offenders. In this case, the police did not even consult the DPP; they determined that there was no case to answer and it ended there.

Now, we can reflect on what this bizarre turn of events has done to Rabbi Glick and his family, the accuser, Tzedek, and our community.

While many people within the community are celebrating Rabbi Glick’s “innocence”, there is no such thing as a declaration of innocence in our judicial system. It can be noted that in this case, there was a single complainant, and the publicity meant there was ample opportunity for any other victims to come forward to corroborate the story, and yet no-one did. While everything points to this accusation being totally false, unfortunately nothing can ever remove the stain of this accusation from Rabbi Glick.

There have been calls that the identity of the accuser no longer be suppressed. While many people in the community know the individual, making his name public would be a further injustice, as it would shift the focus away from perpetrators and onto victims. It could be that the person was abused by someone else, or was confused or led regarding the circumstances of an attack. We don’t know, and given the damage already caused by speculation, any further discussion about the victim would only dig our community into a deeper hole.

Serious questions must be asked by the board of Tzedek about the conduct of their organisation through this matter. Several directors resigned late last year, but the circumstances around these are not clear. Do they condone the practice of publicising allegations and shopping victims to the media for the purpose of attracting additional victims? Is this ethical? Does it have boundaries? Was anyone associated with Tzedek responsible for leaking the name of the accused? At what point does zealous victim activism cross the line to vigilantism and vengeance?

As a community, our goals should be to bring perpetrators to justice, and to deal with our cultural barriers so that victims of sex abuse find it easier to come forward. The sensationalism of this case has meant that both these noble causes have been set back, and the lives of both the accused and the accuser have been turned upside down. This is a tragedy on many levels.

Some people might call this a case of the justice system doing its job. But in our community’s fight to remove the scourge of child sex abuse, it’s clear that some people have lost their direction. We need to step back, reconsider our approach and find a united way forward.

Disclaimer: the writer is a relative of Rabbi Glick by marriage.

This was also posted at [Times of Israel].

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