Reporting Abuse

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On the Halachic Obligation to Report to the Police Every Case of Physical or Sexual Abuse of Children

Guest post by Rabbi Michael J. Broyde

Michael Broyde is a law professor at Emory University, was the founding rabbi of the Young Israel in Atlanta, and (most importantly for the purposes of this short note) is a member (Chaver) and Dayan in the Beth Din of America.

Many years ago, I wrote an article on halachic issues related to mesirah (see here: link), and I continue to get mesirah questions posed with some regularity. Some of them are complex and some are less so, but one category of them is heartbreaking – child abuse. Although I wrote clearly in that article that halacha permits one to report child abuse, sadly enough I still find that people are hesitant to actually do so. Such hesitation is mistaken, and people who engage in child abuse ought to be reported to the police.[1]

I write this brief post to bring to the attention of our community the fine video presentation of Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik of Chicago which can be found below.

Members of our community should listen to his presentation.

Although Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik’s views hardly needs my endorsement, I write publicly to endorse all three of his conclusions.

First, it is completely proper as a matter of halacha to promptly report child abuse allegations. A person who engages in child abuse is a danger to the community and reporting such conduct is not a violation of the rules of mesirah. Reporting such abuse to the police is absolutely consistent with halacha.

Second, it is right as a matter of common sense to promptly report such issues to the police. There is no need to seek rabbinic license before making such a report to the police. Such reports to the police should be made as soon as possible and expert therapists, social workers and other professionals should be welcomed into our community to help address the consequences of child abuse.

Third, it is good for the Orthodox community to promptly report child abuse to the police. A policy of promptly reporting all cases of child abuse to the police makes our community much less likely to be the victim of such conduct over the long term. People should have no fear of social stigma in filing such reports to the police, and anyone who stigmatizes those who make such reports is assisting in a terrible wrong in our community.


[1] This is true even if the child will be removed from his “Orthodox” home where abuse is taking place and placed in foster care that is not Jewish. See Abraham Sofer Abraham, Nishmat Avraham Volume 4, pages 307-11 who quotes responsa from Rabbis Auerbach, Elyashiv and Waldenberg in agreement on this point, that one must report cases of child abuse. No alternative view is quoted in this enclyopedic work. Rabbi Abraham writes:

A child or infant who is brought to a hospital with symptoms of being a battered child… it is prohibited, after an investigation to return him to his home as they will continue to beat him until he might die. Because of the real danger, it is obligatory for the doctor to inform the courts, and with an order from the court, place the child with a foster parent or agency. There is no problem of informing since we are dealing with danger to life and the parents are the pursuers. This is permitted even if they will place the child, due to no choice, with a family or agency that is secular. It is incumbent upon the Jewish court to do everything in its power to insure that the child is placed with an observant family or agency. Particularly in the diaspora it is important that the Jewish court work to insure that the child not be placed with a Gentile family or agency. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach agreed with all of the above.

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashi recounted to me that it is permitted for the doctor to inform the authorities even if it is possible that the child will be placed with a family or agency that is not Jewish ….

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

24 comments

  1. Dorron Katzin

    The excellent speech by Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik was part of a program which took place on Sunday October 17 in Chicago which was cosponsored by the OU, RCA, cRc, NCSY, and other organizations.

    The entire program is available on YouTube. To find the the videos, you can either search YouTube for JBACChicago (one word) or subscribe to the JBACChicago feed on You Tube.

    All the presentations are also available in mp3 (audio) and mp4 (video) formats which may be downloaded. Please send an email to [email protected] if you would like to be sent the download links.

    Dorron Katzin
    Deputy Chair
    JBAC Chicago Event

  2. Buzz Killington

    Thanks for the article, the more information about mesira, the better, at least from a lay person’s POV.

    Not to be a buzzkill, but this recent hyperfocus on sexual abuse, noble as it is, I hope it doesn’t cause unintended side effects.

    What I’m getting at is, of all of the children in the U. S. who are receiving horrific treatment, children suffering from sexual crimes, according to 2006 figures, amount to 9.26% of the unfortunate recipients.

    Here is what I managed to find from federal sources — and it wasn’t easy — I believe it is because the numbers don’t fall out the right way politically.

    Here are the totals I compiled a few weeks ago:

    * Neglect 58.26%
    Educational 360,500
    Physical 295,300
    Emotional 193,400
    Other 77,500
    ———
    849,200

    * Abuse 41.74%
    Physical 325,000
    Sexual 135,000
    Emotional 148,500
    Other 55,200
    ———-
    608,500

    Inasmuch as children die or are irreparably harmed from some types of neglect, I believe I am correct in my assumption, based on the rabbi’s article, that a LEO or a social service agency with mandated reporters should be called in cases of neglect. Would that be a correct assumption?

  3. So now, when a kid is angry at his / her teacher because he / she received a bad grade, a detention, etc. – all the child has to do to exact revenge is make an abuse allegation.

    According to Rabbi Broyde, every allegation must be promptly reported to the police. If so, then the innocent teacher will have to spend his / her life’s savings on legal fees. Assuming that the teacher is acquitted at trial, no school in its right mind would hire a teacher that has such an accusation in his / her past.

    So you’ve just given carte blanche to school children to ruin their teachers lives at will.

    Shouldn’t we, perhaps, have the school psychologist speak to the child first, to figure out if there was any real abuse, before reporting it to the police?

    Maybe have the principal sit down with the teacher and go over the timeline of events to see if this kid’s charge even makes any sense?

    In today’s climate, I would never work as a teacher.

  4. Buzz, I think the focus is there because there’s a lack of willingness to davka report cases of sexual abuse, especially on the part of non-family members, like teachers, where abuse is mostly sexual.

    R’ Soloveichik’s speech is gripping. The point he makes about rape is especially powerful, and falls into the category of “So blindingly obvious, it take a genius to point it out to us.”

  5. I don’t think the law of moser should apply to the American government, period. Anyone with common sense would agree that someone who informs on a Jew to the American government for a misdeed (of any kind) is not the same person whom the gemara allows one to kill.

  6. The problem is that this non-reporting phenomenon wasn’t really an issue an R. Broyde’s circles. The question is when the rabbinic figures of the communities most affected are going to make public statements to the affect of, ‘If you find out that a child has been abused, don’t call us – call the police straight away’. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  7. Will,
    For the rest of the world, there is no question of going to a rov first. Do you see an epidemic of teachers’ lives being ruined by children who were unhappy about their grades. And no, I don’t think that standard procedure is for parents who have gotten a report of abuse from a child to take the child to the school psychologist, who frankly have no expertise in determining whether abuse took place. Nor is a confernece between the principle and the possible criminal appropriate, as the prinicipal has no experience in investigations, nor would he be the appropriate person to do one if he knew how. It is not as simply as taking a second hand report of the child’s first report of the incident and asking the teacher to produce an alibi.
    Frankly, you naivite (and I hope that that is all it is) on this matter is scary.

  8. It would seem to be that people in Rabbi Broyde’s circles do have issues with reporting since he says he gets questions regularly. But perhaps as much as we need to educate the lay public, there also needs to be an effort to educate rabbonim to answer such shailos with a quick “yes go to the police.” I agree with J that most of the rabbonim who need to hear that probably don’t look to Rabbi Broyde for advice.

  9. MDJ, there may be no epidemic, but it happens, and not so infrequently. When charges are made, there is much more publicity than when charges are dropped.

    Will has excellent point — the question of mesira for abuse is not so clear-cut as Rabbi Broyde makes it sound. Yes, most of us would agree that abuse should be reported. But in the majority of cases, you’re not certain that there was abuse. What do you do then? Report every allegation and let the police and justice system sort it out in their often crass and heavy-handed way?

  10. MiMedinat HaYam

    one principal i know was convicted of abusing a “problem” child, and was denied the right to introduce evidence of the victim’s previous (and current) psychological couseling record, and was denied the right to introduce evidence he was NEVER in a room alone with ANY child.

    the civil judge said these are irrelevant information.

    the fix is sometimes in.

  11. The problem is, as we all know, that the Carpathian rednecks who have taken over Haredi Judaism would rather stick pins in their eyes than say what R. Broyde said. Some of them even have brothers who are notorious rapists. When R. Chaim Kanievsky writes letters in support of Elior Chen yemach shemo (http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2010/03/gedolim-and-leadership.html) because ‘he was just following orders’ (Eichmann’s defence too), we know that just about the best place to be a child molester is a Hungarian Chassidishe school.
    As Marc Shapiro writes:
    There is another theory as to why the sectarian hasidic world in particular has had so many cases of covering up and defending child sex abusers. It is that they simply do not regard these people as so terrible. The evidence for this appears obvious, in that in case of after case we see that they continue to allow sex abusers to teach and refuse to turn them over to the authorities and warn the parent body. Had they caught the rebbe eating at McDonald’s, you can be sure he would have been fired, but not so when it comes to fooling around with kids. The question is why do they have this outlook, and how come they don’t regard child sex abusers as so terrible? Here is a possible answer (which a wise person suggested). Look at where these societies get their information about human nature, the information that they regard as authentic and true. It does not come from modern psychology, but from Torah sources and folk beliefs. If you look only at traditional rabbinic literature, you won’t conclude that child sex abuse is as terrible as modern society views it. Yes, it is a sin and the person who commits it must repent as he must do with all sins, but there is nothing in the traditional literature that speaks to the great trauma suffered by the victim. How do we know about this trauma? Only from modern psychology and the testimony of the victims. Yet this type of evidence does not have much significance in the insular hasidic world (unless it is your own child who has been abused). Certainly modern psychology, which is often attacked by figures in that community, is not given much credence, especially not when they are confronted with an issur of mesirah. This theory makes a lot of sense to me and I am curious to hear what others have to say.

  12. MDJ,

    Look at my comment above again. Where did I mention anything about going to a rav first?

    If a child alleges that an adult interacted with them in any inappropriate way, we must investigate. If one is left with any doubt after experts have interviewed the child and the adult (separately of course), then report it to the police.

    However, there have been too many times where this preliminary step was skipped. Teachers’ reputations and finances have been destroyed (even after they were acquitted) because mandatory reporting overshadowed common sense.

  13. R’ Broyde’s summary of R’ Soloveitchik’s conclusions reads like a heter to report rather than a chiyuv. Is that his intent? (I can’t now view R’ Soloveitchik’s video.)

  14. R’ Broyde’s summary reads like a heter to report rather than a chiyuv. Is that his intent?

  15. Dorron Katzin

    Will,
    I don’t know what experts you would have interview the child and the adult. The real experts in this matter are the police. For a more detailed treatment of these issues, see, for example, Robin Sax, It Happens Every Day: Inside the Life of a Sex Crimes DA (Prometheus, 2009).

    Zalman,
    If you continue having difficulty viewing the file on this website, you can either try YouTube (search on JBACChicago) or send an email to [email protected] and I will send you download links for both the audio (mp3) and video (mp4) files.

  16. Rav Herschel Schachter addressed this issue in 2006 (see http://www.torahweb.org/audioFrameset.html#audio=rsch_120306) with a follow up article soon after in 2007 (see http://www.torahweb.org/torah/special/2007/rsch_mesirah.html).

    The preeminent posek on the YU community already paskened on this four years ago.

  17. Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik has expressed many times in his shiurim that there is a responsibility (chiyuv) to immediately report the perpetrator to the authorities (not just a heter.) It is both a responsibility to the community as a preventive measure, as well as helping to mitigate to some degree the damage that was done to the molested child. There have been enough cases in our community that have shown that in addition to the fact that the perpetrator is likely to molest this child time and time again, the affects of the previous molestations where there were no immediate consequences for the molester have often caused psychological trauma to the child even many years later, and sometimes causing the child to attempt suicide.

  18. MiMedinat HaYam

    to eli l:

    the suicide allegation refers to a case where the accused was exonerated by the rcmp (canadian fbi), yet the mother continued to accus him of causing the daughter’s suicide.

    yet, the rca found fit to have him thrown out of the rca.

    my point is like will’s.

  19. >the suicide allegation refers to a case where the accused was
    >exonerated by the rcmp (canadian fbi), yet the mother continued to
    >accus him of causing the daughter

  20. Having difficulty posting.
    ________
    Your “facts” are false.

    The local police in that Canadian city investigated the Rabbi not the RCMP as that is the proper jurisdiction (as it is in the US, local police not the FBI investigate local crimes). The police investigation in Canada remains open as the Rabbi will not cooperate and has left the jurisdiction. There is no limitations period in Canada on these sorts of crimes. The case involves the allegations of at least 4 different children from 4 different families. There are also other allegations of abuse of women, plagiarism and false credentials. The victim that committed suicide was a boy not a girl.

    The alleged pedophile Rabbi brought civil suits in Canada and the US against the news reporters and networks that investigated him and broadcast a news documentary. The Rabbi abandoned the lawsuits in Canada and lost the civil suit in the US. The Judge in the US case was Michael Bernard Mukasey, who later became Attorney General of the United States. Mukasey is orthodox.

    You can search by the Rabbis name and the name of the documentary “Unorthodox Conduct” to find the video of the news documentary. The Rabbi’s father-in-law plead guilty (in an unrelated case years after these allegation) to similar sexual abuse of a minor in his synagogue’s washroom. The father-in-law’s case was reported in the New York Law Journal with regard to an article on Megan’s Law.

    It is my experience that there are extremely false allegations of this sort against named individuals. The statistics I have seen from law enforcement confirm same. One of the notable cases involving false allegations concerns a judge in NY who was convicted of taking bribes from members of the orthodox community in NY. Several of those cases involved false allegations made by the parent who bribed the judge.

  21. Also, the Rabbi was not thrown out of the RCA. He was allowed to resign otherwise he had been warned that there would likely be an investigation/hearing before the Beit Din Hakavod regarding the allegations against him.

  22. correction
    “extremely FEW false allegations”

  23. >f one is left with any doubt after experts have interviewed the
    >child and the adult (separately of course), then report it to the
    >police.

    The experts are the police/child protection authorities and their investigators.

    Rabbis and self-proclaimed experts can do considerable damage to investigations and taint evidence by conducting these “investigations”.

    If your wife was raped would you go to the police or have your Rabbis and their friends “investigate”?

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