Sexual abuse is a national problem, not only in society at large but also in many religious faiths, including Jewish communities. The extent of abuse has been underreported for years, and only recently have events brought to light the special challenges facing those abused in these communities.
If a member of the Jewish community has sexually abused you, get the medical help you need and consider contacting a law firm to discuss your legal rights.
How common is sexual abuse in Jewish communities?
On average, Jews are no more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than others in the United States. However, a recent study indicates that those who left the Orthodox Jewish community were molested four times more than the average child in the general population.
Another international study bluntly states that in religious communities, including Jewish communities, “clergy-perpetrated sexual abuse is a worldwide scandal which is believed to be as old as the church itself.” The study claims that “clergy perpetrated sexual assault ‘is part of a widespread problem of nearly epidemic proportions.'” With respect to Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities and those in a position of power, the problem “may pose unique challenges for victims [due to] a deeply ingrained discomfort reporting fellow Jews [and] a distinct lack of sexual education within schools and homes.”
Judaism Child Sexual Abuse Recent Cases
Every case of sexual abuse of children is a tragedy. Unfortunately, sexual abuse allegations continue up to this day. Some recent examples of child sexual abuse in the Jewish community include:
- Brooklyn patrol crime group. Jacob Daskal, the leader of a privately formed anti-crime patrol group, has been charged with crimes related to having sex with a 15-year-old girl. He also allegedly coerced her into sending him nude photos and videos. The accused molester faced 10 years to life in prison.
- Yeshiva Torah Temimah school in Brooklyn. Joel Kolko, a rabbi at the school, was accused of molesting several students at the school, including two 6-year-old boys. Kolko recently passed away after contracting Covid-19, leaving behind many victims still seeking justice against him.
- Brooklyn Haredi Jewish community. Many examples of child sexual abuse, alleged or proven, exist in this community. In one case, a 13-year-old boy was sexually abused and came home with blood on his underwear. The child abuser, Meir Dascolowitz, pleaded guilty to sexual abuse and was sentenced to five years in prison.
- Washington, DC synagogue. A preschool teacher allegedly lured children out into the woods and sexually abused them. The abuser also took inappropriate photos and videos of the victims.
- Williamsburg synagogue. A 12-year-old girl alleged that a Jewish counsellor sexually assaulted her. After reporting the incident, other members of the Jewish community harassed the girl’s family and threw eggs at the family’s grocery store.
Jewish Child Sex Abuse Survivors' Testimony
The testimony of child sex abuse victims can be graphic and horrifying. However, it drives home the point about how serious the crime of child sexual abuse is and reinforces that it is not an abstract crime but one that involves real children suffering real pain and humiliation. Here’s an example story with the victim’s name changed for privacy:
Frank was a 16-year-old boy that was continually abused by a rabbi, who would pin down the boy and grab and pinch the victim’s inner and outer thigh. The rabbi explained his actions as mere wrestling. When another rabbi confronted the molester, the child abuser later complained to Frank, saying, “I thought what happened last night was between the two of us.”
Why does a community cover up child sexual abuse?
People that belong to a community belong for a reason—because they believe in what they are being a part of. This logic applies to the Jewish community as well. Unfortunately, such belief in and dedication to belonging to a community provides two strong reasons to cover up child sexual abuse.
First, due to historical persecution and continued discrimination in recent years, there is an “us versus them” stance. Second, members have an elevated level of commitment to their religion. Both factors can drive the cover-up of child sexual abuse.
Does the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community prohibit reporting of child sexual abuse to authorities?
As documented by a New York Times article, The Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community historically has forbidden the reporting of child sexual abuse to the non-Jewish authorities. In many parts of the world, from New York to England, some religious leaders of the Orthodox community continue that policy. When authorities caught a leader of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregationson film telling children not to report sexual abuse to the secular authorities, the organization released this statement explaining their view:
“The Orthodox Hebrew Congregations have a special Committee to deal with incidences of attacks of this kind on the children of our congregations. The members of the Committee consist of rabbis, educators, and members of the community, among whom there are those who have been trained in the right way to tackle this. The Committee which will deal with [sexual abuse complaints] according to the advice of the Rabbinical Court and according to the law of the land.”
One Orthodox Jew, Mordechai Jungreis, learned the hard way just how serious leaders of his community were about this prohibition. When he found out that a member of the Jewish community had sexually abused his mentally disabled son in a Jewish bathhouse in Brooklyn, Mr. Jungreis reported the molestation to the police.
As a result, his friends shunned him and his family. The landlord evicted them from their apartment. Orthodox Judaism members left threatening messages on their answering machine. Others reporting sexual abuse have experienced similar treatment, including being expelled from their school and synagogue.
However, all is not lost. Here and there, cracks appear in this policy. A small but growing number of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders have begun to challenge the policy and now tolerate reporting child sexual abuse to secular authorities.
If you are a member of the Ultra-Orthodox community, remember that the law gives you the right to report sexual abuse, either of yourself or your child.
Eliminating the Stigma Associated with Being a Sexual Abuse Victim
The first step to eliminating the stigma of adult and child sexual abuse is acknowledging that there is a problem. This seems to be a particular challenge in religious communities, including Jewish ones.
Unfortunately, even in today’s society, it remains a topic difficult to discuss.
Second, society needs to take a more active role in demanding that adult and child sexual abuse stop – both in the home, at religious organizations, and elsewhere.
Society needs to create an atmosphere where it is okay to talk about sexual abuse and allow victims to disclose and discuss what happened to them – something like the #MeToo movement has done for victims of sexual assault in the entertainment industry. Only then can society minimize or eliminate the stigma associated with adult and child sexual abuse.
Does a Prosecutor have different rules for prosecuting a Hasidic perpetrator?
No. At times, prosecutors have been accused of treating members of the Hasidic community differently, from not publicizing the defendants’ names or seeking laxer punishments. However, these are allegations only.
The law provides members of the Hasidic community no special protections from criminal prosecution for child abuse – sexual or otherwise. While religious exemptions may exist in certain circumstances, like school immunization requirements or tax exemptions, these do not extend to the reporting of adult and child sexual abuse.
How is the Jewish Community trying to prevent and eliminate child sexual abuse?
Despite the continued resistance to reporting sexual abuse by some members of the Jewish community, others are working hard to try to prevent and eliminate child sexual abuse.
It starts with awareness and the willingness to accept and discuss the issue. One organization involved in this effort is Za’akah, which is “dedicated to raising awareness about child sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community, supporting survivors of child sexual abuse, [and] participating in educational events in the community.”
Another organization that “examines Jewish values while also taking into account contemporary issues and principles” is Kol Tzedek, a West Philadelphia synagogue. They provide a list of local and national contacts for victims of sexual violence.
Finally, the media is helping address the issue by investigating and writing about child sexual abuse in Jewish communities. One of those is a sociologist and investigative journalist Hella Winston, who has written extensively on Hasidim, an Orthodox sect of Judaism.
All these efforts are underway to daylight and eventually minimize and eliminate child sexual abuse in the Jewish community.
How can I report if a Rabbi or Jewish community member sexually abused me or a loved one?
If a member of your community has sexually abused you or a loved one, report your suspicions or allegations of abuse to both Child Protective Services and local law enforcement. Typically, Child Protective Services investigates when the abuser is in a caretaking role for the victim, while police handle those in a non-caretaker role.
What should I do if someone sexually abused me in the Jewish community?
There are several steps you can take right away:
- Medical care. Seek medical attention right away.
- Report. Let the authorities know, both Child Protective Services and local law enforcement.
- Legal counsel. Contact a lawyer to discuss your options for compensation.
- Claim. Consider filing a claim against the abuse.
Finally, grieving is part of the process. Talking to a counselor or trusted person can help ease the pain. Whatever you do, don’t ignore what happened. Get help and take steps to heal yourself and punish the abuser.
How long do I have to file a civil claim?
Victims of sexual abuse don’t have an unlimited amount of time to file a lawsuit. The law governs how long you have to file a claim after the abuse occurred. The statute of limitations (the legal term for the time limit) varies significantly from state to state. The law is very complicated and rife with exceptions. If you’re a victim, consider speaking with a sex abuse lawyer today so that you don’t lose the ability to file a claim due to the statute of limitations.
If the abuse did occur years ago, there is some hope. Some states, like New York and California, however, have created “look back” windows, which are limited periods in which a person can file specific types of claims, regardless of when the abuse occurred.
New York, for example, currently has a look-back window for victims of child sexual abuse. However, it expires in August 2021. This law has been used, for instance, to file lawsuits against Yehuda Kolko, accusing him of abuse as far back as the 1980s.
Should I contact an experienced sex abuse lawyer?
Yes. If you or a loved one have been victims of sexual abuse, contact an experienced sex abuse attorney today. These professionals can help you in several ways:
- Knowledge. They handle cases like this every day and can quickly look at the circumstances of your claim and let you know its legal merits, including the applicable statute of limitations.
- Contingency fees. Most personal injury lawyers only charge a fee if they win. You may, however, be responsible for other costs like court filing fees or expert fees.
- Experts. Attorneys today don’t go it alone – they often have investigators and experts helping them. These lawyers know the right specialists to help prove your case. Investigators can track down needed information, and medical experts can testify about the extent of the medical and counseling costs of the injuries you’ve sustained as a result of the abuse.
- Objectivity. If you’ve been sexually abused, it’s difficult to think clearly. A sex abuse lawyer can objectively proceed with your case.
- Trial. While making it to trial is rare, because the parties often settle, your attorney is ready to zealously represent your interests in court.
For all these reasons and more, hire Herman Law, a firm that exclusively represents victims of sexual abuse nationwide. Herman law offers a confidential, no-cost, no-obligation initial consultation. Contact or call them today at 1-(800) 686-9921.