In an encouraging sign that a larger segment of the Orthodox community is coming to recognize how best to deal with suspected child abuse, more than 100 prominent rabbis from around the country have signed a clear statement affirming that “any individual with firsthand knowledge or reasonable basis to suspect child abuse has a religious obligation to promptly notify the secular law enforcement of that information.”
The statement, an initiative of child advocate Dovid Nyer, noted that “these individuals have the experience, expertise and training to thoroughly and responsibly investigate the matter. Furthermore, those deemed ‘mandated reporters’ under secular law must obey their state’s reporting requirements.”
Some Orthodox leaders, particularly in the charedi community, have encouraged contacting a rabbinic figure in such cases rather than the police, perhaps distrusting the secular authorities or seeking to spare the family embarrassment, or both. Too many of such cases over the years have shown that rabbis untrained in the psychology or criminology of sexual deviancy have made poor judgments that had lasting effects on victims and their families.
As the statement said, “lives can be ruined or ended by unreported child abuse, as we are too often tragically reminded.” It cited the Torah’s statement: “Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed” (Leviticus 19:16) as the source of obligation for “every member of the community to do all in one’s power to prevent harm to others.”
We hope this important statement will encourage other rabbis to sign on, and send a signal to the community that protecting children is both a religious and ethical imperative.