London’s Charedi establishment says it would be a “slur” on the community to suggest it failed to tackle child abuse properly, ahead of a Channel 4 exposé that aired on Wednesday night.
The Dispatches programme secretly filmed Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations’ spiritual head, Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, telling a man who said that he had been a victim of child abuse in Stamford Hill not to go to the police.
According to a Channel 4 spokesman, the film “exposes how the strictly Orthodox community’s approach to child protection can leave children at risk and shield abusers from justice”.
While there was “no suggestion” that child abuse was any worse within the Charedi community than elsewhere, the spokesman said, some of its rabbis “forbid or discourage alleged victims from going to the police.”
A Union spokesman, speaking ahead of the broadcast, said that it understood the programme would “imply that we do not deal with allegations of child abuse seriously. This is simply not true and is a slur on our community.”
The community did all it could, he said, to protect its children from “these unspeakable crimes. We may once have thought that our community was immune from such matters. But we now know that we are not.”
He said that, for a number of years, the Union had worked closely “with the local authorities and, where appropriate, the police and we have robust procedures in place within all our schools. Sadly, the local authority has dealt with a number of cases together with us; some have been reported and some — unproven — have not been.”
However, the programme also interviewed an anonymous Charedi rabbi who was critical of the rabbinate’s ability to deal with abuse.
He describes how one family was driven out of their community after reporting that their child had been sexually abused in a synagogue.
According to the transcript, the rabbi stated: “The police felt there was enough evidence to take out the perpetrator from the middle of the Stamford Hill community in handcuffs. And this is disgraceful, a scandal… most of the community knew about it that night and whoever didn’t, knew about it in synagogue the next morning.”
He then reported that, shortly afterwards, a man “banged on the door” of the complainant family. “The first thing that man said was: ‘Do you know that the whole London community has not slept the whole night because of what you did? And I myself will go and get social services to take away your children.’
“The harassment escalated into cars that would gun their motors and zoom up next to the family if they were out on the street. The synagogues told them, ‘You’re not welcome here any more’. They would be cursed and spat at in the street and called ‘informer’. So it becomes hopeless to them and ultimately they leave the country. There’s no question that we do not have the ability to police and deal with perverts, deviants, child molesters. We can’t; it’s above the pay grade of the rabbis.”
Last week, the Union published the number of a “child protection” telephone line to report instances of abuse to rabbis and educators it said had been trained to deal with the issue.
The rabbinate, according to the Union, recognised that “there are certain times when it is correct and necessary to call the social services and police. The committee will consult the rabbis to determine the proper action in each case.”