22 Haredi Men Arrested for Sex Crimes in Jerusalem, Bet Shemesh
Twenty two ultra-Orthodox (haredi) Jews were arrested Monday and charged with sexually assaulting minors and women. The individuals, who were not named, are all between the ages of 20-60 and are residents of Jerusalem, Beitar Illit, Beit Shemesh and Bnei Brak.
Police spokespeople said the arrests were made as part of an ongoing investigation into widespread sex crimes in haredi communities, and that the individuals arrested are suspected of committing crimes over a period of two years.
Rabbis and lay leaders in the haredi community reportedly sent the offenders for “counselling,” but support organizations for victims of sexual abuse told Tazpit Press Service (TPS) that the treatment rarely meets professional or legal standards.
“Most likely, if the offense wasn’t reported, it is nearly certain that the ‘therapy’ was not provided by a licensed, qualified responsible or an ethically practicing mental health professional,” said Shana Aaronson, Israel Director of Jewish Community Watch, an international organization dealing with child sexual abuse in Jewish communities around the world.
“You know that because any professional licensed mental heath professional in this country would know well that in nearly all cases we are legally obliged to report cases of sexual abuse to the child welfare department.
“Obviously, I’m not familiar with the specifics of any of these cases, and it is certainly possible that the minutiae of a particular case meant that the legal requirement to report did not apply (i.e. if the abuse was committed by a stranger). But it’s extremely unlikely that that is true in 22 cases,” Aaronson said.
Asked about strong community mores not to talk about sex and to protect the image of the community to the non-haredi world, Aaronson – who is Orthodox – acknowledged a shift in recent years in the haredi rabbinate on this issue, including the emergence of several leading rabbis who refer sex offenders to qualified mental health professionals, fully aware of legal requirements to file reports with legal authorities.
But she also said that the rabbis who are willing to comply with legal requirements are both in the minority amongst their rabbinic colleagues, and fighting a strong cultural norm in the community that includes deep-seeded mistrust of secular authorities.
“I think it is hard to paint all the rabbis who did this with one brush, but yes, there is a very strong pull towards keeping the image of the community pristine. To be blunt – it means sacrificing children of the community on that altar. So I think it’s a question of priorities,” she said.