Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Exposing Child Predators Without Defaming the Innocent

January 14, 2013 12:37 am 1 comment

A report on Nechemya Weberman on CBS. Photo: Screenshot.

One Orthodox Jewish website exposes people accused of sex crimes against children, such as rape, even when no criminal charges have been filed. They do this in an effort to prevent sex offenders from evading the law by virtue of the statute of limitations, to fight years of institutional sex abuse cover-ups, to empower victims and to inform the public of potential dangers.

But is there a risk that an innocent person will be exposed in the fight to bring justice to victims?

Under its “Wall of Shame” Jewish Community Watch (JCW) lists convicted sex offenders, accused offenders with pending charges and others who have not been arrested and have had no formal charges filed against them. Thirty-two individuals are on the registry. JCW conducts its own investigations, including interviewing accusers, before listing un-arrested individuals on its “Wall of Shame.”

Last month, on the day Nechemya Weberman was convicted of repeatedly sexually abusing a girl he was supposed to be mentoring, the Brooklyn DA office presented an award of excellence to JCW, praising the organizations efforts of exposing child predators and assisting survivors in recovery. DA Hynes remarked that JCW’s work “has been instrumental” in creating change in the tight-knit Hasidic community.

JCW’s work marks major progress in the Orthodox worlds willingness to openly confront sexual abuse. Since JCW’s inception in 2011, the Brooklyn Orthodox community has seen as many sexual abuse-related arrests and reports as there have been in the past 20 years.

There is a need to inform the public of suspected sex offenders and empower victims on the one hand but also a need to ensure that innocent people aren’t wrongly exposed. How do you balance those two interests when un-arrested individuals are accused of sex crimes? When there is a public record, such as an arrest or conviction, there is no issue with reporting that information, but what happens when there is no public record of the alleged crime?

JCW’s published criteria for deciding whether to put up un-arrested individuals on the “Wall of Shame” is vague and evasive. Under the “Our Criteria” section, they don’t list actual criteria but instead argue that “listing our criteria would make it far easier for false allegations to be made” and “would enable said child molester to ensure that he or she did not meet any of those criterions.”

Shrouding their criteria in a veil of secrecy needs reconsideration. The lack of clear guidelines and transparency diminishes the organization’s credibility, exposes them to further legal liability, and feeds into fears of a witch-hunt mentality. If processes are not revealed for fear that alleged offenders may outsmart the system, at least all supporting documentation should be disclosed in an open and apparent manner.

The media often publishes accusations of un-arrested individuals but the stories are adversarial in nature, present all the facts, and usually give the accused an opportunity to respond. But even the media gets it wrong sometimes as they did in the high-profile Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Greg Kelly cases where the allegations of rape were ultimately dropped, but the journalistic process still minimizes the risk of error.

JCW certainly has a right to exercise their freedom of speech and the press when it comes to informing the community about abuse. They have demonstrated a commitment to protecting children in the Jewish community and have given a voice to the voiceless victims of sex abuse. Ultimately, someone wrongly accused can always resort to a defamation claim, but considering the tight-knit nature of the community, that person’s reputation would be tarnished forever. Extreme caution needs to be taken before publicizing alleged offenders.

Perhaps JCW should adopt a more journalistic approach where for example they publish statements by the therapist of a survivor, detailing how their patient is a victim of sexual abuse and why they believe the person accused is the one responsible for their trauma (of course with the patients approval).

Only report individuals that have multiple independent victims corroborating the allegations of abuse, which JCW implies that it does.

Publish detailed accounts of the allegations from all of the accusers.

They should even give the alleged offender an opportunity to issue a published statement responding to the accusations, so the public is able to better judge a claim and the accused has a chance to publicly respond. They should clearly state that the accused is presumed innocent unless convicted.

JCW protecting the identity of the victims is a good policy but at the same time they need to provide more information to the public. Maintaining the anonymity of an accuser is vital in protecting them from retaliation, intimidation and threats. The media and courts often maintain victim anonymity in sensitive sexual assault cases, especially those involving minors.

Of course the most error free approach would be to only publish information that is already a matter of public record, such as adjudicated sex offenders, arrests and public investigations. But this approach would give free reign to the countless sex offenders that have evaded the statute of limitations.

There is no easy answer in the quest to balance the need to inform the public of potential danger with ensuring the innocent are not defamed in the zealous pursuit of justice, but a high standard of journalistic integrity should be required before someone is publicly outed as a sex offender.

Eliyahu Federman has written extensively on subjects ranging for sexual abuse awareness, gender equality and improving police-community relations. He graduated law school in NY, where he served as an executive editor of law review.

One Orthodox Jewish website exposes people accused of sex crimes against children, such as rape, even when no criminal charges have been filed. They do this in an effort to prevent sex offenders from evading the law by virtue of the statute of limitations, to fight years of institutional sex abuse cover-ups, to empower victims and to inform the public of potential dangers.

But is there a risk that an innocent person will be exposed in the fight to bring justice to victims?

Under its “Wall of Shame” Jewish Community Watch (JCW) lists convicted sex offenders, accused offenders with pending charges and others who have not been arrested and have had no formal charges filed against them. Thirty-two individuals are on the registry. JCW conducts its own investigations, including interviewing accusers, before listing un-arrested individuals on its “Wall of Shame.”

Last month, on the day Nechemya Weberman was convicted of repeatedly sexually abusing a girl he was supposed to be mentoring, the Brooklyn DA office presented an award of excellence to JCW, praising the organizations efforts of exposing child predators and assisting survivors in recovery. DA Hynes remarked that JCW’s work “has been instrumental” in creating change in the tight-knit Hasidic community.

JCW’s work marks major progress in the Orthodox worlds willingness to openly confront sexual abuse. Since JCW’s inception in 2011, the Brooklyn Orthodox community has seen as many sexual abuse-related arrests and reports as there have been in the past 20 years.

There is a need to inform the public of suspected sex offenders and empower victims on the one hand but also a need to ensure that innocent people aren’t wrongly exposed. How do you balance those two interests when un-arrested individuals are accused of sex crimes? When there is a public record, such as an arrest or conviction, there is no issue with reporting that information, but what happens when there is no public record of the alleged crime?

JCW’s published criteria for deciding whether to put up un-arrested individuals on the “Wall of Shame” is vague and evasive. Under the “Our Criteria” section, they don’t list actual criteria but instead argue that “listing our criteria would make it far easier for false allegations to be made” and “would enable said child molester to ensure that he or she did not meet any of those criterions.”

Shrouding their criteria in a veil of secrecy needs reconsideration. The lack of clear guidelines and transparency diminishes the organization’s credibility, exposes them to further legal liability, and feeds into fears of a witch-hunt mentality. If processes are not revealed for fear that alleged offenders may outsmart the system, at least all supporting documentation should be disclosed in an open and apparent manner.

The media often publishes accusations of un-arrested individuals but the stories are adversarial in nature, present all the facts, and usually give the accused an opportunity to respond. But even the media gets it wrong sometimes as they did in the high-profile Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Greg Kelly cases where the allegations of rape were ultimately dropped, but the journalistic process still minimizes the risk of error.

JCW certainly has a right to exercise their freedom of speech and the press when it comes to informing the community about abuse. They have demonstrated a commitment to protecting children in the Jewish community and have given a voice to the voiceless victims of sex abuse. Ultimately, someone wrongly accused can always resort to a defamation claim, but considering the tight-knit nature of the community, that person’s reputation would be tarnished forever. Extreme caution needs to be taken before publicizing alleged offenders.

Perhaps JCW should adopt a more journalistic approach where for example they publish statements by the therapist of a survivor, detailing how their patient is a victim of sexual abuse and why they believe the person accused is the one responsible for their trauma (of course with the patients approval).

Only report individuals that have multiple independent victims corroborating the allegations of abuse, which JCW implies that it does.

Publish detailed accounts of the allegations from all of the accusers.

They should even give the alleged offender an opportunity to issue a published statement responding to the accusations, so the public is able to better judge a claim and the accused has a chance to publicly respond. They should clearly state that the accused is presumed innocent unless convicted.

JCW protecting the identity of the victims is a good policy but at the same time they need to provide more information to the public. Maintaining the anonymity of an accuser is vital in protecting them from retaliation, intimidation and threats. The media and courts often maintain victim anonymity in sensitive sexual assault cases, especially those involving minors.

Of course the most error free approach would be to only publish information that is already a matter of public record, such as adjudicated sex offenders, arrests and public investigations. But this approach would give free reign to the countless sex offenders that have evaded the statute of limitations.

There is no easy answer in the quest to balance the need to inform the public of potential danger with ensuring the innocent are not defamed in the zealous pursuit of justice, but a high standard of journalistic integrity should be required before someone is publicly outed as a sex offender.

Eliyahu Federman has written extensively on subjects ranging for sexual abuse awareness, gender equality and improving police-community relations. He graduated law school in NY, where he served as an executive editor of law review. Follow Eliyahu Federman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/elifederman

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Food Jewish Identity A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    A Look at the Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook (REVIEW)

    Everybody knows that cooking varies from country to country. There are Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants, etc. We associate different styles of cuisine with different languages. Do we also think of the association of different cuisines with different dialects? We should, because cooking also varies from region to region. Litvaks and Galitsyaners have their own traditions of preparing gefilte fish. Marvin I. Herzog, in his book The Yiddish Language in Northern Poland: Its Geography and History (Indiana University, Bloomington, and Mouton & Co., The […]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    Analysis: Jewish Women Less Likely Than Catholics to Take Husband’s Name

    An analysis of New York Times wedding announcements showed that women married in Jewish ceremonies were less likely to take their husband’s last names than those married in Roman Catholic ceremonies, the Times reported on Saturday. The largest gap between the two groups was in 1995 when 66 percent of Catholic women took their husband’s names and 33 percent of Jewish women did the same. Nearly half of the women featured in the publication’s wedding pages since 1985 took their husband’s name after marriage, while about […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    Jerry Lewis, Legendary Jewish Comic and Humanitarian, Stays Relevant at 89

    JNS.org – Through appreciation of both his comedy and humanitarian work, legendary Jewish entertainer Jerry Lewis is staying relevant at age 89. The only comic to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Lewis added another award to his trophy case in April, when he received the 2015 Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Gordon Smith, NAB’s president and CEO, said the organization was “honored to recognize not only [Lewis’s] comedic innovation, but also his remarkable […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli Gymnasts Win Bronze, Silver Medals at 2015 European Games in Baku

    Israeli athletes marked a successful day on Sunday, as gymnasts won multiple bronze and silver medals in the 2015 European Games in Baku. The Gymnastics team won two silver medals and one bronze in group events, while Neta Rivkin, an Israeli Olympic gymnast, won bronze for the Solo Hoops event. Sunday’s gymnastics wins follow Sergey Richter’s bronze on June 16 for the Men’s 10 meter air-rifle, and Ilana Kratysh’s silver for women’s freestyle wrestling. The 2015 European Games in Baku are […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Report Highlights Success of Russian-Jewish-American Ballroom Dancers

    Russian-American Jews are some of the most successful ballroom dancing competitors in the U.S., South Dakota Public Broadcasting (SDPB) Radio reported on Thursday. Jonathan Sarna, a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University, said their success can be traced back to Jewish discrimination in the former Soviet Union. Because of the prejudice they faced, Russian Jews had to perform better than their peers in every field, including dancing, in order to have a chance of getting ahead. “They knew that if they […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    Israeli Dancer With Shofar, Prayer Shawl Wows ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Judges (VIDEO)

    An Israeli dancer made use of Jewish props in an extraordinary routine that left judges amazed when he auditioned for season 12 of TV dance competition So You Think You Can Dance on Monday. At first, the panel of judges appeared confused when Asaf Goren, 23, began his audition in Los Angeles with a tallit (prayer shawl) over his head and the blowing of a shofar, which he explained “opens the sky” for people’s prayers. However, as soon as he started his “Hebrew breaking” performance, […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    Jewish Hoops Fairytale Falls Short as David Blatt’s Cavaliers Drop Game 6

    JNS.org – A fairytale ending to Jewish basketball coach David Blatt’s first season in the National Basketball Association (NBA) was not meant to be, as the Blatt-led Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night dropped Game 6 of the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, 105-97, to lose the best-of-seven series 4-2. Blatt, who just last year coached Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv franchise to a European basketball championship, failed to finish a second straight hoops season on top. But after the Cavaliers began the NBA […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Israelis Venture to Cleveland for NBA Finals

    Israelis Venture to Cleveland for NBA Finals

    JNS.org – The people who sat in seats one and two of row 12, section 120 at Quicken Loans Arena during Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night weren’t your ordinary Cleveland Cavaliers fans. Tomer Hulli and his father, Eli, made the trip from Israel to attend games 3 and 4 in Cleveland. Tomer, who lives in Tzur Moshe, a 25-minute drive north of Tel Aviv, has been playing basketball since he was 5. Hulli said he didn’t plan this […]

    Read more →