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...

  • Sports Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches. The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression. “It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    JNS.org – While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    ‎Kosher Lust: Love is Not the Answer (REVIEW)

    Kosher Lust, by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2014). You really do want to find something positive to say about Shmuley Boteach. He is a phenomenon; very bright, an articulate bundle of energy and self-promotion. Anyone who has the chutzpah to describe himself as “America’s Rabbi” deserves ten out of ten for effort. I believe that along with most Chabad alumni, official and unofficial, he does a lot of good and is a sort of national treasure. In this world [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    Hollywood’s Revisiting of Passover’s Exodus Story a Part of Throwback ‘Year of the Bible’

    JNS.org – In a throwback to the golden age of cinema, Hollywood has declared 2014 the “Year of the Bible.” From Ridley Scott’s Exodus starring Christian Bale as Moses, to Russell Crowe playing Noah, Hollywood is gambling on new innovations in technology and star power to revisit some of the most popular stories ever told. “It’s definitely a throwback to the 1950s and early ’60s,” Dr. Stephen J. Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis University, told JNS.org. Starting with The [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    ‘Jewish Giant’ Headlines New York Jewish Museum Exhibit

    Eddie Carmel, dubbed “The Jewish Giant” by American photographer Diane Arbus, is the centerpiece of a new exhibit opening April 11 at The Jewish Museum in New York. Arbus met Carmel, who was billed “The World’s Tallest Man,” at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in 1959 but waited until 1970 to photograph him at his parents’ home in the Bronx, according to the museum. The son of immigrants from Tel Aviv, Carmel posed for Arbus with his head bowed to [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    Disney Hit ‘Frozen’ Gets Passover Themed Makeover With ‘Chozen’ (VIDEO)

    A Passover themed cover of hit songs Let It Go and Do You Want to Build a Snowman? from Disney’s Frozen has attracted tons of media buzz and a cool 65,ooo views on YouTube within days of going online. The work of Jewish a capella group Six13, the track is aptly named Chozen. We are celebrating “our freedom, our favorite festival, our fabulous fans, and aspiring Disney princesses everywhere” the group said. The Chozen music video tells the story of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.