Sunday, December 16, 2018

Last week, as I began to follow leads for what I thought might be an important but short story about old allegations of sexual abuse against a local resident that took place in the 1980s, I realized something else was happening. Because many of my best high school memories were spent at United Synagogue Youth (USY) shabbatonim, friends and acquaintances started contacting me and wanted to tell me their story, both on and off the record. In what turned into a 1,500-word story that ran on our wire service partner JNS, I ended up reporting on “substantiated allegations” that had, the week before my story ran, led the resident’s employer to terminate his decades-long employment. The article was shared more than a thousand times on Facebook and was viewed tens of thousands of times as of this writing.

I was not the first person to break the story or place the individual’s name in the media, but I was the first reporter to follow a logical set of leads and to contact both the person who made the first allegation and the person about whom the allegation was made. I also spoke on the record with the person’s employer, the CEO of a large Jewish organization. Most notably, I spoke to multiple alleged victims of this person’s sexual abuse, silent for decades, who asked me to withhold their identities.

It was never my wish to hurt a local resident or a local family, but as a journalist, I have sometimes comes across stories that are unsavory or criminal. To not publish this story would have also been a choice, and I made a very specific choice, with the support of my publishers, not to publish the piece in The Jewish Link, but in a Jewish nationwide newswire, as it had become a national story with only an incidental local connection. I had no wish to sensationalize it, or to splash it in our own pages, but I knew the article needed and would find its audience in other communities.

One of the multiple local rabbanim I consulted last week told me that in order to publish this particular story in accordance with halacha, I would have to establish the toelet, a word that translates to the benefit, usefulness or value of making the information public.

For me, the toelet was 1) so that anyone who thinks it is OK to touch a child sexually will think again, and bring himself or herself to treatment, and in the meantime will follow strict protocols to never be alone with a child. The halacha against yichud (seclusion) exists to protect a potential perpetrator as well as a potential victim. (And the laws of yichud don’t just apply to children or women who are most often thought of as potential victims, but to adults of any gender and even seniors and people with special needs.) The toelet was also 2) to ensure that no child is ever abused again by this person. Finally, the toelet was 3) to make sure that I do everything I can to ensure that my children and the children of my fellow community members are pro-actively protected so they do not become part of the inordinately high statistics on sexual abuse in this country, and to note that no one, not even the head of a large Jewish organization, can be unilaterally trusted to be secluded with our children. It is an important wake-up call: Before they reach adulthood, one in four girls is sexually abused and one in six boys is sexually abused. (The numbers in our Jewish community are not different because we are “more religiously inclined” or “morally driven.” Our numbers mirror that of the general population.)

With that in mind, I invite you to read Jonathan Tobin’s excellent essay here or on page 9 of our print paper, which is his perspective on publishing my piece and his reasoning regarding why he decided, as the editor-in-chief of JNS, to publish it. To learn more or to read my original piece, visit https://tinyurl.com/ycd5vjf8.

By Elizabeth Kratz