Saturday, January 04, 2014

Sex-abuse victims lack voice in New Square 

“Look at the moon,” Herschel Taubenfeld mused.

Yossi was 16, out for a stroll when he came across the older man who pointed him to a bright light encircling the moon one night in early 2011.

Having grown up in the insular Hasidic enclave of New Square, Yossi knew little about sex, or sexual abuse, and didn’t find it strange when the man then invited him into his house.

Nor did he understand what was happening during subsequent visits when he said the man convinced him to pull down his underwear. The 38-year-old married father, a respected teacher in a religious school for boys, fondled him under the ruse that he was a fortune-teller “reading” his genitals.

It wasn’t until months later that Yossi, who asked that his last name not be used, told his parents and then, he said, the cover-up began.

The Vaad, a community group set up to handle sex abuse allegations, referred Yossi and his abuser to therapy. Taubenfeld offered him hush money, Yossi said, and even some relatives pressured him to keep quiet in the interest of community harmony.

Yossi went to police anyway.

“I wasn’t ready to feel guilty for the rest of my life for not stopping this monster when I could have,” he said.

In a community that shuns outside authority, Yossi’s decision was almost unprecedented.

Sexual abuse of children and young people is systemically suppressed in Hasidic communities, advocates and alleged victims say, spawning a culture where victims are sent to therapists picked by the community’s religious leaders and whose sympathies often seem aligned with the abuser.

And if the victim is strong enough to seek out the judicial system, he or she, in the case of New Square, could find themselves in front of a judge elected by local residents at the behest of the grand rebbe. David Twersky is the heir to the rabbinical dynasty that has led the Skver Hasidim since their times in the Ukraine.

“New Square’s leaders have hunkered down,” said Ben Hirsch, a co-founder of Survivors for Justice, who helped Yossi through the legal process. “They have their policy of cover-ups, of keeping everything in-house. It’s the outspoken victim who is the villain, and the reported child molester who is the victim.”


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