My pet project is showing that Charedi society functions according to regular laws and patterns, and that attempts to improve Charedi society that ignore these patterns will invariably fall flat on their face. With this in mind, let us state clearly the specific factors which impede our ability to stop depraved sexual predators from turning their desires into reality.
The first is that, though we are a separatist community socially, culturally, ideologically, and, to some extent, economically, we are not so legally. In Eastern Europe, it was normal until well into the 19th century for Jewish communities to punish wrongdoers through imprisonment, beatings and other measures, but in the modern liberal state we are not allowed to do that anymore. In the smallest and most close knit communities, there are other ways of dealing with criminals who prey on others in the community, but in most cases there is one, and only one: the police.
The second factor is the engine and framework of the Charedi social order, namely the shidduch system. The single most important factor pressing an ordinary charedi to do something he doesn’t want, or to refrain from something he does, is fear of damaging his children’s chances in the shidduch market.
Now, let us put these two facts together. Prosecutions can hardly be brought against sex offenders without a victim who is willing to give evidence in court. Some activists profess to find this unacceptable, but absent a complete re-imagining of the judicial system as a whole it’s hard to see how it could be otherwise. While there have been cases of victims being told not to take their allegations to police because of twisted notions of Jewish communal loyalty or simply to protect a well-connected offender, what many people fail to acknowledge is that the main reason most victims do not want to come forward is because of the fear of destroying their chances of a shidduch.
Some will respond to this by concluding that if the shidduch system disables our collective ability to deal with predators then the shidduch system must be dismantled. As a beneficiary of the system and one who wants the same for my own children, my perspective is of course different, but, more to the point, it doesn’t matter what my perspective is. Charedi society cannot be infinitely reshaped at will. There are, of course, different models of the shidduch system used in different parts of the community, but from the structural perspective we are interested in here they amount to the same thing.
It therefore follows that, to ameliorate this problem, we must acknowledge how the functioning of the Charedi system generates a difficulty, and find ways to use the features of this same system to overcome it. Specifically this means capitalizing on the ease with which news spreads in the Charedi community, while respecting the need of victims for anonymity. The obvious solution is, in fact, essentially what Rav Shmuel Eliyahu and his beis din did: to investigate allegations fully, and, after concluding beyond any doubt that the person in question is a danger to the community, publicize this so that no parent will allow his or her child to go near him ever again. Few individuals are as powerful as Chaim Walder was so it will not normally be necessary to convene a beis din of Rabbis from across the country, but the basic model should be this. Indeed, instituting such procedures would only be formalizing a mechanism of public shaming that is already used throughout the community with some, but not enough, success today.
This is, I believe, the closest we can come to a solution after the fact, but at least as important as responding effectively to crimes is preventing them from happening in the first place. In my career in education, the single most important thing I have done is work with organizations founded to promote safeguarding among Charedi children. The task of teaching our children to identify the signs of abuse, keep away from predators, and immediately report acts of grooming before they escalate, is not an easy one, but there are some excellent workshops and books that have been produced in recent years, especially for primary-age children. What is urgently necessary, however, is to invest the time and effort into bringing these resources together into a systematic curriculum covering all ages, which schools and yeshivas can adopt and implement. It is equally important that this curriculum must not, as is often the case, be treated as an extension of the anti-masturbation lectures conducted in yeshiva ketanas, because this confuses pupils and leads to the crucial messages getting lost amidst the fog.
I do not pretend that by focussing on these two approaches we can eliminate every incident of child abuse in our community, but I do believe that by playing to our strengths and using the power of our social system we can do much better than we are today, and, since we can, we must.