Sunday, March 21, 2004

A story secretly doing the rounds in Stamford Hill alleges that a certain Chassidic young man was being threatened that unless he paid a large sum of money he would be exposed for having had sex with a minor years earlier. When he refused the blackmailer went to the police and denounced him as a child molester, claiming that he and a friend had had underage sex with him when he had been of age.

The police did their duty and arrested the alleged paedophile. You can see more details about the allegations in the comments to the last post.

I have no idea whether the story is true or false and have no wish to try and judge it from behind my curtain of anonymity. Some of the comments I heard people in the community make over the weekend are very disturbing though.

The sad truth is, that such a story, whether it eventually turns out to be true or false, will anyway have permanently stained the good name of the accused. The common reaction of the holimen is to avidly garner every detail and then say “a shmiutziger maase (a filthy story)” before running off gleefully to tell it to all his other friends. In Tzaddikville Technicolor has not yet arrived and everything gets painted in black and white. Shmutzig equals bad and anybody involved with shmutz is shmutzig.

Child molestation, in my humble opinion, is when an older person uses his or her authority to coerce someone underage to do something unwillingly. While the legal definition has to have distinct borders, it cannot be reasonable to automatically assume that if one party is sixteen and the other fifteen, that the older partner initiated the contact or that the younger partner was unwilling. I have no wish to condone such behaviour but I do not condemn one any more than the other. It must also be remembered that in a society as closed as ours, where the very mention of any sex is strictly frowned upon; it is difficult to expect our teenagers to respect a set of rules they have never heard.

On the other hand it is a well-known fact that the powers that be in our community have for years been protecting child molesters and blocking any effective investigation into allegations of it. This should really be an occasion for us to explore this difficult issue and see whether there is anything we should be doing to avoid these problems. True, it is difficult to give our children sex education in school if we prefer they did not know such a thing exists. There must however be some way of ensuring that if youngsters are going to mess around and experiment (and we might as well accept they are), at least they must know what they are doing and the potential dangers. Even more important if they do feel they are being abused there should be somewhere where they could gain help and sympathy without judgment. The only practical way that I can see is through an anonymous hotline where students can call and discuss their problems openly with those who are in a position to advise them sensibly. There are Rabbis and lay leaders out there who understand this although I admit that they are few and far between.

I can only urge any child who is being abused or anyone who has been abused in the past and feels that the abuser might still be active to send me a mail and I will try and put them in touch with someone who can help.

And to anyone who thinks he is being blackmailed my advice is this: if you are innocent sit tight and ignore it or contact the police. If you might not be; get in touch with a lawyer or someone in authority and discuss it, but under no circumstances should you ever hand over any money. Paying a blackmailer does not end the story. The blackmailer will never be satisfied with a one off payment. The moment he needs or wants as sum of money again he is bound to consider making a new withdrawal. Sooner or later the defining moment will arrive and one of the two will blink. Paying up is a sure-fire way of having the shit hit the fan only when you are broke.

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