Is this even an ethical dilemma?

I was reading a heart wrenching post on one of the message boards I visit. The woman’s 3 small children had been abused by a relative – the woman’s nephew. Authorities were called in and the nephew was taken into custody. A minor at the time, he went for intensive therapy and was released, only to reoffend now as an adult. Her entire family shunned her, because they felt it was her fault the nephew was reported and re-arrested. They won’t even acknowledge her on the street if they pass her. Talk about blaming the victim!!

His adult case is in front of the judge soon, and her children are expected to testify. She is wondering if she is doing the right thing by allowing them to testify. It is likely that without their testimony this person will go free. The family says he will be in therapy even if he goes free, but there are no guarantees. But if they do testify it closes the door on any future relationship this woman will have with her family. Plus testifying will take an emotional toll on the children.

She is torn about what to do. She mentions that his family will be moving if he doesn’t get sent away.

While I totally sympathize with her – it is indeed a horrible predicament to be in – I don’t agree that this is a dilemma. To me, it is cut and dried. She has to do whatever it takes in her power to make sure this man is not allowed to reoffend. Her children are prepared to testify – one already did the first time around, and she will get them help and therapy to deal with the stress of a trial. If she doesn’t allow them to testify, there is no guarantee that even if he and his family move out of town, he won’t reoffend. He is sick, he needs help. Does she want on her conscience that she could have prevented another little girl / boy from being molested and hurt?

Her sadness at the emotional distance between her and her family over this is understandable. But her family relationship, in my opinion, cannot be put above the safety of another child. And if they are so close minded as to shun her because it was her kids that were molested, why would she want anything to do with them? Her own parents blame her that their grandson was arrested for what HE did!!

What do you think?

(and yes, please bear in mind that none of us know all the facts in this case)

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  1. batya from NJ says:

    You gotta protect the kids & prevent future victims no matter what!

  2. J+1 says:

    Not even a question– you must protect children. I’m sorry her family is so wrong-hearted.

    • judit says:

      They are not necessarily wrong-hearted. They love that person, just as you love your family. This is what family is all about.

      This is why it is that much harder to provide justice in a case where family members are involved on both the victim and the perpetrator side. There are a lot more mechanisms at work than in a non-family case.

  3. fille says:

    Yep, that’s the classical constellation with sexual abuse:

    Family defends offender, not the victim…

  4. fille says:

    Happens way more often than you might think even though it is outrageous…

  5. Daniel Schwartz says:

    Have the prosecutor serve subpoenas on the children, compelling their testimony. That will effectively silence the family since if she doesn’t produce the children to testify, she’s subject to contempt

  6. fille says:

    Oh, and of course it hurts a lot.

    So you & friends might want to give her support, so that she is not alone.

    Rabbi Horowitz seems to be good at helping in such situations.

  7. pam siegel zarte says:

    I am in agreement that having the children testify is the only moral thing to d0.It sounds as though the mother is prepared to give them the help they need to live with this calamity.What a sad story. Pam

  8. fille says:

    PS: I think “therapy” is no replacement for a trial…

    (because lots of things can go unnoticed while “in therapy”)

  9. As a victim, I can relate. What does it say to those children that someone should not have to pay the penalties for what they do? How does it make them feel inside that even their mother could not “make it all better”? The family is wrong to put so much pressure on her for this. Further…yes, what could she ever say to the next child he hurts? And he will.

  10. Anonymous says:

    when I took my mentally ill and violent mother to court to take custody of my much younger siblings away from her, I had to beg other family members who knew the particulars to testify on my behalf. all of them refused because they “didn’t want to get involved.” some were even afraid of my mother. there are relatives i still haven’t spoken to in years and probably never will. and my maternal grandmother testified on my mother’s behalf despite knowing full well about the abuse. fine, family is family but when the welfare of young children is in danger because “family is family” then there is something really wrong with one’s priorities.

  11. mekubal says:

    Ethical dilemma? No.

    Halakhic dilemma… that depends on who you follow, which may be the person’s problem. If you have been raised your entire life in a certain community that follows a certain posek, and now are trying to raise you children there as well, it could be rather difficult to buck the system when that posek says not to report.

    Before I get overwhelmed with condemnation, let me state, that the poskim that I follow DO NOT rule that way, and so I can give no valid defense of said position. I can only list poskim that hold that way, though personally I find their psakim uninformed and frankly dangerous.

    • fille says:

      Well, at least she took the first step and went to court (for the second time already). So obviously, she does not belong to that “school of thought”.

      But the dilemma is real here: Family forms a block to protect the offender, so the victims will find themselves rejected.

      I think the whole question about the psychic suffering that might be involved in a trial (sometimes without the outcome they hoped for) is a very serious question. And you cannot lightly say “never mind, go for it” as long as you are not in their shoes.

  12. Mike S. says:

    Ethical dilemma–no. Emotional dilemma–sure; who wants to be shunned by his or her family?

    The fact that the family might move away doesn’t deal with the problem, it only shifts it to a potentially new set of victims.

    • fille says:

      Family moving away is very painful, I can tell you.

      And all the more painful in such a situation where you need support.

      And all the more painful because of the outrageous injustice of it.

  13. Haddassah, you’re correct. There is little real question here. Even those who want to protest (as alluded to) have to admit that in this case the issue is already known, the man has offended repeatedly, and no beit din has stepped in to act (in which case they would be powerless, anyway).

    The RCA issued a statement on such issues back in April. I think it is an act of leadership that they have tried to shed some light on this. (Okay, I’m biased…) The statement was, of course, crafted with the input of poskim to whom the RCA members would turn for instruction on grave issues.

    Apr 27, 2010 — Whereas we have become increasingly aware of incidents of the sexual and physical abuse of children in our community; and

    Whereas, there have been a number of high profile cases in which Orthodox rabbis have been indicted or convicted for child abuse or child endangerment; and

    Whereas the lives and futures of many of these victims and their families are harmed in significant ways: suicide, post traumatic stress syndrome, inability to form healthy relationships, inability to develop healthy intimate relationships, etc.; and

    Whereas many victims of abuse in our community still remain silent and do not come forward to accuse perpetrators or seek help for fear of stigma, personal and familial consequences, or perceived halakhic concerns; and

    Whereas the Rabbinical Council of America has resolved through past resolutions its condemnation of abuse and its censure of abusers, and has affirmed, under the guidance and direction of its poskim (Rabbinic decisors,) that the prohibitions of mesirah (reporting crimes to the civil authorities) and arka’ot (adjudication in civil courts) do not apply in cases of abuse and in fact, it is halakhically obligatory to make such reports; and

    Whereas reiterating this long held position can serve to provide pastoral and halakhic leadership, support, direction and affirmation to abuse survivors and their families and advocates.

    Therefore, the Rabbinical Council of America resolves that

    • It reaffirms its unqualified condemnation of all forms of child abuse.

    • It reaffirms its halakhic position that the prohibitions of mesirah and arka’ot do not apply in cases of abuse.

    There’s a little more, but you all get the idea.

    This woman is to be commended, encouraged, protected, and supported!

  14. HSaboMilner says:

    FOLLOW UP QUESTION

    Why does it happen so often that the victim is blamed?

    • fille says:

      I suppose the mecanism goes like this:

      If you do not know the offender, you are ready to believe that he abused.

      If the offender is your son/husband/brother/best friend/best teacher/revered rabbi, you have known him for a long time and never seen him offending. So you cannot really believe he did it.

      That’s one aspect.

      Second aspect is called denial. Even if you believe he did it, you want to forget this fact as soon as you can.

      Third aspect: accusing the offender destroys the “harmony of the family” and gives the family a bad name. So it’s easier to reject the victim than to face the mess.

    • shorty says:

      its easier to blame the victim. Its easier to deny, say it didn’t happen, or chalk it up to a misunderstanding. To admit the truth is ugly sometimes, and people can’t handle it.

  15. I suspect that if this woman does not allow her children to testify, she risks losing THEM later in life. Painful though it may be to be shunned by her family now, being shunned by her own children down the road – for not doing what she knew all along was the right thing – will, I suspect, be even more painful.

    There’s a song lyric I like, by The Fray: “sometimes the hardest thing & the right thing are the same.” Never has it applied more, I think, than in the situation you describe. But this woman & her children owe it to themselves & to other potential future victims to do what they know is right. And shame on the rest of their family for not admitting the same.

  16. kisarita says:

    It’s not up to her. If they are called upon to testify, that’s it, she has no choice in the matter, unless she wants to go to jail for obstruction of justice. And would that help her kids????

    I suggest that you phrase it that way instead of focusing on the moral issue. It’s not up to her, and that’s final. She’ll lose a lot less sleep that way.

    (It’s easy enough for us outsiders to say what the right thing to do is, but when you’re experiencing the pressure you sometimes become less clearheaded.

    In fact, it may turn out to be empowering for her children and not harming them at all!)

  17. she is the only advocate for her children! she *has* to let them testify. and the family that’s treating her poorly because of it? do i even need to answer that question mark?!

  18. judit says:

    Wow, this is really a heartbreaking story :-( I agree that the man needs to be put away (either to jail or a mental institution) but I don’t agree with saying that the situation is cut and dried. To me the real question is not even the relationship between the mother and the family but the future psychical welfare of the children.

    There are several shades of this story aside from the black and the white. First of all, how would the court hearing impact the kids’ lives? Would they be enough to put the perpetrator away? What if their testimony turns out to be insufficient? If I was their attorney I’d try to find other ways to prove the man is guilty, and try as hard as I could to leave the kids out of the trial — if at all possible. If there is a little string of hope the man gets his sentence w/o the children’s testimony, I would leave them out of it.

    Do we know their age range?

    Those poor children seem to have been through a lot as it is, do we really want them to appear in front of the court and the jury and enter the grown-up world that way? Of course sometimes this is the only way, but I would try everything else first.

    • kisarita says:

      Judit, that’s the court’s decision, not hers.

      • judit says:

        It could be, but as far as I know — and I may be wrong — if the kids are minors they can deny testimony. I mean, the parents can. And they can ask for a psychological consult on whether or not the kids should testify. I am just always so worried when it’s about children and the legal system. Whatever the case may be, it is never good. But it can be bad and worse, even worst sometimes.

        The only people who need to be protected here are the children. And that should be first priority, even over sentencing the man who abused them. They still have a future, unlike this man who apparently did not learn his lesson in the first place. Although I think he will and should be sentenced.

        All I am saying is the children deserve a chance even if the price of it is to not testify. Whether or not it’s the court’s decision, the right thing is still he right thing. Whoever makes the decision, really.

  19. kisarita says:

    Ok I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know maybe I’m wrong, but I strongly feel that this is the type of decision that should NEVER be placed in the hands of a parent, or any other involved party! They’re too involved!
    Hadassah’s question is a perfect example why. Look how many external pressures this lady is being subject to.
    Besides, who says that testifying is inherently harmful to them?

    • judit says:

      Nobody says it is inherently harmful. It COULD be, though, non-inherently, so to speak … and if there is even the slightest risk for that to happen, I would say no to the kids’ testimony. Their lives are more precious than anything and that should be the main focus of the case. Exactly BECAUSE they have been through enough … And I mean this is even more important than the perpetrator’s fate.
      Anger is NEVER a good voice to listen to, even if this story makes me outraged just as much as it makes you outraged. Or basically any normal homo sapiens. But we should listen to the voice of wisdom and reason instead of the voice of anger is all I am saying.

      Not the parent, the representing legal counsel should find another way to put that monster away. Nobody said it was the parent’s job. The parent may or may not deny the testimony of their children but their lawyer should advise them on this issue. And they should do so wisely.

  20. R'n Myriam Kahane says:

    I have for the past 17 years been a shalom bayitt counselor
    and this is one of the hardest things we deal with. For a woman,
    a mother already dealing with the tragedy of having her childrens
    innocence taken to also be subjected to such sinas chinum is
    revolting. When I have done speaking engagements on abuse
    in our community I am even in this day and age met by skepticism
    that such things even occur. Many cannot quite comprehend
    that something like this could touch their sheltered lives.
    The case study I speak about is my own. Yes even to a bas Kohen it can happen. It is 2010 (regular calendar) and the first kasha is usually about whether misera permits seeking help and whether even speaking of it is permissable due to L’shon hara. My response to them and to this is the same.
    Of all our mitzvoth, all our commandments and they are commandments,
    not suggestions, they all tell us that pikuach nefesh is the one above all others. That to save a life is paramount. What is a life when the neshama has
    been shattered by those they trusted to keep them safe. Pikuach nefesh means in this case that those charged with the sacred duty of protecting
    children have instead taught them to feel ashamed and dirty.
    The behaviour of those adults is the shande here. Ima did everything right.
    My very heart goes out to her and we should all applaud her strength throughout this nightmare. If she is truly worried about being shunned
    she and her children can safely be moved to a place where their past is their own .

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