Social Worker: Most ultra-Orthodox Children Who Were Sexually Abused Not Treated

"Most cases of abuse in our community are not referred for treatment at all," says an ultra-Orthodox social worker, one of the few who treats ultra-Orthodox children and teens who are victims of sexual abuse. "It happens because children don't understand what happened to them. After all, they're not exposed to information on the subject in the media, and at home they don't talk about it. They are naive, and the parents lack awareness. This week, for example, a 16-year-old girl walked to the store and the storeowner attacked her, hugging and kissing her. It took her time to realize what this was. It's hard to understand, but she is from a very closed community. Her parents are cold and to the point. There are no hugs and kisses at home."

The social worker was describing the specific problems the ultra-Orthodox community faces in addressing sexual abuse. This week, police revealed their suspicions that a serial assailant was on the prowl in the Haredi city Bnei Brak, and said the locale has the highest rate of sex offenses in the country, by tens of percentage points.

These crimes persist under a veil of ignorance and shame.

"Most of the children don't talk about the abuse. But people start to sense a change in the children's behavior. They refuse to go to routine places, to school, to the grocery store. They suffer from insomnia and lose their appetites. They lash out suddenly at their parents.

"The child expects the parents to protect him, to identify and diagnose his distress, but they don't. The parents never even imagine that a problem exists. I, too, before I got into this field, didn't believe it. I thought, it can't happen in our circles. It's a false accusation, an exaggeration.

"The children who do divulge the secret are those who grow up in families where they feel safe, and aren't afraid they will be blamed for being bad children. The parents don't always know how to react. This week, a girl was followed home. The man groped her and threatened her not to yell. She was afraid to tell her father and when she finally did, the father yelled at her and didn't defend her.

"Many parents deny it. They tell the boy or girl, 'forget about it.' Most still don't go to the police or seek treatment because they are afraid that if it becomes known, this will cause even more damage. Treating ultra-Orthodox children focuses mainly on counseling the parents. It depends, of course, on the severity and duration of the abuse.

"In cases of long-term abuse, treatment is necessary. Young children receive treatment in the form of game or art therapy. Treatment for teens involves a combination of talking and some form of creative art.

"Among the ultra-Orthodox, children are more independent. In a family of 10 children, it's impossible to escort every child. But the parents don't even take this issue into consideration. It's not considered abuse in their world. They aren't aware of the dangers. Abuse of boys is more common in our community. It is possible that men have more opportunities to assault because of the separation of the sexes. Assaults at the mikveh are rare today. There isn't a single normal family that allows its child to go out alone. Parents also don't send their children to yeshivas with a dormitory.

"I don't know if there are more pedophiles among the ultra-Orthodox community than there are in any other community, but it's clear that assailants can cause more harm, because they can assault uninterrupted for years. This is because their victims don't report them. Usually if someone like this is caught, a teacher or a student, he is kicked out. They don't check further. Everyone worries about his children, and then almost certainly the abuser begins his assaults somewhere else."