Abuse: Halachic and Ethical Dilemmas (2)

Thanks to all who commented on the first scenario. Consider, now, a new scenario.

Your daughter is showing signs of strain. She has not been herself for some time. You have tried all manner of parental approach: the stick and the carrot and you can’t seem to manage to cajole her to be on the same page as you and your husband. She is also not performing to her ability at school.

You become aware of rumours that a male associated with your daughter’s school has been exposing himself and may well have fondled or even forced himself on some girls. When you hear these rumours you are in a state of disbelief. You cannot imagine that this apparently fine and upstanding individual would do such things. If he did, then you conclude that he must be sick or have experienced some trauma that has scrambled his moral compass.

One day your daughter casually mentions that the said person approached her and attempted to interfere with her. You aren’t sure whether actual interference has taken place. On the other hand, this may well explain her unusual behaviour and lack of focus. Given the rumours, you run to the School and meet with the powers that be. They tell you that there have been issues with this person and that he is receiving treatment and the strong indications are that this earlier behaviour will no longer be manifest. It’s a close-knit school where each parent knows the other and shares strong common ideals. The school did not contact the police because they felt they were dealing with it internally through professionals. Their Rabbi forbade “Mesira” anyway and there was no mandatory reporting in place.

You are concerned. The said perpetrator is still “at large” in the sense that he is able to find ways to continue to interact with the children in the School. You are told he has done Teshuva. What do you do?

  1. Do you allow any of your children to continue to be enrolled in the School?
  2. Do you have a halachic responsibility to inform as many parents as possible about what happened to your daughter? (What about her shidduch chances and those of the siblings, given the close-knit community)
  3. Should you go to the press or post on a blog, even anonymously.
  4. If you fail to advise other parents and the police, and another child is interfered with are you halachically or ethically culpable?
  5. Did you transgress לפני עיוור לא תתן מכשול and/or לא תעמוד על דם רעך?
  6. Can parents now sue you for damages, both halachically and civilly?
  7. Can your children sue you if you didn’t remove them from the School?

“Reality looks much more obvious in hindsight than in foresight. People who experience hindsight bias misapply current hindsight to past foresight. They perceive events that occurred to have been more predictable before the fact than was actually the case”. Hersh Shefrin

Abuse: Halachic and Ethical Dilemmas

Consider this scenario

The family of a victim of sexual abuse approaches the abuser and their family. The family of the abused has not yet reported the said abuse to the police; instead they initially confront the abused and their family. The situation becomes complicated and lawyers are brought in. Lawyers for both sides settle on an agreement involving some “compensation.” In return the abuser agrees to plead guilty to a somewhat lesser offence without recording a conviction.

The lawyer of the abuser is under no doubt that her client is a dangerous pedophile. She had a choice. She could have refused to take the case. In the end, whether she was the lawyer who accepted the brief, or a lawyer who turned the case down, she is unable to remove thoughts from her head. She is convinced that the abuser is a dangerous person and that he may continue on his misadventure and sexually abuse others. She is bound by client confidentiality; we understand that. 

My question relates to the Halachic imperative. Is a lawyer/person in such a case permitted to remain silent? Is there not a real problem of contravening a Torah command:

לא תעמוד על דם רעך

Unfortunately, the abuser commits further crimes. Is the lawyer somehow responsible? If they are not directly responsible, are they indirectly culpable?  Later victims, upon learning that a lawyer knew about the abuse and stayed silent, decide to summons the lawyer to a בית דין. They seek at least financial compensation for the years of medical treatment and the lost opportunity that a victim must carry all their life.

  • Is the lawyer permitted to stay silent from a Jewish point of view?
  • If the lawyer isn’t culpable from a Western legal point of view, how should the family of the lawyer respond to their vilification by elements of the community who are disgusted that their mother didn’t pass on her very real fears to the authorities?
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