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Sunday, May 22, 2022 

What changes has Haredi society seen since the Walder scandal broke?

In this feature on Times of Israel, they're discussing whether there's been any significant changes for the better in Haredi communities since the now dead-by-suicide Haredi author Chaim Walder was exposed as a serial rapist last year. One of the interviewees, who deals with such cases, said:
“We got calls concerning Chaim Walder already 25 years ago,” Gross told The Times of Israel in a recent phone interview. “But they were anonymous. So there was nothing we could do with them. I can’t go to the police when I don’t have victims willing to come forward.”
Thankfully, in recent years, more victims are willing to come forward, though whether the police will prove effective in jailing the offenders remains under a question mark, seeing as they didn't take serious action to arrest Walder when they had the chance. As noted further:
His success propelled him to a regular newspaper column and a radio show as he continued to be seen as a vocal advocate for combating child sex abuse, and he served as a key figure in the Bnei Brak Center for the Child and Family. In 2004, he received the “Child Defender” prize from then-prime minister Ariel Sharon for his work.

The shocking news that such a man was found guilty of abusing women and children dealt a blow to the Haredi world, prompting what some have called an unprecedented reckoning over how the community deals with such cases.
And lest we forget what a monster Sharon was at the end of his tenure, when he destroyed Gush Katif. That he was willing to give another monster an award can be held against him too. Then:
But close to six months after the story burst into the open, the question remains: Has anything truly changed? Are Haredi victims of rape and sexual assault more likely to come forward? And is the community more likely to believe them?

“I don’t agree in the idea, the concept of watershed moments with child sexual abuse in the Orthodox community,” said Shana Aaronson, executive director of the Israel-based Magen for Jewish Communities, a nonprofit that combats sexual abuse. “I think the watershed process here is really a series of moments.”

Over the years, she said, progress has been made “where victims share their stories publicly, where people choose to do the right thing and believe the victims, remove perpetrators from positions where they have access to children, all those things,” she said. “I think what happened with Walder is reflective of so many of those moments that we’ve seen over the last 10 years that led up to this.”
Yet the question remains whether such a society's changed its MO for the better, and vets its members to make sure they adhere to proper conduct rules. And whether they actually go to receive state approval for the career they'll work in, seeing how Walder himself didn't seem to have formal training, as one report stated.
Esty Shushan, a Haredi activist and the founder and CEO of Nivcharot, an organization promoting ultra-Orthodox women’s activism, said that in the immediate aftermath of Walder’s death, many in the community refused to believe the allegations – and blamed the victims for his suicide.

“At first, when the allegations were publicized, the public reaction was an almost wholesale denial… people didn’t want to believe that this is what had happened,” said Shushan.

There were some in the community, she said, “that [told the victims]: ‘you murdered somebody.’ And the the peak of this was his funeral in Bnei Brak… where all sorts of important rabbis eulogized him as if nothing had happened.”

One of the turning points in public perception, Shushan suggested, was the suicide days after his death of one of Walder’s alleged victims.

“I think that suddenly caused people to think that perhaps, after all, there is some truth” to the allegations
, said Shushan. “And I think it’s very sad that somebody had to die to garner that reaction.”
She's right on that. Those who blamed the victims - and tragically, there's doubtless plenty who still do - owe an apology to all who fell victim to Walder's evils.

And an additional tragedy is that long after Walder committed suicide, his books are still available at some outfits:
In the immediate aftermath of the Walder scandal, the well-known Eichler’s bookstore in Brooklyn announced that it was removing his books from its shelves, and the Israeli Haredi supermarket chain Osher Ad followed suit. But in early March, it was easy to find Walder’s books in stores in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods across Jerusalem.

At a branch in Givat Shaul of Yefe Nof Feldheim – Walder’s publisher – his books were on display, but not prominently. At the nearby Dani Books, a full shelf of Walder’s books exists, tucked away in the back. In Mea She’arim, practically every bookstore still stocks his offerings, including the famed Manny’s – a frequent target of extremist vandals unhappy with the shop’s wide selection – which boasts a full bookcase of his works. On the website of Steimatzky, the largest bookstore chain in Israel, most of Walder’s titles are still available for purchase, though its biggest competitor, Tzomet Sefarim, appears to have wiped the books from its online catalogue.
One can only wonder, of course, who in their right mind would buy them after this whole debacle? Sadly, there's a chance extremists could, and that's one more reason why, even though Walder is gone from this world, it's appalling the stores are still selling any stock they still have.
Aaronson said news of Walder’s suicide was “devastating” for victims.

“It was devastating for so many different survivors, for all survivors, I would say,” said Aaronson. “There’s the feeling [that] he took away the opportunity, again, of victims who wanted to have that chance to confront him.”

In addition, she said, abuse victims asked “how he could do that, and how the police could let that happen, why didn’t anyone take away his gun? All those kinds of questions and feelings.”
Very valid queries indeed. The ignorance of the authorities is exactly what allowed him to retain the firearm he used to commit suicide, and did he even have a license to own one? That's also unclear. All this allowed Walder to cheat his victims out of justice, and see him brought to a state court and hopefully imprisoned.
Following the Walder bombshell, Gross and Aaronson said their hotlines were flooded with a fresh wave of calls from sexual abuse victims.

“Within the first few days, our call load tripled,” said Aaronson. And two months after his suicide, she said “it is still significantly higher than it was before.”

In late February, Gross said “we are still getting tons of calls concerning him,” including from his victims and others who “are coming forward with their abuse stories as a result of the story.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Walder story, she noted, the hotline was spammed by “yeshiva boys” who would “call us every 30 seconds and hang up, or say disgusting things because they saw us as a threat.”

“They were calling to harass the line so victims couldn’t get through, I think.”
And that's abominable, as it proves there's deranged inhabitants in Haredi society who see nothing wrong with Walder's crimes.
In February, a series of students accused longtime Jerusalem teacher Tzvia Rotenberg of a pattern of sexual abuse against them when they were minors. Rotenberg denied all the accusations and remained in place as principal of the Maalot girls school in the Ramot neighborhood until she resigned about six weeks later. Her resignation reportedly came on the day she was summoned to appear before a rabbinic court on the allegations.

A group of young Haredi women held a protest outside the school in early March, expressing anger at the institution for continuing to employ her. The protest was organized in part by Sara Horowitz, a former student of Rotenberg who helped convince her classmates to come forward in the article first published in Israel Hayom.

“After the Chaim Walder story, there was a feeling in the community that now things will be different,” Horowitz told Ynet. “We expected inclusion, understanding and compassion for the victims, and a demand to deal with and condemn the abuser – but it didn’t happen. That caused great pain.”
As I feared, the chances this would serve as a wakeup call are still a long way off, though the interviewees do express hope for the future:
Gross suggested that there is a very slow but steady change occurring both publicly and privately.

“The community is taking steps forward and there is more awareness,” she said, noting that her organization has seen an increase in requests for sexual abuse awareness training from communal bodies and schools. “So there is change going on within the community.”

And Shushan said she is cautiously optimistic about the path forward for countering sexual abuse in the Haredi world.

“I think today there is more legitimacy and less denial of victims,” she said. She nevertheless lamented the failures of police and the legal system to bring abusers to justice – across all elements of Israeli society.
It's good she's aware the police have to take responsibility for not arresting Walder, ditto the legal system for not indicting him. Basically, what they did was allow a member of an insular community to get away with his horrific crimes, and now, we have a standout case where justice was trashed by political correctness. We must hope this too will change in the future, along with the Haredi attitudes towards sexual abuse itself.

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