Home » Community Life, David Werdiger, Recent Posts

Gossip Danger

July 22, 2011 – 9:54 am20 Comments

By David Werdiger
“I won’t let my child ever walk home alone again from school”, I heard a mother say, in the wake of the tragic abduction and murder of Leiby Kletzky in the supposedly safe Orthodox Jewish suburb of Boro Park in New York. An alarm and fear has descended upon a global community who until now collectively felt that “these things don’t happen in our neighbourhood”.

The natural reaction of parents is to become extra protective. Between this and the regular breaking news about the alleged cases of sex abuse within our local community have come renewed efforts to educate our children about ‘stranger danger’, and how to pick up the signs of potential abuse. The police team investigating the reports has been recently expanded to meet the huge surge of complaints as victims come forward, the blogosphere and online media are buzzing, and with that, we need renewed efforts to educate ourselves about ‘gossip danger’.

There have been several examples of anonymous accusers naming names in online media and directly accusing individuals of awful crimes. It almost goes without saying that hiding behind a veil of anonymity to accuse others by name is a most cowardly and disingenuous thing to do. Most recently, fake comments have been posted in the name of a known community member in these pages, and it took several hours (during which several people responded to the fake comment) for the moderators to deal with it. It is a constant challenge for the editors of GA and other online media to strike a balance between facilitating free and open debate and ensuring commenters do not impersonate other and laws are not broken. Many accusations and suspicions floating around in some unmoderated blogs are still there!

As important as it is to report suspected crimes to the police, it is equally important to understand how dangerous and damaging public accusations of any kind can be. For us as a community to act collectively to root out the scourge of sexual abuse that has been lurking in the shadows for way too long, we must work with the relevant authorities exclusively, and let them do their jobs. Only by following due process and allowing these things to take their course can we bring about just outcomes. All it takes is one false accusation that blows up into a nasty law suit, or an innocent person’s reputation or family tainted for life, and we will be find ourselves jumping back to the dark culture of secrecy that we are seeking to escape from.

Our natural desire to talk about these things (whether motivated by a desire to protect, or simply nosiness) causes gossip and rumour to spread quickly, and here, people need to apply a simple test. Do they want to help the victims? (after all, it is primarily about the victims, isn’t it?) If they do, then they should consider any discussion about the topic in that light. Talk of “X is about to be arrested”, or “Y was abused as a child”, or “Z is under investigation” not only add nothing (and are probably lashon hara or motzi shem ra), but also may cause victims to feel less willing to come forward, and can destroy the reputation of innocent people. After all, our system of justice presumes innocence until proven otherwise. If we don’t uphold these same standards ourselves, then our community risks becoming a hotbed of fear and suspicion.

A Pandora’s Box has been opened. It cannot (and should not) be closed. If we don’t find the right balance in the way we deal with these matters, we will only do our community more harm.

Print Friendly

20 Comments »

  • TheSadducee says:

    Mr W – noting your comments about public allegations – do you think Manny Waks should have gone public in the newspaper about his situation or should have just reported it to the police?

    And with regards to false comments – the simplest way to avoid a repeat of the false comments is for the mods to actually verify the contributer’s identity from their email for their first post.
    The mods don’t need to let people know who is commenting, merely confirm for themselves that they are genuine.

  • leedsiy says:

    B’H

    gut voch. Exactly. If you do not post under your own name, at least the moderators of Galus should know who you are and that you are legit. Disgusting that some one was impersonated on this site and there needs to be tighter controls on posting and a password and verification process that allows a manual check.
    There are positives from Manny Waks going public and I do not need to tell you what they are. Many people do not report these crimes because of shame and embarrassment. That is how abusers get away with doing what they do. They rely on the victims’ sense of embarrassment and shame to allow them to hide. They are also very good at hiding their abuse until confronted with undeniable facts. Most abusers are magnificent liars and know how to manipulate and deceive.

  • Sadducee,

    Talking to the press is a double edged sword. On one hand, they are likely to inflate and sensationalize a story like this. On the other hand, going public helps others come forward. As a result of the story, many more victims have filed complaints, and the police investigation has expanded. On that metric, I’d have to say that Waks is vindicated. As an aside, there is another article about the relationship between the Orthodox world and the media brewing in my head.

    Sadducee & leedsiy,

    It is completely impractical for an online magazine to verify every single comment. That will either be too costly, or simply shut down any discussion. The pragmatic thing to do is manage by exception, which is what most everyone does in this industry. Unlike some others, I respect the right of commenters to stay anonymous, as long as they keep it clean, and think the discussions in these pages about the motives and identity of such posters adds nothing to the actual debates. Raphael Aron told me (in person – it was either him or an alien who looks exactly like him) that he was impressed with the manner and the expedience with which the editors dealt with the fraudulent comment made in his name. I don’t think we can demand more than that.

  • harryh says:

    Rabbi Telsner in his Drasha on Shabbat explicitly said that it is forbidden to go the newspapers

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Rabbi Telsner is a dick to have said that.

  • Malki Rose says:

    Hold on a second,

    Rabbi Telsner did not say don’t go to the Police, he said don’t go to the newspapers.

    I am not a massive fan of Rabbi Telsner, but I find myself agreeing with the essence of this idea.

    One should most certainly go directly to the Police. The media are not a court, they cannot process the guilty from the innocent and in fact cloud the issue and the lines between right and wrong.

    If and where possible media should be avoided, and used only as a last resort.

    What does not make any sense is why someone’s name would be published and they would be labelled a ‘molester’ in a public forum when they have not even been charged with anything.

    Surely this kind of media act suggests that anyone can be labelled anything, without any attention to moral compass or consequence, at any time.

    This makes every single person vulnerable.

    I do not understand the process of referring to someone in the media for more than a fortnight, and then slowly leaking information about the accused to several different news sources and ultimately naming him. Why in all that time has an arrest not been made? Surely if the individual in question IS a molester as the papers state he would be in police custody? or at the very least have been charged with something by now?
    How is trial by media acceptable? Where is the legal process?
    Naming individuals in the media ensures that everyone is guilty until proven innocent… many innocent lives are being destroyed in the anonymous media naming frenzy. It is not only ugly and immoral, but becoming very very dangerous.

    While it is up to us, the public and the community to discuss and refine our approaches to these issues we must remember – These cases and the accused are for the Police to process… NOT the media!

  • Bruce J Cooke says:

    The newspaper that named him would surely have had legal advice.The newspaper is virtually saying to Cyprys “We dare you to sue us”.If Cyprys did that then some very unpleasant truths would be exposed so he insn’t going to do anything in my opinion.

  • @Daniel Levy – a personal slur against a Rabbi contributes very little to this debate.

  • Malki Rose says:

    Bruce

    You’ve missed my point, perhaps read my post again.

    It is not about who can and cannot sue. Nor who’s legal bases are covered. We all know that all that is required is for media to use the phrase ‘alleged’ to make them somewhat absolved of legal accusatives.

    But that’s not the point.

    Read my post again. You’ll find it is about the important moral process of this issue, something which has been forgotten. About WHERE an accused SHOULD be processed- in the court of public opinion or a court of law.

    Sure at the end of all of this the falsely acccused can sue for defamation or damages, but the damage to lives, families, children has already been done.

    No legal remedy can ever repair that.

  • Reality Check says:

    I totally agree with David Werdiger here, how disrespectfull of saying that about a rabbi. Whether he is right or wrong I tend to agree with him that you go to the police first. The newspapers with make a story of it whatever way and in the process people’s names become mud. You can’t trust the papers; their only aim is to sell more of them.

  • TheSadducee says:

    David W

    Every post doesn’t need to be verified – just the initial post – the chance that someone can imitate the verified email of another poster is slim. If they post under the same identity but with a different email then it needs to be verified. Do you understand the idea?

    I don’t agree with Daniel’s phrasing re. R.Telsner, but I do think it would be prudent for him to avoid giving advice on public relations matters to others when he is directly involved in the controversy. It just makes it look like he is acting out of self-interest, rather than anyone else’s interest.

  • Joe in Australia says:

    Malki: As far as I am aware (and all I know is what has been reported) there have been allegations made about two people: David Kramer and David Cyprys. I presume that the media attention was coordinated by the Victoria Police in an attempt to get more people to come forward to provide information. It may possibly be because David Kramer’s release date is approaching, after which he can be extradited.

    I don’t know whether the allegations regarding David Cyprys relate to events after 1992, when he reportedly pleaded guilty to molestation. If there are no fresh allegations then I feel sorry for him – our culture and the Australian legal system are founded on the idea of rehabilitation, and the events for which he was tried were around twenty years ago. If he has committed further acts, of course, it’s his own lookout.

    I detest trial by media as much as you do, but I’d like to know more about the circumstances under which molestation took place at Yeshivah College. I’ve received a letter explaining that they’ve taken steps to prevent a recurrence – but that’s hardly satisfying when we don’t know what happened and what failures led to it. I think they could be a lot franker without exposing themselves to legal liability.

  • Pinni says:

    David, thank you so much for posting this article.

    For what it is worth I have felt utterly ill over the past couple of weeks with what is happening in and to our community, especially as we are approaching Tisha B’Av.

    I understand implicitly the importance of supporting ‘genuine’ abuse victims, however surely we need to maintain a healthy balance between this support and falsely accusing innocent people.

    I would have thought that we as a Jewish Nation would and should be a little less hasty to judge others, deem them guilty before they have had the right (according to both Australian and Jewish Law) to a fair trial (not a trial by media)and persecute and denigrate the accused (and their family and friends)with harsh words, despicable rumours and hurtful insinuations.

    If a ‘genuine’ victim comes forward, surely, as Rav Telsner said in his drosha, they should go to the Police and allow the authorities to assess and investigate the situation, hopefully with discretion and confidentiality and not go running to the newspapers. Unfortunately, the media has had an absolute field day at our community’s expense.

    I fear that if this current climate surrounding all of us is not somehow balanced and stabilised, not only will ‘genuine’ victims in the future not feel safe to come forward, for fear of their abuse ending up publicised in the media, but the ‘sinas chinum’ that is present among us will ultimately be, chas vesholom, the end of us.

  • C.M. says:

    Surely the moderators of this blog can delete and ban the above post by an obvious antisemite and psycho (and quite possibly a heavy drug user too).

    The comment is not only insanely psychotic, anti semiticbut also deeply offensive in so many ways.

    Please remove.

  • Chana says:

    Please remove post by “Former Jew”. It is blatantly anti-seimitic and bordering on plain insanity.

  • Michellesmith says:

    Parents also should not neglect to talk about situations in which a stranger might want to lure a child away by offering sweets or asking if they would like to see something appealing like a kitten. Experts advise parents to give their children clear rules if they ever find themselves in such a situation. They should be told not to give out any information about themselves or their family, never to go along with a stranger who offers such things and not to open the home to people without asking their parents first. I have read an article about a mobile application for safety and protection for children. Just pressing a button they can notify and alert friends, family and myself. If needed, the call will be routed to the nearest 911 dispatch. Protect your children check this out http://www.emergencymgmt.com/emergency-blogs/tips/mobiletrec-safekids-052211.html

  • michael says:

    Rabbinical Council of NSW Statement to AJN

    In recent days, internal, private, learned academic discussions on finer points of halacha were leaked to the press without authorisation. These do not necessarily reflect the position of the RCNSW.

    At a scheduled full meeting of the RCNSW held today at which Rabbi Yossi Feldman presided, the Rabbinical Council of Victoria’s published statement relating to child abuse was unanimously adopted.

    At the same time, the RCNSW condemns unreservedly any leaking of correspondence reflecting private rabbinic deliberations prior to resolution, adoption and dissemination.

    Rabbi Chaim Ingram

    Honorary Secretary
    41, Llandaff Street,
    Bondi Junction,
    2022
    Mobile: 0423 831 845

  • Sam says:

    The above statement made by Rabbi Ingram, secretary of the Rabbinical Council of NSW, is the weakest example of damage control I have seen in a very long time. The Council may have maintained a small measure of credibility by allowing Rabbi Feldman to fall on his sword as a solo act. By blaming persons unknown for leaking preliminary rabbinical deliberations the whole organization will earn derision from almost everyone, including their own peers. COSA and ORA have already released statements abhorring the statement attributed to Rabbi Feldman in the AJN.

  • david segal says:

    David

    You wrote:

    “and are probably lashon hara or motzi shem ra)”.

    in Halacha “Motzi shem ra” originally applied only to one specific case, (see devarim 22, 13-21), but was extended to include other cases, it is interesting to note that under the Halacha, defamation (Hotzaat Diba) is “only” a religious prohibition, and a defamed person can’t claim damages, however to protect the public a defamer was find and in extreme cases he was put in a Cherem, (see Mharal in “Drasha L’shabat Shuva”, and in “Ntiv Halashon” (chapter 9).

    Also See here:

    http://www.daat.ac.il/mishpat-ivri/skirot/70-2.htm

  • Mosh says:

    Eds: Defamatory comment removed

Leave a comment!

You must be logged in to post a comment.