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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child protection in religious organisations and settings Investigation Report


C.9: The desire to manage allegations internally

50. As set out above, various religious organisations encourage victims to report matters internally rather than to external bodies. The religious institution then decides if such reports are to be disclosed further.

51. Dr Andrew Davies, Director of the Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, told us that in some faith communities there is:

“a sense that ‘nothing could go wrong here’, that they are safe places to attend, and that strict adherence to procedure is not essential in all cases since the community has the capacity to resolve its challenges together informally.”[1]

52. Under current procedures of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, elders are required to contact the Legal Department and Service Department of the Central Branch Office for guidance about disclosure and if there is reason to believe a child is “in danger of abuse” to also go to the statutory authorities.[2]

53. In the Jewish context, there is an organisation called Agudath Israel of America, which Ms Goldsobel told us has “worldwide influence”. In 2011, it issued a ruling: 

“It reiterated … that before any reports of child abuse are made to the police, they must, in the first instance, be reported to a rabbi who would decide whether ‘raglayim ledavar’ (lit. ‘Legs to the matter’) applied, i.e., whether there was a prima facia [sic] case to be made”.[3]

54. We were also made aware of the child protection policy for the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School in Hackney, which appeared online in 2015 and includes a stipulation that outside agencies should only be involved “after consultation with the Rabbinate of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations”.[4]

55. For some in Jewish Charedi communities, the concept of mesirah – that for one Jew to report another to a non-Rabbinic authority is forbidden – may prevent the reporting of abuse outside the Charedi community.[5] Specifically, it is believed to be forbidden under Halacha – the strict codes of biblical and Rabbinic law that govern the daily lives of those within the Charedi community.[6] Ms Goldsobel told us about mesirah:

“I think it literally translates as someone who reports a fellow Jew to the secular authorities. In slang terms, let’s just call it a snitch almost. It’s … used as a weight and leverage against victims and survivors in reporting their abuse to the authorities, that you would be classed as a moser, as someone who has snitched.”[7]

56. That the concept of mesirah prevents the reporting of abuse was seen in a 2013 Channel 4 Dispatches documentary. A senior rabbi within the UOHC used the term to counsel a survivor of sexual abuse against reporting the perpetrator to the police.[8] Shema Koli, an organisation providing counselling and support to survivors of abuse who are members of the Charedi community, had to provide training in 2015 to make it clear that the concept should not be applied to the reporting of sexual abuse.[9] Rabbi Jehudah Baumgarten of the UOHC told this Inquiry:

“mesirah does not apply where the person being reported is causing harm to others, such as in the case of CSA. The rabbinate is absolutely clear that this is not mesirah … the rabbinate has made it clear via the tools of training through the Interlink Foundation.”[10]

57. Following the Dispatches documentary, the Rabbinate issued a position that set out that there are “certain circumstances which it is right and proper to contact the social service and/or the police”.[11] Although this statement is welcome, it is of note that it implies that there will be circumstances when it would not be proper to contact social services or the police. Rabbi Baumgarten accepted that this statement was not sufficiently clear. He said that the committee for the protection of children would not be required to go to the Rabbinate on every case and ask whether or not it can be reported.[12]

58. In some cases, religious communities have internal mechanisms for resolving disputes, often drawn on by their members in place of reporting to state bodies. As Ms Patel told us:

“Family and community mediation in relation to family matters is extensively practised in many South-Asian communities … religious or community figures … usually male, who have some authority … will bring together the accused and the accuser and will mediate in order to come to an informal settlement.”[13]

While Ms Patel’s comments centred on the experience of women suffering domestic abuse, marital rape or other forms of violence, informal mediations also take place in the context of allegations of child sexual abuse, and can operate as a substitute for referral to state bodies.

59. A Beth Din is a Jewish religious court with religious judges (dayanim) who are experts in Jewish law.[14] Under Jewish law, Beth Dins can be made up of any three qualified males, and need not be registered to hold hearings or issue rulings. According to Rabbi Baumgarten, a Beth Din does not deal with criminal matters, and child sexual abuse cases would never be referred to it.[15] Ms Goldsobel told us that:

“‘pop up’ Beth dins are sometimes convened to hear high profile or problematic cases, often held in secret and with no records kept.”[16]

In her experience, while a Beth Din might not formally deal with cases of child sexual abuse, sometimes it is “informally done, not at a Beth Din, so to speak, but yet, these people still represent the Beth Din even when they are sitting at their dining room table, not just when they are at work”.[17] Ms Goldsobel said that she had heard “multiple times” of rabbis “suggesting that if the alleged offender would pay for therapy for the victim, then that’s a really, in their eyes, effective way of dealing with the situation”.[18]

60. The case of Todros Grynhaus is an example where rabbis became involved in attempting to resolve issues related to abuse without the involvement of the statutory authorities. Grynhaus was convicted in 2015 of the serious sexual abuse of two adolescent girls.[19] In 2011, he effectively admitted that the allegations against him were true at a meeting with two rabbis.[20] In sentencing Grynhaus in July 2015, Mr Justice Holroyde stated:

“I have no doubt that you felt able to rely on a prevailing attitude of insularity which you hoped would prevent these allegations ever coming to the attention of the police. You hoped that, at worst, you might have to pay a form of financial penalty as directed by the Beth Din. I have no doubt that is why, when confronted … with PR-A15’s allegations, you merely asked, in an unemotional and businesslike way, what they wanted you to do.”[21]


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