It’s one year since the Forward published its first story about abuse allegations at Yeshiva University’s High School for Boys in Manhattan.
Little did we know then that the recollections of four former students would prompt dozens of men to come forward with their own claims of abuse. Nor could we have foreseen that it would lead to a $380 million lawsuit against Y.U. and an internal investigation that found “multiple instances” in which Y.U. staff failed to respond to allegations of abuse.
One year ago, the allegations, particularly against Y.U. high school’s former principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, were treated within the Modern Orthodox community as a rumor. Today, it is widely accepted that inappropriate behavior went on for decades at a range of Y.U. institutions and that those in charge failed in their duty to protect students.
These are troubling times for Y.U. The institution has a special place in the Modern Orthodox community. Its deep fiscal troubles, coupled with the negative publicity and financial threat posed by the lawsuit, have conspired to create an air of crisis.
At times like these people’s instinct is to rally around. And rally they have. Anecdotally, I have heard of people hectoring the victims, who are seen as either whiners or money-grubbers. The refrain among many is still that what happened to the victims was either not serious enough or happened too long ago to be dredged up now.
Horace Mann alumni like me got emails in our in-boxes a few days ago and soon thereafter, the news was splashed everywhere: our alma mater had officially apologized. The school apologized for the many instances of child abuse, sexual assault and worse that journalists have revealed as occurring in its classrooms, hallways and teacher’s homes.
One thing the administration didn’t do? Commission the investigation sought after by survivors.
This latter failure isn’t surprising. As I noted when the story first broke, institutions — unless pressed extremely hard — always close ranks and do the bare minimum needed to concede wrongdoing. And schools are particularly funny as institutions go. They purportedly exist to serve students, but students move through them, out of them, away.
After this transient population moves on, what’s left is the “good name” of the institution, the institution’s staff and leadership, and most importantly its money. Even the buildings don’t always remain, at least not on the campuses of New York private schools, which have raced to outbuild each other in absurd ways. Private education can be great, but it has a bottom line.
And the bottom line means that the stewards of places like Horace Mann will be invested in brushing off the taint of scandal, of criminality. They are always looking to return the focus to their students’ impressive Ivy League acceptance rates, well-equipped classrooms and gleaming buildings.
Hence, the apology without an investigation, sent out on the Friday before a holiday weekend, when it would have the least-possible impact.
Three weeks ago, the Forward published a story about the dramatic increase in arrests of Orthodox men for child sexual abuse in Brooklyn. The figure that the Forward published — 89 men arrested and charged between October 2009 and October 2011 — was given to this newspaper during two separate conversations with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s spokesman Jerry Schmetterer in early November. When the Forward asked for written confirmation, Schmetterer responded by e-mail: “We are not prepared to discuss this at this time. Perhaps towards the end of November.”
Well, November has come and gone and District Attorney Charles Hynes’s office continues to avoid confirming the number or to answer related questions.
The Forward has requested the names of the 89 Orthodox men who were arrested and the crimes they were charged with. It has also asked the DA to explain the reason behind the startling rise in arrests.
During the previous two years — October 2007 to October 2009 — the DA arrested and charged 26 Orthodox men with sexual abuse. At the time, a D.A. spokesman said these arrests included “some cases” that involved adult victims. Prior to that, the frequency of arrests was much lower.