Gloves come off in Frankel child abuse allegation
New developments are sure to shake the close-knit South African Jewish community, including questions about what Frankel’s wife Callie knew.
The lobby organisation Women and Men Against Child Abuse (WMACA) hosted a packed media conference in Johannesburg last week Thursday, with Ian Levitt, the lawyer representing the seven claimants and forensic psychologist Leonard Carr.
Four harrowing, graphic statements from the alleged victims were read out. “The gloves are off, there is nothing subtle about abuse,” said WMACA co-founder Miranda Friedmann. Apparently, a dozen others have come forward but are not ready to join the case.
In South Africa, a criminal case may not be laid more than 20 years after an incidence of child abuse. WMACA is campaigning to change the law, in line with the UK, Canada, Ireland and half the US states. The plaintiffs are therefore pursuing a civil case, each seeking R5 million in damages. In an affidavit, Frankel denied all allegations, claiming this was a conspiracy to extort money.
In what Levitt characterised as an intimidation tactic by Frankel’s defence team, led by Billy Gundelfinger, the three claimants based overseas have each been required to put up security of R144 000 against the defendant’s costs.
The plaintiffs hit back publicly. To bolster their case, Levitt lodged court papers, including two recorded phone calls from August 2013 – between claimant Nicole Diamond and Sidney Frankel, and between Diamond and Callie Frankel (see the Eyewitness News website).
When Diamond asks Sidney Frankel to meet and talk about the alleged abuse, he says he will only do so with his lawyer. Callie Frankel refuses to meet Diamond, saying: “This is not my issue” and: “What I have done about it is my business.”
Levitt asked what Callie knew, when she knew, and what she did about it.
He said that criminal charges would be laid in August. The court would reject them due to the 20-year proscription. They would then take the decision under review, all the way to the Constitutional Court if necessary. “They want this man in jail,” he said.
Leonard Carr explained why abuse victims can take so long to tell their stories. “Once you are violated, this can affect you for life,” he said. The profound shame and mortification of abuse shifts one’s sense of self.
“Children can’t stand up to godlike, omnipotent authority figures,” and are reluctant to disclose abuse, fearing adults’ reactions. People question and blame the victim, and disclosure promotes secondary trauma.
Toxic secrets therefore brew for many years. Paedophiles manipulate the child to drop his or her defences and trust the abuser. Later in life this leads to mistrust, or abusive relationships, because the person can suspect any warm, loving actions as a prelude to exploitation.
Carr said if the abuse was difficult to disclose, this should add to the veracity of the claims.
Many adults tend not to believe children when they do come forward, as happened with one alleged victim from the Arcadia Children’s Home when he claimed Frankel abused him.
Speakers noted that things had changed radically since the 1980s, with allegations taken much more seriously today. WMACA’s Luke Lamprechts said that actions against abuse in the Jewish community had been very encouraging in the last few years, with hard-hitting programmes in Jewish organisations, schools and shuls.
“There is recognition that this is an issue, and must be addressed.” He cited Kidsafe and Koleinu as prominent initiatives.
Carr asked why cases like this cause some to question the Jewish community as a whole, when race and religion are seldom discussed in other instances.
Friedmann said: “Abuse transcends every race and religion. It just happens that many of the people involved in this instance are Jewish.” She said this was an isolated case.
In a subsequent media statement, Gundelfinger castigated Levitt for trying this case in the media.