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The Jewish Report Editorial

Vigilantism versus being vigilant

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I would be first in line to see a paedophile or a sexual offender convicted of the crimes he or she has committed and sentenced to a long time in jail. I’m always willing to help put such people behind bars. I have no sympathy at all for sexual predators, no matter who they are.

Even if they simply can’t help themselves, they need to be removed from society so that they cannot harm anyone else. It’s incumbent on us to do what we can to protect potential victims from falling prey to these offenders.

However, we need proof that such a person has done these horrible deeds – or even one of them. And that person needs to be charged and tried according to the law before we can find them guilty.

As a community or a society, we aren’t judges or jurors, and we can’t find people guilty because of rumours. Granted, I do believe that where there’s smoke, there’s generally fire. But would I put my head on a block that in every case there’s fire? Not a chance! I would want the facts and proof.

Now, there has been more than rumblings about a certain male educator in our community who was believed by some to be a hebephile (someone who sexually abuses adolescents), however until now, nobody had laid a charge against this person. So, nothing much could be done.

There was obviously much frustration about this as people feared that while waiting for someone to come forward, other teenagers might fall prey to this alleged perpetrator.

For all I know, this might have happened, or it might not have.

While I, too, feel the frustration of being powerless in protecting our children, it’s not for us to find someone guilty.

Charges have to be laid, and people need to follow the law.

As we well know, young or old, it’s extremely difficult to come forward about having been sexually abused. And in cases where young men have been groomed into sexual abuse, it’s that much tougher because unfortunately, they feel so much unwarranted guilt and shame. There’s also so much fear of what others will think of them, and how they will shame those they love.

All too often, those who are abused are vulnerable to start with, a trait that abusers often pick up on before grooming their next victim.

Also, the victim generally has mixed feelings towards his abuser because there’s invariably strong emotions involved. It’s complicated, but it makes sense that we’re in a situation in which we want people to come forward to report an abuser, but so often they believe they can’t.

So, if we know that such a person is preying on our youngsters and we can’t get victims to come forward, what do we do to protect our young? This is a million-dollar question. I don’t have the answer, and we sat with this very question for a long time.

The point is that this week, when a WhatsApp message and then a Facebook post named and shamed a person that is alleged to be a perpetrator, there’s a chance they were wrong about this person.

More than that, it’s incumbent on us to find other ways of bringing a person before a court of law. Naming and shaming someone without charges against them is vigilantism.

What if there’s some mistake and this person isn’t guilty? What if he is? Do we have a right to be his judges and executioners? Surely he should be given a chance to be brought before a court of law and/or stand up to his crimes?

This is such a difficult situation, because like every other person in our community, I want to do everything in my power to protect our children and anyone from gender-based violence and sexual abuse. And sometimes it’s almost impossible.

When there’s a name known of someone believed to be committing these crimes, do we warn people about him?

What if we’re wrong? I know I keep saying this, but the reason we have courts is so those wise judges, who are trained to make decisions about who is and isn’t guilty, can do their work. Thereafter, the court will decide on a fitting punishment.

Consider this: What happens after the word spreads on social media naming and shaming someone said to be a paedophile, or in this case a hebephile?

People automatically turn against him – en masse. Few might support him, but most will be concerned about spending time with him. They are likely to avoid allowing their young adults, boys, or children anywhere near him.

They effectively destroy his life. And all this before he has been arrested or officially charged. What if they’re wrong? What kind of future does such a person have?

If he’s guilty, he may never see the inside of a court to be proven one way or another.

I understand why some are relieved that his name is out there, but I believe it to be the wrong way to do things.

Hopefully it will bring young men who have been abused out of the woodwork to report their abuse. Perhaps this will lead to a trial.

Perhaps we’ll look back at this moment in our community and say the end justified the means.

But perhaps we won’t, and perhaps we’ll look back on this time and feel ashamed because we weren’t judges and juries. We were ordinary, fallible people who had publicly shamed someone – guilty or not.

What we need to do is show those who have been abused that they will have our total loving support in reporting what happened to them as a means to ensure that no other innocent person gets hurt.

Let’s help them to put sexual predators away legally.

Shabbat Shalom!

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