At a recent address to a group of mental health professionals, Rav Dovid Cohen shared his perspective regarding the very disturbing events surrounding the sexual predator, Chaim Walder.  Rav Dovid made more than one point, but I’d like to focus on what I believe is the most important, most essential one.

Many of us have become so caught up in the question of whether Walder is evil or not, or whether he was mentally ill or not, that we lose sight of a key issue. It doesn’t really matter for us, as a community, whether he was evil, or ill, or even redeemable. (Elisheva Liss, LMFT, in her recent Nefesh blog post, explains to us why we should avoid labeling offenders as monsters, particularly when we teach and protect our children.)

Rav Dovid taught us that a forceful, decisive response to Walder and his ilk is not powered by עונש/punishment. It isn’t the place of Beis Din, in this day and age, to mete out punishment.

HOWEVER, Beis Din does still serve a role as protector of the public, and so do we. Rav Dovid has taught therapists, for years and years, that sexual predators come under the category of מיצר-מצער הציבור. Beis Din and other responsible individuals are essentially permitted to do what it takes to stop sexual predators, essentially Rodfim, from continuing their malfeasance.

Years ago, when everyone was arguing that we could not call Child Protective Services or Law Enforcement regarding abusers, Rav Dovid said “The Shulchan Aruch permits, mandates us to turn them in.”

If we are dealing with the dynamic of Rodef, then intention, illness and family history fade into the background. It doesn’t matter whether the predator is conscious of their malintent. It doesn’t matter whether they struggle with the very specific diagnosis of pedophilia. It doesn’t matter whether they are burdened with a personality disorder. It doesn’t matter whether they suffered any recent tragedies or whether they had a difficult upbringing.

What does matter is that someone with an established pattern of predation still has access to our children, our families, our community. Our priority is to protect innocent victims and ultimately to protect the larger public.

Not all protection is the same. If, for example, a child, on one occasion, crosses or even violates the boundaries of a younger child, we don’t immediately imprison them. We do, however, speak and act, and we do so clearly, decisively, and effectively.

If we see a pattern emerging, we are obliged to protect (and treat) the other children, while also getting the offending child the treatment they need. (I would leave the specifics of intervention to recognized experts, such as Hillel Sternstein, LCSW, Barry Horowitz, LCSW-R, and Rozi Wax, LMFT, LMHC.)

On the more malignant end of the abuse spectrum, though, when an adult exploits their power, cultivates problematic relationships and/or sexually assaults others, manipulates and coerces their victims to stay silent, our priority is to do whatever it takes to protect the innocent.

In the least, those of us who are mental health professionals have the capacity to recognize behaviors that are exploitative, that are coercive and manipulative and to shine a spotlight on them. Rav Dovid Cohen has taught us that our priority is to protect innocents.

After an offender has been unambiguously identified as a menace to society, after the offender has been taken off the streets, after the innocents are provided a safe space whether to talk or remain silent (as noted elsewhere by my colleague Sarah Miller, Ph.D.), then we can begin to consider how to diagnose and treat that offender, how/whether to preserve their Parnassah/livelihood, and how to somehow uphold the dignity of their family.


Photo Credit: Unsplash: Vitolda Klein