After a story was published last week in The New York Jewish Week detailing the alleged sexual abuse of three boys at a Frederick County Jewish summer camp by a Baltimore rabbi, community reactions have been mixed but included the rabbi’s firing from a Jewish day school, where he taught middle- schoolers, and his resignation as leader of a synagogue’s teen minyan.
Some vocal supporters of Rabbi Steven (Shmuel) Krawatsky, who denies all the allegations, took to the internet to defend him vehemently on social media, saying the rabbi had been falsely accused and accusing the parents of one of the boys, who had chosen to come forward publicly, of being liars.
But those parents, Rachel and Joel Avrunin, say they came forward to educate people.
“The number one reason we wanted to come forward was to give people the choice to protect their own children,” Joel Avrunin said Monday. “I can do my very best to give [my son] therapy and allow him to heal, but I’m hoping that the article gives people the choice to protect their own children and not put them into that situation.”
That alleged situation involved their son and two other boys at Camp Shoresh in Frederick County in the summer of 2015, where Krawatsky led the lower boys’ division. The boys were 7 and 8 at the time. The Jewish Week article, which the Avrunins said accurately reflects their family’s experiences surrounding the incident, includes their son’s accounts of allegedly being propositioned for money in a locker room by Krawatsky for sexual touching. When the boy refused, the boy said that Krawatsky punched him. The parents said their son came home one day with bruises to his stomach, which he initially explained as a sports injury.
According to The Jewish Week, the rabbi also allegedly threatened to kill the boy and his parents if he told anyone. The stories later came out when the boy, after experiencing physical and emotional effects, told his parents in August 2015. According to The Jewish Week, in November 2017, the boy’s therapist reported that the boy alleged he had been raped by the rabbi. Mandated to report such alleged abuse, the therapist reported the rape to the Frederick County Child Advocacy Center, but a police investigation formerly closed was not reopened.
A Frederick County Child Protective Services investigation initially determined that Krawatsky was “indicated” for sexual abuse. But following appeals in 2016 by attorneys for Krawatsky, that determination was downgraded to “unsubstantiated,” which, in the parlance of CPS, does not indicate innocence.
“Everyone who knows Rabbi [Krawatsky] knows that he has never and would never hurt a child in any way. Period. End of story,” said Krawatsky’s attorney, Christopher M. Rolle, in an email. “Rabbi [Krawatsky] has made it his life’s work to be a teacher of children.”
“[My] client deeply appreciates all of the many people who have so strongly supported him in the face of the false accusations,” Rolle added. “He is truly humbled at the incredible outpouring of love and support so many people have shown to him and his family.”
But for the Avrunin family, some of the public outpouring has been negative social media comments directed against them, anyone who defends them and the reporter who wrote The Jewish Week article.
“When we realized that the community was absolutely going to protect [Krawatsky], it wasn’t even a question in my mind. We need our son to have a safe childhood,” Rachel Avrunin told the JT last week. “If other people do not want their children to have safe childhoods, we are giving them the option to right now. That’s why we [agreed to be interviewed for] the article, in order to protect other children. That’s all we can do. God gives us choices in life. This is a choice that people have. They have the choice to be educated and keep their children safe.”
According to statistics cited by the nonprofit Darkness to Light, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry research found that false allegations of sexual abuse by children are rare, with only 4 to 8 percent of reports fabricated. And of that small percentage, most of those are made by adults involved in custody disputes, or by adolescents. In addition, only about 38 percent of children who are victims of sexual abuse tell someone about the abuse.
[pullquote]”I hope it makes people think a little bit more before they say things about abuse victims.” — Joel Avrunin[/pullquote]
The Avrunins moved from Baltimore in April 2016 to protect their son’s health, they said, not to run away from gossip as some of the rabbi’s supporters have said in online posts.
“We have an incredibly strong family, and we do a lot of outdoor activities. But that’s not what’s helped [our son] heal. What helped him heal is TFCBT — trauma- focused cognitive behavioral therapy — and moving,” Rachel Avrunin said. “He was terrified the entire time we were in Baltimore, because [Krawatsky] literally lived a mile from us. He lived four houses from my best friend’s mother, so every time we went there for lunch, we were taking a risk of him seeing the rabbi.”
Joel Avrunin said that they wanted to come forward because they “thought it was the most effective way of trying to keep other kids safe,” he said. “The secondary part of that education is, what impact you’re seeing now. I hope it makes people think a little bit more before they say things about abuse victims.”
And even though there seems to be more support for the rabbi than for their son, at least in the public eye, Joel Avrunin said that since The Jewish Week story was published, they have received, privately, an outpouring of positive comments.
“It’s been amazing, people just saying, ‘good job,’ and giving support as well. And people we hadn’t opened up to personally saying, ‘I didn’t know what you were going through,’” he said. “And frankly, I have spoken to people I haven’t spoken to in 15, 20 years who said, ‘I’m so sorry you’re going through this.’ And it provides a lot of strength just to know, ‘Sorry you’re going through this, sending my love and support.’ That’s been good to hear.”
(Photo by Aguru/E+/Getty Images)
Child Abuse Statistics
x In a 2012 maltreatment report, of the victims who were sexually abused, 26 percent were in the age group of 12 to 14, and 34 percent were younger than 9.
x Approximately 1.8 million adolescents in the United States have been the victims of sexual assault.
x Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately one in six boys and one in four girls are sexually abused before the age of 18.
x 35.8 percent of sexual assaults occur when the victim is between the ages of 12 and 17.
x 82 percent of all juvenile victims are female.
x 69 percent of the teen sexual assaults reported to law enforcement occurred in the residence of the victim, the offender or another individual.
x Teens 16 to 19 years of age were three-and-a-half times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault.
x Approximately one in five female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.
— From the U.S. Department of Justice Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website, nsopw.gov