[This article was updated at 3:04pm Feb. 9, 2018]
In the 48 hours following the publication of “Did Baltimore’s Orthodox Community Turn A Blind Eye To Child Sexual Abuse?” by the New York Jewish Week on Jan. 17, 2018, Baltimore resident Rabbi Shmuel Krawatsky was terminated from his teaching position at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community Day School and resigned from his role as director of a teen inclusion minyan for disabled youth at Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim.
One of the individuals the New York Jewish Week’s reporter spoke to was Assistant State’s Attorney Lindy Angel, chief of the sex crimes and child abuse unit in Frederick County. Angel was named in the police reports, obtained by Kol HaBirah on Jan. 25, 2018, as the person who reviewed the information provided by the police and declined to pursue criminal charges against Rabbi Krawatsky — this despite the statements by Child Protective Services investigators that evidence indicated two of the three boys in question had been abused, and that in one instance “the sexual molestation or exploitation was more likely than not caused by Rabbi Krawatsky.”
Kol HaBirah asked Angel: Why didn’t the state take the case to trial?
“Without having re-reviewed any and all of the reports at issue, this is my present recollection,” Angel responded via email Jan. 30, 2018. “Generally, the original report contained allegations that could not be corroborated and, in fact, were discredited during the investigation. Based upon those reports, there was insufficient credible information to charge anyone with sexual child abuse.”
“My recollection was that the parental influence was quite clear, and while I certainly would not accuse the children of lying, there was ample evidence that statements were likely a product of that influence,” she continued. “Moreover, the ‘new’ information began to emerge after the parents had been told that the evidence was insufficient. What followed was a barrage of additional allegations which, when investigated, were more consistent with parental interference and coaching than with the natural and unaffected piecemeal disclosures of abused children.”
The police reports from the three cases, a summary of which were shared online by Kol HaBirah Jan. 29, 2018, include mention by the children of being prepared by their parents for conversations or being reminded by them about specific details to share. One of the parents is also described as putting “firm and strong verbal pressure” on an alleged victim (not her own child but one of the others).
When asked by the investigators about a child’s reference to “practic[ing] with his parents twice in the hotel what to say and talk about today,” his mother said they were going over what was going to be discussed to better prepare and comfort their child. There is no record in the police reports that any of the parents or children gave or received instructions to lie to investigators.
As for the “new” information referenced by Angel, according to three experts consulted by Kol HaBirah — a medical doctor, psychologist, and social worker, each with decades of experience evaluating cases of reported sexual abuse of children — it is not uncommon for children to withhold details about their assault out of shame, a desire to please, fear of reprisal from the perpetrator, or lack of understanding or vocabulary for what happened to them.
[UPDATE: Readers have requested more information about the experts cited:
None of the three experts are affiliated with the camp, school, or synagogue at which Rabbi Krawatsky was previously employed. All three were provided with details from the police reports referenced in http://kolhabirah.com/.../1158-police-reports-raises...; in both this article and the previous one, Kol HaBirah indicated that it does not have access to the forensic transcripts referenced and that these are critical to the cases.
The social worker is based in the tri-state area and asked that her name not be used in compliance with professional policy. The medical doctor, a Baltimore resident with credentials and expertise relevant to the topic, was kept anonymous to protect her privacy (this individual confirmed she does not have any social ties to the subject of the investigations). The psychologist, Dr. Maggie Bruck of Johns Hopkins, is quoted directly later in the article; her position on the reasons children disclose information over time was drawn from her multiple publications on the reliability and credibility of reports by young and adolescent children.]
The social worker said that if a child was coached or led by a parent or the interviewer, the “tainted” interview couldn’t be used to determine the validity of allegations, but a subsequent interview by a trained expert could produce valid information. The medical doctor, on the other hand, said that repeated questioning of a child over time can prompt them to change their story in an effort to please.
Kol HaBirah does not presently have access to the forensic interview transcripts with alleged victims in the Rabbi Krawatsky case, and “that first interview is all important,” Dr. Maggie Bruck, a professor of child and adololescent psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, said via email Feb. 1, 2018. Dr. Bruck’s research on interviewer bias and suggestive interview techniques helped pave the way for best practices used today. “Police notes of what the child said is no replacement, because these are only notes of what the police remembered but do not contain information of how the child was questioned to get that information out. You need to look for signs of panic, contamination — parents calling parents, children talking to children — at least.”
The McMartin Preschool case in the 1980s received national media attention for its graphic allegations of sexual abuse of children and offers an example of what the perception of coaching or unintentional suggestion in interviews with children can do to a sexual abuse lawsuit.
According to a 2006 study published in Psychology Press, the prosecutors in the McMartin case relied heavily on videotaped interviews of children that the jury criticized as “highly leading.” In 2005, Debbie Nathan of the LA Times co-authored an article with former McMartin preschool student, Kyle Zirpolo. In the article, titled “I’m Sorry,” Zirpolo talked about why he fabricated allegations against the adults who ran the preschool. “I remember them asking extremely uncomfortable questions about whether Ray touched me and about all the teachers and what they did — and I remember telling them nothing happened to me,” he said. “. . . Anytime I would give them an answer that they didn’t like, they would ask again and encourage me to give them the answer they were looking for . . . I felt uncomfortable and a little ashamed that I was being dishonest. But at the same time, being the type of person I was, whatever my parents wanted me to do, I would do.”
Ross E. Cheit, a political science professor at Brown University, spent more than a decade researching the McMartin case. In 2014, the New York Times reported that while Cheit acknowledged that some defendants were falsely accused of sexual abuse, the evidence suggested to him that one of the individuals was actually guilty but went unconvicted because poor choices by the interviewers undermined the credibility of the tapes. He described the possibility that some of the children were not only sexually abused but also “demeaned by the witch-hunt narrative’s assertion that the entire case was a ‘hoax’” as a “double injustice.”
Rabbi Krawatsky and his wife Shira are suing parents Joel and Rachel Avrunin (who agreed to identify themselves by name in the New York Jewish Week article and are therefore named here), a second set of parents (who went unnamed in the aforementioned article to protect their son’s privacy), and the accusers’ public ally, Chaim Levin, on charges of defamation and conspiracy. They filed their complaint in Maryland district court Jan. 30, 2018, and are seeking $75 million in damages — $15 million per defendant. The families of the alleged victims intend to take Rabbi Krawatsky to court in the coming months; Levin said the plaintiffs will include additional parties beyond the three families from the Jewish Week article.
Kol HaBirah will continue to follow this developing story, which is having a major impact on the Baltimore/Washington Jewish community.
By Rachel Kohn
Rachel Kohn is editor in chief of Kol HaBirah.