Jewish Community Watch: The Fight Against Childhood Sexual Abuse in the Orthodox Jewish Community

By: Sarah Casteel  |  February 15, 2018

In 2011, brothers Meyer and Shneur Seewald founded a small organization which would later become one of the most prominent organizations combating childhood sexual abuse (CSA) in the Orthodox Jewish community. The movement, which is considered to be controversial by some, exposes childhood sexual abusers to the public. They write articles, Facebook posts and website posts about predators from primarily America and Israel, as well as from any other countries where an abuser has been accused or convicted. The original motivation to create the movement was to target and publicly condemn sexual predators, which quickly prompted hundreds of victims of CSA to reach out to them for help.

The organization soon blew up, making moves to reduce and ultimately eliminate CSA in the worldwide Orthodox community.  It was officially named Jewish Community Watch, otherwise referred to as JCW.  The Seewald brothers brought in professionals and experts from areas such as law, psychology and Torah, to assist in their work.  The organization’s mission statement is: “Jewish Community Watch (JCW) is dedicated to protecting our children from sexual abuse by advocating, supporting and caring for victims all over the world.” JCW has continued to grow, to take on more responsibilities in ending CSA and the community’s refusal to properly address the issues, and to help thousands of victims.

In order to accomplish their goals of helping victims, educating the community and taking away the power of perpetrators to continue harming others, the organization has laid out their main framework: “We prevent abuse by warning parents, community members and educators about predators in their community, and work to put those predators behind bars. We educate the public by promoting child safety, increasing awareness, and eliminating the stigma and shame of abuse.  We help victims heal through our guidance and support, assisting them in their journey from victim to survivor.”  The multi-faceted organization has taken on the responsibility of both helping victims retroactively, proactively preventing further CSA, and taking action against those who have perpetrated such crimes.

JCW’s accomplishments are vast and impressive.  To educate the community, they have produced videos to raise awareness and educate the worldwide community and hosted awareness events. They also publish articles and educational materials on their website. To help victims, they have given therapy services, launched investigations and provided a variety of resources to help with their healing and justice.  Within the realm of Jewish law, JCW has influenced court rulings such as the Crown Heights rabbinical court, requiring abuse to be reported directly to the police. Finally, in terms of American law, JCW has assisted and cooperated with law enforcement, investigations and court cases, to bring justice and safety to the community.

JCW sometimes faces criticism for what they call the “wall of shame.”  The organization, which has almost 20,000 likes on Facebook and thousands of people visiting its website, has created a “wall of shame” to warn the community about accused predators. It features names, photos, locations and if possible, further information about each person.  There are over one hundred people on the list, which can be found on the website.  

Controversy and criticism of the website stem from the wall of shame and the organization’s public shaming of many people.  This is particularly true because some of the publicized condemnations are against people only accused, but not confirmed or convicted of having committed sexual abuse. The power that an individual or organization has to completely destroy a person’s life by sharing an allegation like this with the world is great, and some critics claim the organization is too liberal with its use of social media to shame many people.

On JCW’s website, there are various resources which are easily accessible. For example, there is an option to “ask a therapist,” where a person can put their contact information and a question, and a therapist will contact them directly. There is also a directory available to help people find a counseling center in their own area.  One young woman who reached out to JCW to help her find a therapist said that, “the organization does incredible things for so many people, and I am so lucky I had the courage to reach out for their help.”  Another person asked said, “I already had a therapist and support from family and friends, but reaching out to JCW employees gave me a new support system that I never realized I needed.”

In terms of education, there is an “education center” which includes information about sexual abuse and its effects, materials for parents to educate themselves, and how to empower children to be aware of and open about any situations that seem uncomfortable or unsafe.  

JCW also provides legal information online, including both US law and halacha.  The US law page gives information about the statutes of limitations on CSA, specific to each state. This means that a person can research how many years after a case of sexual abuse they are still able to bring legal action against a perpetrator.  On the other hand, the halacha page offers articles such as “Honoring Abusive Parents,” resolutions about sexual abuse by rabbis and other organizations, and various psakim from rabbanim such as Rav Elyashiv, the Jerusalem Bais Din and the Beth Joseph Beis Din.

For those who are not victims of childhood sexual abuse, or are not parents of such victims, there are also various relevant sections on the website. All members of the Jewish and Orthodox Jewish community are encouraged to educate themselves on CSA and its effects.  In addition, there are opportunities to help the organization’s effort through donations, volunteer opportunities and the chance to become a voice for victims by being involved with the organization’s social media and event hosting.

Yeshiva University students and other readers are encouraged to learn more about the organization, to like its page on Facebook and to consider taking advantage of the various available volunteer opportunities. Victims of childhood sexual abuse, or those supporting such victims, are encouraged to reach out to JCW for support and resources. Stay tuned for an exclusive interview with JCW founder, Meyer Seewald, in an upcoming edition of The Observer.