Thursday, July 29, 2010

Teacher molested kids for 20 years, while community turned blind eye

Teacher molested kids for 20 years, while community turned blind eye
Police are investigating a man who allegedly sexual abused dozens of children on Moshav Kommemiyut over two decades.
By Tamar Rotem
For almost 20 years, one man allegedly sexually abused dozens of children on Moshav Kommemiyut, an ultra-Orthodox community in the northern Negev. Yet no one ever complained - either to the police or to the welfare authorities.

The police have since opened an investigation into the abuses, but the suspect is in the U.S. and refuses to return. Meanwhile, some say community leaders knew of the crimes but did nothing to stop them.

At least one of the victims is suspected of having sexually abused younger children in turn.

The main suspect, Shimshon Walzer, began his alleged career as an abuser 19 years ago, while serving as a teacher at a religious elementary school. Two years later, rumors of his abusive conduct led to him being fired as a teacher. Yet for some reason, he was allowed to retain an office at the school.

Over the ensuing years, his conduct became ever more abusive, police say, and an entire generation of children became his sex slaves. According to the testimony they have collected, he abused his victims frequently and in broad daylight, in barns and chicken coops, in fields and even at the mikveh (ritual bath ).

The testimony reveals that the victims were usually young - aged 9 or 10, or sometimes a bit older - and generally came from families whose from lower social status. Walzer would allegedly pick them up from school or synagogue in his car.

Police have been conducting an undercover investigation of Walzer for the last few months. Over the course of the probe, they began to suspect that some of the victims had also been sexually abused by a second person.

Suspect indicted

That person, who was a minor at the time most of his alleged crimes were committed, was indicted two weeks ago on charges of sodomy and indecent assault, then released to house arrest. But Walzer was not indicted at the same time, because he was out of the country.

In April, Walzer had gone to the United States to raise funds for the elementary school and the moshav's synagogue. While there, he realized that the noose was tightening about his neck and decided not to return to Israel.

The prosecution recently decided not to seek his extradition, fearing the process was likely to prove complicated, due in part to the fact that the statute of limitations has already expired on some of his alleged crimes.

Some Kommemiyut residents, as well as some of the victims, told police the rabbi of the moshav, the principal of the school and members of the moshav's governing body all knew about the alleged abuse committed by the two suspects. But most residents denied that any abuse had occurred.

Walzer's attorney insisted that he had not returned because he was still fund-raising, and would "fight for the truth when he decides to return."

An attorney for the other suspect said his alleged victim "suffers from credibility problems, to say the least, and his desire to harm Haredi society in general, and the Walzer family in particular, is clear. We believe his testimony will not hold up."

Kommemiyut's rabbi, Mendel Mendelson, declined to respond to Haaretz's questions.

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