Rules on Screening for Sex Offenders Vary Widely at Jewish Schools

Akiva Roth Was Hired as a Hebrew Teacher After Being Convicted of Lewdness

Voice of Caution: Dr. Fred Berlin of Johns Hopkins views recidivism rates skeptically.
courtesy of fred berlin
Voice of Caution: Dr. Fred Berlin of Johns Hopkins views recidivism rates skeptically.

By Paul Berger

Published October 18, 2013, issue of October 25, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

On paper, Hillel has a much more stringent hiring policy. Ellen Goldstein, a Hillel spokeswoman, said that Hillel conducts criminal background checks on all employees — except those at several smaller private universities, where Hillel relies on the universities to conduct background checks themselves. Goldstein said that universities are all capable of conducting background checks, “and I believe that today, they all are.”

Drew University, which employed Roth as an adjunct lecturer of Hebrew from 1999 until 2006, and where Roth was also the university chaplain and Hillel director, did not respond to repeated requests for clarification about whether it conducts background checks on employees today.

Drew would not comment on Roth’s employment except to confirm the dates he worked at the university.

Daniel Swinton, senior executive vice president of The NCHERM Group, a law and consulting firm that advises schools and colleges on risk management, said that although background checks are best practice in higher education, they are often overlooked at smaller, private universities that do not want to commit the manpower or money to do the work.

Even if background checks reveal a past history of abuse, experts differ on how to use that information in the hiring process. Some say the recidivism rate for sex offences is so high — 90% or more — that it is not worth the risk. Others say such recidivism rates are wildly exaggerated and that in a controlled environment, someone with a record of sex offenses could work with young people.

Such experts point to studies showing that recidivism among sex offenders is reasonably low. One such recent study, part-funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, found that recidivism for sex offenders 10 years after conviction was just 10%.

Dr. Howard Zonana, who chaired the American Psychiatric Association’s Task Force on Sexually Dangerous Offenders, said a child sex offender may not pose a risk to students over the age of 18 if the offender is attracted to only prepubescent boys, and if no direct force or violence was involved in previous offenses.

Zonana, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University, pointed out that students age 18 and older are “capable of being consenting adults.” Although, he added, “most schools have prohibitions against faculty getting sexually involved with students” anyway.

Y.U. did not respond to a question about its policy on sexual relations between faculty and students.

Dr. Fred Berlin, director of the Sexual Behaviors Consultation Unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said that recidivism rates among sex offenders are as political as they are scientific, and that people often “select the number most compatible with the point they are wanting to make.”

Berlin said that if an adult with a conviction for child sex offenses is to be employed, it must be done “thoughtfully and in a way that is not going to endanger others.”

He said that he would not put such an offender into an unsupervised setting with children. But as long as college students are properly educated about reporting when “lines have been crossed” and know they should not be sexually involved with their teachers, employing an offender at university level is not “taking an unreasonable risk.”

In recent years, there has been a movement toward helping convicted sex offenders fight workplace discrimination. But Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist, said that recidivism studies that are often used to buttress such arguments are unreliable.

Dietz said that because only a small fraction of sex crimes are ever detected, it follows that only a small proportion of recidivist crimes would be detected. “All studies are consistent with the hypothesis that recidivism is 90% to 100%, but offenders vary with how often they get caught and what proportion of their offenses get detected,” Dietz said.

Dietz, who also runs a company that advises organizations on how to prevent workplace violence, said that employers must build in safeguards “by not allowing the offender to be within the vicinity of his target group.”

In the case of Yeshiva College, Roth was employed on the same Washington Heights campus as Y.U.’s boys high school and dormitory, which is one block away from the Furst Hall building in which he was teaching.

Dietz says that employers have to be extremely careful. “People drop the ball again and again out of some misplaced hope that people will learn their lesson or that if this time we put him around adults or the elderly, we won’t have a problem,” he said. “But then some family brings their children along to visit their elderly grandfather, and a sex offender offers to take their kid for ice cream.

“We see this again and again in all institutions that function under this premise of hope and redemption, and I think religious institutions of many persuasions are particularly susceptible.”

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter, @pdberger


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.