Panic in Jerusalem
Parents in a tight-knit neighborhood believe a pedophile ring is terrorizing children. What if it doesn’t exist?
A study of past cases reveals startling similarities: The accusation always begins with a single complaint and is always parent-driven. The children’s accounts contain fabulous or impossible elements—magic tunnels, bullets that find their target, walls and people that disappear, and so on. The conspiracies being alleged are far-reaching and highly improbable. There are untrained professionals involved driving the investigations. There are nearly always claims of video recording and of being forced to watch porn and adults having sex.
This history is relevant because, to borrow Lanning’s term, a multi-dimensional sex ring has never once been substantiated. Never, despite the enormity of the crimes in question, and despite the numbers of times they’ve been alleged, has any independently corroborated evidence been found. Many of the children who testified in these cases have, as adults, recanted their testimonies, and courts have, over the years, turned over convictions that were based purely on children’s testimonies. In the most famous of these cases—the McMartin preschool trial in California, which ran from 1984 through 1990 and in which more than 350 children claimed they had been abused at their daycare center—every single allegation was thrown out.
Before Noa Klein went to the police, no parents or any adult in Nahlaot had ever made an official complaint to police alleging anything like this. No parent claimed to notice their child came home horrifically abused, beaten, or raped, despite the fact that the abuse allegedly went on for years and is of an extraordinarily violent nature. No child was reported missing. Indeed, up until October 2010, no adult ever noticed anything amiss, despite the tightness of Nahlaot’s layout, and despite the children’s reports that they were herded up in broad daylight. No teacher ever spoke up; nobody noticed a dozen children missing from school for hours at a time, then returned after bouts of violent sexual abuse. Many of the apartments where the acts allegedly took place are immediately adjacent to other homes, but no neighbors ever noticed that anything was amiss. No forensic evidence has been found. No incriminating videos or any sort of media have been discovered, despite computers and hard drives of the accused being seized (or stolen), and despite nearly every alleged act being videotaped or photographed. (In fact, according to Lanning, no media indicating the existence of a multi-dimensional sex ring has ever been found, despite very extensive seizures of child pornography worldwide.) None of this means that instances of abuse did not occur. But the question of whether one or more children were molested has been minimized by the hunt for a massive pedophile ring.
Many in the community see the absence of evidence as proof that the police or the judge are suppressing the evidence. “The only people who have the computers are the police,” one resident told me. “And all the kids say there was video involved, and all the computers have been confiscated, yet they’ve shown us nothing.” Steinherz claims that some of the accused are computer geniuses, and that they’ve encrypted the material so that it can’t be accessed, and that the police have allowed family members of the accused to hide or destroy potential evidence.
Police did find tools in Satz’s apartment—Satz is an amateur bookbinder—that the children said were used in their abuse. But they had no traces of incriminating DNA. The only tangible evidence submitted to the court was a photo album of children from the neighborhood that was found in Satz’s apartment. In it, the children are fully clothed and in non-sexual positions.
Instead, parents have offered up retrospective insights into their children’s states: All behavioral and development issues, from bedwetting to nervousness, became indications of abuse. There were no reports of rectal bleeding or any other physical signs that would be expected. Yet entire medical records of children have been thoroughly reviewed by Steinherz and others, and seemingly every entry is now presented as an indication of abuse. Parents now recall episodes when children were missing for brief periods of time, or came home crying, or clung to their mothers. Rashes, constipation, and urinary infections—not abnormal conditions for children—are now assumed to be the result of sexual abuse. “Physically, he never had simanim [physical signs],” Lerner told me about her younger son. “If it was red, I thought he had a rash, I thought he was constipated,” she said. “I never imagined it was … you don’t imagine such things.”
According to Politi, Manheim, who made the first official complaint against Satz, later admitted in court to repeatedly asking his son, over the course of that week, if something ever happened to him at the hands of Binyamin Satz. According to Politi, Manheim’s son, who has testified in court against Satz, first denied this, then claimed that something had indeed happened. As a result, Satz was then re-arrested, and after a series of interrogations that, contra to Israeli law, were not recorded, confessed. (The confession itself, and not the hours of conversation that preceded it, is on tape. But Israeli law mandates that all police-suspect interactions—especially with suspects charged with a felony—must be video-recorded.) In the confession, Satz admits that he might have touched the kids under their clothes, and that he might be sexually attracted to children. Politi says his client was threatened: He was told he could go home if he confessed and to a large extent did not understand what was happening. Politi told me: “The investigator asked, ‘So you put your finger in his ass?’ and Satz answered, ‘I guess so, kids don’t lie.’ She asked, ‘You told me the whole truth?’ And Satz says, ‘I told you much more than the whole truth.’ ”
Did this man do this to you? To a child, this is highly suggestive, especially coming from a panicked parent convinced something has in fact happened. Some children who admitted something had happened to them were given candy or toys. Parents showed their children pictures of suspects and asked if these men had done anything to them. Many children who denied being abused were repeatedly questioned, especially after a suspect’s guilt was seemingly established. A mother, who has requested anonymity, recounted her reaction when told that Sid “Skippy” Marcus had allegedly abused her children: “We asked our kids, and they were like no, no, no, no. And the day Skippy was arrested … I asked my son: Did Skippy ever do anything immodest to you? And he goes like this [nodding].”
We must drop the assumption that there is no way to vanquish Hamas. Terrorists have been defeated before.