August 4, 2012
The sentence given to Rabbi Stanley Z. Levitt, the former religious instructor who pleaded guilty to four counts of indecent assault and battery on children, harks back to the long-discredited view that shame alone is enough to punish a prominent person who violates his position of authority. The 66-year-old Levitt was given 10 years of probation and ordered to stay away from children, register as a sex offender, and wear a GPS bracelet. It’s not enough. He should have been put behind bars.
Not all sex-abuse cases are alike, but Levitt’s followed a now-familiar pattern of a teacher or religious leader who shattered the trust that parents placed in him. Levitt’s crimes took place 37 years ago, when he was a teacher at the Orthodox Jewish Maimonides School in Brookline. He touched three boys in a sexual manner, and all were prepared to testify against him.
Though Judge Geraldine Hines could only consider these offenses, Levitt also was charged with molesting three boys in Philadelphia after he left the Boston area in 1980. As Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer who took on the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston in sex-abuse cases, pointed out, “This could be just the tip of the iceberg.”
It could. But even if Levitt had led a blameless life since assaulting the three boys in Boston, he should have been put in prison on those cases alone. Society has come to accept the idea that sexual offenses against children reverberate for decades in their lives, and that the effects can be shattering. One of Levitt’s victims, Michael Brecher, told the court that the abuse “affected my spiritual, psychological, and, I believe, physical life and growth profoundly.”
In deciding to spare Levitt a prison sentence, Hines referred to a plea agreement last December in which prosecutors had pledged to recommend no prison time. But Levitt rejected that deal at the last minute, dragging out the case at great pain to the victims and cost to the public. He only decided to plead guilty again after seeing the strength of the prosecution’s case. By then, prosecutors were recommending two and a half years in prison.
That sounds about right.