THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
The documentary Standing Silent hits the ground running. In its opening minutes, we see Phil Jacobs, an editor at Baltimore's Jewish Times newspaper, phoning a well-known and beloved rabbi to inform him of child sexual abuse allegations made against him. Complicating the issue is that this rabbi has close personal connections to Jacobs, having married Phil and his wife. What do you do when a child abuser is in the midst of a close-knit community? That's the question asked by this powerful and shocking film.
A former victim of sexual molestation himself, Jacobs has used his platform to seek justice for innocent children who have been taken advantage of by rabbis or others of prominence in the local Orthodox Jewish community. To his great frustration, he discovers that too many people don't want the truth to come out. Rather than thanking him for exposing child abusers, Jacobs instead finds himself shunned. Occasionally, someone will angrily approach him in public, wanting to know why he is “ruining” the lives of these men by publishing their names in the newspaper. During the course of the film, directors Scott Rosenfelt and Malachi Leopold follow Jacobs as he investigates one such abuser. When he locates the man at work in a local deli, he sees a coverup taking place first-hand, as the man's associates band together to hide the accused – and to openly mock Jacobs to his face. Interview segments show Jacobs – and several now-grown victims of child sexual abuse – lamenting the “protect the abuser” mentality that is far too prevalent.
Using expert commentary, Standing Silent reveals a very disturbing truth about the sexual abuse of children: molesters commit their crimes in places where they know those around them have a lot to lose by having the molestation become public. Whether it's in a single city's Jewish community, on the campus of a major university like Penn State, or within the structured hierarchy of something like the Catholic church, a willingness to deny by surrounding individuals is crucial to the abuser's plan. The need to protect the whole (a religion, an organization, a football team, etc.) causes people to deny what is right in front of their faces, or to tell themselves that they can handle the situation internally. It is this very mentality that allows the abuse to continue, and pedophiles count on it. Many of these individuals also wield a great amount of power, which further keeps them insulated from arrest and prosecution.
Phil Jacobs repeatedly brings forth evidence of crimes committed against children, and is repeatedly chastised for doing so because of this phenomenon. But he doesn't stop. The last section of the film finds him at the hearing of an abuser he has exposed. The outcome of that trial yields mixed emotions. He feels good about his work, yet also frustrated because he knows the systemic denial continues. Watching Standing Silent, you come to understand what drives him, and why his mission is so important. The documentary also provides an astute analysis of the mindset that fosters child sexual abuse. People don't want to believe their rabbis – or pastors, or priests – would be capable of committing such heinous acts. And so they simply tell themselves it can't be true, even when evidence suggests that it is.
Hard-hitting and enlightening, Standing Silent is a compelling film that also serves as a call to arms, encouraging everyone to be vigilant and dogged in doing whatever it takes to stop those who would sexually abuse a child. And Phil Jacobs? Well, that man's a hero.
( 1/2 out of four)
Note: Standing Silent is an entry in the DigiNext In-Venue Film Festival. It opens on January 25, 2013 and will play for one week at all Digiplex Destinations cinemas in Arizona, California, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. At certain shows, a live Q&A Skype session with Phil Jacobs and Scott Rosenfelt will follow the feature. For more information, visit the official Digiplex Destinations website.
Standing Silent is unrated but contains mature subject matter and adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 21 minutes.
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