Tuesday, December 11, 2012

When It's You Against The Group

The other day I was taking my daughter to school when a public service announcement came on the radio. It was sponsored by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, an agency I once worked for. The narrator was talking about foreclosure, and how the OCC could be able to help.

I turned to my daughter. "The OCC! I used to work there. Oh my G-d, a radio commercial! That's so cool!" and on and on.

My daughter said, "That's nice, Mom."

What did it mean to her, she wasn't there. But I was.

I remembered that day when Elizabeth Warren came to speak. It was sometime around 2004. She wasn't a senator-elect then. I sat at the back of the room and watched her rail against the exploitation of the consumer through deceptive marketing practices. She urged the OCC to get involved.

It was inspiring to see what Warren was trying to accomplish. She was outside the OCC system looking in. She was using her standing as a third-party wedge to say hey, the world is watching you. And we will hold you, the Agency, responsible.

Warren was standing up for the person against the group. And in July 2012, the Consumer Financial Protection Board, her brainchild, achieved its first enforcement action, together with the OCC - against Capital One. Nearly ten years later, a settlement of $210 million for deceptive marketing.

After the OCC I worked for Customs and Border Protection. One night a Border Patrol agent named Brian Terry fell in the line of duty and attention was drawn to "gunwalking" in a case that came to be known as Fast and Furious. I followed the case closely, in social media primarily. It was clear that whistleblowers in that case were not exactly welcomed with open arms.

I am interested in the ways groups act to silence people when those people threaten its dysfunction. There is organized intimidation. The person who notices or protests is made to seem out of touch, incompetent, crazy, etc. Remedies happen when someone tough enough to withstand it tells someone from the outside, who has no stake in the game and can't be persecuted by the group, who has to step in.

One of the causes adopted governmentwide in recent years is putting an end to human trafficking. This can take a variety of forms but is predominantly the sexual slavery of young women. I helped create an outreach campaign against it at CBP: "Death Is Not The Only Way To Save Your Life." (I think it was my friend and colleague Linda Kane who came up with that tagline.)

One of the reasons human trafficking is so difficult to eradicate is that when a girl is targeted, it's her against an immense machine. They threaten, beat, rape and imprison her. They take away her papers. They threaten her family. This makes it nearly impossible to report or get out.

Organized crime survives by targeting the individual who can't fight back. We saw this at Penn State too, with the needy children drawn into Second Mile, a charity run as a way for a pedophile to lure his victims.

Now in New York a case has just concluded in which a prominent member of the community, Rabbi Nechemya Weberman, was found guilty on 60 counts for sexually assaulting a minor he was supposed to be "counseling."

The fact of her victimization is bad enough. Worse than that - the community machine enabled the abuse by forcing her parents to pay for the "therapy" on pain of having her expelled from school. When the mother questioned his time alone with her, they forced her to apologize to him.

Supporters of the "rabbi" tried everything they could to keep this brave girl quiet. They tried to pay her to get out of town. They shamed her. A thousand men held a fundraiser for Weberman. The Grand Rabbi of the group called her unthinkable names, invoking nothing less than the Bible.

Upon the verdict, Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes even went so far as to say, "They better not fool around with this kid, her husband or her family." (a statement tweeted and retweeted extensively).

For the victim, the tables turned when she had the courage to speak out, and then when third-party institutions snapped into place. Followed and supported by public watchers who battled the insular sickness of this community, the same kind of sickness that saw students rioting in support of Jerry Sandusky.

And the ripple effect is like a rock thrown into a pond. There are statements supporting justice for the victim and posts by rabbis explaining why supporting a pedophile and silencing and shaming a victim is never religiously justified.

It's not easy to stand up against a group and cry foul. But people do it; there are ways. The main thing to remember is that you can't hold back a tsunami with your arms. It takes a village. Not just to raise a child, but to stand up against abuses of the system.