As the daughter of Ilene Strauss of Jerusalem and Rabbi Steven Bayar of Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, Rahel Bayar, 36, had “a childhood of growing up, seeing, and experiencing the good things others do.”
And yet, or perhaps because of that upbringing, she has devoted her career to handling some of the greatest evils human beings can do to one another. Her field is dealing with victims of sex crimes and other forms of sexual abuse.
Labeling her “a warrior for those most vulnerable,” The New York Jewish Week, the parent company of NJJN, honored Bayar as one of “36 under 36” — young Jewish community leaders “who have demonstrated unique initiative, creativity, and leadership.”
Bayar said her parents taught her to be attuned to people’s needs. For instance, when one of her sister’s tutors couldn’t afford air conditioning during a sweltering summer, her dad told the tutor he knew of someone giving one away. Then he drove his daughters to an electronics store, bought a new unit, and gave it to the family.
“That’s what you do, and you do it in the most anonymous way possible so no one knows they’re receiving charity,” Bayar said.
Bayar received an Orthodox Jewish education at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston and Bruriah High School for Girls in Elizabeth. She then attended Rutgers University and Seton Hall Law School.
Armed with a law degree, she began as a prosecutor in the domestic violence bureau at the Bronx District Attorney’s office before moving to its sex crimes bureau.
“I knew that is where I wanted to go from the time I entered the DA’s office,” she told NJJN, understanding the special skills required to work with victims and survivors of sex crimes. “The children have just been through a tremendous trauma, and having the skill set to deal with them is something I was always interested in.”
She spent six years working under District Attorney Robert Johnson before she joined a group of former sex crimes prosecutors at T&M Protection Resources. At the private company based in Manhattan, Bayar said, “we do a tremendous amount of training and education in the field of sexual abuse prevention and a tremendous amount of consulting to help make places safer when it comes to sexual abuse.”
She and her colleagues also “do a lot of training on sexual harassment and sexual abuse prevention and investigations of such allegations in an institution or workplace.”
Bayar said her current position — senior consultant in the sexual misconduct consulting and investigation division — provides “a very unique opportunity. Whether it is training at a camp or a school, or university, or anywhere, it is an exciting bridge off of what I had done at the DA’s office.”
Bayar said sexual violence exists among people in all religions, all socio-economic levels, in every single community, and every single neighborhood. She cited statistics that one out of every four girls and one out of every six boys will be sexually abused or “have some sort of sexual abuse interaction” by the time they reach 18.
But, she noted, those figures may be skewed by the underreporting of sex crimes “because of the tremendous shame and embarrassment associated with them.”
She acknowledges that in “certain” Orthodox enclaves, the reporting of sex crimes against children is discouraged by some rabbis and community leaders. But, she said, several organizations are working with those leaders, explaining in halachic terms why it is not a problem to go to authorities when a child has been victimized.
The extensive media reporting on sex abuse in the Catholic church and at Penn State University “helped connect everybody on social media and has definitely made people more aware, and that is very important.”
Both women and men can be perpetrators, she said. “I have seen my fair share of both. It is a misconception that women can’t be sexual abusers.”
She is cautiously optimistic about the future. “We are going to see a big change in the next 10 years because of social media and the access everybody has to it. It is on the precipice of changing,” she said, but awareness “is not anywhere near where it needs to be yet.”
The importance of social media is that it gets people talking about what is often a taboo subject, Bayar said. It can also remove some of the isolation felt by many victims.
“What social media is starting to do is to provide a voice for people to come forward and a network of people around the world who are supporting them,” she said.
The Internet “gives people access to resources and shows that people are not alone,” she said, referring to online Jewish resources such as Jewish Community Watch and Kol v’Oz, both dedicated to preventing sexual abuse.
And yet, she added, “I wish that in 10 years there would be no more need for any sex crimes prosecutors or people who work on this issue in the private sector, but I don’t believe that will ever be the case.”
Despite that, Bayar said, she thinks “that the amount of public awareness and education will stop a lot of things from happening. My hope is that every single school and every single camp does not think it is taboo to have training on [prevention of sexual abuse] the same way they would have first aid training.”
Bayar has three children ranging in age from 16 months to 10 years. Her husband, Tuvia Lwowski, is head of talent acquisition at Lazard, a capital management firm based in New York. They reside in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.