Everything's Fine Until You're A Victim

You tell me it gets better, it gets better in time
You say I’ll pull myself together, pull it together, you’ll be fine
Tell me, what the hell do you know? What do you know?
Tell me how the hell could you know? How could you know?
Till it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels, how it feels
Till it happens to you, you won’t know, it won’t be real
No, it won’t be real, won’t know how it feels
You tell me hold your head up, hold your head up and be strong
’Cause when you fall you gotta get up, you gotta get up and move on
Tell me how the hell could you talk, how could you talk?
’Cause until you walk where I walk, this is no joke
Till it happens to you, you don’t know how it feels, how it feels
— Lady Gaga, “Till It Happens To You” (see music video)
Yesterday on Facebook someone asked rhetorically why anyone would cover for a child sex abuser instead of outing them.
I thought about this subject. And realized that while most people will not out-and-out support such a despicable type of person, they’re not exactly marching in the streets either.
I believe that such aversion goes back to fear. Sex abuse is a threat on the most primal level. Any type of association with it, even to combat it, feels like getting a disease.
Its victims seem contaminated, too.
That people are terrified of becoming victims themselves would explain these types of blame-statements, which of course re-victimize the abused.
  • “Everybody knows that he’s crazy.”
  • “What was she doing out so late at night, all by herself?”
  • “Why was she drinking?
  • “It was his choice to get into the car.”
  • “She was the one who wore a short skirt.”
“When are you going to bring that up?” they ask, before a girl goes out on a shidduch date. “Maybe not in the beginning.”
Maybe never?
“Pretend that you had diarrhea,” said one well-known rabbinic authority on marriage. (He has since apologized.) Meaning, not necessary to discuss it.
Of course, sexual abusers don’t want anyone to talk about what they do.
They have a need to victimize. So they insinuate themselves in careers, and relationships, that give them easy access to prey. Meaning, kids.
Abusers are the “nice guys” that young people turn to when “my parents won’t even talk to me,” when “nobody else can understand.”
They are also “the smartest people” or “the most talented” in the room — making others feel ignorant, lesser by comparison.
They take it slowly. It starts with coaching, and counseling…there is the invitation for Shabbos lunch…the discussion of sexual behaviors…the “wrestling match”…the exploitative words, seductive words, words and words and more words, until the actual moment of an attack.
And then they blame the victim for being seductive.
Within even the most fundamentalist Orthodox community, there is a warm, welcoming, loving and outstretched arm extended to any Jew who embraces true practice.
But if that Jew comes forward and accuses someone who is trusted — even revered — it is that Jew whose credibility comes under suspicion.
If someone from within the community takes up for the cause of the victims, that person had better be ready for some serious scrutiny as well.
The reader who is well-informed reads this and shakes their head.
“No, no, no. Everything you’re saying is old. It just is not that way anymore, not at all.”
They say, “Look at the success of Jewish Community Watch.” Which is a great organization, which has succeeded against incredible odds, and so on.
But to say that “the problem is solved” is to operate in denial.
Consider these ten questions:
  1. Is there a safe house in every observant community, no questions asked, where a victim of abuse can get refuge for a night or a week?
  2. Does the observant community routinely express encouragement to victims of sexual abuse to talk about what happened to them? Routinely insist that all reports of child sex abuse be reported to the police and not a rabbi first?
  3. Does the observant community routinely encourage people to talk about their experiences of abuse? Welcome, embrace, support and invite abuse victims and their families to shul honors and Shabbos meals?
  4. Does the observant community routinely chastise anyone who jokes about abuse or who insinuates that a survivor is not suitable for marriage?
  5. Does the observant community provide learning sessions that offer context around Talmudic quotes that seem to imply women are second-class citizens or a source of sin? How about religious parenting and education models that explicitly teach children respect for good authority only? (And how to recognize and get help when someone is trying to hurt them.)
  6. Does the observant community routinely permit its members to use secularly trained, licensed psychologists and social workers who aren’t beholden to the community?
  7. Does every yeshiva have a training program for teachers and students to warn them about the signs of abuse, and abusers? Does every observant synagogue hold sensitivity sessions for the community, considering the high rates of abuse within the population and the fact that Jews don’t get abused in smaller proportions? Does the synagogue offer group therapy sessions for abuse victims, to give them a support network within the larger embrace of the religious community?
  8. Does the observant community get involved in the legal system by helping victims file court papers, lobbying to extend the statute of limitations on child sex crimes, and supporting law enforcement in providing the same sentence to religious offenders as everybody else?
  9. Does every observant synagogue ban convicted child sex abusers from synagogue? Do they have committees that check on known victims to make sure they are all right during regular intervals?
  10. Does the observant community maintain a database of convicted sex offenders — people who served as rabbis, teachers, social workers, psychologists, spiritual counselors, or doctors within the religious community — and encourage all their members to bookmark and use it?
Until all these things happen, and happen regularly, I do not believe that the Orthodox Jewish community is doing all that it can to fight child sex abuse.
Maybe people are hoping that by staying out of the fray, they never will have to deal with it. I feel their fear — G-d forbid a person should be harmed by a single one of these momzers.
Unfortunately, statistics are not on their side. Sex crimes are notoriouslyunderreported. So if you look around the room, you will likely find that someone you know and love has been a victim, even if they aren’t telling you.
For the sake of the entire community, I ask the sleeping giant to wake up.
If you’ve been quiet about child sexual abuse in the observant community until now, please start vocally supporting its victims.
All opinions my own. Photo by Paula Silva via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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