Sexual Trauma & Toxic Shame on Rosh HaShana


Historically victims of sexual trauma in the Orthodox Jewish community have been told, explicitly or implicitly, that while what happened to them was tragic, it was also somehow their fault, and they should keep quiet about it anyway, because their dirtiness would somehow leak out onto everybody else, and somehow pollute the air in the synagogue if discussed, not to mention the Shabbos table, and of course the information about their personal Hell could ruin the chances of them or someone else getting a decent shidduch.

And if you think that all this mental baggage is not continuously being placed on the victims of sexual trauma in the Orthodox Jewish community then you are either living in a very healthy place remote from most other Orthodox Jewish communities or you are less than fully informed.

The fact is that God, in His infinite love for us, cries flowing rivers of tears for the victims of sexual trauma.

On Rosh HaShana, when we present ourselves to Him in fear, because we know we are sinners by nature, and in repentance for the times when we were less than our best selves, we are 100% prone to thinking that the bruises inflicted by other people on our bodies and souls are somehow the result of immodesty. Impurity. Some sort of evil resting in our deepest selves, which triggers “recognition” among perpetrators for whom such behavior is “natural.” And so we should expect they will look for people that exhibit the “typical signs” of a victim (or worse, in this sick way of thinking, “someone who wants it.”)

All of this thinking is false. It is a way for the victim, and the community, to try and comprehend how someone “innocent” could be attacked. So the thinking goes, “they must not be innocent.”

Wrong.

Reality check: There is no way to rationalize sexual assault.

It exists because man (and woman, as there are female perpetrators too) is half-holy and half-beast.

This Rosh HaShana, please look around you and extend your warmth and love to the survivors of sexual trauma who live in your community. They aren’t walking around with a sign on their foreheads. They are as likely to be male as female. And they are judging themselves so harshly all the time it is a miracle if they make it through shul intact.

Or if they show up there at all.
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By Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. The author hereby releases this content into the public domain. All opinions are the author’s own. Creative Commons photo via Pixabay.