Tuesday, November 27, 2007
A father's plea for help - from the UOJ archives
At the outset, please forgive me for making the assumption that I have something meaningful to offer the survivors of sexual abuse, which I am not, or to the chachomim of this city, also which I am not. I am not an accredited professional. I am however, a father of an innocent child to whom these acts have been committed and, as such, I feel I may have a relevant contribution.
I have learned to see victims of abuse as people that have gone through an individual holocaust. Each victim having been through an event or chain of events that has forever changed not only the victim, but also reaches out to affect families, relatives, schools, communities ,and even into the next generation. The price we pay has nothing to do with the thousands of dollars spent in therapy for so many different issues both related to the assault(s) and their outgrowth (family disunity, Yidden off the derech, drug abuse, promiscuity, and poor school performance), but the toll it is taking on Klal Yisroel's future.
We must choose to understand the nature and scope of the dilemma and plan a clear path forward. As in all matters of Torah, the motivation must be the search for emes. Those who seek to accuse, blame, seek their pound of flesh, desire kavod or satisfy gaivah need not, no-must not be a part of the problem solving and the development of relevant answers for the needs of our community.
We must admit to ourselves what currently exists in our community in order to appropriately respond to those who perpetrate abuse and those who have suffered from it, as up until now the response has been inadequate and inappropriate.
I believe we must understand what the abuse is and is not. Sexual abuse is not an act of inappropriate or misplaced sexual desire. It is an act perpetrated by one in need to control and overpower another individual. Many times this is accomplished by manipulation and at other times by brute strength. Ultimately the result is the same. The victim is left feeling totally powerless in their world, afraid and intimidated by the prospect of a recurrence, guilt ridden, and feeling totally alone while being unable to share what has happened to them with those who care and love them.
It is a criminal act and not one between consenting individuals, even if somehow the perpetrator has manipulated the victim into thinking that the act was desired by the victim. It is the debasing of another human being to satisfy the lust for power and control ;it expresses itself as a sexual act. It robs innocence, it robs self esteem, it robs confidence, it robs one of closeness to G-d, it robs one of families, it robs ones ability to express love and intimacy in appropriate ways, it robs youth, it clouds judgment, it is spiritually, physically, and emotionally painful. It is extremely rare to find a perpetrator that acts only once. It is extremely rare to find a person who has been victimized who is not aware every day of their life of the continuing effects the abuse has had.
Who are the perpetrators? They are almost always males. When this is perpetrated by individuals outside of our community, we try to understand and make it understood that within the world at large, unfortunately, there are goyim such as these. It isn't easy, but the door is left open to understand the events within a Torah context, utilizing daas Torah to help us understand the machla and refuah. The most pressing issue we must cope with is what happens if the perpetrator is from within our own community? Brothers, fathers, cousins, uncles, friends, rabbeim, baalei battim, people we know and would otherwise respect, yeshiva trained or poshuta Yidden. Neighbors, business associates, baalei tsedakah, black hat or kipah srugah. They are here. They who have committed these atrocities are among us.
What are we to say to our beloved when the trust instilled in us of our own community is violated? So many have been robbed of the single most important asset we can use to interpret and understand and reach out to those in need of help.
Many of the accused seem to be protected, their crime hidden from public awareness. Some leave town, only to perpetrate again within another community. There is denial on the part of many that those accused are guilty. When the victim is a child or the accusation comes years after the crime, the testimony is often suspect. Often times, we can only reach the conclusion that there was a victim, something happened, but the details become an issue of debate due to an inability to substantiate the facts.
We must decide how to handle the confirmed perpetrator. It is important to remember that a crime has been committed by a person with a sickness. If I was prone to seizures and drove a car and damaged someone, G-d forbid, I would not expect my rov to get me out of the legal obligations I would have, nor would I expect him to remain quiet if I wanted to transport children in my car at a later time. It would be expected that I would notify people that I was unable to do certain things due to my condition and I would be expected not to put myself in another situation where the safety and well being of another person would be compromised. A person with a cancer can only hope that with G-ds help, he will live his 120 years in remission, but with the realization that once discovered, the disease is forever at risk of re-emerging.
We must come to terms with those who carry within themselves the depths of understanding and knowledge of Torah, yet, have turned their bodies from holy vessels to impure receptacles by an action(s) that seems to refute their outward appearance of being yiray Shomayim. Just as Moshe Rabeinu was not reprimanded for breaking the luchos instead of bringing them into the midst of the unfit Bnai Yisroel at the time of the golden calf, it is understandable to feel that the perpetrators are not worthy of the gifts of Torah they hold and the kavod due them as holy vessels. However, today we lack the Leviim ;those tzadikim who are so pure that they are worthy and able to rid us of the unholy and tainted.
Perpetrators must come clean. They must first admit to themselves, then to their victims and the community at large, what they have done. This is always the first step. It must be public because the victim must have the validation that they were victimized. They have been abused and too often feel responsible and ashamed. When the abuser confesses, enough of the victims self doubt can be removed to allow the door to recovery to begin. We can deal honestly with the abuser and not allow him to be in situations that may cause him to stumble. We can watch, counsel, teach, and guide a person who understands and accepts his failings. We can take this Yid's shortcoming and use them to enhance our community. How many times has the government taken ex-criminals and put them to work preventing the same criminal behavior in others? They speak, they teach, they make aware. They have insight we lack. This is how they can do tshuva. Of course they may NEVER be around children again!
Who are the victims? They are our children, siblings, parents, extended families, friends, neighbors, our kehilas, and our community. We all suffer. The energy expended in the fallout of the effects of abuse is without end. Victims often suffer in silence for years due to fear, shame, and/or guilt. They may repress their horror or be emotionally unable to confront their reality, doubting their own credibility. This is a personal holocaust. Who is going to believe such a thing could happen? How is anyone else going to understand the pain?
The victims often feel it is easier to live in pain than to be forthcoming and be written off as a crank, a liar, a crazy person. Their pain and suffering exhibits itself in ways seemingly unrelated to the abuse. Many become problems academically and behaviorally at school. Their interactions with loved ones may deteriorate. They may not trust. Not just strangers, but even those closest to them. They may carry and exhibit irrational anger. They feel betrayed by their loved ones and others who have the responsibility and obligation to protect them from harm. We often lose them as b'nai mitzvas. We often lose them as members of our families and communities. We lose them to drugs and promiscuity. We may even lose them to be perpetrators themselves, having learned from the criminal behavior of their abuser how, through a warped and sickened perspective, to gain some control into their own out of control lives. The cycle continues. We all suffer.
We must feel it is as much an obligation to educate, inform and warn our children parents, neighbors, and congregations of the threats to our physical and spiritual safety as it is for all other types of criminal activity, whether Torah based or secular statutes.
We understand from Shlomo Hamelech that there is nothing new under the sun. It is our obligation to delve into Torah and find ways to help. The answers are there. We must find the needed refuah for the victims, the perpetrators, and our community. We must not give up on nor lose those we love and those who need our love.
The Agudah's response to the allegations of sexual abuse in their summer camp is way too little and too late. Where were you for forty agonizing years? We, who believe in the Divine involvement in every single act that occurs on Earth and all the galaxies, have to believe that the fire that destroyed the main building at Camp Agudah, the exact day that the Agudah's pathetic counter to the New York Magazine article on sexual abuse among the Orthodox Jewish community was published, was Hashem saying to Klal Yisroel "enough is enough."
May we all be zoche to be closer to Hashem through our efforts.
Posted by The Un-Orthodox Jew - "UOJ" at Saturday, June 24, 2006