|IDF soldier David Menahem Gordon|
First day at a new school. A fair haired lad of thirteen stands anxiously before the portals. Will he be accepted by others? Will he make friends? Entering the school grounds he does get some “new kid in town” looks, but finds that the children are friendly. By the end of the day he discovers that his teachers are patient and his peers have accepted him.
By the morning of the third day, he is already into a routine. He wakes up early, eats a quick breakfast, kisses his mum goodbye. Upon arrival at school he joins with his new friends in greeting one another. Amidst the back-slaps and shouting, he feels an alien chill pass through him and looks around to find its source. There. One of the older students is looking directly at him with a deep, unwavering cold stare. He shrugs it off, figuring it’s only his imagination. After all, there is nothing to distinguish him from the other older students. Anyway, class is beginning and, until recess later that afternoon, he thinks nothing more of it.
In the yard with his classmates, the same older boy who had been staring at him called him over. He felt a kind of pride that an older student was paying attention to him. As he walked over, he reckoned that he’d just misinterpreted the earlier stare as being cold. “My uncle gave me a Nintendo,” the older teen said, “Would you like to see it?” Of course, he wanted to see it. This was too neat to pass up. Students weren’t allowed computer games! On the way to the dormitories, the older chap tells the boy that he’s got to pick something up first and motions for him to accompany him. He leads the boy to a side room and once inside, locks the door behind them. Hidden from view, the older student brushes his hand over the lad’s privates. Shocked and scared, the young boy passes it off to himself as a mistake. It was not a mistake. It was too late. He was trapped and the real abuse began.
Over the next few months, the abuse only gets worse. He knows he should probably tell his parents or his teachers, but what will they think of him? A voice inside whispers to keep silent, to avoid attracting attention to himself. No one needs to know; to expose the acts perpetrated on him would be breaking the rules of modesty.
The assaults do not end, but come more frequently and the boy feels powerless to break away. The older boy not only physically overpowers him, but is also crafty and persuasive.
Deeply conflicted, the boy begins to question his own motives: is it I who’s leading him on? Perhaps I’m not the innocent victim, here, after all? Maybe this is all my fault?! The boy falls into despair. He has lost all motivation to learn and has drawn away from his real friends. He finds no reason to wake up in the morning, nor any pleasure in his daily activities. School has stopped being fun and his nights are filled with bad dreams.
While friends and family blame his odd behavior on teenage rebellion, he continues suffering in silence. On the outside, he appears normal, but after months in this trap, he’s bleeding and crying on the inside. He is afraid he would not be believed. It would be the word of an attention-grabbing youngster against that of a respected young adult. Even if he were inclined to tell someone, who could that possibly be?
When he can bear it no longer, he works up the nerve to confide in a teacher he feels he can trust. Hearing him out, the teacher promises him that the situation will be dealt with. After some time, however, it becomes obvious that the adult has turned a blind eye to his plight and has defaulted on his word, choosing the reputation of the school — his meal ticket — over his student’s welfare. Things continue as they were.
After two school years, the abuser finally graduates and the abuse ceases. However, life for the boy is forever changed. He is still popular, but his scars do not heal and he is hardly aware of it. Once burned and knowing he now must protect himself, his lips remain sealed.
Years pass and now, as a young man, he sets out to travel the world. He thought he had left those episodes behind him, buried deep and all but forgotten. Until he happened to meet an activist for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. The activist’s words sting and ring all too true. While still unwilling to open up to another, he does visit the activist’s website. He is amazed at how many thousands of other children have undergone similar ordeals. For the first time in all these years, he does not feel alone. A new chapter in his life begins.
“Blush for a few moments so others don’t have to bleed.”
I was that lad who, between the ages of 13 and 15, had been taken advantage of and abused. I kept that unfortunate, mistreated child locked up within me for six years, but now, confronted with a practical avenue for help, I found myself still too ashamed to reach out. I thought that if I told friends they would doubt my sexuality or would disbelieve me. Worse, perhaps they would even suspect me of being a perpetrator! My thoughts were a jumble of confusion — vulnerability, guilt, anger.
The doubt and self-recrimination ended for me the day I visited Jewish Community Watch online. I found myself in the company of many other innocents who have fallen prey to this cruelty.
A year or so ago, I came across an article written by a victim of child sexual abuse who lost his life in a tragic way. It was the most powerful article I’d ever read; David Gordon, z”l, penned for the Huffington Post, as follows: “Blush for a few moments so others don’t have to bleed.” He is calling to all those who have suffered abuse, yet felt compelled to keep silent. David wrote:
If we keep sweeping our problems under the rug we will eventually trip over them. The time has come for us to stand up for ourselves, our children and our communities. It’s time to sacrifice the comfort of not tackling serious issues that are awkward and embarrassing and focus on the dignity of human life. If I can have a voice you can too. Take a stand and be a real leader. Blush for a few moments so others don’t have to bleed. One reason why victims of abuse are also called survivors is because so many don’t make it. So many are too ashamed to reach out and frequently fall into depression, violence, addiction and ultimately into deaths arms. But we can be brave and stand up for what we know is right. Together our voices can be louder than ever. I know that I alone cannot change the world, but together we can make a difference. ”
I don’t often cry. But upon reading these words, I broke down in tears. Not only for myself. My physical trial had long passed, but thousands of children the world over are suffering in silence, living continuously with the thoughts of suicide. To numb the pain, they turn to alcohol and drugs, often having to contend with the very real risk of perpetuating unhealthy relationships.
We all have a voice. A voice rooted in a truth stronger than illusory schemes which whisper to avoid embarrassment. Still, how many of us are willing to speak out? Sharing your darkest secrets to the world is, to be sure, uncomfortable and awkward. Or worse. But, As David said, “If I can have a voice you can too. Take a stand and be a real leader.” You don’t have to be a victim of abuse to address this issue; all one needs is clarity and morals. Leadership springs from clarity more than it does from bravery. Moreover, it is clarity which fuels the action that is considered to be bravery. My mind does not allow David’s words to escape my thoughts. I go to sleep and wake up pondering his message to us: what am I going to do about it? What influence can I have? What is clarity?
Abuse and clarity
Every child deserves a future. Yet, shocking statistics show that 1 in 4 females, and 1 in 6 males, will be sexually abused before the age of 18. The time for action to preserve that inalienable truth is here. Don’t wait for someone you love to disclose to you they have been abused before you believe abuse exists. I promise you it does. Parents, educate yourself and your children. You have nothing to lose. On the contrary. What is a sacrifice of one’s honor and comfort when it comes to saving the future of a child at risk. If your children have been informed and should they, God forbid, encounter abuse, they will then be less vulnerable and more likely to reach out to you.
There is no time to waste. Know that you, one individual among many, can make a change. Take the initiative to speak up for yourself and you will be taking the lead in bringing others to do the same for themselves or their loved ones. I have learned that there is nothing to be ashamed about. Suppressing these dark scars only holds you back from utilizing and achieving your personal potential and goals, so take the burden from your shoulders and you will be free of them, as I am now. Sometimes you have to let go. Maintaining exclusive ownership of past abuse and its scars means that they actually own you. Freeing yourself from their hold is not easy, but it’s easier to succeed once you have let go of them. Then, like mine, your scars will make you stronger. An unbreakable chain links us survivors. Every time another person shares his or her story, another link is added to that chain and they, too, can literally empower others to do the same. Together, our voices will be heard louder than ever.
Find that friend with whom you can share what you’ve hidden even from yourself. If there is no one you can trust at the moment, contact Jewish Community Watch. Your journey can begin now, at this moment. I promise, you are stronger, braver and more beautiful than you give yourself credit for. All it takes is that one ounce of courage to admit to yourself that you’ve been a victim of abuse. You will be believed. Your voice be heard. You will be a survivor.
I now go about life secure in the knowledge that I’m taking positive action, doing for others — especially for those who were robbed of their innocence by child abusers — what could have once made a big difference in my life. I can and will use my voice for others who have yet to find theirs; to be there for those who need someone to hear them, and believe them. Brothers and sisters, wherever you are, if you are a victim of any type of abuse, I beg you, for your own sakes: reach out! As Dave Gordon said, “Secrets don’t get better with age.”
Dedicated to David M. Gordon, z”l.