Wednesday, April 13, 2016
"So here and now, we must as a community make a choice. When rabbis like Rabbi Pruzansky claim that sexual assault is not a problem in the Jewish community, we must say that they are wrong. When they imply that victims are to blame, we must say that they are wrong. When they use their positions of power to protect perpetrators and hurt victims by spreading lies about victims of sexual assault, we must say that they are wrong"....
His information about victims of rape, for example, is riddled with errors. He cites a statistic of “10-20 annually on campuses with many thousands of students” in colleges “deemed the worst offenders.” It is unclear where his statistic comes from, as he fails to cite a reference source, but recent data suggest that one in five women and one in sixteen men will be sexually assaulted during their time in college. Perhaps his statistic is based on reported assaults, and simply doesn’t account for the more than 90% of assaults on campus that go unreported. He also writes about the reasons behind women’s claims of sexual assault, again without providing any foundation. While Rabbi Pruzansky strongly implies that many claims are false (the result of regretted consensual sexual encounters or retaliation for sexual rejection – two of the most damaging myths about sexual assault claims), a variety of studies have found that only roughly 2% of claims of sexual assault are fabricated; the vast majority are based on real assaults.
Rabbi Pruzansky suggests that women are victimized because they are sexually active. He cites his prior experience as an attorney as proof that women know “right away” when they have been raped, usually perpetrators are strangers, and charges are often filed. He states that he is “quite familiar with the literature about the psyche of the rape victim” before going on to say that he doesn’t “buy any of it.” Whatever literature he is familiar with, he is clearly unaware that sexual activity is not a risk factor for sexual victimization in this population, though previous sexual assault is, as is lack of sex education. He is clearly unaware that most assaults are carried out by intimate partners or acquaintances, most assaults are never reported, charges are frequently not filed, and 98% of offenders will never spend a single day in jail. This flawed perception of sexual assault – the myth that all rapists are a “stranger in the alley” – contributes to Rabbi Pruzansky’s incredulity that women would continue to interact with their abusers, even in loving ways. But this is a recognized fact in psychological literature, and is most common in cases of intimate partner violence (which Rabbi Pruzansky seems also to be unaware of, given his insistence that abstinence until marriage will prevent assaults altogether). He also denies sexual assault exists as a problem in the Jewish world, which demonstrates forcefully that he is either blind or willfully ignorant of the realities of the community he claims to lead.
Most distressing of all, Rabbi Pruzansky places the blame for sexual victimization squarely on the victim.
His narrative is predicated on a series of dangerous falsehoods – that women would not go to college if assault were such a problem (requiring women to choose between education and victimization), that they would not be assaulted if they were abstinent (requiring women to “control” men’s supposedly inevitably violent sexual appetites), and that they claim rape when rejected (implying that women are both hyper-emotional and malicious, willing to “cry rape” when their sensitive feelings are wounded). None of this accounts for the truly responsible party in any rape – the rapist. Rape is an act of choice, and any person familiar with the literature will tell you that rape is about power, and not about sex. Men do not rape women because they are biologically inclined to sex without intimacy (a stereotype which does a disservice to men as well as women), or because women are sexually promiscuous. Those men who do rape women do so because it is a way to assert their power over women. It’s about power. So is Rabbi Pruzansky’s post. And in its own way, it is just as dangerous.
There is more in the post to criticize and debunk – his wildly unsubstantiated statements on transgender people and mental illness, his imposition of his own experience of a 15 year old male-bodied person’s sexuality onto others, his suggestion that separate is indeed equal and anyone who says different is a bully, his determination to take complex issues and reduce them to the least nuanced possible interpretation. But more than attempting to identify each piece of misinformation, we want to draw attention to the larger problem, which is the irresponsibility of Rabbi Pruzansky’s using his influence to publicize such falsehoods in the first place.
Rabbi Pruzansky leads a thriving community synagogue, participates actively in the administration of the Rabbinical Council of America, and has a central role in the Beth Din of America. He is not a small-town outsider voicing a fringe opinion. He wields power, and he is using that power to demean and disenfranchise women, to cast doubt on their claims (already infrequently made and infrequently believed) of sexual violence, and to make them responsible for their own protection. He is using that power to deny that a rape culture exists, even as his post demonstrates certain features of rape culture – such as the view that women make up rape claims when they are rejected, or are victims only because they were intoxicated or sexually active (a practice known as slut-shaming).
In recent decades, the Jewish community has made some strides in responding to the rampant child sexual abuse that has lived in our midst like a cancer. It has done so in part by calling to task the rabbis who protected perpetrators at their victims’ expense. It has done so in part because prominent rabbis publicly stated that protecting the weak was more important than protecting the community’s reputation, more important than any other factor. It has done so because prominent rabbis used their influence to protect those who could not protect themselves. It is time for our community to take such a stand when it comes to the assault of women, as well.
So here and now, we must as a community make a choice. When rabbis like Rabbi Pruzansky claim that sexual assault is not a problem in the Jewish community, we must say that they are wrong. When they imply that victims are to blame, we must say that they are wrong. When they use their positions of power to protect perpetrators and hurt victims by spreading lies about victims of sexual assault, we must say that they are wrong. They cannot be allowed to represent us to each other and to the world when their views are so antithetical to the Jewish values of respect and understanding for our fellow men, and more radically, so antithetical to truth itself. And if they continue to do so, we must cease to give them power by allowing them to be leaders of our community.
 Krebs, C. P., Lindquist, C., Warner, T., Fisher, B., & Martin, S. (2007). The campus sexual assault (CSA) study: Final report. Retrieved from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/221153.pdf
 Fisher, B., Cullen, F., & Turner, M. (2000). The sexual victimization of college women (NCJ 182369). Retrieved from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf
 Lonsway, K. A., Archambault, J., & Lisak, D. (2009). False reports: Moving beyond the issue to successfully investigate and prosecute non-stranger sexual assault. The Voice, 3(1), 1-11. Retrieved from the National District Attorneys Association: http://www.ndaa.org/pdf/the_voice_vol_3_no_1_2009.pdf; Heenan, M., & Murray, S. (2006). Study of reported rapes in Victoria 2000-2003: Summary research report. Retrieved from the State of Victoria (Australia), Department of Human Services: http://www.dhs.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/644152/StudyofReportedRapes.pdf
 Acierno, R., Resnick, H., Kilpatrick, D. G., Saunders, B., & Best, C. L. (1999). Risk factors for rape, physical assault, and posttraumatic stress disorder in women: Examination of differential multivariate relationships. Journal of anxiety disorders, 13(6), 541-563.
 Finkelhor, D., Hotaling, G., Lewis, I., & Smith, C. (1990). Sexual abuse in a national survey of adult men and women: Prevalence, characteristics, and risk factors. Child abuse & neglect, 14(1), 19-28.
 Breiding, M. J., Chen J., & Black, M. C. (2014). Intimate Partner Violence in the United States — 2010. Retrieved from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control: http://www.cdc. gov/violenceprevention/pdf/cdc_nisvs_ipv_report_2013_v17_single_a.pdf; Myhill, A., & Allen, J. (2002). Rape and sexual assault of women: the extent and nature of the problem. London: Home Office. See also: https://rainn.org/statistics for FBI statistics.
 Rennison, C. A. (2002). Rape and sexual assault: Reporting to police and medical attention, 1992-2000 [NCJ 194530]. Retrieved from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://bjs.ojp. ; Myhill, A., & Allen, J. (2002). Rape and sexual assault of women: the extent and nature of the problem. London: Home Office. See also: https://rainn.org/statistics for FBI statistics.
 Department of Justice, Felony Defendents in Large Urban Counties: 2009, drawn from https://rainn.org/statistics.