Author’s note: Aside from the first 4 introductory paragraphs preceding the survivor’s account, no changes have been made to the original account.
Last week, in response to Trump’s ignorant assertion that in order for a sexual assault claim to be true it must have been reported immediately to law enforcement, we saw an outpouring of stories from survivors about #WhyIDidntReport. I shared my own detailing how I was silenced within the Charedi community.
Yesterday, I was contacted by a frum survivor on the Modern Orthodox community who wanted to share her story, but is still, years after the abuse happened, afraid of the backlash. She asked me to share her story anonymously on my Facebook wall, and I’m going to copy it below.
Before I do, a little framing for this post. Before any of you ask “well, what about negiah, what about yichud?” save yourself the typing. The fact is that regardless of whatever stated values a community claims to believe in, there’s always, in every community, every society, and every value system, a difference between the communal ideal and communal practice. This is a reality that doesn’t go away just because we claim that it clashes with our stated values.
Premarital sex happens plenty in the Orthodox community, in all Orthodox communities, and while our value system may compel us to wish that it didn’t, the fact is that it does. Our stated values don’t absolve us of our responsibility to therefore ensure that when it happens it’s consensual, and when sexual assault happens the perpetrators are held responsible. We don’t get to use our stated values to sweep sexual assault under the rug, or blame the victims. So I don’t want to hear about yichud and negiah. That’s not at all relevant to this survivor’s experience. What’s relevant is the realities of our community, and the realities of her experience.
With that in mind, here’s the survivor’s story:
“I grew up in a somewhat liberal Modern Orthodox community and attended co-ed schools and camps. Although the rabbis talked about tznius and being shomer negia, the community at large didn’t really emphasize those things so much. There was still an expectation of no premarital sex, but it was not uncommon for high schoolers to have boyfriends/girlfriends.
I had a boyfriend in 10th grade, he went to a different school but we knew each other from camp and NCSY. As per the context described above, our parents were ok with it as long as we didn’t do more than make out and rabbis and teachers frowned on it and extolled the virtues of being shomer negia. So when the boyfriend started pressuring me to go farther than kissing, I didn’t want to, I knew by all standards I shouldn’t. He kept up the pressure and manipulation and I eventually gave in on everything except actual sex. That was my red line. He knew it. And one day, he held me down and did it anyway. I was initially in too much shock to protest, and then I was afraid, because he was a lot bigger than me. There was no point in struggling against him, so it was just “lay back and think of England” as they say, until he was done.
Now here comes the crux of why I didn’t tell anyone. First of all, that was not the last time he raped me. He did it several more times in the following months until we finally broke up. I know, stupid me. Why didn’t I dump him after the first time? And why did I ever allow myself to be alone with him again, several times? I don’t really know, even now, and that’s why even now I still blame myself. It took me a long time to even think of it as rape because I let it happen repeatedly. Then there was the fact that I had consented to “fooling around” before the first time he did it. Under pressure and manipulation, but at the end of the day, I still consented. So maybe it was my fault he took things to their “logical” conclusion.
Another reason I didn’t tell anyone is that we had in the past been caught making out by teachers/counselors and been yelled at for it. So I knew those people would blame me for not being shomer negia. I knew some friends would be supportive, but others would take his side. I’d seen other girls in my class endure serious slut shaming, so I wasn’t about to open up that can of worms. I also didn’t want my parents to know, because they would be devastated and feel horribly guilty. I didn’t want to burden them with that. They still don’t know, even now.
I did tell a couple of friends about a year after it happened and they were very supportive, but agreed that I was smart to keep quiet. I told my husband back when we were dating and he has always been amazing. I’m so fortunate to have him. We also told our Rav shortly before our wedding in order to clarify a few halachik matters (silver lining: my wedding night did not make me niddah) and he was very kind as well. I am fortunate and it has, thank God, not hindered me much in life. It never does leave, and ever since that time I have struggled on and off with depression, but I was able to marry only a few years after it happened, it has not affected much in the bedroom, and I’m enjoying raising my kids and working at a job I like, and am happily frum.
The thing is, the Modern Orthodox community is small. As my rapist and I are both still in MO circles, even though we haven’t run into each other in years, we have tons of mutual acqauintances, so I do know a bit about what he’s up to these days. And that’s another reason why I have not, and will not, report. There is nothing to gain and everything to lose. He’s not in some powerful position and he’s not super well-known or majorly respected. He’s an average Joe, going to shul, going to work, raising his family. I’m sure most people who know him think he’s just a nice guy in the neighborhood. As most people think I’m this nice, bubbly young mom in the neighborhood with no idea of the darkness I’ve endured. There’s no reason to bring up what happened well over a decade ago. I know what happens to women who speak up, especially if it’s years later. No thank you, I’m not opening myself and my family up to that.
Unfortunately, these problems are not specific to any one community. The Modern Orthodox world does not really have a better handle on this than the Ultra Orthodox world, nor anywhere else. MO institutions still often have the first instinct to protect themselves when allegations first arise and while I think there’s a bit less victim shaming, there is still a lot of skepticism directed at victims because it’s hard to accept that the nice guy who sits next to you in shul, and who has done business with you, and whose kids play with yours, could be a rapist. There’s definitely a lot of reckoning left to do.”