A Survivor Shares Her Experience of Being Raped as a Modern Orthodox Teen | #WhyIDidntReport

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.”

Standard

Prager: Ignore Sexual Assault – For Moral Reasons

So Dennis Prager decided, on erev Yom Kippur, to bastardize and distort my religion for the purpose of sexual abuse apologism. I’m going to address it because I think it speaks precisely to the widespread misconceptions we have about teshuva. He starts off with this:

“It is almost impossible to overstate the damage done to America’s moral compass by taking the charges leveled against Judge Brett Kavanaugh seriously.

It undermines foundational moral principles of any decent society.”

With no due respect, Dennis, what undermines the moral principles of any decent society is the blase attitude with which we respond to sexual assault, and the lengths to which we regularly go to shame victims into silence. There’s a reason it takes decades for survivors to disclose, and it’s not because they just haven’t gotten around to it. It’s because they know full well that regardless of when they come forward, people like you will be there to call them liars, to impugn their character, to minimize the way they were violated, and to protect the violator.

They hope and pray that the pain, the memory of it fades, and that they can just get on with their life and move past it, but it never really goes away. Most of the time we can forget about it, Dennis, but not so much when your abuser is on every television screen, every newspaper, every other Facebook post, and about to be appointed to a lifetime term on the nation’s most powerful court.

“Those who claim the charges against Judge Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford are important and worth investigating, and that they ultimately, if believed, invalidate his candidacy for the U.S. Supreme Court are stating that:

  1. a) What a middle-aged adult did in high school is all we need to need to know to evaluate an individual’s character — even when his entire adult life has been impeccable.
  2. b) No matter how good and moral a life one has led for 10, 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years, it is nullified by a sin committed as teenager.

No decent — or rational — society has ever believed such nihilistic nonsense.”

No otherwise decent seeming society has ever really given too much of a crap about sexual assault, because women, who make up the majority of sexual assault victims, are never really seen as important enough to matter compared to the men who violate them. What a middle-aged adult did in high-school is usually not sexual assault, and if your assertion is that sexual assault is, in fact, normal behaviour, then we are not, in fact, a decent society.

Not all sins are created equal, and not all sins can be mitigated by time. Some sins take a lot more to forgive, and sexual assault is one of them. States across the nation are moving to eliminate or extend their statutes of limitations on rape and sexual assault because we no recognize the damage – sometimes lifelong- caused by these crimes. The fact that you’re so willing to forgive simply because time past is very generous of you, but it’s not your place here to be generous. The victim of this sin is still living, still in pain, and still aggrieved, while the abuser has never faced a single consequence for his actions. The fact that you’re upset that he’s finally facing one which is simply depriving him of something to which he is not fundamentally entitled (unlike the bodily sovereignty to which his victim was, in fact, entitled when he violated her) perhaps merits a solo on the world’s tiniest violin.

“This is another example of the moral chaos sown by secularism and the left. In any society rooted in Judeo-Christian values, it is understood that people should be morally assessed based on how they behave over the course of their lifetime — early behavior being the least important period in making such an assessment.”

Again, he did not cheat on an exam, or rob a candy store of a box of Junior Mints. He violated another person. And don’t bring “Judeo-Christian” values into this (as if the two deserve to be linked), when Judaism actually has a prescription for atonement for such crimes, and not one of the criteria involves the passage of time. It does, however, include monetary restitution (a lot of it), appeasement of the victim, sincerely asking and sincerely receiving forgiveness, abandonment of the sin, regret of the sin and its effect on its victim (not fear of consequence), verbal confession, and a concrete resolution for the future to never sin in such a way again. Even if we assume that he hasn’t committed this sin since, we know for a fact that he has never attempted to make restitution to, appease, or sincerely seek the forgiveness of his victim.

“These religious values taught us that all of us are sinners and, therefore, with the exception of those who have engaged in true evil, we need to be very careful in making moral evaluations of human beings.”

Is there a truer evil than sexual assault, a crime for which there are no conceivable internal or external justifications?

“And, of course, we were taught to extend forgiveness when people demonstrate through their actions that they have changed. As a well-known ancient Jewish adage put it: “Where the penitent stands, the most righteous cannot stand.” In other words, the highest moral achievement is moral improvement.”

Nothing in Kavanaugh’s history indicates that he was ever penitent for this crime. We have no reason to assume, (and in fact every reason to assume that he didn’t) that he ever sought to make restitution to, appease, and seek the forgiveness of his victim. He is not a penitent, he’s an unrepentant sexual predator.

“Perhaps the most important principle violated by taking this 36-year-old high school-era charge seriously is the principle of the moral bank account.

Every one of us has a moral bank account. Our good deeds are deposits, and our bad deeds are withdrawals. We therefore assess a person the same way we assess our bank account. If our good actions outweigh our bad actions, we are morally in the black; if our bad actions greatly outweigh our good actions, we are morally in the red.

By all accounts — literally all — Brett Kavanaugh’s moral bank account is way in the black. He has led a life of decency, integrity, commitment to family and commitment to community few Americans can match. On these grounds alone, the charges against him as a teenager should be ignored.”

God isn’t a vending machine, and sexual assault isn’t the kind of sin you can simply drown in things that aren’t sexual assault. It leaves a victim – a real, living, breathing, suffering victim – who isn’t helped by any of the other actions that their abusers take. And it’s funny you should use the word ‘violated.’ There’s no way that was a coincidence, which makes this piece all the more despicable.

He has not led a life of decency, integrity, commitment to family, and commitment to community, he has lead a farce to cover for the fact that he is an unrepentant violator of another human being whom you are trying to dehumanize by asking us not to care about her and what Kavanaugh did to her.

“So, why is this charge taken seriously?

One reason is, as I recently wrote, the greatest fear in America is fear of the left — the fear of what the left will do to you if you cross it. Not fear of God. Not fear of doing wrong. Fear of the left. Offend the left and you will lose your reputation and, quite often, your job or your business.”

Nice of you to just come right out and say that part of being a God-fearing member of the Right is condoning, enabling, and arguably celebrating sexual assault.

“Another reason is pure, amoral, demagogic politics. No honest American of any political persuasion believes that if a woman were to charge a Democrat-appointed judge such as Merrick Garland with doing to her 36 years ago in high school what Brett Kavanaugh is charged with having done 36 years ago in high school, the Democratic Party and the media would be demanding the confirmation vote be delayed or the candidate withdraw.”

Objection, calls for speculation.

And yet, we sent Franken packing for much less, and thank God for it. We will not tolerate sexual harassment or assault any longer. No amount of it.

“A third reason is feminism’s weakening of the American female (and male, but that is another story). A generation ago, a drunk teenager at a party trying groping a teenage girl over her clothing while trying to remove as much of her clothing as possible would not have been defended or countenanced. But it would not have been deemed as inducing post-traumatic stress disorder either.”

Well goddamn those feminazis for ruining the good ole’ fun we used to have groping women whenever we wanted, holding them down and trying to rape them, and actually raping them when they’re not conscious enough to fight back or scream. A few generations it was ok to lynch a black person. 75 years ago, it was ok to throw a Jew into an oven. 80 years before that it was perfectly acceptable to enslave people. Find other ways to have good, clean, God-fearing fun, you monster.

This weakening of the female is perfectly illustrated by the statement released by Susanna Jones, head of Holton-Arms School, the private preparatory school for girls in Bethesda, Maryland, that the accuser attended. “As a school that empowers women to use their voices, we are proud of this alumna for using hers,” Jones said.

“Empowers women”? Please.”

Yes, women, if you want to truly be empowered you must submit to the kind of behaviour Dennis describes above as perfectly acceptable. Because true empowerment is silently accepting the fact that you’re a sexual object to which men are entitled for any sort of sexual exploitation or violation they’d like to engagement. God forbid yous eek any agency in decisions made about your body, the Right might think you unempowered. They’d be more than happy, though, to forcefully, non-consensually show you how empowered you could be under them if you only submit.

“Nearly every woman over puberty has experienced a man trying to grope her (the groping of a pre-pubescent is sexual molestation of a child and an act of evil). My mother was groped by a physician. She told my father about it. My father told the physician that if he were to do it again, he would break his hands. And it remained a family folk tale. If you had told my mother she was a “survivor,” she would have wondered what you were talking about. The term was reserved for people who survived Nazi concentration camps, Japanese prisoner of war camps and cancer survivors, not women groped by a man.”

Listen if you want us to break every bone in Kavanaugh’s body instead of blocking his nomination to the Supreme court, we might be able to work something out.

And nice work trotting out a semantic argument. As a basis for a moral code in responding to sexual assault, it seems as good as or better than whatever you currently base your moral code on.

“When my wife was a waitress in her midteens, the manager of her restaurant grabbed her breasts and squeezed them on numerous occasions. She told him to buzz off, figured out how to avoid being in places where they were alone and continued going about her job. That’s empowerment.”

Again, because empowerment is not wanting to insist on just consequences and accountability for people who violate you, an. True empowerment is clearly submitting to it and at most verbalizing a desire to not be so violated once it’s already happened, if you’re feeling really cheeky.

“In sum, I am not interested in whether Mrs. Ford, an anti-Drumpf activist, is telling the truth. Because even if true, it tells us nothing about Brett Kavanaugh. But for the record, I don’t believe her story. Aside from too many missing details — most women remember virtually everything about the circumstances of a sexual assault no matter how long ago — few men do what she charges Kavanaugh with having done only one time. And no other woman has ever charged him with any sexual misconduct.”

So what you just got done describing as normal behaviour women should be tolerating is now something that only some men commit but only serially, which you’re finally calling sexual assault, and you don’t believe her because he hasn’t committed enough of it. Also, we know you don’t believe her, you jackass, the problem with what you did here was that you advocated for tolerance, acceptance of ,and even, arguably, the embracing of such behaviour as a society, and all in the name of female empowerment.

On the day before Yom Kippur, Dennis. For shame.

“Do not be surprised if a future Republican candidate for office or judicial nominee — no matter how exemplary a life he has led — is accused of sexual misconduct … from when he was in elementary school.”

To sum up all of what I just wrote: YOU HAVE NOT LIVED AN EXEMPLARY LIFE IF YOU ARE AN UNREPENTANT SEXUAL PREDATOR, DENNIS.

But hey, what do I know, I’m just a left wing Feminazi cuck who doesn’t believe in True Women’s Empowerment™.

 

Standard

Some Facts About the Child Victims Act

What is the Child Victims Act?

The Child Victims Act is a bill that’s been pending in the New York State legislature for 12 years, which would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, extend the civil statute of limitations, and open a one-year retroactive window during which civil cases whose statutes of limitation have already expired could be brought in court.

Why This Matters & Why We Need The Window

Currently, under New York State law, the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse is 5 years after the victim turns 18 – age 23. Many survivors of child sexual abuse never report their abuse. Of those who do, many don’t even report until decades after the abuse. Many factors contribute to this delay in reporting including shame the victim feels, threats made by abusers, fear of not being believed, pressure by community members to keep silent, and often a desire to try and forget the trauma happened.

Once a survivor turns 23, their abuser can walk into a police station, give a full confession, shake the desk sergeant’s hand, and leave scot free.

Because of New York State’s abysmal statute of limitations, thousands of sexual abusers walk free every year, unidentified, unprosecuted, free – given that statistically abusers are likely to have more than one victim – to keep abusing.

It’s About Protecting Children

Once the statute of limitations runs out, survivors have little recourse against their abusers. They can out them publicly, but because they have no way of proving their allegation in court, they run the risk of being sued by their abuser for libel. The Child Victims Act would change this by opening up a one-year lookback window, allowing survivors to identify, and sue their abusers in court. Once a survivor wins a suit against their abuser, that abuser can be publicized as a predator whom parents should keep their kids away from.

It’s About Justice for Survivors

Survivors of sexual abuse often suffer from a host of issues resulting from the trauma they’ve experienced: PTSD, suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addiction, and self-harm, among others.

On average, it costs survivors between $300,000 – $1,000,000 to treat these effects of child sexual abuse. Most survivors are either forced to pay for their treatment out of their own pockets, or do without it if it’s beyond their means. The Child Victims Act would allow survivors to hold their abusers financially response for the abuse they’ve committed, and they damage they’ve caused.

So Why Isn’t the Child Victims Act Law Yet?

For the past 12 years, New York State senate Republicans have, at the behest of several powerful special interests, been blocking every attempt to bring the Child Victims Act to the floor for a vote. Among these special interests are the New York Catholic ConferenceAgudath Israel of AmericaBoy Scouts of America, the United Federation of Teachers, and various insurance companies, including the American Insurance Association, Liberty Mutual, and Zurich Insurance. State senate majority leader John Flanagan in particular has for the last few years been actively preventing the Child Victims Act from leaving committee and coming to the floor for the vote.

What You Can Do to Help

Call your state senator. Seriously, it’s the most effective way to interact with your representatives. To find your New York State senator, Click Here to head over to the senate directory. You’ll be asked to enter your address, and after you hit Find My Senator, you’ll be brought to your senator’s contact page. Make sure to let your senator know that as a constituent you support the Child Victims Act with the lookback window and that if they’d like your continued support they’ll support it too.

Schedule a meeting with your senator. After all, they’re your representatives. Give their district office a call and say that as a constituent you’d like to schedule a meeting in person to discuss the Child Victims Act.

Follow ZA’AKAH’s efforts on Facebook. We post regular updates on the fight to pass the Child Victims Act, along with volunteer opportunities, and action alerts.

Come to our actions. ZA’AKAH regularly goes up to Albany to lobby legislators for the Child Victims Act, and demonstrate in the New York State Capitol. We also occasionally schedule demonstrations around New York City to protest institutional opposition to the Child Victims Act, and institutional coverup of sexual abuse.

Get involved on social media. Read about the Child Victims Act. Share articles. Start discussions. Be a part of the conversation. Find your elected officials online and Tweet at them, send their pages Facebook messages, and comment on their posts asking them about the Child Victims Act.

Got Any Questions?

We’d love to hear from you, and we’re happy to answer any questions you might have about the Child Victims Act. Send me an email and we’ll get right back to you with an answer.

Standard
Jeff Sessions receives award from Orthodox Union

Righteousness Has Been Murdered, Not Pursued

I’ve never felt the need to pack up and flee the United States. I’ve never felt the need to cross a border illegally. I’ve only once ever been to Canada, but otherwise never been out of the United States, and I’m pretty ok with that. When I fled from my abusive house, all I had to do was move 3 miles away to build a life that made me happy, a life of relative prosperity (I had what I needed), safety, and contentment. That’s really all anyone is looking for.

People who illegally cross our southern border aren’t doing it as a day trip. They aren’t packing a bag and making the long and dangerous trip across our border because they needed something to do on a Sunday. They’re leaving their countries, their homes, for a chance at something better, something their own country can’t give them. For many it’s economic opportunity. For many others it’s their only chance for safety and security.

Those who are fleeing natural disasters, abusive relationships, gang violence, and political unrest are not coming here to hurt us, they’re not coming here to kill us, they’re coming here to just live a life in peace and provide for their families. Their wives, husbands, and children.

When Jeff Sessions tells people who have survived natural disasters and have come here under a refugee program that took them in and gave them a life when the only life they’d known had been destroyed by an act of God, that they have to get out of our country and go back to where they came from regardless of whether or not where they came from has recovered from that disaster, that’s not righteousness. That’s not צדק.

When Jeff Sessions decides to exclude from consideration what sort of abusive relation ship, or threats on their lives he’d be sending people back to if they were deported, he’s not exercising righteousness. Not exercising צדקות.

When he tears families apart, imprisons children, without any mercy, consideration of circumstance, or any care for treating those families with the dignity, and respect due every human being; when he knowingly sends men, women, and children back to certain death, certain abuse; when he sends people back to abject poverty and desolation after they’ve lived and built a life here, become integrated into a community, committed no crimes, and want nothing but to take care of their family and be Americans; when Jeff Sessions started seeing people as talking points rather than human beings he became a murderer. A רודף.

Perhaps the OU meant its award as a sick joke. צדק צדק תרדוף, usually translated as “righteousness, righteousness you shall pursue,” in the hands of Jeff Sessions becomes “righteousness, righteousness you shall murder.” It’s rather apt then that such an award is given by the flagship modern orthodox institution to a man who has taken the very idea of righteousness, charity, justice, and mercy, and murdered it בפרהסיה.

The OU, however, issued that award with no sense of irony, and for an organization that claims to speak for the entire modern orthodox community, they truly bring shame upon themselves and upon those of us who have supported them.

Standard
Senator Catharine Young Protecting Child Abusers

No, Sen. Young, New Yorkers Won’t Be Fooled By Your Coverup Bill

After 12 years of Republican stonewalling on the Child Victims Act, Senator Catherine Young seems to have introduced a bill that the Republicans can get behind. This is not the first time that Republicans or their allies have introduced an alternative to the Child Victims Act. Two notable alternatives have been introduced in the past, one by Republican Senator Andrew Lanza, and the other by IDC leader Senator Jeff Klein. The central point of contention between Republicans and Democrats on this issue seems to be the “lookback window,” a provision survivors and advocates have been pushing for which would open a one-year window during which civil child sexual abuse cases whose statutes of limitation have expired could nonetheless be brought in court against both abusive individuals, and any institutions that enabled or protected them.

For the past 12 years, powerful interests in New York State, such as the New York Catholic Conference, Agudath Israel of America, Boy Scouts of America, the American Insurance Association, Zurich Insurance, and Liberty Mutual, have been spending millions of lobbying dollars in opposition to any version of the Child Victims Act containing a lookback window provision. While the Child Victims Act has been passed several times in recent years by the state assembly, it has, year after year, been stalled in committee in the senate by majority leader John Flanagan and has yet to even reach the floor for a vote in the senate.

Which brings us to senator Young’s proposal. Her alternative would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse entirely, leave the civil statute of limitations as is, and establish a $300 million fund, to be replenished every year with another $50 million, to reimburse survivors for any claims against individuals or institutions that have passed the statute of limitations. What’s particularly striking about her proposal is the fact that it’s not just a one-time event, but will continue to exist after the first year, paying expired claims well into the future. This fund would be paid for by civil asset forfeiture money currently held by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

The bill came as a surprise to survivors and advocates for the Child Victims Act, especially since senator Young consulted only one survivor before introducing the bill despite being aware of two large coalitions of survivors and advocates who for years have been advocating for the Child Victims Act, and a vast majority of whom oppose her alternative.

On its face, her proposal seems like an attempt to establish a bail-out for institutions that for decades have hidden behind New York State’s abysmal laws to avoid responsibility for enabling child sexual abuse and protecting abusers. For no other civil or criminal matter does there exist a fund like this which, on behalf of the parties responsible, and with no intention of seeking reimbursement from the responsible parties. For no other civil matter does the state bar access to court for claimants. While some might claim that since the statute of limitations has expired on these cases the claimants, in fact, don’t have any right to claim that they’re being barred from court, the existence of one injustice—the abysmal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse currently on the books in New York—doesn’t excuse another injustice—the barring of survivors from accessing the courts once we’re finally righting that terrible wrong.

Furthermore, in failing to eliminate the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, senator Young makes it clear that her proposal is not just a one-time reparative measure to atone for past wrongs while ensuring justice in the future; rather it is a perpetual bailout of abusers and institutions paid for by the citizens of New York. The message this proposal sends to institutions who, through their negligence, indifference, self-interest, and disregard for the safety of their charges, were responsible for the sexual violation of children is that not only will there be no consequences for their negligence in the past, there will never be any consequences in the future. Given no incentive to reform, institutions will continue doing what they’ve always done: protecting abusers, silencing victims, and endangering children.

Senator Young claims that her proposal serves a population that will be underserved by the Child Victims Act—survivors who were abused by individuals who do not have enough assets for a lawyer to be interest in taking a case against them on contingency basis. That, at least, is true. For such survivors, particularly if they don’t have the necessary money to pay a lawyer’s hourly rate, the likelihood of them getting justice in court is slim. While it may be true that fund like the one proposed by senator Young would take care of survivors in that situation, it seems disingenuous to require survivors as a whole to choose between holding institutions accountable and disincentivizing future institutional negligence, and giving victims of private abusers access to the funds they need to pay for treatment. If senator Young is serious about helping those survivors who will be underserved by the Child Victims Act, she should propose this fund as an amendment to the Child Victims Act, rather than trying to divide the survivor community with an impossible, and wildly unjust choice.

Even if this were added to the Child Victims Act, as it stands there are glaring process with this proposal. No actual process is detailed in the bill for filing a claim with the commission it would establish. No evidentiary standard is specified, and no criteria are defined for acceptance or rejection of a claim. All of that is left to the discretion of a chief administrator who

In its original version, this proposal made no mention of whether or not the results of these hearings could be publicized by survivors who might wish to publicly name their abuser. One of the primary motivations behind the lookback window is the ability, once a civil trial is won, to publicly identify abusers thus warning people who may be oblivious to the threat living in their neighborhood, teaching in their school, or babysitting their kids, that they should keep their children away from these heretofore hidden predators. The bill was amended to include a provision establishing a website with a list of people who have been found by these hearings to be abusers, but there’s no indication whether or not such a list would hold up to a court challenge by someone named on it, and it doesn’t require the listing of institutions found responsible for enabling or covering up abuse. This reinforces the clear fact that this bill is intended to do nothing but shield institutions from monetary and reputational responsibility.

New York has for too long denied justice to survivors of child sexual abuse, and in doing so has endangered the lives of every child in New York State. On average it takes survivors of sexual abuse between 20-40 years to disclose their abuse. A statute of limitations of only 5 years for child sexual abuse is nothing but a cruel affront to justice. Abusers in New York know that they are less likely to be prosecuted for their crimes in New York than in the vast majority of this country. Shielded by New York State law, they abuse with impunity. Institutions, similarly aware of the improbability of being brought to court for covering up sexual abuse, continue to silence victims and shield abusers in their employ thus endangering the lives of every child under their care.

The only way to get serious about ensuring justice for survivors and protecting New York’s children is by extending or eliminating the civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse, eliminating the 90 day notice of claim for claims against public institutions, and opening a retroactive window during which all survivors whose claims against individual abusers and institutions that protected abusers and silenced their victims can be brought in civil court, all of which is covered by the Child Victims Act that the Republicans have been refusing to even allow to the floor of the senate for a vote.

So why are senator Young and the other 18 sponsors of this bill pushing a bill that so plainly bails out institutions at the expense of survivors?

Recent polls have shown that 90% of New Yorkers support the Child Victims Act. The Republicans are well aware, given how many senators are up for reelection this year, that New Yorkers are fed up with their obstruction of the Child Victims Act, and are attempting to use this poison pill proposal as smokescreen for their inaction. They’re hoping that New York voters will see senator Young’s proposal as a step toward reasonable compromise, instead of the state sponsored bailout for abusive institutions it actually is.

Sorry, senator, New York won’t be that easily fooled.

Standard

Busting Some Myths About The Child Victims Act

Agudath Yisrael of America, the Catholic Church, and Boy Scouts of America have been fighting fiercely against efforts to eliminate the criminal and civil statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse, and open a one year retroactive window for civil cases that have exceeded their statute of limitation, because they each know full well that for decades they’ve been responsible for the abuse of countless children, and the coverup of those crimes. It should be noted that an institution is only civilly liable for abuse that happens within the institution if they were complicit in covering it up, or were alerted to abuse and failed to act appropriately.

That means, contrary to what Agudath Israel of America, the Catholic Church, and Boy Scouts of America want you to believe, that if abuse happened in an institution, and the teacher was suspended or fired pending a police investigation following an immediate report to authorities, the institution is not at all liable. Institutions are only liable if they were complicit in covering it up.

When Agudah, the Church, or the Boy Scouts tell you that they’re worried about going bankrupt if the Child Victims Act passes, what they’re effectively doing is acknowledging that they’re so sure they’yre liable for so much abuse, that if even a fraction of victims of the victims of the abuse they covered up come forward, they’re facing the threat of bankruptcy.

They’re essentially admitting guilt, and asking us not to care.

Here’s the problem:

1) How can you expect parents to trust your institutions if you’re admitting to them that abuse was covered up in the past, and you refuse to do anything to make reparation for that?

2) How can you expect parents to trust your institutions if you make it so devastatingly clear that you will always put your institutions’ interests before justice and their children’s safety?

3) To the institutions, the administrations, and the groups lobbying for their interests child sexual abuse might be “something that happened 40 years ago,” but to the survivors of the abuse they enabled and covered up, it’s their everyday reality. Abuse doesn’t cease to matter just because some time passed, certainly not to the victim. Especially when –

4) On average, it takes victims of child sexual abuse between 10-30 years to disclose. Having a statute of limitations on child sexual abuse, therefore, certainly one that closes on a survivor’s 23rd birthday, is nothing short of a categorical denial of justice. Consider this: One a survivor’s birthday, their abuser can literally walk into a police station, make a full confession in front of the entire police force, and then turn around and walk out a free man.

5) Statistically speaking, child sexual abusers are repeat offenders. It’s rarely just once. A statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, therefore, limits law enforcement’s ability to prosecute, because they have to wait until a young enough victim who’s not only willing to disclose, but also willing to file an official complaint, comes forward. In the meantime, before such a victim comes forward, that abuser is free to keep abusing.

5) Having a statute of limitations on child sexual abuse incentivises cover up, because it gives an end date, a goal, so to speak, to those who would cover child sexual abuse up. Keep the victims quiet and intimidated until they’re 23, and your institution is free of any responsibility. Passing the Child Victims Act would disincentivize cover up, because while institutional administrators and community leader may think they can easily keep survivors quiet until they’re 23, they’d be hard pressed to keep them quiet for their entire lives. At that point it’s easier to just address the problem than try to cover up for that long. The truth always comes out eventually.

6) Think about what the argument “We shouldn’t pass the Child Victims Act because it will bankrupt institutions for something that happened 40 years ago” means. It means that by all rights, that institution should have made restitution for its crimes 40 years ago. And for 40 years, instead of making restitution, it has been able to use that money instead to keep itself open, with the same administration that was responsible for covering up abuse in the first place. The argument is essentially, “We’ve gotten away with covering up sexual abuse for this long, we shouldn’t be held accountable anymore.” On the contrary. The fact that liable institutions have stayed open for as long as they have is compounding disgrace on disgrace, and should never be justification for denying justice to survivors of child sexual abuse.

7) The focus on institutions vis a vis the Child Victims Act deflects attention from the real problem. Most abuse is not committed in an institutional setting. Most abuse happens in the home, by a friend, a family friend, an acquaintance, or even a close relative. Those survivors should not be denied the justice they deserve just because institutions are scared of justice finally catching up to them, forcing them to reckon for crimes they thought they’d gotten away with. Particularly because –

8) Over lifetime, it costs, on average, between $300,000 and $1,000,000 to treat the effects of child sexual abuse related trauma. That’s money most survivors don’t have. For many, if not most survivors, the only hope they have of getting the treatment they need is by suing their abusers and the people and institutions responsible for enabling it for the money they need to cover the costs of treatment.

9) But it’s not just about money. It is unconstitutional to open a retroactive criminal statute of limitations window. That means, that barring civil action, there is no way to make an official record that someone is a child sexual abuser. That matters because, as noted earlier, most abusers have many more than one victim. Without the ability to sue these abusers after their criminal statutes of limitations have expired, there is no other way, legally, to identify and expose these abusers, and warn the community away from them. Without a retroactive civil statute of limitations window, countless abusers will continue to walk free, unidentified, anonymous to their future victims until it’s too late.

Early on in my work around sexual abuse, I was taught a very important lesson by a very great man: The second an institution becomes more important than the people it serves, it no longer deserves to exist.
Standard

Don’t Tell Us To Move On

There’s this nutty idea people have that being involved in anti abuse activism somehow means that I haven’t moved on from what happened to me, that somehow the efforts I undertake to organize actions against organizations and people who enable abuse are indicative of some underlying unhealthiness, and an unwillingness to heal. I hear it all the time from people. They couch it in sympathy, as if they’re only concerned with my wellbeing when they wonder aloud why I ‘obsess’ over this topic so much.

I have moved on. Quite literally. I moved on from my abusive home. Then I moved on again to a community I now feel a part of. I moved on to a well-paying job that I actually enjoy (most days, anyway). I’ve got a good, reasonably comfortable life here. I’ve got nothing to do with my abusive family anymore, and haven’t for years. I’ve found people who accept me the way I am, and care about me unconditionally. I’ve got everything one needs for a good, peaceful life.

But what about the thousand of kids who don’t have that? What about the ones who are still being abused, still living in communities that enable their abuse, blame them for it, throw them out for talking about it? What about them? I understand that for a lot of people speaking up publicly is dangerous, precisely because of the oppressive nature of these communities and their power structures, but why do people think that concern for the people left behind somehow indicates an inability to move on?

It’s precisely because I was able to so thoroughly move on that I’m even able to engage in this kind of activism. I don’t have a family to lose because I’ve already lost it. I have a job outside the community, so I don’t have to worry about getting fired for my activism. I’ve rejected the shidduch system already, so I don’t have to worry about being disqualified by shadchanim. I’ve built a life for myself outside of the community that abused me, which gives me the luxury of being able to criticize it without fear of reprisal.

The ones still there, the ones we’re all fighting to protect, the ones who will face severe consequences for speaking up depend on us, the people who made it out, the people who can safely challenge the enablers, count on us to do for them what they can’t do for themselves, because of the systems we’re fighting to change.

Don’t tell me to move on and leave it to someone else. Don’t tell me to move on and stop worrying about it. When I was still in the community, being abused by my family, I wish that someone would come and stand up for me. There weren’t. And I couldn’t do it for myself. But now I can. And I’m not going to abandon the people who are still in danger.

If you have the ability to help us fight against Agudah, and its abuse enabling policies, if you have the ability to come fight for the Child Victims Act, justice for survivors of abuse, and a safe environment for the thousands of children in the Orthodox community, join us on September 10th, at 3 PM, in front of the Novominsker Yeshiva, at 6020 17th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. Make your voices heard. Let the most vulnerable members of that community know that they’re not alone, that we’re there to protect them.

Photo credit: Mo Gelber

 

Standard

Activists & Survivors to Protest Agudath Israel President’s Abuse Enabling Policies 1644 48th st 7/23 3 PM

For Immediate Release
Contact Asher Lovy
347-369-4016
Asher@ZAAKAH.org

 

Advocates against child sexual abuse protest President of Agudath Israel of America for protecting secrets, not children

 

(New York, NY): ZAAKAH, an organization that advocates reforms that will end child sexual abuse in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, is protesting outside the President of  Agudath Israel on Sunday. The protest will be at the Novominsker Yeshiva – 1644 48th street in Boro Park – on  Sunday,July 23rd at 3 PM. The protest is against Agudath Israel’s opposition to the Child Victims Act and their policy that victims must ask a rabbi for permission before reporting sexual assault to the authorities.  

 

These two policies, coupled, are responsible for the coverups of thousands of cases of child sexual abuse. These policies, enacted and promoted by Yaakov Perlow, are in large part responsible for the continued sexual abuse of children in Charedi communities, and the continued apathy and indifference toward victims of child sexual abuse on the part of Charedi communities.Together, these two policies actually incentivise the coverup of abuse and coercion of victims by setting a goal for rabbis and community members who want to cover up abuse: Since the victim has to go to a rabbi, make sure the rabbi keeps the victim quiet until he turns 23, and it will no longer be an issue.” says Asher Lovy, organizer of the event.

 

“According to many studies, it takes, on average, between 10 and 30 years for victims to come forward about being abused sexually. Yaakov Perlow, President of Agudath Israel,  knows this. He knows the harmful effects of sexual abuse its victims – suicide, PTSD, eating disorders, addiction, problems with relationships, emotional trauma, physical trauma, to name a few – and despite being fully aware of the high costs of treating the effects of child sexual abuse, Yaakov Perlow, and the rest of the Moetzes, continue to set policies for Agudah that not only deny existing victims justice, but put our children’s futures and lives in danger by enabling the continuation of child sexual abuse. Yet they continue to oppose legislation to  eliminate the Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse, and open a 1 year retroactive window for old cases, allowing survivors of child sexual abuse to get justice from their abusers and the institutions that protect them.” said Lovy.

 

The Child Victims Act (A5885A) will lengthen New York’s statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, which currently keeps most victims over the age of 23 from seeking any justice in criminal or civil courts. The bill will also allow victims over the age of 23 one year to sue their abuser retroactively.

 

“In New York, the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse prevents victims from pressing charges after their 23rd birthday. This means there are lots of dangerous sexual predators who are above the law and are working with children. This is a disgraceful thing for New York to do to its children and to abuse survivors”, said Andrew Willis, founder of the Stop Abuse Campaign.

 

ZAAKAH is dedicated to ending child sexual abuse within the Charedi communities. For more information email Asher@zaakah.org.

Standard

How The Gedolim Lost My Faith

Author’s Note: Here’s the link to the Facebook event for this Sunday’s protest of the Novominsker Rebbe’s, and by extension Agudah’s, rape-enabling policies: https://www.facebook.com/events/261681534310970/

 

I started off in activism, much in the same way every other activist starts, with a young, optimistic, incredibly naïve idea of what I could accomplish if I tried hard enough. The problem: children were being abused, suffering horribly at the hands of people who violated them in ways that would viscerally incense anyone possessed of a conscience. Surely the problem was one of ignorance. It seemed to me, as it seems to many young, upstart activists, that when apprised of the horrifying reality and pervasiveness of child sexual abuse, people of conscience, people who are otherwise God-fearing fellow Orthodox Jews, couldn’t possibly stand idly by and allow such injustices to continue. No, it must be ignorance, I figured, and ignorance can be educated.

 

At the time I was confused about my place in the Jewish faith. I’d been raised solidly Charedi in Boro Park, taught from a young age to keep shabbos and kashrus, to daven three times a day, to value torah, and to respect gedolim. Gedolim were the closest thing we had to prophets. They didn’t talk to God, but after a lifetime of devotion to God, the study of Torah, and living piously, living as an example for the rest of us to follow, surely they were the most qualified to tell us what God wanted of us.

 

But that sort of devotion surely must come at a price, a certain detachment from the mundane, from the day-to-day of our lay lives. It’s no wonder they didn’t do anything about the rampant sexual abuse in their communities, no wonder that when they were handed a case to adjudicate they made the incorrect choice. It wasn’t their fault, they simply didn’t understand the exactly nature of the problem they were adjudicating. They simply didn’t understand what it means for a victim to feel so abandoned, betrayed, and violated by their friends, family, and community that the only apparent way out is suicide. Surely they’d never experienced being in such a mental space.

 

Surely they’d never been in so much pain that the only way to numb it, to make it somewhat bearable, survivable, was to stay drunk or stay high for long enough to function. Surely they’d never felt so out of control that were compelled to stuff themselves to make themselves feel full of something other than pain only to empty themselves out again with a well placed finger down their throats; surely they’d never felt the need to exert a similar control over something – anything – in their lives by not eating.

 

No, they couldn’t possibly have experienced these things. And why would they? They were holy, as close to perfect as a human being could be, and God rewards those who follow God’s law so devotedly. It wasn’t their fault that they’d never experienced such pain. They’d worked hard for their rewards. Their lack of perspective wasn’t a flaw, but a testament to their righteousness. Their detachment was both a byproduct and a reward of the lives they’d led.

 

But surely these paragons, once informed of the pain we were experiencing, once confronted, not adversarially but respectfully, unlike those other activists who were just out to shame them, mock their torah, their communities, and their devotion to both, activists who were simply self-interested, ridiculing people who by contrast made them look like the pleasure-seeking self-justifying sinners they surely were – if they were approached by someone who walked in both sets of shoes, a survivor and a devoted member of their community – surely they’d have to take notice and act to help us.

 

I started to talk to people about getting me some meetings with the men I’d grown up revering. At the time I’d started writing, but still didn’t have my own blog, so I’d hand my articles to other blogs for publication. In Novemeber of 2012, Avi Shafran wrote an article for Cross Currents titled The Evil Eleventh, in which he responded to a 2006 New York Magazine article by Robert Kolker, which speculated that abuse in the Orthodox Jewish world might be more prevalent than it is elsewhere. Shafran, in his response, contended that since there are no statistics, Kolker’s speculative assertions were an “unmitigated insult to the Judaism,” and likened it, due to his reliance on information obtained by a handful of advocates and survivors, to “visiting Sloan Kettering and concluding that there is a national cancer epidemic raging.”

 

The rest of his response was a classic example of deflecting by focusing attention on the Jimmy Savile case in England, and engaging in No True Scotsmanism, declaring anyone who would do such a thing ipso facto not a religious Jew, thereby – somehow – making it not our problem.

 

Respectful as I was of gedolim at the time – many of whom Shafran represented as spokesman for Agudath Israel, and by extension the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah, and distrustful to the point of disdain, at times, of the advocates and activists involved in the issue of child sexual abuse, I nevertheless wrote a response which I intended to publish on a friend’s blog. I figured, however, that it was only fair to send an advance copy to Shafran for comment before publishing.

 

After emailing back and forth about the article, it seemed that he agreed with my main points, and that my article, as I had intended to publish it, was unfair. He seemed like someone I could talk to, a reasonable person who genuinely cared about the issue, and, given half a chance, would do what he could to help. I told him I would not publish my response, and we set up a time to talk on the phone.

 

We ended up talking for four nights over the next two weeks, each conversation lasting a couple of hours. I had prepared notes. I knew I wouldn’t get anywhere on many of the topics I raised, but I figured I’d raise them anyway.

 

Issues like sex education in yeshivos, acknowledging the harm done – whether anything could be done about it or not – in segregating the sexes until marriage, acknowledging – whether anything could be done about it or not – the problems caused by our general reticence to use proper terminology when discussing physical anatomy or sexuality, refusing to discuss sexuality as a topic, and how much harder it makes discussing non-consensual sexual encounters when even consensual encounters are considered taboo. Then there was the fact that teachers, and yeshiva administrations in general are unwilling to allow students to discuss issues they’re having in their personal lives with faith, with the opposite sex, drugs, depression, etc, without fear of expulsion, and that by the time they reach a yeshiva that does allow such discussion between students and faculty, it’s too late.

 

Then we moved on to the problems caused by sexual abuse, and the terrible suffering it causes to its victims. I ran him through all the problems, both mental and physical, caused by sexual abuse, some which I’d developed having been abused myself for years.

 

Throughout all of it, he listened sympathetically, sometimes even empathetically. He acknowledged all of my concerns. He admitted that there were issues with the way our communities raise children, and he acknowledged the damage caused by all of these concerns. I thought I was getting somewhere. I thought, finally someone who’s on my side, who has access to gedolim, who can actually help me change things for the better.

 

And then we got to the psak.

 

Shortly following the 2011 Agudah Convention, Shafran posted the following psak on Cross Currents, which operates as Agudah’s de facto blog. The psak was posted by Shafran as an official Agudah statement:

  1. Where there is “raglayim la’davar” (roughly, reason to believe) that a child has been abused or molested, the matter should be reported to the authorities. In such situations, considerations of “tikun ha’olam” (the halachic authority to take steps necessary to “repair the world”), as well as other halachic concepts, override all other considerations.
  2. This halachic obligation to report where there is raglayim la’davar is not dependent upon any secular legal mandate to report. Thus, it is not limited to a designated class of “mandated reporters,” as is the law in many states (including New York); it is binding upon anyone and everyone. In this respect, the halachic mandate to report is more stringent than secular law.
  3. However, where the circumstances of the case do not rise to the threshold level of raglayim la’davar, the matter should not be reported to the authorities. In the words of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, perhaps the most widely respected senior halachic authority in the world today, “I see no basis to permit” reporting “where there is no raglayim la’davar, but rather only ‘eizeh dimyon’ (roughly, some mere conjecture); if we were to permit it, not only would that not result in ‘tikun ha’olam’, it could lead to ‘heres haolam’ (destruction of the world).” [Yeshurun, Volume 7, page 641.]
  4. Thus, the question of whether the threshold standard of raglayim la’davar has been met so as to justify (indeed, to require) reporting is critical for halachic purposes. (The secular law also typically establishes a threshold for mandated reporters; in New York, it is “reasonable cause to suspect.”) The issue is obviously fact sensitive and must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
  5. There may be times when an individual may feel that a report or evidence he has seen rises to the level of raglayim la’davar; and times when he may feel otherwise. Because the question of reporting has serious implications for all parties, and raises sensitive halachic issues, the individual should not rely exclusively on his own judgment to determine the presence or absence of raglayim la’davar. Rather, he should present the facts of the case to a rabbi who is expert in halacha and who also has experience in the area of abuse and molestation – someone who is fully sensitive both to the gravity of the halachic considerations and the urgent need to protect children. (In addition, as Rabbi Yehuda Silman states in one of his responsa [Yeshurun, Volume 15, page 589], “of course it is assumed that the rabbi will seek the advice of professionals in the field as may be necessary.”) It is not necessary to convene a formal bais din (rabbinic tribunal) for this purpose, and the matter should be resolved as expeditiously as possible to minimize any chance of the suspect continuing his abusive conduct while the matter is being considered.

 

While the first four clauses of the psak may not seem all that objectionable, despite the comparison of “reasonable causes to suspect” determined by mental health and law enforcement professionals to raglayim ledavar determined by average, untrained community rabbis, the fifth clause is what’s truly problematic.

 

The fifth clause seems to indicate that since the average person is not an expert in what constitutes raglayim ledavar, a rabbi should be consulted in every case, either to establish the presence of raglayim ledavar, or to affirm it. What that essentially means, to most people, is that regardless of whether or not your own common sense tells you that there’s clearly raglayim ledavar, you should consult your rabbi anyway just to make sure.

 

By then I’d been active long enough in survivor communities to have heard countless stories of survivors who had been browbeaten into silence by rabbis who were either ignorant of the damage caused by sexual abused and therefore felt more sympathy either for the abuser who could potentially face serious prison time, or the abuser’s family who would suffer if their loved one was arrested and publicly charged, or who simply persuaded and pressured survivors into silence because they had a vested interest in protecting the abuser. I’d seen the damage caused by this psak, and I wanted Shafran to address my concerns. Surely we could work something out.

 

I told him my concerns, and he told me that I had gotten the psak all wrong. That it didn’t actually mandate consulting rabbis in every case. That surprised me, so I asked him for specific examples of cases that would or wouldn’t require consulting a rabbi prior to reporting.

 

According to Shafran, if someone is the victim of abuse, they obviously have raglayim ledavar, and can report without consulting a rabbi. If someone is the parent or guardian of a child who clearly seems like they were abused, or clearly says that they were abused, then you have raglayim ledavar, and can report without consulting a rabbi. The only situation under the psak, according to Shafran, in which you’d actually have to consult a rabbi, is if a child tells you that something happened, but can’t or won’t elaborate, and you’re not sure what they mean.

 

While the proper protocol for such a situation is to take the child to a mental health professional for evaluation, this interpretation of the psak as laid out by Shafran seemed damned near reasonable. I was stunned. It actually seemed like a decent compromise, a promising starting point. The psak actually was progress. The advocates were wrong. But why did they have this misconception, and why didn’t Agudah do anything to remedy it?

 

I asked Shafran, still stunned by what he’d told me, why this psak wasn’t more widely publicized, more publicly explained? Why was this psak, as he’d explained it, not published in mainstream Charedi newspapers, like Yated and Hamodia? Why was Agudah not taking out two-page spreads to both defend themselves against the baseless accusations of angry bloggers, and to make sure that children in the community were protected under this new, progressive psak?

 

Because we don’t want the laypeople interpreting the psak on their own and misapplying it.

 

That was the response I got.

 

But why do community rabbis not know about this psak? How are they expected to make the proper decisions if they don’t even know the framework in which they’re expected to operate? I didn’t get a good answer for this.

 

Alright, but what about having a dedicated panel that’s publicly known to adjudicate sexual abuse cases, and evaluate whether or not they meet the criteria of raglayim ledavar, a panel that would be accountable for the rulings they’d render?

 

Well, Shafran explained, firstly such a thing wouldn’t be legal. Secondly, no rabbi would want to be the one to step forward and take the lead on such a thing. It would earn them criticism, and cause conflicts with the institutions they lead or represent, jeopardize their positions, or the financial futures of their yeshivos, and no one would want to accept that kind of responsibility.

 

What if the gedolim came out publicly and did more to raise awareness? Surely, if they took leadership on this, if they all made the issue front and center as a problem that the frum community needs to tackle head-on, rabbis who wanted to become more proactive in fighting against child sexual abuse would feel more comfortable making themselves available.

 

It was then that Shafran managed my expectations of gedolim.

 

They have the same problem. They don’t feel they can take that risk, because they still have to worry about their communities, institutions, and positions.

 

And right there, at that moment, is when the gedolim lost my faith.

 

“I don’t understand,” I exclaimed bitterly, “Is the dog wagging its tail, or is the tail wagging the dog?”

 

After I’d calmed down a little bit, apologized for my outburst, and assimilated this world-shattering piece of information, I got back down to business.

 

Ok, well, if the gedolim aren’t going to help, what can I do to raise awareness in the community? Could Shafran help me get a foot in the door with some of the frum newspapers and magazines so I could publish articles about abuse, and raise community awareness?

 

Yated, Hamodia, Mishpacha, Ami, and Zman would never take them, he said.

 

Not even if they were told to?

 

No.

 

So what do I do?

 

Start at the bottom. Go to the Flatbush Jewish Journal. They’ll be more likely to publish something about sexual abuse, provided its written respectfully, in a way that doesn’t accuse the whole community of complicity. Start there. Work your way up.

 

Can you call the editor in chief and tell him that you’re sending me along?

 

No.

 

Can I tell him you sent me?

 

No.

 

(In an email a week later he did offer to let me drop his name in an email to the editor of Flatbush Jewish Journal.)

 

So after four days of talking, after all the things we’ve agreed upon, after all the concern you showed, you can’t help me with anything? Even this? What have I gotten from this?

 

“.תפסת מרובה לא תפסת”

 

I’ve since been disabused of all the misconceptions I’ve had regarding gedolim. I should have known, but all the gedolim I’d tried to get meetings with had already met with survivors, had already heard everything I’d wanted to say to them, and their pain had similarly fallen on deaf ears.

 

I’ve since lost the illusion I had of gedolim as saintly beings with a holy disconnection from mundane reality. They know. But they’re people. They have self-interest. They have ambition. They like power, and money. They’re the same as everyone else. Nothing greater or lesser. Just regular people in charge of regular institutions. They don’t know God any better than the rest of us do. They don’t have any special insight that we don’t. Their ability to use their sechel isn’t any different from ours. There’s nothing innately special about any of them.

 

They’re gedolim because they have power. They run powerful institutions. They control powerful amounts of money. They have powerful amounts of influence. That’s it. Nothing special.

 

I lost a fair chunk of my innocence when I realized this. I no longer had heroes to look up to. I no longer had any paragons of virtue after which to model my life. But I’ve met some. There are people I consider tzaddikim. People who have literally stood between a gun and its intended target. People whose careers and public profiles have suffered tremendously because they refused to budge on their principles. People who have publicly acknowledged their complicity in protecting abusers in the past, but have since publicly taken accountability, apologized unreservedly, educated themselves about the issue, and have become some of the leaders in our cause.

 

Those are people worthy of respect.

 

And the key difference between them? They are respected but don’t demand respect. They are beloved but don’t demand love. They don’t command awe. They don’t command worship. They’re not the kind of people who would make you walk backwards out of a room they’re occupying so you don’t turn your back on them. They’re always willing to offer advice if asked, but would never demand that you seek their counsel.

 

They’re the real gedolim, but they would bristle at the title.

 

I only came to this realization about gedolim because I came close enough to see their weaknesses. Most people in their communities are too blinded by the mirages they see to recognize these weaknesses. That’s why we’re bringing the issue to the frum community. That’s why ZA’AKAH is protesting outside of the Novominsker Rebbe’s shul. To show the community that we’re not ignoring the issue just because the gedolim tell us to, that the gedolim are not operating in the best interests of our children, but the best interests of the institutions they lead, that there are people out there who see their pain, and care enough to do something about it, and that if they should choose to speak up, we’ll proudly give them a voice.

 

Join us this Sunday at 3 PM, in front of the Novominsker Shul at 1644 48th street, to protest agudah’s rape enabling policies. Because that’s all their psak does. That’s all Yaakov Perlow accomplished in issuing that psak. By requiring victims to consult a rabbi before reporting child sexual abuse to the authorities, all that’s accomplished is the enabling of coverups by community rabbis either too ignorant, or too biased to make the right decisions.

 

The only proper response to abuse is reporting to the authorities. And let no gadol tell you otherwise.
Correction: I deleted a sentence saying that Shafran refused to let me drop his name in conversation with Flatbush Jewish Journal. According to my recollection he did refuse during our conversation, but in an email a week later he did recommend that I drop his name in conversation with the Flatbush Jewish Journal. This post has been updated to reflect that change.

Standard

Join ZAAKAH In Protesting Yaakov Perlow’s Child Rape Enabling Policies

I don’t want anyone thinking that we’ve packed up and gone home just because we didn’t get the Child Victims Act this past session. I don’t want anyone thinking that our last protest was just revenge against Agudah for lobbying against it. We haven’t forgotten. We haven’t run out of steam. We haven’t given up. And it’s not just about the Child Victims Act.

We’re going to be protesting again this month, this time outside of the Novominsker Shul at 1644 48th street. Join us there on July 23rd at 3 PM to send Yaakov Perlow, the Moetzes, and Agudah a message:

We won’t go away until the Child Victims Act is passed.

We won’t go away until you make it unequivocally clear that the proper response to child sexual abuse is to report the abuser immediately to the authorities, not asking a rabbi or reporting to administrations.

We won’t go away until we are satisfied that the children in your community are safe, that the people who prey on them will be brought to justice, and that the survivors are supported.

If we learned anything from our last protest it’s that there are countless people who have either personally experienced abuse, or have children, relatives, or friends who have experienced child sexual abuse, and that they’re all getting fed up.

Join ZAAKAH in giving them a voice, and be a part of the change.

Facebook Event Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/261681534310970

 

Standard