Here’s the problem with the way we’ve been conditioned to respond to things like Zvi Gluck deliberately lying to survivors about their rights under the Child Victims Act. We’ve grown so accustomed to the status quo being so incredibly terrible that we’ve lost sight of what the right thing actually looks like, and we’re therefore so much more willing to sycophantically lick the boots of the people who throw us enough crumbs to stay quiet than we are to hold them and the systems that protect abusers accountable.
To give an example. I just got off the phone with someone who called me regarding a quote I shared from Zvi Gluck in which he defended his decision to not publicly make his followers aware of their rights under the CVA, and lie about it in an op-ed he wrote shortly after it passed.
According to Zvi Gluck, director and founder of Amudim, one of the largest victim-service organizations in the Orthodox world, with an annual operating budget of $7 million, efforts not to publicize the one-year look-back provision and extended statute of limitations for civil suits were intentional, based on the organizations prerogatives.
Gluck said the organization chose not to speak out publicly because he did not want to “risk causing secondary trauma for survivors.”
“If we publicized about these new legal options and survivors chose to bring their cases back to court only for those cases to be dismissed, we could cause even more trauma for survivors,” he said.Zvi Gluck to Hannah Dreyfus of the Jewish Week
The person I spoke to said that whatever my opinions of Zvi Gluck, didn’t I think think that what he was doing was a net positive? After all, he’s saying things no one else is saying in the community. He’s helping people no one else wants to help.
Those things are great, but here’s the issue: Zvi Gluck is part of the problem he claims he’s helping to fix.
Awareness was definitely an issue in the frum community ten years ago. To even discuss sexual abuse, to even acknowledge its existence was taboo. The people talking about it, like Nuchem Rosenberg, Shmarya Rosenberg, and Paul Mendlowitz, were considered fringe nutjobs yelling about something that people didn’t believe was a problem.
Ultimately, however, thanks to their efforts, the efforts of those who came after them, and increased general coverage of child sexual abuse in the press, the public is now aware that it exists and that it’s a problem. That’s not to say that awareness campaigns are not important. There are anyways people who remain unaware, and survivors who feel alone in their experiences who need to be reached. But the issue of awareness existing in the community has in large part been addressed. We’re aware. Now what.
When Zvi Gluck and people like him get credit for raising awareness in the community, what’s not being addressed are the systems in place in the community that actively silence survivors. It’s not because the community is unaware of sexual abuse that Yated, Hamodia, Mishpacha, Ami, and Yeshiva World don’t allow any mention of child sexual abuse in their publications. It’s because the rabbonim and community leaders who dictate what does and doesn’t get printed in those publications decided to either explicitly or implicitly forbid it.
If you’re aware of child sexual abuse, especially if you’re a survivor, and you look around you in the general world and see everyone talking about it, and then you look around in your community and see a complete moratorium on any public discussion of it, you get the message very clearly that the community does not care about you and does not want to hear or help you. That’s by design. It’s not due to a lack of awareness.
When I began leading protests for ZA’AKAH in the community, I expected a fierce backlash. I was doing something that hadn’t been done very much before, and I was being loud, rude, and in-your-face about it. We stood on street corners outside of shuls, and yeshivas, and we yelled and chanted about sexual abuse.
And the response was overwhelmingly positive.
People came over to us and offered us water. They took our fliers. They talked to us, and asked us questions. Some even waited until the end of the protests and thanked us, or asked us for help with situations they were dealing with. While there was some negative response, and even one violent incident, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
The awareness is there. The people know that sexual abuse is a prevalent problem. What they don’t have is anyone to stand up for them when they want to report sexual abuse. They don’t have anyone who will protect their jobs, their homes, their children’s educations, when they dare to come forward against their abusers and the people who enabled them.
And that’s really what they need, and they need it to be public and full-throated. They need to hear that reporting sexual abuse is the right thing to do. They need to hear that any rav who tells them otherwise is wrong. They need to hear that they’ll be supported. They need to hear from the people with the resources and communal and political capital that they will be supported if they come forward.
And Zvi Gluck could have been all of those things, but instead he chooses to protect the systems and institutions that continue to silence survivors.
That’s the real problem with giving people credit for simply saying things that no one else is saying without backing it up in action. We know, for the love of God, we know that sexual abuse is a problem. We live it. We’ve survived it. Amudim has an annual budget of 7 million dollars. It is run by a very prominent and well-respected member of the community, whose father is even more prominent and well-respected. The only excuse for such an organization to lie to its constituents about their rights under the CVA is if they’re trying to maintain the status quo. If anyone can get away with pushing the envelope, so to speak, it’s Amudim and Zvi Gluck.
And to the argument that they’re trying to change things from the inside I ask, but how many people are you hurting along the way, and how long must they wait for you to do the right thing? The community will not change until pushed, and until community leaders and rabbonim can no longer point to Amudim and use them as pretext to claim they’re taking the issue seriously, nothing will actually change. And when it eventually does in spite of them, it will come after hundreds and thousands of broken survivors who needed help but couldn’t find it.
It’s telling that the response Zvi Gluck gave the Jewish Week about why Amudim wasn’t informing survivors of their rights under the CVA was couched in concern for victims.
‘“If we publicized about these new legal options and survivors chose to bring their cases back to court only for those cases to be dismissed, we could cause even more trauma for survivors,” he said.”Zvi Gluck to Hannah Dreyfus of The Jewish Week
Every other victims services organization like Safe Horizon, and Zero Abuse Project has to deal with similar issues. They field calls from survivors looking for help finding legal representation, and some people have viable cases, and some people don’t. Some people will win their cases and some people don’t.
The correct answer to that problem is not to lie to your constituents and pretend that their rights don’t exist for their benefit, it’s to be honest with them, inform them of the risks, and then make sure that they understand that you will be there for them and support them through whatever happens.
Survivors have been lied to for long enough. They’ve had their trust violated for long enough. They’ve been held hostage by oppressive community systems and silenced in the interest of institutional concerns for far too long. We’re all aware of it. Now what are we going to do about it?