Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Karen’s Brother

Karen's older brother told her that there was nothing wrong with him touching her body. And he seemed to know a lot more at age 14 than she did at age six. This progressed gradually and steadily from touching above the clothes to actual rape that continued for years. Eventually Karen's older brother went on to get married and have a family, appearing just fine to nearly everyone in the community. He left his younger sister, now in her late twenties, emotionally, sexually and spiritually crippled.

This was the opening paragraph in an insightful article on the Aish HaTorah website. It should be noted that Aish HaTorah is by and large a Charedi institution. Although I would not call it entirely mainstream, I certainly believe that it is well within the parameters of Charedi Hashkafos in its religious outlook.

What is interesting about this article is it does not marginalize the problem or sex abuse in the Frum community. It seems to exist in spades:

There are 50 young women with backgrounds similar to Karen's in just one recently formed support group for women. They all grew up in Jewish homes and they have all been sexually abused. These are the ones who have the courage to step forward.

Marginalization of abuse was part of what was a typical reaction in the Frum world. It was thought that to whatever extent sex abuse existed - it was minuscule compared to what happens in the outside world. This is in part why many Torah leaders wanted to handle these problems ‘in house’. Exposure of any of it by the media was considered treasonous to Torah!

This was the way it was handled at first in Baltimore when the Baltimore Jewish Times exposed it in that community. A boycott of that newspaper was at first called for by rabbis there. That was later rescinded. They came up with a huge mea culpa which included new and better ways to handle these things in the future. I hope that is the case in Baltimore now.

We have progressed to the point where most rabbinic leaders advocate reporting sex abuse to the secular authorities. We are finally past the days of sweeping everything under the carpet. Some communities seem to be coming close to ‘getting it’.

But there is a long way to go. Not all communities are handling it the same way. There is still hesitation in parts of the Torah world to really deal with the problem forcefully. I still get a sense that public relations sometimes still comes before justice for the victim.

I continue to see an overly cautious approach to the reputation of the accused. And that will delay justice if not warp it entirely - by allowing abuse to continue – if not to this victim - then to another. That is the picture I got about Lakewood in a very sad article in the Asbury Park Press. The preference there is still to handle things in house as much as possible.

But at least there is some progress as the Baltimore situation and the Aish article indicate.

The important thing here is the victim. Healing of the abuse requires that justice prevail. And that raises the following question. What about justice for Karen in the above story? What does one do with about Karen’s abusive brother? ‘Justice, Justice you shall pursue’ the Torah tells us (Devarim 16:20).

Here is a man who continually raped his sister for a period of five years and got away with it! He in fact seems to be living a perfectly normal and happy life – married and with children of his own. He is apparently a respected member of his community. Does he just get a pass now? What about his wife and children? Do they even know? And what about the possibility that he may be abusing his own children?

How does one go about pursuing justice here? Will exposing him bring justice for all? For some? For any?

Certainly Karen deserves a lot better than she got. According to this article she is emotionally, sexually and spiritually crippled! I realize that justice requires that she get psychological help. But without justice for her violator, how can she truly heal? I wonder if it is even possible to be raped multiple times by a brother and ever have a normal life again. Makes me wonder what kind of advice she is currently getting.

Of course it is possible that justice was done. Perhaps this fellow has finally paid a price somehow. But there was no indication of it in the article. One way or another he should pay it - whether that means jail or not. (Although jail seems too good for an incestuous rapist). The only problem is the collateral damage: his wife and children. If justice is done for Karen it means an injustice will be done to them.

If her brother is walking around a free and honored member of his community – it must add immeasurably to Karen’s torment.