Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sex Abuse, Shonda, and Concealment

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Guest Post by Michael Lesher
Available at Amazon
One question I’m asked a lot about my new book, Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities, is a personal one: What made me write a book about sex abuse cover-ups among Orthodox Jews?

I suppose the best way to answer the question is to reverse it – to ask, instead: How could I not write the book?

I don’t mean that as a rhetorical tactic. It has to do with who I am, and with the religion I’ve embraced.

Who am I? Well, I’m a writer – and a lawyer – and an Orthodox Jew. And, most important, I’ve been wrestling with the unacknowledged dimensions of the sex abuse issue in our religious community since 1995, when I first learned of a young girl forced from her mother’s home into the custody of a father she had accused of molesting her, so that Orthodox rabbis could go on claiming child sex abuse doesn’t happen among “our people.”

Since then I’ve come to know many victims of child sex abuse. I’ve met them, interviewed them, heard their suffering, tasted their sense of isolation and betrayal. Wouldn’t I have been betraying them all if I hadn’t written about the causes of their suffering?

I offer this as a rationale for writing the book, but it is also meant to underscore what the book is not. I did not write it to settle scores with anyone, nor to pick quarrels with rabbinic leadership. I have no taste for religious controversy per se. What I have written is what I believed had to be written. I could not be silent about cover-ups of crimes in my community without becoming part of the cover-ups myself.

Someone had to show that child abuse victims in Orthodox Jewish communities are not alone, that they do not represent exceptions or aberrations – that what they suffer is symptomatic of deeply rooted patterns in the religious institutions they share with each other, and with me. No doubt a better person could have done a better job. But I was the one available, so I was the one who had to write the book.

There was another reason, too. If we’re to have any hope of solving the problems that overshadow the world’s future, that hope will have to rest on our children. After all, they will be the adults of tomorrow, as will their children after them. If we don’t protect our children now, while we have the chance, who will be there for the rest of humanity when we’re gone? Every young life we allow to be poisoned means the loss of one more hope for the world’s survival. So if my book leads us even one small step closer to a more humane environment for the children of our religious community, I think it will have served its purpose.