Friday, July 03, 2015

Sex Abuse and the Shidduch Crisis

Rabbi Ratzon Arussi (from A Mother in Israel blog)
The so-called Shidduch crisis has caused problems beyond the parameters of the Shidduch crisis itself. This is particularly true of the right wing Lithuanian type Yeshiva world. The crisis has caused a lot of parents to go overboard in how they present their daughter to Shadchanim, the almost exclusive way that young men and women in that world meet and date.

By ‘overboard’ I mean that they become somewhat unscrupulous in their zeal to put on the best possible face on their daughter, often to the point of lying about them in serious matters. They feel justified in doing so because of a society where so many young women become ‘old maids’ by the time they are 25.

Their chances of getting married at that age decrease significantly. This is not news. There has been much angst expressed by the right over this phenomenon for many years. And many suggestions have been made to try and change the dynamic. Including various types of financial incentives for Shadchanim to set up older singles.

So it is understandable that parents would go to great lengths to hide information that could harm their daughters Shidduch chances. A lot of this would change if this world would adopt more ways of meeting and dating – broadening the chances for a successful Shidduch. But in the world of the right where extremes of Tznius seems to be increasing almost daily, this is not going to happen. There is no chance, for example that a Charedi wedding will ever have mixed seating for married older adults let alone unmarried young people. So that young people can have a chance to meet on their own. The trend is for ever increasing separation of the sexes. That makes the Shadchan (whether paid or family member) very powerful. They are the only game in town.  And this makes for some very concerned parents - fearful for their daughter’s future.

This situation has been used by some rabbis – with the best of intentions – to tell female victims of sex abuse to not report their abuse to anyone, including the police. They justifiably fear that news like that will hurt a young woman’s chances of getting married.  I don’t think there is any question about that. In a world where fine young women with no baggage at all have difficulties finding a mate, young women that have been sexually abused or molested may find in nigh impossible!

This situation was demonstrated in a media sting operation in Israel as reported by Hannah Katsman on her blog, A Mother in Israel.

Briefly a young woman disguised herself as a victim of sex abuse by the Charedi father of a friend of hers. She went to Rabbi Ratzon Arussi, Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Ono, asking him for advice about what happened to her (which of course never happened at all). After a discussion about the exact nature of the act, he advised her that she should stay away from this man and his daughter (her friend) and not report her molestation to the police or anyone else. Because if she did, it would ruin her Shidduch chances.

What about the danger of that ‘molester” doing this to other potential victims? His answer was that as important as that was, if it got out that she was molested, it would ruin her life. Chayecha Kodman. Protecting one’s own life precedes protecting those of others. He then advised her to go out and find her Zivug (marriage partner).

When confronted with the truth, Rabbi Arussi wrote a long letter explaining in great detail his perspective on what happened. He defended his actions in this particular case adding that he otherwise always tells victims to report the abuse to the police. And he also excoriated the media for tricking him for nefarious reasons (ratings and to ‘hang the religious public’.) He was in fact the victim here, he said.

Mrs. Katsman ends up summarizing her issues with Rabbi Arussi: 
1.The media’s “agenda” is irrelevant. The public has the right to know how its officials respond to complaints.
2. A chief rabbi of a city is a paid employee of the government, not a volunteer as he implies. Unlike most private therapists, he even has clerks to answer his phone calls.
3. He did not consider whether a victim of sex abuse might need treatment. At no point did he express sorrow about the incident, or inquire about the caller’s emotional state.
4. He told the caller not to report a crime.
5. He made it all about whether or not there was penetration. According to this theory, which abuse advocate Yerachmiel Lopin calls the “penetration fallacy™”, there is no harm done if intercourse did not occur. However, this is merely a justification for protecting the abuser. Penetration is irrelevant as far as Israeli law or trauma to the victim.
6. He fancies himself an expert, yet has little or no training in issues surrounding sex abuse or in questioning abuse victims. The police have specially trained investigators. They know how to ask the right questions in order to determine whether a charge is credible, what kind of help the victim needs, and if the case is prosecutable.
I can’t really argue with her conclusions. However, even though his advice to her was misguided, there is not a doubt in my mind that Rabbi Arrusi had anything but the best of intentions for his petitioner. This was not a case of protecting the abuser. Although it obliviously ends up that way when abuse is kept secret.

Who to blame for Rabbi Arussi’s  reaction to this young woman? I think the answer is clear. It is the Shidduch system in the right wing world. A system that has evolved into a crisis that is so severe that protecting the public comes second - lest a young innocent woman that was raped or molested gets punished a second time by reducing her chances for marriage considerably. I don’t think this is arguable.

I have  long been arguing for a broader approach to dating in the Charedi world. One that would provide opportunities for young men and women to meet on their own (as well as retaining the Shidduch system). No avenue should be closed to young people in finding Shidduchim. 

It may not be the panacea to end all dating problems in that world. But it would certainly help if young people were given a chance to meet on their own without the extensive research by parents and Shadchanim where even the slightest defect – let alone a sexual molestation - can prevent a young woman from ever being recommended to a young man.

Of course my words will fall on very deaf ears. No respected religious leader in the Charedi world will ever suggest doing something that would get him ostracized from his rabbinic peers. He will be labeled as lax about morals. 

Which is too bad. What will it take for the Charedi Rabbinic leadership to see that their current paradigm for Shiduchim is not working? When will they realize that throwing money at Shadchanim in order to motivate them to set up older singles is at most a band aid. I wonder how that’s all working out for them, anyway? Has there been any significant improvement in the Shidduch crisis?

When will they do something to prevent circumstances like that which befell Rabbi Arussi? That this one was fake does not mean it can’t happen. I’m sure it can and probably does. And that gives sex abusers and molesters free license to chose very young Charedi  women as their targets. Because they know they are going to get away with it.