Friday, November 04, 2011

Rabbis: Please Listen to Our Voices!

From time to time I am forwarded letters written to various rabbinic leaders by victims of sex abuse or molestation. A prominent psychologist who works with these patients sends them to me and others who have an interest fighting sex abuse in the Frum world.

I have resisted publishing these letters since I do not want to present a one sided story. This is not to say that the molester has a legitimate side. Of course not. But there is what one may call a 3rd side to the story, that of the religious leader who is being addressed in the letter. I have no real connection to any of them but as I have said many times, I firmly believe their views are based on what they see as the best interests of the Klal. I am therefore not interested in disparaging them.

I know that many victims advocates would disagree with me and consider the responses to these victims – or better the lack of them - as evidence that they do not care enough about the victim and care more about the accused molester. I do not make that assumption at all. Although I too have criticized the decisions of some rabbinic leaders as being overly cautious in the direction of the accused, I definitely feel they believe they are doing the right thing in how they approach the subject.

So for example when it comes to reporting abuse to the authorities, many of these Rabbinic leaders – specifically (but not limited to) the members of the Agudah Moetzes feel that suspicions of abuse must first be vetted through rabbis for approval. They do not trust the public to determine which evidence rise to the level of Raglayim L’Davar (legitimate evidence) but is instead considered ’Eizeh Dimyon’ (spurious unsubstantiated rumors or the like).

I strongly disagree that rabbis should be the ones to determine what is or isn’t evidence of abuse. If anyone should be consulted it should be those whose job it is to know the difference. Like the ‘Special Victims Unit’ of the police that have psychologists and psychiatrists trained in the field!

I do not fault these Rabbanim for their motivation or sincerity. I am convinced that all they are trying to do is protect an innocent man who has been accused with faulty evidence from having his reputation - and that of his family - ruined for life. Once someone is accused – even if subsequently proved completely innocent - his reputation will be tainted. So I understand where they are coming from even as I disagree with them.

But I do have one question that gnaws at me. When a victim writes a letter to complain about what they see as short shrift from rabbinic leaders or questions past inaction… do they respond? To the best of my knowledge these victims have had no response. I base this on conversations I have had with mental health professionals who treat these victims. And that troubles me.

The following is an actual letter by a very frustrated victim of abuse written to one such rabbinic leader who apparently knows the victim. As I said - I have seen many such letters written. I think it deserves a public airing. I have eliminated the name and any clues that might give away the identity of the Rav the victim is addressing. I do not want to disparage any one individual. Especially those who in other ways have shown great care and concern for their fellow Jews and continue to impact Klal Yisroel in positive ways.

So names have been deleted and some of the inflammatory rhetoric toned down or deleted entirely. But the anguish of this victim still comes through quite clearly. How can any Rav who is a leader in Klal Yisroel let a letter like this go unanswered? The letter follows.

Dear Rabbi Ploni,

I write to you, not because I think my words will have an impact on you but rather for my own self to feel that I am doing "something- anything". Many others have written before me, and many more will continue to reach out.

They do not know that it is hopeless, and that you feel no need to pay attention to the words of the rabim. However I will put these words down on paper, and I will send them to you, and I will know that I have reached out to you, in order to save the innocent neshomos of those younger and more helpless than you.

I am a survivor of sexual molestation. I grew up in a frum yeshiveshe family, no less. I was brought up in a town highly populated by religious Jews, one in which you lived at the same time I did. I am from this town born and bred.

I am frum on the outside, and not so frum on the inside.

My choshuva, yeshiveshe, yichusdike family members are the ones who perpetrated the abuse against myself and many others. I will not reveal their names, because you know them very well. You may be shocked to know who these people are.

I don’t know what your role in that town was - perhaps you really did not know what was going on in the shul mikvah, where my little sister was being molested in between leining and musaf. Maybe you really did not know what my grandfather and father and uncles were doing to our innocent bodies and souls.

Alllow me to explain the tragedy of this kind of abuse. I was molested the first time when i was only 3 or 4 years old. As my life continued i was molested and abused over and over again by frum family members. I was unable to protect myself due to direct consequence of the earlier abuse.

I got married to an abusive spouse, and was lucky to escape with my life. I married a second time yet again to an abuser. This time we had a large family together, and the abuse went unnoticed by anyone outside the family for many years.

The pain that my children and I - as well as my extended family - live with is incredibly difficult to bear. The nightmares I experience night after night and the flashbacks are things I am forced to live with every day. The continuous pain and sorrow follows me like a dark shadow. No matter how far I run, I can never escape the memories. I contemplate suicide often for it feels to me my only means of peace.

I am not alone in my suffering; there are many of us out here living our lives in shameful silent pain.

You are not only a Torah scholar; you are also a leader. You have the power to stop the pain and the silence. And if you don’t, who knows from where our salvation will come? Please listen to our voices before it is too late!