Monday, July 16, 2012

Victims of Abuse – Victims of the Culture

It almost seems hopeless. The culture of the Orthodox world virtually demands that victims do not report abusers to the authorities. No matter how much they are urged to do so, victims will often refuse.

There are many reasons why victims will not report abuse to the police. Like the community ethos in the hard core Chasidic world that sees reporting anyone to the police for any reason as Mesirah - often treating victims as criminals and the abusers as victims. This was the case with accused sex abuser Rabbi Nechemia Weberman as shown by the picture above. Which contains posters in Yiddish announcing the mass fundraising rally for him a couple of  months ago - calling it a case of Pidyon Shevuyim. 

But even in communities that realize that accusations of abuse are legitimate, there is often still an unwillingness to report even if the perpetrators aren’t Jewish as was pointed out in an article in the ForwardThe reason being that victims want to avoid the stigma of having been abused.

These victims justifiably fear that their prospects of marriage will be severely reduced. Victims will think, “Who after all wants to marry me - a victim of sex abuse?” Not an unreasonable fear considering the well known attendant psychological issues from which an abuse victim often suffers.

We can “scream” all day long about how important it is to report abusers to the authorities. No one wants that taint. Especially at a time where the Shidduch crisis seems to be at epic proportions. It’s hard enough finding a mate even if one is completely normal never having experienced sexual abuse. How can we ask a victim to reveal to the public that they were sexually abused? They may as well put a sign on their backs saying, “Don’t marry me, I was sexually abused!”

It is easy for those of us on the outside to say (as I have many times) that victims must come out of the closet, identify their abusers, and make sure they are punished for their crimes. Without doing that the problems of sex abuse in the community will only get worse. 

Which Shadchan will now suggest this victim as a Shidduch? Is it even ethical to hide that fact from a potential mate?

So we have a conundrum. On the one hand it is an absolute necessity to report abusers to the police and to have victims testify against them in court. And yet doing so can ruin the life of a victim by making it public that he or she was abused.  Not that their lives have not been adversely affected already – just from the abuse itself. But adding the pressure of Shidduch problems surely does not help.

I suppose in the best of all possible worlds reporting abuse should be possible without the victim’s identity being made public. But the accused has the right to be faced by their accuser in court. So I’m not sure how it is even possible to keep a victim’s identity secret.

And then again, keeping it a secret from a potential spouse is unethical. People have a right to know about traumatic events that happened to a potential mate which can affect their marital lives. Such events can easily hurt the relationship, especially in the area of marital intimacy if they are kept hidden prior to the marriage.

The solution to this problem is to change the culture. There must be widespread education about this phenomenon. Victims need to be come forward and testify. In addition to that – and perhaps even more importantly – victims and their immediate families need to be treated by mental health professionals trained in the field so they can all become whole again.

There should be no stigma attached to such counseling.  In fact one might say that with the proper therapy victims will come out even stronger than they were before they were abused – understanding more about their own psychological makeup and thereby become betters spouses and better parents because of it.

Only if there is community wide education about these matters can there be a culture change. If that happens Shadchanim no longer be inhibited from recommending abuse victims.  But until that happens – if it ever does – the problems are real and will only get worse. Abusers will go unpunished and remain free to find new victims. Victims will go untreated and live a life in their own personal hell. Some will go OTD. Some will become abusers themselves. And some will become so clinically depressed that they will attempt suicide. If the culture remains as it does, only the abusers will gain. Everyone else will lose.