Sunday, January 13, 2013

On the Other Hand…

Guest Post by Rabby Mordechai Finkel

Accused sexual abusers Macy Gordon and George Finkelstein - formerly of MTA
Last Friday I posted what I believe to be an overall problem in how we view sexual abuse.  I felt (and still feel) that there is much we don’t know about what sexual abuse is and isn’t. One comment (by Leah G) referred to 2 types  of behavior. One being creepy/inappropriate behavior and the other being abusive/traumatic /criminal behavior. I think it is safe to say that there is a continuum that encompasses all sexually aberrant behavior from the relatively harmless to the most egregious.

I think most people can clearly define the two opposite poles this continuum. Where to draw the line somewhere in the middle of that spectrum between the former and the latter is just one of the many problems I have. There are of course many other issues that I have questions about – some of which I touched upon in Friday’s post.

I expected push-back by those who see things solely from the victim’s perspective – and I got. And I understand it.

In my defense I try and consider other factors, too.  But I almost always end up on the side of the victim. But some I have encountered a few victims’ advocates that consider me a traitor to their cause.  Rabbi Yakov Horowitz experienced similar push-back upon his principled opposition to the Markey Bill. A bill which would have given victims of abuse a onetime extension to the statute of limitations - enabling them to file lawsuits against their abusers and enablers.

Again I understand their pain and frustration… and even anger at us. But I think I can say unequivocally that Rabbi Horowitz is truly a champion of the abused. And although I cannot stand in his shadow, I too stand firmly on their side of the victim on all issues that matter to them.

In the interests of fairness and balance I am featuring a guest post today by Rabbi Mordechai Finkel, a friend who I consider a champion of the abused – abuse of many kinds not just sexual abuse. This man has been out in the trenches dealing with those Jews who have feel they have been abandoned by the Frum community and have gone OTD. Many of them having been abused. I therefore value his opinion.  The following is his response to Friday’s post. 

You raised many valid points in your Friday post. However, you were not writing things from the victim’s point of view.

For an individual who never experienced a traumatic situation, it is very hard to understand what it is to have flashbacks. When a trigger point is touched in the mind of the person who underwent a trauma, the suppressed memories come back. Triggers differ by the person; it could be meeting the person who caused the trauma, a person who dresses like the abuser, time of year or place where the trauma took place, etc. Much like an out of body experience, the person feels as though what happened years earlier are happening again. As a result, the fight or flight survival instinct kicks in causing what appears to an outsider as a disproportionate and bizarre response for no reason.

One very strong trigger is hearing about or seeing the abuser being honored. When a person is honored the masses tend to trust such a person. This enables them to victimize more unsuspecting people. This
by itself is enough to trigger a flashback. It is well known who the Director General of the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem was until a few weeks ago. Director General implies a position of influence and power. This was certainly a highly inappropriate position for a person who acted in the manner described by his victims.

One small comfort is, at least YU didn’t move their perpetrators to another institution that they had connections to, unlike yeshivish/chassidish institutions do. Whether or not he succeeds in his civil suit, the victim here won. He forced YU to evaluate where it stands on protecting their students. He ensured that the Director General was forced out of his very public and powerful role. The wider community now knows to watch out from this respected individual.

In the perfect world, the school would care more about the student than the perpetrator. Sadly, we live in an imperfect one. The longer an institution refuses to do what is right, the greater the odds that a victim will force the issue. Victims aren’t mean, vindictive, or spiteful. They want to stop being re-traumatized by their abuser and for our Jewish institutions to be safe for all future children.

With the above point of flashbacks and the effects of trauma in mind, please understand why a successful person, who appears to have it all, would opt to press a 30 year old issue to the forefront. No one knows how many flashbacks he experienced during his life and its effects. All while the Director General lived in the lap of luxury with a sterling reputation.

Regarding your point of varying gradations of abuse, granted there is different levels of abuse, hence the criminal law delineation of levels of charges.