Sunday, January 04, 2015

Physical Abuse in Orthodoxy

It is no secret that physical abuse takes place in the Orthodox world.   I have personally witnessed more than once a father verbally abusing his young son in public for some minor infraction. It happens to children and it happens to adults. Both verbal and physical.  There are unfortunately battered Orthodox Jewish wives living with abusive Orthodox Jewish husbands. Probably a lot more than we realize.

I don’t know what the numbers are. But I do know that there are many women that are abused in silence… physically beaten in places where bruises won’t show in public. And yet to the world the marriage might seem like an idyllic one. Often these men are charming people with very successful careers, well liked by everyone. No one having a clue about the physical (or even just verbal) abuse that goes on behind closed doors.

There are organizations (like Shalva here in Chicago) that provide shelters for women who want to escape abuse and have nowhere to go. They can also help battered wives get out of abusive marriages. And re-adjust to a normal life. Even where there are children. These women are then able to get remarried to men that will be great husbands and fathers to their children from the previous marriage.

But many women stay in those abusive relationships for a variety of reasons. They stay silent because of the shame of being a victim… or they rationalize that things will get better. Or they blame themselves. Or they may have some sort of unhealthy attachment to those husbands - thinking their financial security depends on their staying in the relationship.

Derek Saker sent me a video which he produced. It features the poignant testimony of an Orthodox woman that survived an abusive marriage. She is interviewed by Charlie Harary who is visibly moved to tears during the interview.

To the best of my knowledge this is the first time an Orthodox woman who was physically abused told her story on camera.  I believe it is imperative for all to see this video. Especially those women who suffer in silence.  They need to see this. My message to them:

You are not stuck. You are not alone. There are people that can help you. People that are professionally trained and experienced to meet your personal needs and challenges. Do not be afraid to seek professional help. It is there for the asking.’
I should point out that Derek Saker works for Ohel Children and Family Services. Here is a line from the accompanying note he included with this video:
While OHEL has cared for hundreds of such women in OHEL Domestic Violence shelters over the years, this is the VERY FIRST  TIME that someone from our community who has suffered such abuse has courageously -publicly shared her story
I know that there has been criticism of this organization by some advocates of survivors of sex abuse. It may well be that they have had some shortcomings in this regard. I don’t know. But this is not about that. Whatever shortcomings they have – real or imagined - one should not paint them with a broad brush. They have done a lot of good. And this is one area where it shows. Ohel is a place one can go for help. And get it. Please watch the video and judge for yourself.