Sunday, June 11, 2017

How Do Survivors of Sex Abuse See This?

Samantha Geimer - Sexually abused as a minor 
It is pretty clear that any adult that has sex with a 13 year old, is guilty of sexual abuse. I don’t think there is anyone alive that would dispute that. One might ask, what if there was consent? That question is absurd. A 13 year old is not mature enough to give her consent.

This is not news. Nor has it been as far back as I can remember.  The effect on a 13 year old girl that had a sexual encounter with an adult male must be devastating. There is not a mental health worker alive that doesn’t know that. I can only imagine the toll it must take on therapists that deal with these survivors. It must be gut wrenching to listening to survivors speak about the emotional pain they suffer because of it. As it must be for the families of those survivors.

And yet one of the most famous directors in the world, who committed exactly this crime 4 decades ago, is treated like a hero. Hollywood has honored this man with an Academy Award as best director for the movie, The Pianist. Which is one of the better Holocaust movies. A movie that held much meaning for this director since he is a survivor of the Holocaust. 

He received this award in 2005 by an academy that was fully aware of his abuse -  and the survivor he created.  He was not in Hollywood the night he received it because he had - and still has - a warrant out for his arrest. Should he ever set foot into this country, he will be arrested. 

For those who don’t know who I am talking about, the abuser was Roman Polanski. From MSN News:
Samantha Geimer went to Jack Nicholson’s house in the Hollywood Hills in 1977, believing she would take part in a photoshoot. Instead Polanski, it was alleged, gave her a sedative washed down with champagne, and raped her.
In 1977 Polanski was convicted of statutory rape; spent a little over a month in jail and released. This was probably as result of a plea bargain. When he learned that the judge changed his mind about the plea bargain - he fled the country and returned to his home in Poland.That’s where things stand now. 

Polanski is a super achiever. His repertoire of films is very impressive. As are the number of awards has gotten for his work – including many Academy Award nominations. He he is also a victim. Not only as a survivor of the Holocaust but as a survivor of the horrific murder of his wife, Sharon Tate by the members of the ‘Manson family’. 

How should we in the world of observant Judaism see all of this? First let us review what we know. Most experts on sexual abuse will tell you that abusers are sometimes very prominent people. Like Polanski they are sometimes super achievers. Beloved by the people in the community they serve. They may be  otherwise exemplary citizens that contribute much to their communities.

That’s why there has been resistance by the rabbis of organizations like Agudah to report abuse directly to the police. They want to protect the reputations of people that - until they were accused - were among the ‘best of the best’ of their community. In many cases they were married with loving families. No one had ever suspected them of abuse. Nor was there ever a hint of it in their behavior. Believing the worst about them was understandably unthinkable.

This led to an erroneous conclusion of suspecting the victims of lying. Why would they lie? These rabbis might say that perhaps there was some sort of vendetta against the accused.  Who should they believe? A youngster with no reputation? Or the accused ‘hero’ with no record who denies it?

Logic (to them) dictated that they believe the accused. They simply want to spare him and his family the embarrassment of having been publicly accused of something so uncharacteristic of a person that gives so much of himself to the community. 

The problem as we all too well know by now as that accusations of abuse by young people are rarely false. Furthermore serial abusers will often go out of their way to be generous to their community in order to inoculate themselves from accusations of abuse.

Bearing this in mind - it puts into question the reaction these rabbis have. One would hope that they take these facts into consideration. But old habits die hard. So while they agree a witness to an actual abuse should go directly to the police - they still insist on personally approving suspicions of it before they are reported to them. Without their authorization to do so, they forbid it. Leaving the victim out in the cold. 

Victims then become traumatized survivors who like some Holocaust survivors can suffer a lifetime with the thoughts about what they survived. And in the case of abuse - how they were treated when they reported it. They often suffer bouts of depression and thoughts of suicide. 

That attitude has given the Agudah a ‘black eye’ in the mind of many survivors and their advocates.

I wonder though how they feel about Roman Polanski and the community that honors him - knowing that he has sex with a 13 year old girl, was convicted of stautory rape; and escaped punishment by fleeing the country? They not only seem to ignore it – but have thrust many honors upon him! 

And yet when a a convicted sex offender is honored by the Torah world there is endless condemnation of it. (As there should be in my view). Shouldn’t the entertainment industry get the same treatment Agudah gets? Where is the outrage there? I understand that rabbis should have a higher ethical standard than Hollywood. But still, I have never heard a world of criticism about Polanski. Not when he won the Academy Award. Or since. Only praise. Is there a double standard?

And what if a victim of abuse was not all that traumatized by it? Is that even possible? Are people who make that claim lying? Why would they lie about that? 

These are questions I asked myself when Polanski’s victim made the following claim:
"It wasn't as traumatic for me as everyone would like to believe it was. I was a young, sexually active teenager and it was scary thing. But it was not an uncommon thing. Much worse things happen to people," she said.
The victim said that at a news conference and asked that the charges against him be dropped. Does any of this make a difference?  I have to wonder, how does the survivor community, their advocates, and mental health professionals feel about it?