Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Why Do They Do It?

Jakob Daskal (New York Times)
We are way past ‘innocent until proven guilty’ when it comes to accusations of sexual abuse. This is not to say that this principle should not apply as a matter of law. Of course it should. But as a practical matter, false accusations are rare. Not so rare are denials by the accused and the community which has come to respect them.

This is the case with yet another Orthodox Jew so accused.  The New York Times reports the following:   
The influential leader of a Brooklyn safety patrol known as the shomrim had been sexually abusing a teenage girl, the police were told.
A day later, detectives arrested the man, Jacob Daskal, a leader of one faction of what has been, since the 1970s, a sort of auxiliary police force for the ultra-Orthodox Jews of Brooklyn’s Borough Park, Crown Heights, Flatbush and Williamsburg neighborhoods.
Mr. Daskal, 59, was charged with statutory rape, sexual abuse and other crimes. The authorities believe the abuse took place at Mr. Daskal’s home between August and November of last year, when the girl, who is now 16, was a year younger. But the inquiry is continuing, to determine if the alleged abuse occurred over a longer period of time or if there were additional victims. 
I wish I could say I am shocked. His community was. Unfortunately I am not. I have become conditioned to almost expect this kind of thing on a regular basis. Especially now ever since Harvey Weinstein was outed as a serial rapist/abuser. Which began the #MeToo movement exposing scores of additional prominent respected figures to have been involved in a variety of sexual misconduct.

I wish I could say ‘Well… sad as this may be – at least it isn’t about us, the Torah observant community.   Again - unfortunately I can’t say that either. It is as much about us as it is about ‘them’. The idea that our values are not the values of the street is irrelevant. There have been far too many ‘religious’ people who are inclined to preach that very thought – guilty of the very behavior they blame on street values.

I am not saying that the sexual mores of the general culture haven’t declined. They have in very significant ways. Our values are indeed not the values of the street.  They are the values of the Torah. But these values do not always determine our behavior. Even for those that are often seen as the most exemplary of those values. 

Leaders (rabbinic and lay), movers, and shakers. So many people that have made a difference in our lives – for the better have fallen. People that rose to prominence and gained our respect - becoming celebrities in a way. This seems to be the case with Daskal – just as it was for others outside of our circle. 

There is no difference. The only commonality between them is that they were prominent and thus had some power. One might say that this happens even with ordinary people too. It’s just that the prominent ones are the ones that are newsworthy. While I think that’s true to a certain extent, I don’t think that is the only reason. I think it is their very celebrity that exacerbates the situation for them. It gives them the opportunities they would otherwise not have.

What is the dynamic behind all of this? Allow me to speculate.

The sex drive is a very powerful force.  It needs to be fed no less than eating and sleeping. The difference being that the sex drive can be delayed or even sublimated into other activities.  But to deny it is to deny the human condition.  It can easily be aroused and acted upon inappropriately. Given the opportunity it takes a lot of will power to resist. Which is what we should all do when those feelings arise in inappropriate situations. 

Most of us don’t experience opportunities like that. But prominent people do. Especially if their prominence is due to great accomplishment. Which means that they are looked up to by a lot of people. Requiring them to work harder to resist any temptations arising form their celebrity.  Values often get put aside when the attraction is great enough and resistance is low. It is easy for most of us to say we would never be tempted, no matter the opportunity or the attraction. But for me there is little doubt that celebrity and opportunity are factors. It’s too easy for most of us to judge – having never been put into those situations.

This can result in two very different scenarios. One is becoming involved in a consensual but immoral relationship – such as cheating on a spouse. The other far more serious scenario of sexual abuse.

In these cases, the added ingredients extant are power and psychopathy. Their celebrity makes them feel entitled - compared to the rest of us.  When their sex drive is aroused, they take advantage of their celebrity and opportunities that present themselves with a feeling of invincibility that their sense of power gives them . 

The best example of that is Bill Cosby. He used all of the above ingredients to become a serial rapist over the many years of his career. His victims admired him and approached him. He took advantage of that. All while maintaining his image as a role model of propriety to the world. He did a lot of good. But he did a lot more bad with apparently no conscience! A true sociopath.

Daskal is no Cosby. He has no where near his prominence or celebrity But he apparently had enough within his own community to lead him in the same direction. His sex drive, and sense of power derived of his celebrity gave him a sense of invincibility, too. That no doubt enabled him to lure a defenseless 15 year old into having sex with him. All while maintaining his image as a defender of the defenseless. A sociopath just like Cosby.

Sociopaths have no conscience, but they act as though they do - fooling a lot of people because of the good they otherwise do. Only a sociopath would force themselves on others and never think about it. And then deny it when caught. Or blame the victim. This is unlike someone who is having an affair. They may be weak and morally corrupt. But they can and often do have a conscience that produces guilt. 

What I have discovered is that there are enormous amount of prominent people that are closet sociopaths. People that have abused others secretly while acting as icons publicly. It is very possible that many of these sociopaths would not have done it had they not had opportunity and and sense of invincibility their celebrity gave them – feeling immune to any kind of downfall. Celebrity creates a ‘power trip’ that is ultimately an irrational way of seeing oneself. When they get caught, no one is more surprised than they are. 

That is how I see it. Daskal is but the latest in a long chain of miscreants that have used their celebrity and opportunity to have their way. Sociopaths with no redeeming value – despite all the good they might otherwise do.

The question is, how many of us would have an affair - or worse - turn into a Daskal or Cosby given their circumstances? I think most of us would say, ‘Never!’ – and really mean it.  But I am beginning to think that a lot more of us would fall into one of those 2 traps than we would expect. I only hope and pray that I am wrong.