Friday, July 02, 2021

Sex Abuse? What Sex Abuse?!

Sitting ducks? (TOI)
Ten therapists. 5 Charedi and 5 non Charedi.  That is the number of therapists specializing in treating sexual assailants interviewed by Yitzhak Rosenbaum - a Charedi Hebrew University student seeking a Masters in Criminology. The results of those interviews sheds some light on how the most right wing portion of Charedi world deals with sex abuse. And it ain’t pretty. 

The focus was mostly on the mindset of the sex abusers and the way their community treats what they do. Here is how Rosenbaum puts it: 

It’s not necessarily a matter of evil or lack of caring, he says, but due to the glaring lack of knowledge in Haredi society about the severe consequences of sexual assault. Rosenblum is not just speculating. A research study he recently conducted reveals the cognitive processes that facilitate the sexual assault of children by Haredi assailants – processes that cause the assailants, and their society too, to see their actions as justified. 

The study points to three key characteristics, he says: lack of knowledge on the part of the assailants as well as the victims and the society as a whole regarding sex, and especially regarding sexual assault; a perception of sexual assault as a halakhic prohibition, meaning that it is contrary to Jewish religious law, and less as a moral prohibition; and moral-religious justifications that absolve the perpetrator of responsibility and reduce the severity of the violation (in his eyes). 

It is hard for those of us that live in the 21st century to wrap our heads around this – knowing what we know today about the devastation survivors of abuse live with. Which for many of them lasts a lifetime. 

By now it’s pretty common knowledge that many survivors go OTD. But it doesn’t stop there. It can and often does cause severe depression - leading in some cases to antisocial behavior. Which can  include sexual promiscuity, drug and alcohol abuse - and even suicide. 

It is also devastating to the families of the abuser that are quite innocent. Shidduch prospects are negatively affected (if not dried up completely) for his siblings. Fair or unfair, who wants to marry the sister/brother of a sexual deviant who molests children? How many parents are OK with dating a member of his family? And then there is the shame the family must live with for the rest of their lives. The immediate families of survivors do not fare that much better. They are now ‘tainted’ by having a ‘psychologically damaged’ son or sibling. 

None of this is news. As noted it is by now pretty common knowledge. Except in the more right wing Charedi world.

Let me hasten to add that moderate Charedim who comprise most of the Charedi mainstream are pretty well aware of all this. But there are huge segments that are so sheltered… so isolated form the rest of the world that they simply do not know. And see such situations in entirely different ways - and not all that seriously.  Until it happens to them. 

Once again, isolation is the culprit along with a faulty education that focuses only on Torah study and little else. Least of all sex education. 

It is true that in terms of protecting their children from sexual predators they have made significant progress. At least I hope they have. 

There are a few heroes. Like Rabbi Yakov Horowitz who has dedicated much of his life to disseminating information designed to protect Charedi children. Including the publication of a highly recommended book on the subject - informing them about the kinds of protective measures they can take. God bless him. But that does not, however, help survivors and their families once they have been victimized. In that sense it seems like there is an epic fail in a  world that isolates itself from the rest of society. 

Halacha does not deal with the psychological damage that results from sex abuse. At least not directly. I am reminded of the Psak by a Charedi religious leader with respect to a popular 8th  grade Rebbe in a Brooklyn Yeshiva that molested some of his students. That leader ruled that if there was no penetration there was no violation! That kind of thinking leads many in that community to conclude that sexual molestation is not all that damaging: 

In the absence of basic sexual knowledge, including regarding sexual assault and its implications, and in the absence of any discussion about the subject in Haredi schools, ultra-Orthodox  families and Haredi media, the warning signs simply do not appear.

“A lot of abusers said they had no idea that there was anything wrong with what they did,” said one of the therapists interviewed for the study. “They thought it was like when siblings roughhouse with each other, that there could be sexual things too. They don’t understand the meaning of sexuality, what its purpose is, why this kind of abuse is such a serious violation.” 

…The study reveals that the potential offender often gives weight almost exclusively to the religious-halakhic aspect of the deed and not to the moral aspect of doing horrific harm to another person. “They come to me when the thing that bothers them the most is the ‘spilled seed in vain,’” said one therapist. “That is what they are most concerned about, at least at first.” 

As shocking as this is to the rest of the civilized world, this is apparently what goes on in the mind of the Charedi abuser and his community. They do not see the victim – as a victim. They apparently believe that a sexually abused child will just get over it, get on with his life and forget about it. That they will remember it as just a childhood roughhousing event. 

What is also shocking is the fact that the abuser sees this at most as a violation of spilling seed for which they need to do Teshuva. But only as a matter Bein Adam L’Makom (between man and God). Not Bein Adam L’Chavero (between man and man). Thus not even apologizing to their victims - considering them unharmed! 

Obviously if there is a solution to this problem – it is as Rosenbaum suggests. Which is educating them about the damage sex abuse causes and providing them with the educational materials to do so. That seems like a no brainer to me. 

Unfortunately I do not see that happening any more that I see any secular subjects being taught.  Their aversion to dealing with sexual matters is so intense that they never even use the word sex, let alone deal with subjects that are in any way sexual. 

It also, doesn’t help matters when some among the Charedi leadership seem to be kinder to the abusers than to their victims. As was a rather famous case in Lakewood a few years ago when a popular Charedi Mechanech was hounded out of town because he dared to report his son’s abuser to the police – well after the abuser violated the conditions issued by their leaders that would have prevented him from being reported. 

All of which means that these problems will persist in these communities. Unfettered by any education that would help. How sad. 

If there is any saving grace to all of this, it is that the vast majority of the Chareid world is aware of the problem and are increasingly learning how to better deal with it. Both preventively and after the fact.