Saturday, May 4, 2013

Denial, and Amnon and Tamar

I know about denial first hand.  

I deny the truth to myself just like my family does. I am so ashamed and embarrassed I would rather die than let anyone know.  I sit in therapy 20-30-plus years later in tears, struggling to get the shameful words out of our mouths. Feeling like it happened just yesterday and it would be better to die than to tell. How I struggle to break the silence! The shame and the fear keep me frozen. I don't want to believe it's true, just as my family doesn't.  Remember this is my father, my grandfather who hurt me. These are people I loved and trusted and who my mother loved and trusted. These are people who also did good and loving things with me. They helped me. They nurtured me. My survival depended on them.  
My survival depended on my belief that it was not their fault but mine. 

Think about this oxymoron and you will begin to understand the devastation and confusion that incest, sexual abuse and it's subsequent denial cause in the mind of a child. You will begin to understand why 80 % of children NEVER tell anyone.  You will begin to understand why I didn't tell, and why you still don't tell.

I was asked this question more than once.
  It happened so long ago, why dwell on it? Why can't you let it go and just move on with your life? In other words: Why can't you shut up about it already!

My answer is this:  The chorbon Bet Hamikdash (destruction of the temple) happened a long time ago too. So did the chet hae'gel. (sin of the golden calf) Yet we will not let go of these national tragedies until there is healing and change.
 The same with sexual abuse of children.
 This is a tragedy that is destroying Am Yisrael (The Jewish people). 

 R' Yitschak Eisenman from Pasaic teaches that this desire of rabbonim (rabbis) to deal with things quietly, to silence survivors, is what allows the abuse to continue and is just what the perpetrator hopes will happen. In fact the perpetrators are counting on our leaders squeamishness in dealing with this openly. They are counting on silence and misplaced fear of lashon hara (gossip) to allow them to continue to abuse children.

R' Eisenmann learns from the story of Amnon who raped his sister Tamar, that the attitude of keeping abuse quiet is clearly against the Torah.

Tamar went through the streets with ashes on her head publicly crying and screaming about her rape by her brother. As far as I know she did not go to a rav first to ask if it was lashon harah (gossip). She did not worry about the shame she was causing to her family, the family of the king of Israel himself, Dovid Hamelech. She did not worry about causing a Chillul Hashem.(desecration of God)

Rabbi Eienmann asks: How did the rabbis of the Gemara react to her public shaming of the respected and noble son of the king? Did they publicly shame and chastise her for her chutzpah of discussing these things in the court of public opinion? Did they censure her by attempting to cover up the incident?
What actually happened was that the women of Tamar's time realized that if it could happen to the daughter of a king it could happen to anyone. They pressured the rabbonim, who then instituted the laws of yichud. (unrelated male and female above the age of bar mitzva and bat mitzva are forbidden to be alone together) In the zchus(merit) of Tamar's public shaming of herself and her family we now have the laws of yichud.

Think about this:  If child sexual abuse could happen in a yeshiva between a Rosh Yeshiva and his granddaughter, it could happen to anyone, anywhere.

We learn from Tamar that even someone with no legal authority can affect a change in halacha (Jewish law). Rashi (a Torah commentator) says, that Tamar did it, “Through her tears and screams.”

Rabbi Eisenmann acknowledges that, “The pedophile, especially one who resides within the frum community, and especially one who is a trusted ‘chashuva mensch,’ relies heavily on the fact that he knows his actions will be covered up by the very powers who should be stopping him! 
Rabbi Eisenman continues: I have never met a person who was as careful and as knowledgeable about the laws of Loshon Hora (gossip) as an abuser. Indeed, part of their abusive behavior is to abuse and manipulate the laws of Loshon Hora to allow them to continue their behavior and their molestation.

Lashon harah has no purpose.

My words have a purpose. The chillul hashem is not that we know that children are abused or that as an incest survivor I speak about it. The chillul hashem is that some of our most trusted leaders are involved in child abuse and cover ups. The kiddush Hashem has yet to come. When the rabbonim will listen to the screams and the tears of the children and the adult survivors, just as the rabbonim did in the time of Tamar, and when our leaders make some changes in the way they treat survivors and handle cases of child sexual abuse and incest. Then there will be a tikkun. A Kiddush Hashem. And are children will be safer.

We know there is an epidemic of child sexual abuse among us. No one would assert that there is an epidemic of false allegations. But the way some people, even some rabbonim, speak you would think that false allegations are at least equal to true ones. This is not so by any stretch of the imagination. Let's err on the side of truth and our children's safety. 

There are three things that allow abuse to happen. Opportunity, Lack of accountability, and of course, Secrecy. I hope we can together, pressure our leaders to institute laws and guidelines that will prevent our children from becoming victims and encourage them to speak out if they are molested in spite of the shame and trauma they undoubtedly feel. Perhaps, instead of blaming the victims, our leaders will come up with creative ideas, like the laws of yichud, to help prevent child sexual abuse and incest from continuing to happen. .


  1. Your blog is beautiful. Very inspiring and moving.
    A thought I was pondering - As kids my mother would talk to us and ‘warn’ us about these dangers in life (sexual predators, kidnappers, and such). As a parent, I now remember her words as being very casual, non threatening, she didn’t say it in a scary way or anything. Just like ‘safety tips’ that were repeated every so often. Yet I do remember it instilling a certain level of fear that upset me and caused me unnecessary panic. That being said, the two times that I was in great danger of molestation/rape, I had strong instincts and acted in a matter of seconds and thus saved myself from greater distress.

    I was reminding my 7 year old daughter a couple of weeks ago about the privacy of her body, and how no one has the right to look/touch. I spoke in a very light, derech-agav kind of way and she surprised me by saying- “Ima, Stop! You are scaring me.” I realize it’s not the way you convey the message, it’s the message itself. That there are people out there that potentially want to hurt her. And that is scary. I used to think that the reasons mothers didn’t discuss this topic with their kids was because they mistakenly thought it wasn’t tzanua, or they were embarrassed, or wanted to shield their innocence, or in denial about the frequency of this crime, etc. But now I find myself torn between wanting to protect her by informing her but on the other hand, the very idea of this evil out there is causing her fear and stress. I am failing to find the balance. Any advice?

    1. When I talk to my kids about this topic I use the "What If" game. I start with other scenarios; What if you found an open bag of your favorite chips outside, what would you do?
      What if an adult called you over to ask for help finding an address, what would you do?
      I also share with them modified, but true stories that actually happened and I tell them how smart the child was who told an adult...For example a child on our block was stopped by a strange boy, about fourteen, who promised that he would give him a candy if he would pull down his pants. The boy ran upstairs and told his mother right away. What a smart kid! He knew just what to do!
      I think that children who learn boundaries within the family are better able to identify a violation. Children who learn that even a parent won't tickle, touch, or kiss the child without their consent will be more likely to feel that an unwanted touch was not OK and report it.
      Does this help?

  2. I feel so sad for you and what you endured as a child. I empathize because I have recently awakened to my own severely abusive and neglected child. It is a hard and brave thing to face, and there is usually a solid infrastructure of support surrounding the abuser(s) and they do stand in the face of the truth. I personally have cut off the abusers and their enablers indefinitely while I reject the self blame, shame and condemnation that accompanies our experience. As a child, I couldn't believe that my father could be so cruel, mean, spiteful, and remorseless. Until this very week, I just could not see him for who he really is; A SOCIOPATH. A person that damages others at whim, with no regard for his victims and no remorse; going on 51 years later. A person that destroyed his soul and will pay dearly in the next world, through exponential pain and suffering. In the meantime, he does not suffer at all (it is really hard for me to believe a person doesn't suffer when he damages another); he is a hollow, feeling-less being. As is common with these kinds of people, they never take responsibility for the hurt they cause, they blame the victim for their pain and hurt, and to the outside world they are charismatic and respected. I do not doubt you at all and I sincerely wish you comfort and strength.

    I do have one question for you, I hope you don't mind me asking. I myself am faced with the same question:

    Why do you want to reunite with your family? These people deny your experience, shun you for your need to place the blame where it belongs (because they can't handle the truth that stares them in the face), and identify themselves with the abuser. They are enablers and supporters to an unrepentant abuser? And their very existence denies yours.

    G-d bless you and all those who are suffering, waking up wishing they hadn't because of the pain they have been suppressing to survive. May G-d grant them life, peace, dignity, self respect, confidence, and the ability to stop the cycle and create healthy functional families.

    1. I am so sorry for the horrible pain that you have been through, and for the way your family treated you! I know how much it hurts. The short answer to the question about why we long for our family when they treated and continue to treat us this way is simply that people are not replaceable, especially people we have a history and relationship with. The other answer for me is I always hold on to the fantasy that maybe one person in my family will someday approach me from a place of truth, authenticity and love, and not a place of pain and denial. I realize that this is a fantasy and the most I can realistically hope for given the current situation is a very shallow relationship.
      Thank you for your post. Be strong.

  3. Genendy
    I truly think about you weekly if not daily. I wish that Hashem should continue to give you strength and the ability to thrive, as you say, with your husband and children. We can not make any sense of what occurs in this world, but try our best to protect our children. You are doing a wonderful job! I am happy to know you are in Israel and still have a connection to yiddishkeit, when you almost have every reason not to be!!!

  4. Genendy

    I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you contacting me. You are so courageous.

    This may be a bit choppy, but I hope that my perspectives may be worth reading:

    I am aware of a number of people in the Baltimore community who spoke out within the last few years, at least behind the scenes, about their experiences of abuse. I had a few incidents myself- I had learned no appropriate boundaries about my self-hood as I was growing up. I guess my experiences were isolated enough, and with relative strangers, that I could shrug it off and say, "I didn't know. Oh, well, now I know better." With long-term relationships, esp. family, I imagine that would be close to impossible.

    From what I have seen, heard and read, I think the Rabbonim in Baltimore spoke out strongly as a way to publicly take a stand so that the people who follow all of these rebbeim will be clear that sexual abuse is not ok, and that it is not to be tolerated. Some current cases were legally pursued, there was clear exposure of the issue in the Jewish Times, etc. Unfortunately, the farther back it happened and/or the more entrenched the 'alleged' abuser was in the infrastructure of the 'respectable, Torah-observant community,' it would require a lot more than just 'he said, she said' evidence, even with multiple victims; also, 'taking down' a high profile, respected person for such abuse would severely tarnish the perception of the community, of Torah - it would be 'a shanda' And how could other family members acknowledge your pain without 'devaluing' a deeply respected person- very confusing in this black and white world of Torah giants and followers.

    I do not doubt your experiences at all, I'm sorry they happened, but I am so glad YOU are working in chinuch and have spent a lot of time and effort to clarify what are appropriate boundaries to teach children and how to teach them in a way that feels more secure to the child. I intend to use you as a resource so that I can learn how to do that.

    I would like to suggest that a most valuable direction for your blog would be to give more examples of concrete ways to teach these boundaries. That would be an INCREDIBLY valuable direction. It may be of value to you to write and discuss your experiences of abuse, and I do want you to feel validated, but, no offense intended, it is of FAR more value to me to have the book in hand or the blog that shows me from A-Z Practical ways to educate and protect my child about protecting their self, their body, staying in touch with their senses, and knowing what to do when 'alarming' or inappropriate things happen.

    I hope you will thoughtfully consider my ideas.

    With Love and Appreciation,

  5. Regarding family, if you are open to a suggestion, just from my experience and what I see, as painful as it is, I think you understand that to acknowledge what happened to you is just too far outside of the realm of what your family can currently handle. I would do the two things separately, I think, if I were you. I would use my blog or write a book (or both) to teach people the skills to help them understand how to protect and support their own children; and separately, I would accept the limited offer that your family is giving you to connect on a level that feels safe to them, I would treat them like they are their own island; I think in time, if you didn't bring it up and try to push it, and they learned to know you as the warm, good person that you are, the ones who were the most open and developed a good 'lighter' relationship may feel safe enough to privately visit your blog or privately read your book about teaching children good boundaries and grow in their understanding and appreciation not only of what you experienced, but also what you are giving others that is so valuable out of your experience. They may use the tools with their own children without discussing it with you. If any of them seek counseling for themselves to work on their own issues, they may more quickly come to a place where they feel less threatened, more able to process and interact on the deeper level you want.

    Knowing Rabbi Hopfer a bit, I kindof doubt that Rabbi Hopfer meant to rewound you or to invalidate you if he told your family to shut you out. More likely, I imagine he sees your family would get destroyed by 'having' to interact with you about this topic if you would try to force them to deal with it - this could just as easily mean 'since you would be a rodef' (my words)' pursuing them (to force them to face this on your terms), then he may have told them to cut you off to protect themselves (BECAUSE THEY CAN'T HANDLE IT, NOT because there is anything wrong with YOU!!!) This is why I suggest relating on their terms, not because they are right, but because they are weaker, and in order for any of them to even possibly feel safe enough to first HEAR your truth, and 2nd, RELATE to you in a deeper way, and 3rd, MAYBE even acknowledge your pain (the healing point), the FIRST FIRST STEP is to allow the surface relationship - If you can. If you can't, it may work better to work at this yourself, sort of like a mourner writes letters he will never send, so that he can go thru his own grief process. The other way - relating to them on their terms- would take a lot of long-term strength; the process could take months, it could take many years. Your parents allowing relationship with you (if you can consistently keep it at that safe level of relating) may open doors to your siblings, who may be more likely to notice that you are indeed a wonderful person and be curious and not necessarily as defensive as your parents.

    I have 20 plus years of experience with difficult family, it's taken me a long time to tone myself down even from intense pain and learn to work out the pain where people ARE listening and CAN handle it; and it's taken them a long time to break out of their 'absolute' belief system which I always seemed to come out on the wrong side of (LOL-laugh out loud)

    I hope this is helpful, I absolutely do not want to hurt you; I'm hoping to give you pathways that could work positively and constructively toward an eventual win for everyone.