Sunday, November 29, 2009

Abuse - badge of honor or shame?


I just received the following letter with permission to post it. It raises a very important question - how to react to the shame of abuse. While the solution offered by Rav Oshry is to use abuse as a badge of honor - I really find it hard to belief that the women involved would accept it as such. I also don't see most abuse victims being proud of their degradation - at least not as far as publicizing it. They obviously can take pride in the fact that they are able to function in spite of it and perhaps have a highly developed sense of empathy with others because of it. Obvious Yerachmiel Lopin disagrees. I would like some feedback from others. This is not a theoretical question. I also posted  Rav Oshry's tshuva.

Dear Rabbi Eidensohn,

I would like to request that you post a responsum of great relevance to the problem of molesting.

I am referring to the tshuvah of R. Oshry about eshes ish and removing a tattoo for a couple rejoined after the holocaust. She had been impressed into prostitution in a concentration camp and had a tattoo “a whore of Hitler’s Armies.” As I remember it (having read it in English over 2 decades ago) the psak was to treat her as a woman who cried out based on the assumption that ‘no Jewish daughter would have willingly consorted with those who were murdering her Jewish brothers and sisters.’

He forbade the removal of the tattoo for the usual reasons regarding needless injury to a body but offered words of chizuk about the tattoo which touched me and may touch many who were abused in our communities. The words escape me but they may have been along the lines “wear it with pride as a sign that we triumphed over those reshoim.’ I think we now have thousands of Jews who also need to know they can proclaim the triumph of their survival in spite of the reshoim who molested them.

The alternative is silence motivated by shame. The shame leads to suicides, substance abuse and many other problems. In truth the shame should fall only on their abusers. The victims should feel free to speak to their abuse if it helps them heal.

If you would post this wise and powerful psak with an English translation it might help give yad v’shem to those who were violated. Implicitly they did cry out and no one listened.

Feel free to post my request, or to name me or just to leave me out of this. But I hope you will give serious consideration to this request.

Yerachmiel Lopin
FrumFollies.wordpress.com

7 comments :

  1. Interesting, and consistent with Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky's remarkable statement, and this is a quote, "To the victims I would it's a duty, a mitzva to go and reveal their stories."

    I agree, of course. Its therapeutic, empowering, and lifesaving for the victim and other victims. To reveal is a very personal decision, however. Its a choice. We can't make the decision for them.

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  2. Dear Rabbi Eidenshohn,

    Thank you for agreeing to my request and agreeing to try and locate and translate the psak.

    When I suggested this posting I was thinking about a set of questions I raised in an open letter to Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz and Rabbi Dr. Benzion Twerski in response to their call victims of molesting to seek therapy. My open letter agreed with their position as far as it went but felt that attacking the problem called for many other steps. In the letter I posed a set of questions about other necessary components including permitting victims to speak out and listening to them. I specifically asked:

    Do you feel the event held Passaic’s Ahavas Israel before Yom Kippur was a useful educational event?

    Would you encourage people to listen to the audio recording of the event?

    Would you encourage more such events?

    I would encourage Daas Torah readers to listen to the tape because it includes testimony of 5 survivors speaking to a black hat and sheitel crowd.

    In listening to the tape I think you will hear a better argument than I can provide for listening to survivors's stories (if they choose to go public).

    Or course I don't think abuse is a badge of honor. But Rabbi Eidenson and agree there are ways of dealing with it courageously. I feel it behooves us to recognize the admirable qualities of those who come forward, sometimes in spite of the pain, to help others. A lot will change when the bizayon and shidduch damage falls on the perpetrators and not on the survivors.

    To listen to the Passaic event go to: http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/files/ahavas-israel-passaic-w-r-eisenman-sept-26-2009-low-res-1.mp3

    To see the full text of the open letter go to:
    http://frumfollies.wordpress.com/2009/11/20/an-open-letter-to-rabbis-twerski-and-horowitz-about-child-molesting/

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  3. Dr. Asher Lipner, Ph.D.December 1, 2009 at 10:05 AM

    As Jews we have always worn our history of trauma and abuse on our sleeves as a badge of honor. The chiyuv of zechiras yetzias mitzrayim on Pesach forces us to remember the fact that our forefathers were idol worshippers, as well as the shame and degredation of slavery. We are proud of being survivors. It reminds us that as Jews we owe our survival to Hashem's constant miracles.

    The shame that is inherent in being victimized is in large part due to feeling that one "should not have had this happen", but if you truly have faith that Hashem caused it for a purpose, you can really overcome this shame. Sara, the young girl who spoke so poignantly in Passaic made this abundantly clear.

    Furthermore, stigma associated with anything sexual, causes a kind of communal shame. This has got to stop. In essence it blames the victim for what happened to him or her, when in reality the abuser needs to experience the shame of what he did, instead.

    One of the things I found healing about telling my own story of surviving abuse, was that I felt finally free of the sense of shame that was engendered by the stigma of society. I had a new level of faith that shidduchim are up to Hashem and that anyone who would not marry me because of what happened to me years ago, I would not want to marry anyway.

    The response of validation and acceptance by the audience was also healing as it was the exact opposite of what a person deserving of shame would expect.

    The more support we give to survivors the less shame they will feel to tell their stories, and the more healing our whole community will have.

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  4. Yerachmiel Lopin, frumfollies blogger said...

    Do you feel the event held Passaic’s Ahavas Israel before Yom Kippur was a useful educational event?
    ==================
    Yes I was impressed by the presentations and the senstivity in which they were handled.


    Would you encourage people to listen to the audio recording of the event?
    =====================
    I do and in fact devoted a posting with links to that recording

    http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2009/10/passsaic-conference-on-abuse-audio-file.html

    Would you encourage more such events?
    ==============
    That is a good question. there needs to be more - but there needs to be more establishment sponsors. It was noted that other organizations refused to be associated with the conference.

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  5. Dr. Asher Lipner, Ph.D. said...

    As Jews we have always worn our history of trauma and abuse on our sleeves as a badge of honor. The chiyuv of zechiras yetzias mitzrayim on Pesach forces us to remember the fact that our forefathers were idol worshippers, as well as the shame and degredation of slavery. We are proud of being survivors. It reminds us that as Jews we owe our survival to Hashem's constant miracles.
    ==============
    Dr. Lipner thank you for your response as well as the courage to tell your story.

    DT wrote:
    I disagree with your above statement. While it is true we celebrate being survivors from Egypt - we have never had a public celebration of an individual surviving sexual abuse. In fact it is clear that sexual abuse and crimes are historically as well as halachically not talked about- at least not publicly. In the case of bestiality the animal is destroyed so as not to remind anyone of the crime. You might look at the Minchas Chinuch concerning the rape of a non-Jew. It is is interesting that Rav Oshery does present a contrary view regarding Nazi tattoos and Rav Shmuel Kaminestky does encourage survivors of abuse to talk about it. I am not convinced of the halachic or hashkofic justification of such acts. But agree that it does help psychologically and socially
    ===================

    The shame that is inherent in being victimized is in large part due to feeling that one "should not have had this happen", but if you truly have faith that Hashem caused it for a purpose, you can really overcome this shame. Sara, the young girl who spoke so poignantly in Passaic made this abundantly clear.

    DT wrote:
    Here again I disagree. While it is clearly true that some, perhaps most would take comfort in the idea that G-d wanted them to be raped - I dealt with a young lady who had the opposite feeling. She could not acknowledge such a horrendous idea. I explained to her that in fact the view of the Rishonim is not that way. The view you are presenting is essential the chassidic view of hashgocha protis which has become predominate today.
    ============================
    Furthermore, stigma associated with anything sexual, causes a kind of communal shame. This has got to stop. In essence it blames the victim for what happened to him or her, when in reality the abuser needs to experience the shame of what he did, instead.

    DT wrote:
    But this is inherent in your view of HP. Obviously G-d caused it to happen because the person deserved to be degraded. You can't have it both ways. In addition the case of Dinah also seems to view rape as shameful for the victim and at least partially responsible for it happening. What I am saying is that you need to find some sources that say being raped or molested should not be blamed on the victim.

    I hope you don't take me as being overy pedantic - but there has to be a rationale to accomplish what you are asking. I agree with your goals - I just need a path that will get it done.

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  6. The point raised by Dr. Lipner regarding blaming the victim was discussed in the following post

    http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2009/09/g-d-reason-for-abuse-and-rape.html

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  7. DT wrote: “What I am saying is that you need to find some sources that say being raped or molested should not be blamed on the victim. . . I agree with your goals - I just need a path that will get it done.”

    Actually, I would pose the question: what halachic (as opposed to midrashic) sources “blame” the human victim? Even the question of aishes ish makes a distinction between the women who cried out and the one who did not. Thus, the woman who cried out and was not answered is not considered an aishes ish notwishtanding intercourse with someone other than her husband.

    In proposing R. Oshry’s psak for discussion I was intrigued by the his broad interpretation of ‘cried out and not answered.’ I was interested in the ways in which we need to approach to all sorts of situations where there is “an unanswered cry.” I think it would be helpful to focus on the question of victims talking about their experiences without assuming that the victim who speaks out is automatically accepting blame.

    Rabbi Eidensohn, you wrote “There need to be more [events with survivor reports of their abuse such as the one held in Passaic]- but there need to be more establishment sponsors. It was noted that other organizations refused to be associated with the conference.

    Since you agree that this was sound execution of a sound approach, why question the validity of public victim testimony? I think the question needs to be why aren’t there more sponsors. Victim advocates like Dr. Lipner, certainly want more of these events. I think the community’s leadership needs to start explaining its reticence and answering some of the questions that follow. Why aren’t there more sponsors? Why don’t you exert leadership in overcoming resistance? Why do you openly talk about toeivah to oppose same-sex marriage laws but invoke tznius to avoid Passaic style events? Why aren’t you addressing in specific enough fashion the grave violations of molesters including arayos, nidah, and mishkav zachor? Why are most victims still being encouraged to conceal such crimes to protect shidduchim while ignoring the grave risks of suicide, addiction, other mental illness, delinquency, and abandonment of faith? Why isn’t a concern for shalom bayis leading to an understanding that many survivors need spouses who can acknowledge the facts and be supportive?

    I think the answer to these questions is sociological rather than halachic. It grows out of a social aversion to admitting certain truths. But the problem will never be solved until the problem is fully acknowledged. When victims bravely overcome their own reticence they also help the community understand reality.

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