Thursday, December 15, 2011

Survivor of Incest clarifies her letter

This is a clarification of the original letter  in response to my comments and those of other readers

Dear Rabbi Eidensohn,

It seems like there are some misunderstandings about some aspects of my situation.So let me set things straight.

I had no recollection of the abuse until a few years after my wedding, when I entered therapy for a seemingly different problem, (more about that later.) I believe the reason for this is two-fold. Firstly, yes, trauma often gets suppressed. But an equally important reason is that I had no way of knowing when I was going through the abuse that this was not ok. Of course it didn’t feel ok, but I knew nothing about sex, had no language about what was happening, thus I didn’t even have the tools to be able to ask myself whether what my father was doing was ok or not. I believed I was special, and that is why my father was doing this with me, and probably nobody else in the world (certainly not my friends,) has had, or will ever have this experience. I definitely had no clue that this is something all married adults do, and it is not meant for children, or for anyone else besides one’s spouse. I knew about immorality being one of the three cardinal sins that one must give their lives for, yet I had no idea what immorality was, and certainly had no idea that this was what my father was doing.

In addition, please understand that it was totally inconceivable to me that my father would do anything against Halacha, since he was my primary educator regarding Yiddishkeit, so to me, for sure my father was a bigger Yirea Shomayim then I was.  (And those of you familiar with the Chassidishe education system, I’m sure you can realize how we inculcate this notion into our children that the previous generations are for sure much better than the later ones.  After all, the whole issue of Massorah, in a way, hinges on this belief.)

When I found out about sex, a few weeks before my wedding, it was already a couple of years after the last time my father actually lived with me, so although, under the surface there were loads of issues there for me, yet I didn’t have any landing space for the truth to come up and be exposed to me consciously.

Then, a few years after my wedding, I hit a rock bottom regarding a seemingly unrelated issue, and it was suggested to me that I go for therapy, which I did.  It took a year of intensive therapy until I realized that what my father did on a regular basis was sexual abuse, and then, once I realized that, the more suppressed memories of actually living with my father came to the forefront.

Even after the truth was clear to me, it still took another full year of therapy until I was ready to deal with the incest. I needed to take the time in therapy to reexamine who my father really is, character wise, in order for me to be able to accept and deal with the information I now had.

Based on my experience, regarding what it took for me to be able to come face to face with what really happened, I wrote to you in a previous comment that I strongly feel that the majority of incest victims in the Chassidishe communities are not even aware that they are victims.

I have been on an intensive healing journey since my discovery (for close to 20 years,) and look forward to continue on this path for the rest of my life. Baruch Hashem, I can now say that so much of who I am today would not have been possible had I not had the incest in my history. Healing from the incest has forced me to grow in ways that would never have been possible for me had I not had my history. And I believe growth is really what life is all about, and where the pleasure is at.(I hope it is self understood that I’m not in any way justifying abuse by making the above statements. Hashem runs this world, and ultimately no harm befalls us that isn’t leading to our higher good, in this world or the next. Yet this doesn’t at all excuse or mitigate the actions of the perpetrator, who is clearly responsible for his deeds.

Now let me share with you an excerpt of my first letter in order to clarify the point I was trying to make.

I often ponder, “As a child going through the abuse, knowing what I know now as an adult that has been through close to 20 years of intense healing, what would I have wanted other adults to have done to help me back then?” And I cannot say that reporting it to the authorities is the answer. I would have wished for someone, perhaps an aunt or other family member or family friend, to step in and remove me from my family, without exposing to the world what was really happening, (like by forcing my parents to send me to seminary, or by sending me to live with a grandparent with the excuse that the grandparents need a grandchild with them, etc.) In addition, I wish they would have sent me for therapy right then as a teenager

Had the authorities been called into the picture, and my family would have been exposed, I fear I would have never been comfortable in the community again.  Certainly I wouldn’t have been able to do the shidduch I did, or hold the prestigious job I hold. It is sad, but it is just the fact, that our community would surely consider someone like myself as damaged goods, had they been told the truth.  So I keep asking myself, is it really right for us to take a stand that calling in the authorities in such situations is the only correct thing to do?  After all, isn’t it the victim’s life that we are here to improve, and does calling in the authorities, especially in cases of incest really help the victim in the long run?

I think I have made it quite clear that removing the child from the family and getting them into therapy, needs to be the top priority in order to help the victim.

Of course there is also the other issue of protecting potential victims, yet this is not the point I’m focusing on in my letter, rather my question is, what is best for the victim. (Though I do affirm that we are commanded לא תעמד על דם ריעך and if we are able to prevent someone from being abused, and we don’t, we share the liability together with the perpetrator.)

Now, quoting your letter, "living a good and productive life at the cost of living a lie,” I believe that is an oxymoron. Learning to live a good life publicly while privately suffering the painful consequences of being a victim of incest, what is the benefit of living a good life publicly when one is suffering privately?

I don’t see myself as one who lives a lie. Both of my parents are aware of my truth, and more importantly, I do not participate in family functions where I perceive that my presence is an acquiescence to my family’s façade, no matter how weird this looks to others, or how uncomfortable it makes others feel. But perhaps most importantly, because of all the help I received over the years, and my husband’s continuous staunch validation, I know, and totally accept my truth.I choose not to share about my incest with my next door neighbor, school friends, or husband’s family simply because I feel the community just can’t handle it, and chances are they will ostracize me rather than face the truth, or at best, just simply be freaked out by me and my existence. After all, I know what it took for me to be able to digest the information of incest existing in the Chassidishe world, even though I only stood to gain by assimilating that fact, and I was in intense therapy to help me along.So what can I expect of the average Chassidishe community member?

There is just so much more I can say about this point, that I have come to understand while grappling with all this over the years, yet I do realize that this letter is long enough already as is. 

So thanks again for giving me the space to clarify myself, and wishing you much further success.


  1. "And those of you familiar with the Chassidishe education system, I’m sure you can realize how we inculcate this notion into our children that the previous generations are for sure much better than the later ones."

    Until the Ba'al Shem Tov came along at least.

  2. Dear letter writer,

    thank you for bringing up the subject of "confusion" and the child not realising she is abused.
    This too is part of the complexity of the problem. By the way, I think that many victims of abuse do not realise they are abused, i.e. that the perpetrator is not allowed to do what he is doing.

    It is not limited to the hareidi world. According to the situation, predators will adapt their strategies to promote this kind of confusion: the hareidi ones will take advantage of the principle of kibud av, the non-religious ones will say "don't be so prudish, it's all natural" and do as if all parts of the body were equal - others will give gifts or resort to threats and intimidation.

    From a religious point of view, there is one thing I cannot understand. It says "we biarta et ha ra mikirbecha". I would suppose that this applies exactely to situations like: a person doing evil in secret, while maintaining an honorable facade.

    So, from a religious point of view, would it not be a Mitzwah to expose the perpetrator, so that evil cannot continue to spread in the community?

    Not long ago, Rabbis decided to burn a Sefer Torah that was paid for by a child abuser. Because they think everything he does is "infected" with his evilness, so his sefer Torah looses its kedusha and has to be burnt - not burried.

    If the perpetrator continues - let's say - to teach torah or make halachic decisionts - what can his torah be worth? Wouldn't it be infected by the evil of his hypocrisy?

    On the other hand, I understand that nobody can be asked to do what's impossible: If trying to expose him will not lead to truly expose him, but just ruin your good name, then, indeed, it is not worthwhile trying.

  3. This evil man needs to be exposed to protect the world at large from his evil and influence.

    I know that for the writer it would be difficult but it needs to be done somehow. It's likely that he is continuing his evil.

  4. I think it is a very brave of the letter writer to discuss her story , even anonymously.

    It is very difficult to understand how insulated the Haredi/Hassidic community is from reality.

  5. wanting more info about Rabbis saying Sefer Torah of abuser must be burned.December 18, 2011 at 3:00 AM

    Rose, I feel your message is really really true. can you please give us more details about the Rabbis who decided that a Sefer Torah written by a child abuser needs to be burned? It would mean a lot to me to know which Rabbis these where and where this happened, since I really do deeply belive that we all get affected by the evil of child abusers, and taking a stand like that surely cleans out our camp, and allows more Keddusha to enter.

  6. wanting more info of Rabbis saying Sefer Torah of Abuser needs to be burnedDecember 18, 2011 at 5:28 AM

    "we biarta es ha ra mikerbecha," Rose, I'm wondering what are the parameters of this commandment? Who is responsable to clean out this negativity in the community? Does the responsablity lie on every individual, or on the Sanhedrin, or our leaders?

  7. @wanting more info 1

    this is what I read about sifrei torah ordered by a child abuser being burned.

    When I thought it over, I came to the conclusion that this reaction is over the top and might be an indication of fanaticism (a bit like destroying tv sets). The sefer could as well be burried and never used again...

    @wanting more info 2
    "Rose, I'm wondering what are the parameters of this commandment? Who is responsable to clean out this negativity in the community? Does the responsablity lie on every individual, or on the Sanhedrin, or our leaders?"

    In my naivity, I would have thought that this mitzva is for everyone.

    But of course, it is clear that when the authorities, the sanhedrin, the establishement do not believe or not help the individual, as is often the case with sexual abuse, there is nothing the individual can do.

    In fact, I am not really a fan of this commandment, since it is pronounced in relation with many harsh punishments for things that today would fall under the liberty of conscience or liberty of religion or liberty of expression.

    But I wanted to point out that this is an area where this commandment really should apply. Obviously, school principals and Rabbis who tolerate abuse in their schools/communities although they were warned do not respect this commandment.

  8. The writer is suggesting that perhaps it is better for victims to not have their families exposed by the reporting of the abuser.

    She is suggesting that reporting is a guarantee to exposure. Advocates are currently screaming the opposite. How is it that indicted pedophiles (not the 'mere' incest abusers) are not being exposed and instead are being covered up and allowed plea bargins whereby they are not being required to be listed by Megan's Law (pedo watch)?

    Her question suggests that it might possibly be justifiable to not report a child rapist.

    Yet, the writer clearly states that she very much wanted help. She wanted out of the family, away from her abuser. She wanted therapy and safety.

    I understand that the thought of reporting is scary. But I would like to ask her father if he would have wanted, back then, when he first considered crossing the line with his daughter, for someone to stop him?

    My father is bummed that he has to be on Megan's Law. But he is grateful that he was stopped.

    It is a chessed, to those directly involved, to our community, and to society as a whole: If you suspect a child is in danger, report it!! And don't let the fear of the survivors' shame stop you. The shame of being sexually abused is far greater a shame to carry, and the sooner the abuse is stopped, the sooner the child enters therapy, and the better the chance for the victim to have a normalized and stabilized life.

  9. The posting on the sefer torah burning is found here:


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