Saturday, December 22, 2012

Abuse - if victim is not aware of being abused?

 I received the following question and thought it would be helpful to post it for reader input - rather than simply give an answer. What do you think?

Dear Dr. Eidensohn, 

I am taking a course in college on Psychology and Halacha and am currently researching child abuse and halacha and have found your blog and books extremely helpful.
I would like to ask you a question regarding child sexual abuse and would be very thankful if you can provide some insight.
If a Rebbe or caregiver has sexual gratification from having a child sit on his lap but the child has no knowledge of it and is not affected in any way, is there any action required?

              Thank you for your time


  1. It is not uncommon for the victims of sexual abuse, particularly in family cases, to be unaware that what they experienced is abuse, and to consider themselves unaffected by it in any way. However, that does not mean that the grave crime of sexual abuse has not been committed, and/or that no action is required.

    Appalling as it is for most of us to contemplate, there are those whose sexual gratification comes from the sexual abuse of babies. There are those who will also seek out highly mentally handicapped children and abuse them, Of course, the infant grows up unaware of the crime committed against them, and may never be aware of it.

    It is impossible to discern in such cases whether and how the child has been affected. Nevertheless, the crime remains one of the gravest of crimes. The definition of the crime does not depend on its effect on the victim. Indeed, it is the case that burglars and financial fraudsters sometimes find the way to rob people of their money whilst the victims remain unaware of their loss. This does not mitigate the criminality of the act, or the need to punish it and to prevent others from loss.

    One of the forms of sexual abuse now becoming increasingly widespread is the taking of pornographic images for children, sometimes for exploitation via online sales. Every single circulation and downloading of every such image is an act of child abuse, even if the child is unaware of it.

    In a recent case in the UK, a woman nursery worker took obscene images of herself sexually abusing babies and very young infants in a day nursery where she was employed. She and the man who set up the process of collecting and trading the images were rightly jailed for long times.

    We have no way of knowing how those infants will be affected long term. We hope that they will not. Whether they will be told what happened to them is an issue for the parents and the professionals supporting them. But there is no doubt that the perpetrators are criminals who need to be apprehended, prevented from committing further crimes and punished.

    I'm not in any way knowledgeable about the halachos in such cases. I speculate that the cases may be similar to the halachos about what to do about a thief who steals or damages property or livestock without the owner being aware, or of a rodeif who disguises his crime against a person such that the victim remains unaware that a grave crime has been committed against them. An example for our times might be a person who is gravely injured in a car crash whilst remaining completely unaware that the reason the car crashed was not his/her inadequate driving, but the fact that the rodeif tamperered with the brakes, or where the authorities become aware that the rodeif has been poisoning food supplies but the potential victim has not eaten the poison in sufficient quantities to be aware of any effects.

  2. It seems that the only person aware of the abuse would be the rabbi or caretaker. So it would a personal question for them to decide. Since halacha forbids actions that engender lascivious thoughts it would seem that such actions are forbidden. In the present situation, just as male therapists and rabbis are advised to keep doors open etc. so it may be a good idea for rabbis and caretakers to restrict hands on behavior.

  3. I think the question is even more relevant to a situation where the victim is CERTAINLY not affected. (How about if s/he is sleeping and truly unaware?) The situations suggested above all relate to where the victim actually is or will affected, s/he just doesn't know where the crime came from.

    Even in such a case where the victim is not affected - and granted, that can be hard to establish for sure - STILL I think that action is indeed required. We know that abuse tends to escalate over time. It would be impossible to guarantee that the abuser will not attempt more aggressive actions in the future to this or other victims. Beyond the concern of justice done for past crimes, we must be concerned for the possibility of future crimes. THAT is the primary issue here.

  4. Any person who has sexual pleasure from physical contact with another person, a pleasure that might lead to sex, must refrain, even if it costs his life. See Yoreh Dayah 157:1 that even the foreplay that precedes sex with forbidden people is a LAV a negative command from the Torah. "And should die rather than violate this law." See the Shach who discusses whether such is a LAV or maybe only when he does the full act. Rambam says it is a LAV and Ramban says it is not. Shach proves the Ramban is wrong from a story in the gemora whereby someone was dying because he wanted a woman and the doctors said if he could talk to her separated by a wall he would live. The rabbis said he must die.
    I would answer the Shach's attack on Ramban by saying that there are two things, one is the LAV whether the Torah gave a specific rule in the form of a negative "do not" law, and the second category where something is not a LAV, such as talking to a woman behind a wall. But since this is motivated by his lust for the woman he must die rather than do it. Thus, although the Ramban does not call this a LAV it is still something that has to be avoided with one's life.
    Enjoying a child on one's lap arouses lust that can lead to sex and is forbidden by a LAV according to the Shach, the Rambam's opinion, and must die rather than do it, as per the Ramo there in YD 157:A and the story in the gemora brought by the Shach.

    1. רמב"ם )הלכות יסודי התורה ה:ט

  5. An exerpt from a recent article (emphasis added). The last sentence is the significant one for this discussion, both psychiatrically and halkhically; the rest of the excerpt just provides context.


    Pedophilia is a clinical diagnosis usually made by a psychiatrist or psychologist. It is not a criminal or legal term, such as forcible sexual offense, which is a legal term often used in criminal statistics. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Incident-Based Reporting System’s (NIBRS) definition of forcible sexual offenses includes any sexual act directed against another person forcibly and/or against that person’s will or not forcibly or against the person’s will in which the injured party is incapable of giving consent. By diagnostic criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, a pedophile is an individual who fantasizes about, is sexually aroused by, or experiences sexual urges toward prepubescent children (generally <13 years) for a period of at least 6 months. Pedophiles are either severely distressed by these sexual urges, experience interpersonal difficulties because of them, or act on them. Pedophiles usually come to medical or legal attention by committing an act against a child because most do not find their sexual fantasies distressing or ego-dystonic enough to voluntarily seek treatment.


    From the first page of:
    Hall, Ryan CW, and Richard CW Hall. "A profile of pedophilia: definition, characteristics of offenders, recidivism, treatment outcomes, and forensic issues." Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Vol. 82. No. 4. Mayo Foundation, 2007.

  6. To the letter-writer, since you're taking a college course:

    The psychiatric definition of pedophilia is a minefield of conceptual-legal-moral complications.

    Perhaps the most dramatic affair, from 1998:

    There are also many references in this article from the DSM-5 development phase:
    Blanchard R. The DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Pedophilia. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2010; 39:304-316.

  7. I would believe that sexual energy is such that it always affects the soul of the victim. I wonder if it is possible for one to take sexual pleasure from another without the other being effected on some level, even though they aren't conscious of it.

  8. can one say it's like feeding someone non-kosher food without his knowing. Surely it will affect the recipients soul.
    also, how would you compare the above scenario to someone who is raped while he is asleep? it seems like we all understand that that is detrimental to the victim even if they weren't awake at the time.
    in addition, it is common for victims to disassociate during the abuse, (which might be considered like some form of "not being there," yet for the long run this does not mitigate the negative consequences of the abuse.
    also, if the above is a caregiver or rebbi to the child, is it possible for them to remain dedicated to the child's needs in a real way after they are aware that something is quite off in their relationship?

    1. You raise an important point. When a woman is the objective of lustful thoughts - does that negatively influence her even if she is not aware of these thoughts?

    2. Women (and children) are aware of these "lustful thoughts" much more often than most men realize. "Thoughts" become somatized and subtly kineticized, thought this is something that modern Westerners are astoundingly oblivious to.

  9. From someone who was sexually molested as a child "on the rebbe's lap" I can confirm that the child indeed knows that something wrong is being done to him or her, and will be affected by this molestation, if not immediately, but in the future when he fully understands what happened.

  10. also, the child might not understand what is happening to him, so they can't put it into words consciously, yet that doesn't mean it isn't affecting him now and it won't affect him in the future.

  11. Does sexual arousal caused by observing a young boy walking the street consist "child abuse"?
    Does the sexual arousal from seeing a young girl siting in a park consist "under-age statutory rape"?

    Abuse and rape and all other sexual laws have very clear defined halachic boundries; and no defined boundries in secular law.
    Not talking to a women behind a fence is NOT direct Arayos; It is abizrayu under well defined circumstances. There is no issur to talk to a woman per se, It is only ossur if done soley for pleasure. It is not Halachic abuse even though in todays days it is 'jailable' abuse.
    So lets not compare apple and oranges and peaches.

  12. Fordass

    Yes lustful thoughts effect other people but generally people are not aware of it. I am referring to people are in different locations and not physically present.
    Same with anger. Same with lashon harah but I beleives in a different way.

    If a person feels the lustful thoughts being directed at them is dependent on the persons natural sensitivities or training and the power of the lusters ability to transmit depends on natural characteristics and training.

    This may sound weird but just think of the documented research of the. Intuitive relationship that twins often have and think of the common statement "a mothers intuition"..


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