From under a Rock

I guess I’ve been living a little more insularly than I realized. Only, literally, yesterday did I hear about the horrific goings on in Nachlaot. 


I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a corrections officer. I’m simply a mom who is also a “word person” and who once was a professor of the social sciences. If the little bit I can do to help secure and save our children is to make sure, for this week, anyway, at least in this blog, the topic of child abuse stays current, then I’m glad to be putting in my two shekels’ worth. If, in turn, each of us did our little bit, per se, more kids would be safer, fewer molesters would cause shocking crimes, and larger numbers of victims would be able to journey more easily toward surviving their ordeals, that is to say, larger numbers of victims would be able to journey toward wholeness.


Meanwhile, I’m struck. I hurt. I hurt for the parents. I hurt for the kids. I hurt, especially for the kids, who, has v’shalom, will not get adequate or sufficiently long term treatment. I hurt for the future victims of those unresolved victims, regardless of whether those future victims are assaulted, exposed, or are otherwise made to suffer when those unresolved victims are still children, or later, when those unresolved victims have aged into adults.


Whereas not all victims remain unresolved, and whereas not all unresolved vcitims become, in turn, abusers, if only 10% of unresolved victims become offenders, with each successive generation, more and more innocent souls will get fractured. Stopping abuse is not merely about catching current perpetrators and about healing current, known victims; stopping abuse is necessarily also about finding “hidden” victims and about preventing them from continuing the cycle. Such a complete response to this vileness is necessary.


As Paul E Mullen and Jillian Fleming explain in “Long-Term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse,” a publication of the Australian Government’s National Child Protection Clearinghouse, “the fundamental damage inflicted by child sexual abuse is to the child''s developing capacities for trust, intimacy, agency and sexuality.” In other words, the pain of sexual abuse often lasts a lifetime and often impacts on survivors in deeply profound ways. Their relationships to themselves, their relationships to their intimates, their relationships to their acquaintances, and their relationships to strangers, all are potentially, and, often, actually, severely marred.


Why is this form of hurt so bad?, an American source for information about professional information on mental and emotional health, edited by Jeanne and Robert Segal, posits, in “Recognizing and Preventing Child Abuse,” that “child sexual abuse is an especially complicated form of abuse because of its layers of guilt and shame.”


One of the issues concomitant to this type of grievous suffering is that even when this type of abuse has been acknowledged by powerful others, i.e. by the adults in a child’s world, thereafter, this type of abuse might get rationalized, minimalized, or completely denied by those same authorities.


Blaming the victim, a far too common form of rationalization, for example, adds to the trauma that a child victim experiences, as does making light of what that victim reports. Given that, as the Segals report, “sexual abuse doesn''t always involve body contact,” adults escape their responsibility to protect children via the many cultural loopholes available to adults.


Back to the Segals, we see that “exposing a child to sexual situations or material is sexually abusive, whether or not touching is involved.” In the Nachlaot situation, unfortunately, some of the children were forced to watch others children being tortured. It is possible that the children made to witness such atrocities will be more deeply wounded that those upon whom the acts were perpetrated. If adults, trained to deal with wide varieties of crises, need help after witnessing child abuse, children, people who are, by definition, vulnerable will need help processing their experiences that much more so. Yet, that group of kids has been rubriced, by some people as “mere” witnesses. Any children or adult impacted by such deeds suffers deeply.


Last, in terms, of empowered persons making little of such crimes against the weakest members of humanity, many folk fall back into the false comforts offered by repudiation, Grownups sometimes unwittingly befriend a child abuser. Other times, grownups intentionally deny the events that they earlier had acknowledged. Sexual abuse of children is scary stuff. Period. People have a tendency to run away when they are afraid.


Sadly, such retractions worsen the harm done to victimized children. Psychotherapist David L. Calof explains that children whose ghastly experiences are invalidated have trouble with identity as well as with social rules and norms. It’s bad enough when the powerful people in a child’s life such as that child’s neighbors, religious leaders, doctors, police, parents, or other adults hurts them. It’s worse when additional authoritative people tell that same child to forget about the dark incidents he or she endured. No one needs a university degree to grasp why such a double dose of betrayal cripples neshemot.


Furthermore, pedophiles didn’t discern among secular, Dati or Charaedi children; they hurt all of them. Nachlaot, for instance, is a mixed community. The victims in that neighborhood came from the entire array of its population.


Just as this problem breaks children from every type of home, the response needs to come from all of us. Not only can we help prevent further such incidents, but as Jews, we are obliged to act. To turn away from such unpleasantries is the equivalent of shirking our responsibility for pikuach nefesh.


Solutions will involve lots of steps, by lots of people. They will require a long period of time.


As aforementioned, I have no easy answers. I write about such unimaginable badness to keep the point in the forefront of our thinking. All of us people who care about children need to act on this matter. As we progress, all of us will benefit from raising our awareness level regarding child safety.    


What I can do here and now is to urge you to support child safety organizations with your time and with your money. I can urge you to learn more about child sexual abuse instead of avoiding this unpleasant topic. Some starting points for your erudition, worldwide, can include:

Jews Against Molestation

Stop It Now!


Prevent Child Abuse Australia

Shomrim Yeladim


As well, I urge all of you to write in.  Keep in mind, child sexual abuse is a painful issue and is an issue that raises multiple sensitivities for many people. Thus, while I invite you, I implore you, I beseech you to help me keep this conversation going, I also ask that you contribute only: constructive remarks, shared experiences, and pointers to more resources.