Sexual abuse exists in the religious community, stop hiding it

And just in case anyone is still confused: Chaim Walder was the victim of nothing but the consequences of the actions of which he was accused.

Malka Leifer, An Ultra orthodox teacher wanted in Australia for child sex abuse, seen on a screen via a video link during a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on July 29, 2020. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Malka Leifer, An Ultra orthodox teacher wanted in Australia for child sex abuse, seen on a screen via a video link during a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on July 29, 2020.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

I guess these things don’t surprise me anymore. Maybe I’ve lost all faith in humanity. But for a while now, the words “surprise” and “shock” no longer accurately describe how I feel when I hear about another powerful person being accused of sexual assault.

Here’s a word: “Horror.”

Horror at the crimes committed against, all too often, the most vulnerable and innocent in our society. Horror at the perpetrator’s ability to evade justice for so long. Horror at the lengths to which so many went to cover it up. Horror at the knowledge that nothing is going to change.

I’ve seen so many people posting on social media, trying to pick apart the nuance of this most recent case, the complexity of it. 

And I agree, some aspects of this story are nuanced and need to be scrutinized. For instance, as a society that is hopefully more empathetic toward those suffering from mental illness than in the past, we may have a blind spot for one of the abuse tactics used in this case – namely, wielding mental illness as a weapon and threatening self-harm if a victim doesn’t abide by the abusers’ wants and desires.

This form of abuse unfortunately exists in our society, and, like all forms of abuse, is highly manipulative and dangerous. Domestic abusers use it to force partners to stay in abusive relationships. And as we saw here, sexual abusers use it to silence their victims. 

We must have a discussion as a society about the limits of empathy when it comes to acting out on one’s mental suffering, where the line is crossed into abuse, and how to properly educate victims so they can see through it, and most importantly not blame themselves if the person chooses to follow through on their threats.

 Chaim Walder (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Chaim Walder (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

But, in truth, this situation is not at all complex. On the contrary, it is deathly simple. 

There is an accused serial sexual abuser, and there are innocent victims. The alleged abuser also happens to have been a wonderful and inspirational storyteller. Perhaps surprisingly, that does nothing to make this case any less simple. 

The victims did nothing wrong to anybody. Many of them were broken beyond repair, many of them lost their spouses, many of them have not recovered to this day. One of them claimed to be abused by him as recently as six months ago. 

One of them took her own life. Maybe there are more whom we don’t know about. 

There is nothing in the world simpler than this.

In November, when the news first broke, we all witnessed what at the time felt like both a miracle and a turning point – several national-religious and ultra-Orthodox public figures condemned the alleged actions of the abuser and showed support for his victims. 

AND YET now here we are. 

So many people are still insisting on addressing the complexity of this case. People are still harping about how the alleged abuser was portrayed by the media and the role that may have played in his suicide. Rabbinic leaders are still exonerating him despite extremely credible evidence and the irreversible harm and trauma this causes the victims. Schools are using his suicide as a lesson in the devastation caused by lashon hara. Doing so is a complete and utter manipulation of Halacha.

So far the vast majority of the conversation has been focused on the accused abuser. No more. After a woman who said she was a victim took her own life, it is incumbent upon all those in a position of power and influence to support the victims and vow to do better. Most importantly, it is incumbent upon us a society to do way better when the next abuser, appallingly and inevitably, is named. 

This case is not complex; it is deathly simple.

And just in case anyone is still confused: Chaim Walder was the victim of nothing but the consequences of the actions of which he was accused. Shifra Yocheved Horovitz, of blessed memory, was the victim of years of sexual abuse, followed by being forced to see her accused abuser praised as a righteous and holy man by the most powerful and influential leaders in her community. 

Rest in Power, Shifra. May the victims and their families be comforted, somehow. 

The author is an American-Israeli writer living in Tekoa. She enjoys a challenging yet respectful debate and believes that none of us is exempt from the responsibility of fixing the world.