B”H. The month of liberation, 5773. March 2013.
Dear Jewish Community Watch,
In response to your request—as well as to the many other inquiries and requests for my reaction to the issue of child abuse.
First, I want to express my sincere gratitude and accolades for all the hard work you and various other organizations and individuals are doing to put an end to the devastating crime of CSA, which has wreaked utter havoc in scores of innocent lives over so many years.
Sadly, many people, including some in leadership positions, are ill-informed of the detrimental effects of child molestation. The average person who has not suffered through CSA doesn’t realize how so many of the abused suffer for years or decades from feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, shame, guilt, and pain. Many of the victims—due to their profound pain and skewed sense of self—find temporary relief in all forms of destructive behavior, including molesting a new generation of children. Many of them fall prey to terrible addictions in order to escape their agony. Untold numbers of these innocent souls are haunted by unbearable nightmares that won’t allow them to lead a normal life internally. Most of them struggle to maintain functional marriages, since their sexual boundaries have been brutally violated.
Though recovery is surely possible—for the soul is more powerful than all else, and the Divine infinite power within each of us can overcome all darkness—the pain they must endure is heart-wrenching.
Many people are equally ill-informed of how rampant the problem is, and of the great number of our youth that have been victimized over the years.
But, thankfully, a new dawn has arrived.
Ever since dedicated volunteers have taken action and established organizations to combat this ugly malady, the issue of child molestation has been brought to the forefront of the community’s attention. It is no longer possible to ignore the seriousness of this epidemic. At last, we have begun—and only begun—to take the necessary steps to eradicate this black stain for good.
Initially, when the efforts began to expose predators’ names and photos, I was concerned that some activists would become obsessed with “witch hunting” and would inadvertently accuse innocent people of committing these terrible crimes—forever tainting their reputation. I was afraid that these investigations might not be thoroughly reviewed and vetted with the hyper-sensitivity and professionalism that this issue calls for. (I still shudder at the thought of an individual’s life being ruined by some mean-spirited person who has an axe to grind.) However, after much scrutiny I have learned that these investigations are thorough and honest. I have also learned that in cases where a past abuser is ready to be fully accountable and to do what it takes to help the victim through the healing-process (and, obviously, with experts testifying that he/she no longer poses a danger to the public), the abuser’s identity is not exposed. Additionally, I am also aware of dozens of cases presented to Jewish Community Watch that are not brought to light due to a lack of sufficient evidence.
Given the above, it is my heartfelt hope that all parents, rabbis, leaders, community activists, educators, principals, spiritual mentors, therapists, social workers and counselors will begin educating themselves regarding the lifelong effects of child molestation. They will then come to understand the untold suffering brought upon victims of CSA. Just as we would do anything to stop a gunman from walking our streets and taking lives, heaven forbid (what Jewish law calls a “rodef”), so must we do anything and everything to stop the people who are murdering the psyches and emotional innocence of our children.
We must also begin educating every single one of our young adults about two critical factors: 1) If they have been molested, help is available. They must know that if they will break the silence and reveal their story, they will be embraced rather than shunned, and will be guided with loving care towards a life of wholesomeness and happiness. We must give all of them the names and contact information of approved professionals, so they can reach out to them if necessary. 2) Preventive medicine: If they might ever be prone to engage in these terrible acts themselves, they must know: A) the horrific impact of such actions, and B) that there are things they can do to help them avoid becoming potential monsters who will surely destroy lives. They must all know that help is readily available for people with an inclination toward touching children inappropriately.
Parents and educators must discuss these dangers with their children and students—both the danger of becoming a victim, as well as the danger of becoming an abuser. Every—and I mean every—Yeshiva bachur must be educated about these two items.
We must also educate the community—both children and adults—on how important it is to talk to someone if they are privy to any sort of abuse being perpetrated in the community. To withhold this kind of information is essentially akin to being an accomplice and an enabler of the unthinkable crime of destroying lives in this vicious cycle. Most victims are too afraid or ashamed to speak up—and surely it is not their fault. They are terrified of being shunned, not believed, and of the possibility of being rejected forever. That is where our community stands today. We must change that and teach all of our youngsters that they will be heard, listened to, believed, and embraced with a loving heart and open arms. They will not be judged or ridiculed. We will treat their pain with the deepest respect and empathy.
Lest you think that the above information is based on speculation, I must tell you that unfortunately that is not the case. I come here today after many years of learning firsthand about the tragic plight of victims, and the ugly plight of abusers—who in the process of murdering others, murder themselves, too. It is now abundantly clear to me that by educating every boy and girl in our educational institutions about the horrors of CSA as outlined above, we will literally rescue countless precious souls from untold years of misery.
One case in point: A young man asked to meet with me some time ago. His story is not uncommon: He had been sexually molested in a particular Yeshiva by an older student who had been studying in this Yeshiva and was serving as a spiritual mentor of sorts to younger students. As the victim grew older, he in turn began to molest children himself, including his own siblings. (One of the facts about CSA is that it is often committed by close relatives or friends, and sometimes by very religious-looking people.) Concurrently, he had also become addicted to viewing unmentionable smut, which became part of his daily routine. He completely lost his boundaries for intimacy. Though he was—and still is—an extremely good-hearted young man, he was trapped in the disease of addiction and paralyzed by endless shame and guilt. He got married, but his marriage inevitably soon became dysfunctional. Floundering to survive, he discovered addictive drugs and was soon using them every day—including Yom Kippur. Finally, after hitting “rock-bottom,” this shattered “abused-abuser” shared his story with me. It was the first time that he had shared his true story with anyone, and it took him more than twenty years for to open up! He broke down and wept uncontrollably.
So many lives were destroyed from the actions of that older student. And so many lives could have been spared if the young man, the initial victim, would have known as a young adult that help is available and that he didn’t have to suffer all alone.
The brokenness and utter despondency I observed in this young man—and in many others with similar stories–is typical of victims of CSA. Many of them feel broken and crushed to the very core of their existence. Having been violated in the most vulnerable, holiest, and most sensitive part of their being—the part within us that most reflects G-d, possessing the ability to create new life—makes them feel like their lives are worthless.
Too much blood has been shed on the altar of silence and fear without anyone uttering even a cry. Victims have lived far too long by the code of shame and silence, always blaming themselves for the cruelty of their perpetrators. The devil of abuse has been allowed to grow strong and rampant because of our silence. It is time to declare all-out war—a war of information and education—against the silent bullets that have claimed thousands of our holiest and most beautiful souls.
We as a community must—and will—come forward publicly to support every effort being made on behalf of our innocent and precious youth. With Hashem’s help, we will succeed.
For such is the nature of light: it dispels even the densest of darkness.
Sincerely and thankfully, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson