Sunday, March 29, 2009

Similarities between the women's movement and addressing sexual violence in Jewish communities.

© (2009) By Vicki Polin - Founder/CEO
The Awareness Center, Inc.

Addressing sexual violence in Jewish communities internationally has not been an easy task. It's often very lonely and frustrating.  Many of those  connected to The Awareness Center (professionals and survivors) have been harassed, spit at, and shunned by community members, etc.

Unfortunately, too many "authority" in the orthodox world have been spreading all sorts of rumors regarding myself and those connected to our organization.  It appears that the goal of these "authorities" has  been to divide and separate Jewish survivors of sex crimes who come from insulated communities, from getting appropriate help from those who REALLY have the education, training and experience to help them heal and also from having cases prosecuted using the criminal justice system.

At first one would think it makes sense that the cultural differences in the orthodox world would need to address sex crimes differently then anyone else. What the religious leaders neglect to tell survivors is that The Awareness Center is made up of many survivors and professionals who are from orthodox backgrounds. It's true, I did not grow up in an orthodox home and that I am no longer observant -- yet what many of those who attack The Awareness Center fail to mention is that I did spend just under 10 years of my life living in the orthodox world.

It saddens me a great deal that a group of people would act in such a way to divide and separate Jewish survivors. One of the first things I was taught when I went to Neve (a women's seminary in Jerusalem) is that "A Jew is a Jew is a Jew".  If we go back to the time of Nazi Germany, we all would have been sent to the ovens together. The Nazi's would not care if someone was orthodox, conservative, traditional, Reform, Jewish Renewal or unaffiliated.

If a house was on fire in orthodox community, the owner of the home and their neighbors wouldn't think twice of what to do. They would call 911 immediately. I don't know of one person who would consult with their local orthodox rabbi to get permission. When one suspects that a child is at risk of harm or suspect a child is being neglected we should all consider ourselves to be mandated reporters. One should call either the state child protection hot-line or your local police.

I have to admit that I have become cynical over the last ten years of running The Awareness Center.  No matter how long one works with a given community I don't think I will ever be able to understand is why so many "orthodox survivors" continue to buy in to the illusion that is being created by the same individuals who are covering up sex crimes and hide sexual predators. Orthodox survivors (adults and children) deserve the same civil rights and protections as the rest of society.  It is so frustrating to watch them blindly trust individuals who care more about their assets or that of the organizations they are connected to -- then they do about their children and or adults who have been assaulted. Thinking about this send chills up and down my spine.

As one survivor stated "most of the Orthodox Jewish community sees Vicki Polin as a pariah, because they prefer to deny the problem and keep their heads in the sand."

While consulting with the executive director of another organization regarding the harassment and extortion attempts those of us connected to The Awareness Center experience -- she referred to the treatment as being similar to the early days of the women's movement. She reminded me of the suffering that heroic women as "the Susan B. Anthony, endured. She even referred to me as being "The Susan B. Anthony for Jewish survivors of sexual violence". I have to admit I was extremely flattered, yet I know that I'm far from accomplishing as much as Susan, nor have I ever come close to the hardship that Susan or the other suffragist experienced.

The reality is that Susan B. Anthony died before she was able to take part in the first election in which women were allowed to vote in the United States. I also realize that most likely I will not live long enough to see my goals for survivors in Jewish communities. All one can do is the best they can within ones lifetime. All we can all do is to make the lives of as many Jewish survivors better as possible and hope that one day children will no longer become victims of sex crimes.

For those of you who are not familiar with Susan B. Anthony, she was a prominent civil rights leader who played a pivotal role in the the women's rights movement. You can read more about her here

This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago.

Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.

The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote.
And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic.'

(Lucy Burns) They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.

(Dora Lewis) They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.
Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote. For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms.

(Alice Paul) When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.


Anonymous said...

I'm cynical as well. They all go absolutely nuts when a "kosher" butcher is caught selling traif meat...but when an orthodox rabbi is caught abusing women and children, suddenly the victims are the enemy.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Vicki for writing this very important piece.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Vicki for your bravery and tenacity. I think your analogy was perfect. It sickens me to sit back and watch that all these men are coming out as "experts" in the orthodox world. Where are all the women? We all know that girls get abuse far more often then boys.