Friday, April 17, 2009

"Saying it Like it is" - Bullying, Intimidation, Extortion Attempts

"Saying it Like it is" - Bullying, Intimidation, Extortion Attempts
© (2009) Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC, NCC

Vicki Polin, Founder/Director
The Awareness Center, Inc.
Years ago I worked at a rape crisis center with children who were sexually victimized.  

I'll never forget the wisdom of "Jodi", who was a six-year-old child.  An hour prior to being put on the stand as the sole eyewitness in a murder trial, I had to tell Jodi that the judge made a last minute ruling against using closed circuit TV.  Jodi was going to have to be in the same room as the man she witnessed murdering another child.

I'll never forget taking Jodi into a private room and trying to find the right words to gently inform her that of what she was about to face. 

Jodi sensed my apprehension and looked directly at me as she put one hand on her hip, and pointed a finger at me -- and said "Vicki, just say it like it is."  So I did, and little Jodi  provided testimony as a pro and was able to help convict a man she feared.

I have to admit Jodi taught me a life lesson and I've lived by her wisdom ever since.

Over the last eight years of advocating for survivors of sex crimes from within the Jewish community, I've seen so much 'game playing' taking place that would make anyone sick.  There's been times that I can't help but wonder if I was crazy to think that things would ever change, and that The Awareness Center could actually help ease the pain for survivors and also put an end to sexual violence in Jewish communities. 

In some ways I guess Jewish communities are lucky that I'm stubborn, and because of that The Awareness Center continues on.

I do believe miracles can and do happen.  As a people and as  a nation we all need to stick together and not give in to the bullying, intimidating and extortion attempts conducted by individuals who are doing what they can to keep sex crimes a secret and trying to protect images that are false and assets that are not worth keeping -- when children's lives are at stake.

As we all know these types actions that create these sorts of silencing behaviors are not just limited to the Jewish community, they occur in of all faiths, races and creeds -- within their own communities.

The only way things will ever change is if everyone speaks out and shows their rage at the way things have been handled.  We all MUST demand change, and not caving into bullying, intimidating and extortion attempts made by those who are protecting offenders or  organizations' assets.

The reality is that over the last eight years those who have been involved with the inner workings of The Awareness Center have been verbally attacked and or shunned.

I'll never forget the day I was walking out of Seven Mile Market, which is a kosher grocery story in Baltimore; A well dressed woman came up from behind my car, screaming at me.  This woman was angered because The Awareness Center has the case of Rabbi Eliezer Eisgrau listed on our sex offender registry as an "alleged" sex offender.

The case of Rabbi Eisgrau is very complex in which there have been several accusations of child molestation, including an allegation coming from Rabbi Eisgrau's own daughter. 
Rabbi Eisgrau is also the principal of the Torah Institute of Baltimore, and several parents have made complaints of his use of corporal punishment on the children in his care.  Instead of making police reports, the parents chose to enroll their children in other schools.

When the Torah observant woman started screaming, I automatically tried to back away. The woman's reaction was to run up to me and spit in my face.

I was in a state of shock.  What I should have done was call 911. Spitting in ones face is considered an assault, unfortunately I didn't think of doing that until I got home.  At the time all I wanted to do was get away from there.  

Several years ago when the allegations were first made public regarding the case of Rabbi Hershy Worch, someone broke into my home.  All that was taken was the file regarding his case -- which was easily put back together from those who supplied The Awareness Center with the original information.  Last years a book was written about Rabbi Worch during his rein of terror in Australia

I think the most intense time for The Awareness Center was during the time period that the cases of rabbi Marc Gafni, rabbi Mordecai Tendler and rabbi Shlomo Carlebach were brought to the attention of the news media. A small group of thugs joined forces in their attempts to destroy not only The Awareness Center, yet also those associated with our organization.

I'll never forget when I first heard that Rabbi Saul Berman was circulating a letter in which he was attacking my personhood.  At the time I had never heard of him, yet as time progressed that changed.  Rabbi Berman had issue with the fact that I was a guest on the Oprah show back in 1989.  On the show I shared some of my experiences of being abused as a child. 

Rabbi Berman set out to destroy anything or anyone in his attempts to protect rabbi Marc Gafni.  As time progressed Gafni confessed to Gary Rosenblatt (editor of the New York Jewish Week) of molesting teenage girls. 

To this day Rabbi Berman has never appoligized directly to the Gafni survivors, the majority of the board members of The Awareness Center, nor to myself for his abusive behavior and attempts to cover up for a confessed sex offender.

I'm not unlike any other person who works in the Anti-Rape field who speak out publicly. I stand up for truth and justice -- and refuse to give in to political pressure.

I strongly believe that those who have been sexually assaulted deserve to have their voices heard and their civil rights protected.  I also strongly believe that each survivor of any type of crime deserves to have their day in court.

I also believe that one should not have to ask their rabbi for permission to go to secular authorities when a crime has been committed.  I am also outraged that in some communities it is expected that one would need permission to seek counseling and need approval from their rabbi of what therapist they would see.

One of the things that happens to those of us who let our views be known is that there are times, in the orthodox world that long time friends will start to distance themselves from you.  Speaking out is not something that's very acceptable -- let alone for a woman to do so.

Unfortunately, there have been various rabbonim, who have been attempting to persuade their community members not to communicate with anyone connected to The Awareness Center, including myself.  These religious community leaders have been telling their congregants that our organization is practicing lashon hara and that I am crazy.  They base this on the fact that I back in 1989 I spoke out on national TV sharing my child abuse history.

I was on the Oprah Show during a time that the Anti-Rape movement was still pretty much in its infancy.  Speaking out publicly as an incest survivor, was something that was still pretty taboo in the secular world.

Prior to going on The Oprah Show, an agreement was made that Oprah would not mention I was Jewish.  Unfortunately, she made a mistake and said the word.  All we both could do from there on, was to just rolled with the punches.

Though things have changed dramatically in the secular word, the reality is that the orthodox world is  at least twenty - thirty years behind the times.  It hard to believe that in 2009, it is  extremely taboo for someone who is an orthodox Jewish to say that they were molested as a child --  especially if one's offender was also a Jew, let alone a parent.

My abuse was severe at times, and because of that I developed an extreme form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is called a Dissociative Identity Disorder (or Multiple Personality Disorder).

I am extremely fortunate that I have not  dissociated in many years.  It's really a miracle that I was able to over come so much, put myself through school and that some see me as  a role model.  My healing journey was anything but easy.  I had my ups and downs -- and I really do thank G-d every day for helping me heal.

What sickens me the most is that so called Jewish spiritual leaders have been attempting to use the fact that I was abused as a child against me.  These individuals have tried to use the fact that I developed a dissociative disorder to cope from the horrendous abuse I endured as a child -- as a weapon against my personhood.

What saddens me a great deal is that they neglected to mention when they try to convince people I'm insane, is  the fact with a great deal of hard work, I no longer dissociate.

What I'll never be able to understand is why -- anyone would follow a rabbi or any type of spiritual leader who would behave in this manor?

Would you really want these types of thug to have an influence on our children, let alone on your spiritual well being?  

David Mandel, CEO - Ohel
Let's go back to February, 2008 -- when the Vaad HaRabbonim of Baltimore (Jewish Religious Court) sponsored an event in which David Mandel spoke. 

Mandel is the Chief Executive Officer of OHEL Children's Home and Family Services in Brooklyn.  Ohel is the largest ultra-orthodox mental health agency, which receives both state and federal funding -- making all employees mandated reporters.

During the workshop, David Mandel encourage audience members NOT to report cases of suspected child abuse or neglect to secular legal authorities.  Instead this mandated reporter suggests to the audience bring suspicions of abuse to their local rabbis, who are not mandated to report in the state of Maryland. 

Fortunately, Awareness Center volunteers were able to record the presentation and we were able to place it up on YouTube (see below).

As a result of exposing Mandel's words publicly, the CEO of the largest Jewish mental health agency has been sending out e-mails to those who contact him stating that I am crazy.

What I think is crazy is that the Chief Operating Officer from a publicly funded mental health agency is violating Jewish law, by telling community members NOT to follow the law of the land.

What I find most interesting is that David Mandel has never sat down and spoke with me to assess my mental health status, yet then again he is not even qualified to do so. He is not a licensed mental health professional. His educational background is in business.  He has NO clinical degree.

My insanity must be showing when I ask the question -- "Why doesn't David Mandel believe that children from Jewish orthodox homes deserve the same civil rights and protection as children from secular backgrounds?"

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