Sunday, September 13, 2009
Lisa’s story: How do we help sexual abuse victims survive?
© (2009) by Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC
The story I am about to share is not uncommon, yet is one in which is rarely discussed in the Jewish community: The Awareness Center was contacted by an adult survivor of child sexual abuse who was recently sexually victimized by the relative of a good friend. We'll call her "Lisa."
It took Lisa weeks to make a police report because she feared losing her friend and her community. She became very irritable, depressed and was having difficulty sleeping. She finally called a rape-crisis hotline, which helped her to make a police report.
Lisa’s fear was that if she did this she would lose everything that had meaning to her, yet she also wanted to feel safe again.
Lisa did everything in her power to do the right thing. She wanted to maintain a friendship with the relative, yet after making a police report against her offender, the longtime friendship ended.
Lisa’s story is not unlike many other women put into this same position. She had to make some difficult choices.
She could keep her silence, which would help her maintain the long-term friendship, or she could fight to have the right to choose who has the right to touch her body.
Unfortunately, by choosing to fight to protect her body, she ended up losing a friend -- and the entire community she belonged to.
Lisa is no longer welcome in the home of her friend, nor in the only synagogue she knew and felt comfortable attending.
The high holidays are approaching and Lisa has no place she feels safe to daven (pray). She described her experience as being shunned by the only family and home she ever really felt safe in.
Lisa has been in tears feeling that she is being punished for trying to protect herself and other women who might also have been assaulted by her offender. She said she would be unable to walk into any other shul for fear that this could happen again, and that if she made new friends she could lose them all over again.
We all need to understand that a vast number of those who were sexually abused as children stand a higher risk of being sexually victimized again in adulthood. The Awareness Center hears numerous accounts of this phenomenon happening several times a month.
As a people and a nation, we as Jews need to figure out what we can we do to help survivors like Lisa! Please do what you can to start discussions on this issue with your rabbis, other community leaders, synagogues and friends.
Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC is the founder and director of The Awareness Center, which is the international Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor with over twenty-five years of experience working in the sexual trauma field.