Friday, January 24, 2003

Soul Searching: Sexual Abuse, Cults, and Missionaries

Soul Searching: Sexual Abuse, Cults, and Missionaries
© (2003) by Vicki Polin, MA, ATR, LCPC and Na'ama Yehuda, MSC, SLP, TSHH

Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people; neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor" (Leviticus 19:16).

Where is God? Is he/she really out there? If there really is a God why did he/she allow me to get hurt as a child? These are very common question amongst survivors of childhood sexual abuse. But why should we care? After all, Jews don't abuse their children! Or do they?

Unfortunately, in the past many Jewish survivors of sexual abuse have been met with denial, rationalizations, and blame from various "trusted officials" in the Jewish community when they'd reached out for help. It's still not uncommon for a survivor to go to various rabbinical authorities with their questions; and end up feeling rejected when they disclosed their abuse histories. Time after time adults who, as children, were subjected to sexual criminal activities, were told that the mere fact that they were disclosing their victimization was considered lashon hara ('derogatory speech, that is true'). Basically meaning the fact that they were speaking out, was wrong.

Did you ever stop and wonder "What happens to an individual who feels betrayed by their own community?" Some survivors may try to find another rabbi to talk to, but all too often doing so, seems like a futile task. After all, how many times does a person have to feel rejected? It is important to remember that survivors are not unlike ourselves--they are searching for answers. Jewish survivors of childhood abuse need to hear loud and clear that they were NOT and are NOT to blame; that God did not cause the abuse as some form of punishment. Survivors need to know that they are NOT innately "bad." However, when an individual is told that their disclosure in of itself is considered " lashon hara". . . what they hear is: "God hates me", "I must be the one who's bad." Keeping this in mind, where can a survivor of childhood sexual abuse go to for spiritual guidance? Especially when they already feel that they have been rejected by our rabbis and possibly the rest of our community. Many will continue on, searching for a spiritual identity. Sadly, all too often they fall prey to missionaries and cult leaders, or just drift into some form of eclectic spirituality.

Statistics in the United States depict that one out of every 3-5 women and one out of 5-7men have been sexually abused by the time they reached their 18th birthday. General research about cult and cult-like groups indicate a high percentage of members who have been victims of childhood abuse. 

Unfortunately, at this time there is no data specifying the percentage of "Jewish cult victims" who have histories of childhood sexual abuse.

According to facts provided by Jews for Judaism, nearly 1.4 million of the approximately 5.5. million adults of Jewish parentage and/or upbringing in the United States, affiliate with or have converted to a religion other than Judaism. There are over 900 separate missionary groups targeting Jewish communities for conversion, with over $250 million spent annually.

The cult problem is so prevalent, that the chances of a family member joining a cult are greater than a family member catching chicken pox, four times greater than contracting AIDS, 90 times greater than contracting measles, and 45,000 times greater than contracting polio. (Dr. Paul Martin, director of Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center, Ohio). When we consider the relationship between childhood sexual abuse and joining cults in the general population, and in light on the above statistics, we need to face the very real possibility that there is a correlation between childhood sexual abuse and the numbers of Jews who leave Judaism. We desperately need to confront and address these problems.

Clearly, it is extremely difficult to even entertain the thought that Jews would abuse their own children, let alone that individuals who represent Jewish life and have a connection with Torah would. "How could they (e.g. Rabbis, teachers, youth leaders) do anything so terrible as commit sexual offenses against our children"? The problem is that when these issues are brought up, they are met with denial, dismissal, protection of the alleged offender(s), and various other forms of rationalizations.

All too often both professionals in the field and survivors will hear things such as: "Why bring the stuff up now?" "Why muddy up people's reputation, after all the good they've done for so many?" Once again, we need to be reminded that innocent children are getting hurt. When we deny someone who has been violated a voice, we face loosing them to other religions. When we turn a blind eye, we are saying that it is okay for our children to be the next ones hurt.

We are all aware today of what's happening in the Catholic Church. However, Jewish communities around the globe have been guilty of same or similar actions. As a community, we need to stop discounting survivors stories, rationalizing that they couldn't have happened, and/or covering up the truth. We need to stop blaming victims. It's time to break this cycle!

Nothing would make us happier than to be able to say that the Jewish community is immune to such atrocities, but sadly it is not. "Letting by gones be by gones" is hardly the way to start healing the deep wounds many in our community are suffering. We can no longer go along with saying "an event happened such a long time ago, why talk about it now, just get past it." Please note that for many victims of sexual abuse, time may past, but on an emotional level the abuse just happened. They develop something called: PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

We need to let the victims/survivors of sexual crimes have a voice (the actions done to them were criminal offenses)--they need to be heard, and validated, not be re-victimized. It is important that we stop telling them to "hush up." Remember the statistics: one out of every 3-5 women, and one out of every 5 -7 men in our communities were most likely sexually victimized as children. If we want to keep them Jewish, it's time that we BELIEVE our children (and the adult survivors).

As a people, we need to do something NOW. We can't allow one more child to be hurt. If we do, we face the fact that another disillusioned Jew may fall prey to another missionary and/or cult.

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