Thursday, December 20, 2012

For Tamar, A Brave Survivor

For Tamar, A Brave Survivor
By Michael J. Salamon
The Times of Israel - December 20, 2012

I often receive letters, e-mails and texts from people commenting on some topic or suggesting that I write about an incident. I try to respond to as many as of these as possible while avoiding those that are not constructive. Someone called me a hero for tackling a range of topics considered taboo and writing a book on the Shidduch Crisis and another one on the topic of Abuse. I am without a doubt not a hero but I am very much moved by the people I treat, to help and empower them to form a better life and overcome the challenges of their past.  

I do not focus exclusively on nor do I write write primarily about abuse but the restrictions society places on the topic makes it a fascinating read for many and causes it to collect some notoriety.

There are, unfortunately, many forms of abuse. There have been several recent publicized cases of teachers, rabbis and unlicensed counselors abusing the children entrusted to them. There have even been reports of parents abusing children.The public is becoming much more aware of these situations and when I write about the accepted statistic that one in about four women and one in about eight men will be abused by the time their are eighteen there is a pause to contemplate the enormity of this information. I have considered writing about yet another form of abuse. It exists, I have treated people who have been abused by older siblings .- incest between siblings, but I have not found a way to address it, that is until now. Tamar, someone I do not know, sent me an E mail about her experience. I excerpt it here with her permission in the hope that it raises awareness and helps her heal.

I remember the day I realized I was a victim. I was sitting by the pool with a friend gossiping about girls we knew from summer camp.“She feels she has no innocence anyway” my friend said about another girl at the pool  ”she was raped by her brother, so why should she save herself?” 

I look up in disgusted shock. Unfortunately at age 14 it already was not uncommon to hear that someone was sexually abused, but incest?

“Yea and her parents won’t do anything about it, so she’s angry. Her mother is a yeshiva principal, this would destroy their reputation, so they don’t help her.” 

I ask about another girl. She answers “Well, she wasn’t  raped, but she was molested by her older brother and her parents won’t do anything about it either.” 

The words repeated over and over. She was molested by her older brother. Somewhere in my subconscious things start ticking away. These thoughts assault me like being held underwater.  Never in my life had I even given any thought to putting a name or title on what had happened to me. Instead  I  buried it  in a closet in my heart and never thought about it . Until that very moment, at a pool party, one week before starting high school memories.  Molested? Me? It couldn’t be! Such an ugly word could not possibly describe something that happened to me!  I sit down by my old school desktop PC. I type those hateful words into Google ‘She was molested by her brother’.  I begin to read firsthand accounts of sibling molestation. Some stories describe my life verbatim.

“It’s just a game, don’t be afraid. We’re just kidding around!” He says to me.

“But it’s weird I don’t think we should do it” I reply.

“Don’t worry everyone does it, it’s just a game! ” His response seems convicing.

I flashback to the time I confessed to my parents. I was ten. They freaked out, and I believed the fury was aimed at me. They went screaming out of the room to find my brother. He told them I was pulling a prank and I was repeating stuff I heard on TV. They ate it up. Obviously it’s easier to accept a lie then deal with a harsh truth like this. I got yelled at to never ever joke about something like that again. Well, I didn’t. I felt so ashamed for taking part in something so disgusting that it would cause such an uproar, ashamed for making my parents angry, and ashamed for betraying my brother.

The “games” stopped after that. Though they made a reappearance every once in a while as I grew into an adolescent. There were days I would come home and find my brother lying in my bed, exposed. He would tell me I owed it to him. And I did owe him. My brother took the place that my parents should have occupied. He bought me clothes, school supplies; he fought my battles for me. He taught me how to play sports and he introduced me to new friends.

As a very young adult, I was  blind, deaf, and mute when the games would reappear.  My brain knew I should run, yell, tell him he’s sick. But every time I would just stare in shock, frozen in place, not knowing what to do or say. Words unable to leave my tongue.

Despite these memories, it took me until I was fourteen years old, in the middle of a pool party to realize that something had gone very wrong in my life.

She was  molested by her older brother

Those words changed my life.

I feel like many people have an image of what a survivor of sexual abuse looks like. No longer religious, angry, estranged from the family, dresses rebelliously. I can tell you I am none of those things. If you pass me on the street you will see a standard young Jewish woman, typically found in a blouse and pencil skirt. A rising young professional, with a good relationship with God, my family, and especially with my brother.  I look and act just like you, and just want to move forward with my life. Soak up this image, because it describes the majority of survivors.  This is reality.

There are many messages in Tamar’s piece but none so glaring as this – abuse can happen and when a child reports it they should be believed.

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