Sunday, February 13, 2005

Tops and Tales

Motty had his first sexual experience at the age of nine. A boy from a higher class took him on the back of his bike to a secluded spot where he proceeded to “show him the ropes.” By Motty’s account he actually only showed him one rope because, as Motty declares in a delicious mix of metaphors “I refused to play ball.”

This was recounted to me by Motty (not his real name of course) in a mail following a post I wrote a while back. Other members of his class, all currently approaching middle age, confirm that this was by no means an isolated incident. To be perfectly frank, my own experiences would certainly support that. The fact that it happened comes therefore as no surprise to me. What does surprise me is the fact that so many years later he still feels the need to insist that he did not willingly participate.

In the course of writing this piece I spoke to almost a dozen Chassidic men who all claim to have been victims in their very early teens. One had a teacher who forced himself upon him and another had ongoing relationships with some young newlyweds since the age of thirteen. All were initially unwilling to discuss details and all once they started could not tell me enough. I am not prepared to publish all the actual events that occurred. In a small incestuous community like ours it would not take long before victims were identified and that is not my purpose. What I do want to talk about is the worrying lack of awareness within our community.

The first thing that struck me was that most had not seen themselves as victims at all. They spoke of guilt and remorse or else they regarded it as an unfortunate result of childish immaturity. At the time I spoke to them not one was concerned that the perpetrator, mostly adults at the time of their crime, had re-offended or would. Furthermore, while a third of the incidents I heard happened in or around the mikve, only one of the fathers had insisted on having his own sons supervised when going. Not one of them was angry.

I vividly remember going to my Rosh Yeshiva (principle) when I was around sixteen to discuss with him a problem I was having with someone who was too attentive and who seemed to be always accidentally brushing against my nether regions. It is not an easy discussion to have with anybody. With a perpetually angry white-bearded maniac who considers you a pain in a similar area it is even harder. He masterfully got rid of my embarrassment by suggesting that I should explore within myself what I was doing wrong to encourage such behaviour. The anger at that injustice was probably one of the triggers that made me leave the Yeshiva and the community for a long while.

I have never regained my faith in the learning-class. It is this lack of sensitivity to anything but what says in the Heilige Torah that causes me to question the validity of not only their teaching but even their piety. When Rabbis cover for child molesters, because they don’t want to cause a Chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name), they are committing the ultimate injustice and the ultimate Chillul Hashem.

In all fairness it has to be said that they do not realise they are useless. In a system where Rabbanim are appointed by other Rabbanim, where there is no test for competence and no lessons in practice, it is hardly surprising that we are blessed with Rabbis who cannot speak in public and cannot stop speaking in private. Rabbis who were appointed for their political affiliation (or lack of one) rather than their prowess in rabbinity and who are far more interested in ensuring our teachers do not get the wrong training than in ensuring our kids do not.

Child molestation is not a problem unique to little boys or our community. The fact it occurs should not be cause for embarrassment; it happens everywhere. We should be hanging our heads in shame however for so adamantly refusing to deal with the perpetrators or the victims.

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