May 16, 2012
May 10, a New York Times article reports, “Ultra-Orthodox Shun Their Own for Reporting Child Sexual Abuse.” The story details the dire consequences many Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn continue to face for daring to report child molestation and abuse to secular authorities. As we have all heard reports about for the last few years with the recent controversy over Roman Catholic clerical sexual abuse, the incidents, and the religious community response to anyone daring to break the code of silence that keeps victims hidden and perpetrators un-noticed, transcends religions. Blaming the victims and protecting the abusers is not just a Roman Catholic problem, or an Orthodox Jewish one for that matter.
I know all about this from my personal life. I too grew up in a very conservative religious community. In my case, it was Evangelical, “Born-Again” Christian. I grew up hearing sermons from Jack Van Impe, Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and countless others whose names I’ve forgotten across the years, all of whom would probably be considered Tea Party today for their ultra-conservatism. When I was in junior high I remember an older, teen peer being shunned in a formal church service, ex-communicated and banned from our church for pre-marital sex. With so much hidden (or not so hidden) pain of my own to go through, I did not process at the time (or perhaps could not in that religious environment) exactly what I had witnessed in seeing that shunning.
It is time our organized religions stop this conspiracy of blame and conspiracy of silence. No one makes a man or woman beat another. No one makes someone rape anyone. Responsibility for these terrible things lies on the person who does them. Surviving doesn’t make you dirty or sinful or evil or corrupt or anti your religion. When you suffer this, you are NOT to blame, no matter what someone says. Churches, synagogues, temples, religious communities of every theology and structure all need to stop this behavior. No matter how many weapons a perpetrator has or how powerful s/he is physically, not one abuser can continue without the silent consent of the group. When the group stands against these horrible things, the violence STOPS.
Violence is not the victim’s problem; it is everyone’s problem. We are all diminished every time a person is verbally demeaned, every time someone is forced into a non-consensual sexual act, every time someone is physically assaulted. Responsibility lies with all of us. If we do nothing to help the person in jeopardy, if we ignore the screams, if we turn away instead of intervening, then we have only empowered those doing these things.