May 25, 2024
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Support Victims of Abuse: Don’t Let History Repeat Itself

Several weeks ago news broke regarding an influential member of our community, with dire accusations. The story has come to a shocking end with the accused taking his own life.

Complex situations often cannot be put into nice, neat packages. Confusion and varied points of view are normal and common when these events occur. One of the emerging viewpoints has been one of sadness for family members. In addition, this viewpoint is stressing an adherence to the halachos of lashon hara, and of course, that is a necessity. Negligently destroying someone’s reputation without any shred of evidence or credibility is a terrible act, and goes against everything we stand for. However, these points do not hold up in the face of destroying the lives of victims.

There is another viewpoint that must be presented on behalf of victims of abuse worldwide. Although I am not a leader of any particular community, I have spoken to a number of rabbanim and communal leaders, and Baruch Hashem, at least quietly, they have been very supportive of the message that must get out. Baruch Hashem, a small group of rabbanim have written about this vital viewpoint, but they are few and far between, and this message must be presented with the volume and attention it deserves. Bemakom she’ain Ish … If others are not saying it, I’ll say it.

Let’s not forget how traumatic this episode has been for the victims, whose years of suffering have been further compounded. Not only do they no longer have any way of facing their abuser, a crucial step in getting proper closure and moving on with their lives, but turning this event into an anti-lashon hara crusade effectively tells victims of abuse that their pain doesn’t matter, only that of a bereaved family. Victims carry the pain of their abuse every day and every waking hour of their lives; for some, the scars remain forever. I can’t even begin to count how often our founder, Mendy Klein, z”l, would shed tears that sexual abuse can be more horrific than murder, because while death brings an end to suffering, abuse victims live in torment every day unless they get the help that they need to go from being a victim to being a survivor.

Countless people tend to come out and support abusers and alleged abusers, but we don’t see the same when it comes to supporting victims. It is so heartbreaking to see innocent victims revictimized. I myself have spoken to many gedolim who confirmed to me that they have met with victims, corroborated their stories and even provided piskei halacha, saying that they should go to the police with their stories, both recently over the accusations surfacing now, as well as over the years. Publicly supporting victims is vital and therapeutic. Merely supporting them quietly and in private conversations with others is a good start, but it still leaves the victims unaware of such support and can deepen their pain and trauma.

Each time we fail to seize an opportunity to break stigmas and provide a voice for those who cannot speak up for themselves, we as a community become complicit in the abuses that have taken place. Worse yet, we provide a safe haven for sexual predators and their defenders by excusing any mention of their unspeakable actions as lashon hara, chilul Hashem, embarrassing the abuser or hurting their children.

Why are we not standing up for those who are abused? How are we allowing them to be revictimized? What about their embarrassment and that of their children? We have set our community back light years, creating a tragic scenario where innocent victims will be afraid to speak out because the community will label them as rodfim and murderers, instead of placing the blame squarely where it belongs—on the shoulders of those who abuse them.

Ironically, we often see a common denominator in abuse cases, with abusers threatening victims or their families—whether it is physically, financially, emotionally, socially or communally—or abusers vowing to destroy themselves or their own families in an effort to prevent their victims from speaking out. It’s time we stop blaming victims when abusers get divorced, are jailed or take their own lives, and remember that abusers bear the responsibility for those consequences which, sadly, can impact their own children as well.

Let me make this very, very clear. A person who abuses people is guilty. Individuals who know about abuse and do nothing are guilty. Community leaders who know about abuse and refuse to support victims and their loved ones don’t get a free pass because they hold positions of honor—they too are guilty. I leave it to the beit din shel ma’ala to stand in judgment.

To the victims, we hear you, we will fight for you, and you are not alone. Do not ever think that your reporting of abuse can be the cause of someone killing themselves or harming others in any way. Your duty is to keep yourself and your family safe, and we will never stop supporting you. If the abuser reacts to this situation in any way other than getting themselves the help they need, that is their fault, and not yours. They are the perpetrator, and they need to seek the help available to them to express remorse, face their victims and go to therapy.

One final point. To all those who are struggling with thoughts, feelings and urges regarding crossing boundaries with other people, or who have already, unfortunately, started to go down that path, seek help before it’s too late.

It is my hope that strong leadership will emerge from this terrible situation, to support victims of abuse on all levels—emotionally, therapeutically, communally, and yes, publicly.

May Hashem bless those who have been traumatized with the strength and the courage to go on and may we all see the day that we can change the narrative, so we are truly there to support those in need.


Rabbi Zvi Gluck is the CEO of Amudim, an organization dedicated to helping abuse victims and those suffering with addiction within the Jewish community. He has been heavily involved in crisis intervention and management for the past 22 years. For more information go to www.amudim.org.

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