Abuse Survivor: An Open Letter To My Community

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NEW YORK (VINnews) — Dear random anonymous person on the internet,

What if it were your daughter? Your sister? Your brother? Your best friend?

Would you still be out here screaming Lashon Hora? Innocent until proven guilty?

If you answered in the affirmative, you can stop reading now. You’re not my target audience. I’m looking for those who can actually stop defending for a second and just…..listen.

Because we really really need you to listen to us.

I needed you to listen, weeks ago when this story broke. When I tried to make you understand that multiple victims, with therapist and family corroboration, should be enough for you to stop shouting me down with that completely misused term “innocent until proven guilty”.

Shifra Horovitz, the Walder victim who so tragically ended her life today, needed you to listen. Not to defend. Not to ignore.

For my own healing, I promised myself that I wouldn’t check to see what you were saying about the Walder saga. That I wouldn’t allow myself to be triggered by the social media outrage machine or the frum press’ role in this. My inner voice told me that was a sign of growth; that it was self-compassion to not engage with opinions that may be unkind to abuse survivors like myself.

But even I couldn’t completely block you out.

Partly because well-meaning friends still shared some of the more outrageous takes, but more so because no matter how many years you’ve been in therapy, and how many thousands of hours spent practicing self-love, there is still a part of you that feels soothed when it hears “we believe you”. That inner child, wounded to the core, forever looking for reassurance and validation. The victim who spent years being told (and internalizing) how bad they were, will never tire of hearing “it’s not your fault. You are a good person. You are not lying.”

That’s what was so powerful about the communal response to this story. It marks one of the first times that large institutions in our society took a stand and said “we believe the victims”.

Every bookstore owner, every Yeshiva head, every publisher who grappled with this and chose to pull those books off their shelves deserves to be applauded.

Each and every one of those decisions was a brave one, and long overdue.

But our daughters and sons deserve better. A lot better. Shifra deserved better.

We deserve better than to have one of our premier gedolim describe Walder’s crimes as “adultery”, and to accuse of murder those who raised their voices against this monster. We deserve better than having to witness the sendoff he got; from the mayor of B’nei B’rak providing a eulogy, to the large crowd at his funeral, to the chief rabbi of Israel visiting the shiva house without at least putting out a statement for his victims.

And we deserve better than to have our news media refer to Walder as A”H or Z”L (of blessed memory), or to have the story completely ignored for weeks by most of the mainstream press in our circles.

Because every time our press chooses to not report on this, a survivor understands: “an image is more important to protect than a child”
Every time you say “It’s Lashon Hora”, survivors hear “your story shouldn’t be shared”.
Every time you say “innocent until proven guilty”, we hear “you are lying”.

There has to be a better way. Because silence is what enables these horrors to happen in the first place, talking about it openly is the only way to fight it.

And what exactly does “innocent until proven guilty” even mean in this context?

Does it mean that I was lying when I told my best friend when it happened? What if I told my mother? My therapist years later? What if all their stories matched up?
Would that be enough to convince you?

Because that’s what happened in Walder’s case. With multiple victims. And the loved ones they confided in. Yet the defenders still shout this well-meaning, but misguided slogan.

How can someone be “proven guilty”? Will a guilty verdict in court convince you? Because I don’t see that making much difference to Berland’s defenders.

Because there will always be excuses. We will aways find ways to explain away unpleasant evidence against those we care about: “That newspaper is out to get frum jews. A frum person could never get a fair trial in that system. Those leftists and their anti-torah agenda”.

And therein lies the heart of the matter.

It’s this “us vs. them” component. It’s what makes us so quick to rush to defend “one of ours”, against “them”. And it’s not a bad impulse. We all do it, or at least feel it. It’s that urge to defend someone we love from criticism. That quickening of the heart we feel when someone insults something we care about.

It’s a survival mechanism. Something we as a people likely had no choice but to adopt over millennia of persecution. It’s not evil. There are no villainous leaders in our society who decree that it be this way. It is a mechanism by which Hashem has enabled us to survive through exile.

But like any other adaptive and protective behavior, it can become pathologic. And when it does, it can harm people we care about. For example, anxiety about a test can be adaptive in that it pushes you to study. But if left unchecked, it can cause you to yell at your loved ones. It can make you neglect other important things in your life.

So I ask you, if you care about us- your fellow brothers and sisters- please un-circle your wagons for us. We understand the urge for wagon circling when hearing scary and potentially destabilizing things. But that must be balanced with the need for growth and change, so that others don’t suffer the same fate.

Please stop hiding behind slogans like “innocent until proven guilty”, because that’s never how that phrase was intended to be used. That standard is intended for our legal system. It is meant to protect people from miscarriages of justice by law enforcement.

This same system also has standards such as “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Which is another good thing. It protects the rights of people to a fair trial. But it also means that the vast majority of abusers will never face justice in a court of law. Because most cases cannot be proven to that level.

Which leaves survivors with very little recourse for justice. All we have is the court of public opinion. Where we can tell our stories, and others can use their own logic to determine whether our stories hold water.

Please don’t shout us down using those empty slogans. Give us a chance to speak our truths. Maybe even publish our stories in mainstream orthodox press. Most importantly, please just listen to us with love like you would for a member of your family.

Because we are your family

NAME WITHHELD TO PROTECT PRIVACY

(Authenticity of letter verified by VINnews)


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