Thursday, December 21, 2006

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz on Child Sexual Abuse in Haredi Communities

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
"The very real threat posed by external influences, such as TV, Internet, ‘bad friends’ are all firecrackers compared to the “atom bomb” of sexual abuse."
- Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

From - Vicki Polin, The Awareness Center, Inc.
I thought everyone would find this interesting. I need to point out that some of the statistics are incorrect, yet it is a major step in the right direction. A big Mazel Tov goes to Rabbi Yakov Horowitz for taking a major step outside the box.

The statistics of child sexual abuse are the same in all communities no matter of how observant they are. One out of every three women and one out of every five men have been sexually abused by the time they reach the age of 18. Basically when you go to a shir with 10 women present the odds are 3 will be survivors of childhood sexual abuse. When you are in a minyan with 10 men, the odds are at least 2 will be survivors

I also want to point out the correct legal term to describe someone who commits sex crimes against children is "sex offender." An abuser usually refers to a man who batters.
Keeping Our Children Safe
By Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
December 14, 2006

Dear Rabbi Horowitz,

I am the proud mother of some very lovely young children who are growing up much too quickly. In general, I’d like to think of myself as a confident parent that tries to approach important issues with a healthy balance. But, there are some issues out there for which the proper balance remains a mystery to me. And that is why I am seeking your advice sooner, rather than later.

Recently I have heard a number of stories about abuse in the frum community and would like to know just how prevalent abuse is in the frum community? In general, I’d like to preserve my children’s innocence while dealing with realities that need to be dealt with.

What responsibility do schools have when it comes to addressing children about this issue? And, what responsibility do parents have? At what age should parents begin to address the issue with their children, and in how much detail? And, what is the proper way to even begin the conversation?

Also, while my children are not teenagers yet, what should parents of teenage children say to their children, who are bound to either see headlines in the newspaper or hear about such terrible news through friends?

A mother looking for balance and perspective

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Note to readers: Over the years that I have been dealing with at-risk youth, I’ve had extensive and ongoing consultations with the leading gedolim of our generation on a wide-ranging array of issues where I was fortunate to receive their Torah perspective and their wisdom. This column and the one that will appear in this space next week reflect many of the collective lessons that I learned from our gedolim as to the propriety of dealing with these sensitive matters.

While preparing to respond to these questions, I discussed this matter with three (frum) mental health professionals who are outstanding clinicians and widely respected as experts in the field of sexual abuse and prevention – Doctors David Pelcovitz, Barry Horowitz, and Benzion Twerski. My response reflects their input and they graciously reviewed these lines before publication. I would like to express my gratitude to them for their time and their devotion to the children of our community. Y.H.

Over the past decade or so, we have come to the painful realization that we are not immune from challenges that face the broader community – depression, compulsive gambling, drug and alcohol abuse. Now, we are being squarely faced with the painful reality that sexual abuse is also rearing its ugly head in our Torah community.

This does not represent a failure of our chinuch system or a breakdown of our mesorah (tradition). Not by any means. By virtue of the moral compass of our Torah and the nature of our sheltered society, we have a lower percentage of these issues than the general population. Less, but not none. Unfortunately, the nature of this challenge is that less turns to more – exponentially – the longer that we ignore these issues. This is true all the more so in the case of abuse since untreated victims are far more likely to abuse others.

To address your first question of, “How prevalent is abuse in our community?” my response is that it is far more prevalent than we care to accept or believe. I assure you that things will not improve until we gather the energy and courage to change the culture of denial and stop the destructive habit of hoping that problems will self-correct and go away. I am equally certain that if we do not act to eradicate abuse from our community, others will continue to do it for us in very public and embarrassing ways.

It is extremely important to note that
school faculty members commit only a tiny fraction of the abuse perpetrated on victims. Abusers are far more likely to be older kids in the neighborhood, family friends, neighbors, peers, extended or even close family members.

How many children are we talking about? How many abuse victims are there? I posed this question to the three experts mentioned above. Each of them responded by saying that there is no research that they know of in the frum community and they have no hard numbers. But when I asked if they would say that there are a) tens, b) hundreds or c) thousands [of abused children], each responded that there are surely hundreds. In fact, Dr. Pelcovitz mentioned that he gets about 5 calls per week from parents seeking help for their abused children – or from adults seeking counseling from scars left from childhood abuse. These numbers concur with my understanding of the magnitude of the problem.

I have worked with the at-risk teen population for more than a decade now, and I think that I have a pretty good feel for the
facts on the ground. I also fully understand the power of the written word and the ramifications of columns that are published. So, I am choosing my words very carefully. Here goes:

In my opinion, the number one risk factor – by far – for children abandoning Yiddishkeit is abuse and neglect. This is not to say that the majority of kids who are off the derech were abused. But of all the complex and varied educational, social and familial factors that present risk to our children, the most damaging by far, in my opinion, is abuse. The very real threat posed by external influences, such as TV, Internet, ‘bad friends’ are all firecrackers compared to the “atom bomb” of sexual abuse. Left untreated, abuse undermines a child’s security and comfort, erodes his or her faith in adult society – and in our Torah community, their belief in the Torah and in Hashem Himself. It leaves the victims confused and filled with rage. It shatters their self-esteem and destroys their ability to pursue their hopes and dreams. Sadly, the effects of abuse, especially when left untreated, usually follows children into adulthood – complicating their marriages and their relationships with their children.

There are some very practical steps that we can take to improve things and protect our children. But we need to develop the fortitude and righteous indignation to do what it takes to get it done. In my opinion, we are nowhere near that stage yet. I hope and pray that we get there very soon.

As for the question of who should take responsibility for the safety of children, I suggest that it is the parents who need to take the lead on this. Why? Because, sad to say, until there is a groundswell of support for the protection of our children, schools will find it difficult to create and implement the type of programs to teach children how to establish personal boundaries and to ensure their own safety. And, because ultimately they are our children and we are responsible for them.

Next week, in the second and final column on this subject (in this forum), I plan on offering practical steps to parents on speaking to your children and more importantly, engaging in the types of behaviors over the years that will help your children protect themselves from abuse.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You state one in every three women were sexually abused and one in five men. In prior posts you stated it was one in four women.
Where are these stas from? It would be nice to link from your page to a source for the stats.

Also how do you know there is no difference from community to community? Have there been statistical studies?

December 22, 2006 11:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All you have to do is google statistics of childhood sexual abuse. These stats have been around since the 1980's.

They have the stats on The Awareness Center's web page.

December 22, 2006 10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Impact of Child Sexual Abuse

* It is estimated 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse live in America today.

* Approximately 31 percent of women in prison state they had been abused as children.

* Approximately 95 percent of teenage prostitutes have been sexually abused.

* Long-term effects of child abuse include fear, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, inappropriate sexual behavior, poor self esteem, tendency toward substance abuse and difficulty with close relationships.

* Adolescents with a history of sexual abuse are significantly more likely than their counterparts to engage in sexual behavior that puts them at risk for HIV infection.

* Young girls who are forced to have sex are three times more likely to develop psychiatric disorders or abuse alcohol and drugs in adulthood than girls who are not sexually abused.

* Among both adolescent girls and boys, a history of sexual or physical abuse appears to increase the risk of eating disorders.

You can find more information here:

December 22, 2006 10:54 PM  

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