Ending the Silence on Abuse
By Johnathan S. Tobin, Jewish Link
In the past two months, the avalanche of stories about sexual abuse and harassment has touched virtually every sector of American society. The revelations about deeply troubling behavior on the part of politicians, journalists and figures in the entertainment world have transfixed the country. As more victims come forward to tell their stories, the consequences have gone beyond the disgrace of some prominent individuals, the end of careers and, in Alabama, a surprising election result. What began with a shocking story about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has led to what may well be a crucial turning point in the way sexual misconduct is viewed.
We are no longer in an era in which all forms of abuse—be it violent crime, abuse of minors as well as unwanted physical touching, abusive verbal comments and forms of pressure—that might have once been viewed as permissible if unpleasant behavior can be ignored or dismissed.
Under these circumstances, it is only to be expected that some of these stories would involve the Jewish community. This week’s JNS feature by Elizabeth Kratz concerning alleged abuse carried out by a since-retired United Synagogue Youth (USY) director follows the same pattern of the rest of the #metoo scandals. A powerful person used his position to carry out sexual abuse, in this case, against minors. The victims felt unable to step forward at the time, both because of the shame they were made to feel by the predator and also because they felt nobody in a position to do something about it would listen. Organizations that should have been on guard against abuse were, like the rest of society, not listening or indifferent about what was going on under their noses.
The Conservative movement responsible for the USY program in question was not alone in this respect, as such scandals have, in one form or another, touched other Jewish denominations. To its credit, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism appears now to have taken appropriate action, not only to sever any ties with alleged abusers, but also to ensure, as much as it is possible, that similar misconduct doesn’t recur.
This story is so similar to numerous other sex scandals that many readers who have become so accustomed to such discussions may have lost their ability to be shocked by the topic. But it is also true that there will be some in the Jewish world who, while eagerly consuming accounts of the various stories about celebrities who have been exposed as abusers, don’t want accounts of misconduct within their own community to be published.
The impulse to regard journalism about bad behavior by Jews—especially those connected to vital Jewish organizations—that are published in the Jewish press as an unnecessary airing of dirty laundry is, in one sense, understandable. Such stories are seen as something that ought to be kept in the family and away from the view of outsiders who might use them to denigrate Jews or harm Jewish institutions. There will always be a tendency to regard any accounts that portray Jewish life in an unflattering context as betrayals of tribal loyalty if they come from Jewish sources.
SNAP will be Representing Clergy Abuse Survivors in Rome!
We are taking the fight to Rome and are standing up for all survivors on a world stage! From February 19-25, Board President Tim Lennon, Seattle Leader Mary Dispenza, Los Angeles Leader Esther Hatfield Miller and Austin Leader Carol Midboe will be traveling to Rome for Pope Francis' Papal Abuse Summit.
If you are a member of the media and looking to get in touch with these survivors while in Rome, click here for our media advisory and contact information. If you are interested in connecting with a survivor in the US from your area of coverage, please contact one of the SNAP leaders in the US listed below:
- East Coast/DC: Becky Ianni (SNAPvirginia@cox.net, 703-801-6044)
- Midwest/Chicago: Zach Hiner (firstname.lastname@example.org, 517-974-9009)
- Midwest/St. Louis: David Clohessy (email@example.com, 314314-566-9790)
- West Coast / San Francisco: Melanie Sakoda (firstname.lastname@example.org, 925-708-6175)
If you are looking to help spread the word about the importance of this summit and for survivors to be heard, add your voice to the conversation on social media using the hashtag #PBC2019. Be sure to follow SNAP on twitter and Facebook and share our posts, add your comments, and let the world know that we are watching!Learn More