Trial Mines How Victims Process Trauma
By Christopher Peak, May 16, 2017, New Haven Independent
Hartford — During the three years when Eliyahu Mirlis claimed Rabbi Daniel Greer sexually molested him, why didn’t Mirlis try to stop it?
Why didn’t the teenaged student phone his parents in New Jersey and flee to another school in another state?
Why didn’t he fend off the 60-year old man, weakened by a hernia?
Why didn’t he admit the alleged abuse to the assistant dean, Aviad Hack, another one of Greer’s alleged victims, or to Ezi Greer, the rabbi’s son and Mirlis’s closest friend?
Why didn’t he report the case to the state’s child welfare agents, who were investigating the Yeshiva of New Haven?
“That’s probably a hard question to answer, but I want to ask you to try,” Antonio Ponvert, Mirlis’s attorney, said after his client took the witness stand on Monday afternoon here in U.S. District Court.
Monday was the second day of dramatic testimony in a civil lawsuit Mirlis has filed against Greer, a prominent rabbi who built an Orthodox community and renovated homes around a yeshiva in New Haven’s Edgewood neighborhood.
During the day, Greer’s legal team sought to raise questions about Mirlis’s allegations that the rabbi sexually abused him from 2002 through 2005, from sophomore through his senior years. Greer’s attorney sought to present Mirlis’s actions as inconsistent — in the process touching on broader questions about how victims process abuse over time and what forms trauma takes.
Through their line of questioning, Greer’s lawyers painted Mirlis as an opportunist, seeking hard cash or a convenient out from marital problems.
If he so hated his alleged rapist, they asked, why had Mirlis installed the rabbi in a place of honor at his wedding and visited the Greer home on Jewish high holidays? If he was so crippled by unwanted memories, why had he been able to purchase ownership interests in a portfolio of successful nursing homes? And why, a decade after the abuse allegedly ended, had Mirlis decided to come forward with a lawsuit only now, before even seeking professional psychological help?
Plaintiffs attorney Ponvert characterized that portrayal as insensitive. He called to the stand an expert witness named Dr. Julian Ford, an expert on childhood traumatic stress. Ford argued that Mirlis is a victim still trying years later to fathom the damage Greer had inflicted on him.
Ford explained that many of the apparent contradictions raised by Greer’s team were actually coping mechanisms common to victims of juvenile sexual abuse, particularly abuse by a respected figure like a priest, scoutmaster or rabbi. That kind of severe trauma in adolescence, Ford indicated, can create “a kind of emotional shadow” over a victim’s life that “unfortunately never goes away.”
After the First Time
After hearing about the effects of PTSD, Mirlis — who is now 29, lives in New Jersey, and manages nursing homes for a living — took the stand and recounted the initial alleged abuse he received at the Yeshiva of New Haven. He breathed heavily during his testimony and spoke in deferential terms.
In detail, the jurors heard for the first time exactly how the alleged molestation started. (Greer had earlier invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to answer questions about whether he’d sexually abused Mirlis.)
In his telling, the first encounter happened on the first floor of 777 Elm St., next door to the yeshiva. “He asked me to meet him there one night, and I did. I didn’t know what he wanted,” Mirlis recalled. Greer had brought alcohol and cashews, he added. “We were talking about my family and my past and my history — my life up until that date,” he said. “I was inebriated. He tried to kiss me. And I just remember freaking out, my heart palpitating.”