If you do not believe the generally accepted statistic that one in four women and about one in eight men are sexually abused I have had an interesting few days outside of my clinical practice that may enlighten you.
In the last two weeks, since news of a possible Yeshiva University abuse cover-up scandal broke, since the guilty verdicts leveled against Nechemya Weberman for his abuse of a young girl entrusted to his care for counseling and since I wrote and posted about Tamar and what had happened to her at the hand of her older brother, more than 40 people have come forward telling me of their own history of abuse. But what was most significant was that, to date, 17 men have quietly and privately found the courage to tell me directly, face to face, of their own abuse. I think it is important to focus on these men. They have had the burden of keeping the secret as most abused children do, but also the burden of never showing weakness.
Most of these men told me that they never mentioned their experiences to anyone until they told me. Seven of the men were sexually abused in sleep-away camps, at three camps in particular. Nine others were abused by rabbis or bar mitzvah teachers. Two names were repeated by three of the men and some of the victims refused to mention their abusers name. One was abused by an older sibling. Most of the men are over the age of 40 and two of the men are in their late 50’s. They told of having been woken late at night in their camps and being told that they should get up for a special night of skinny dipping in the pool. They told of being in the showers while pictures and videos were taken of them. They told of teachers and rabbis who forced them sit on their laps, or being touched sexually by them or being forced to touch the teachers sexually.
Some of these men are people I have known a very long time, some are acquaintances and some I have never met before. They are all, however, individuals who live in my community; indeed they stopped me in shul or at the supermarket to describe their experiences. Seventeen men with the fortitude to finally voice what happened to them. About half of them asked me to write about their victimization. Others asked if I would include them in a piece. All of them told me that in one form or another it impacted their lives. How could it not? As one of the men described it, “After carrying a memory of abuse for so long – a form of Chinese water torture, eating away at my sense of self. The conflicts within of how to handle it. Should I tell…but I was and am still afraid to.”
Men are taught to be strong and silent. One of the 17 said he remembers the name of his counselor but can never tell it to anyone. I reminded him that it is very possible, even likely, that the abuser continued to abuse others and may still be doing so to this day. He said he “can’t risk my family by getting involved at this late date.” Others shared the same feeling.
Seventeen men in one community. It is a frightening amount. How many others were abused but could not find the strength to come forward and even say something to someone in private in this one neighborhood? How many others in other neighborhoods were abused but have no outlet to even whisper the hurt and shame they carry with them for so long? How many family members impacted by the silent pain within the family?
One of the men told me that he was about 10 years old, away in summer camp for the first time, when his counselor woke him up in the middle of the night to go skinny dipping. He has a clear memory of saying no and then watching the counselor going to others, seeking a vulnerable few young campers for his escapades of abuse. Another man told me that when he started high school a friend, one year older, warned him that if he were to get into trouble under no circumstances should he ever go to the principal’s office because some “strange things went on in there.”
These are strong but vulnerable men. They worry for their children, perhaps they are over-protective. Some of them suffer long-term emotional and psychological difficulties. Some show no signs or symptoms at all. They are a minuscule sample but they match the statistic that indicates that the pain that they were subjected to leaves a long term mark on anyone exposed to it. They also confirm the accepted fact that abuse exists everywhere and it is high time that it be confronted and appropriately handled.