There are a variety of rationalizations victims of violence and abuse use to avoid reporting what happened to them. Many of their reasons are highly personal others are purely self-protective and some are very pragmatic. Their motives for secrecy range from a sense of very real embarrassment to a misplaced desire to protect others all the way to an overriding fear of self-blame. One of the specific reasons victims of violence have for not reporting is the fear of re- victimization. They are so traumatized that they are fearful that they will be abused yet again not only by abusive partners, relatives, or friends but also by those they report the crime to. This concern is not baseless. Many people who have been abused and have gone on to report their abuses have been maligned disbelieved and ignored or have been simply told that they are lying. These reactions come from family members, religious leaders, social service organizations even therapists or the police.
As a society, we have reluctantly come a long way in the last few years in accepting the fact that abuse does occur. Still, we act as if we abhor abuse but somehow we still too often disbelieve that abuse occurs in specific situations. We still want to believe that the very nice man next door is not beating his wife or children or that the coach at school is just too nice a person for us to accept that he is sexually abusing children on his team. When we finally admit that abuse has occurred we still expect the victim not to have too many after effects, we want them to be better very quickly. This is not just a desire on the part of society in general stemming from our revulsion for the crime, but also due to our limited understanding of how traumatic violence and abuse can truly be. Even health and mental health care professionals and the organizations they work for can minimize a persons’ need for care following their trauma. In my own experience, I have found that most of these misdeeds are not due to malicious indifference but are more a result of a lack of experience and knowledge.
It is imperative that we continue to raise the awareness of these crimes of violence and misplaced passion and the impact that is has on the victims. Few people are aware that as many as one in four women and one in six men are victimized before the age of 18. They are also unaware that resilience following trauma is not an automatic or reflexively natural act. Or even that there is no simple definition for resilience.
Rabbis, lay leaders, administrators of schools, teachers and health care professionals, all of whom are in the front line of dealing with this issue would benefit from a more sophisticated understanding of both the obvious and subtle facets of violence and how better to isolate offenders and aid victims. We also have to understand that betrayal of the trust that victims put into those they open up to only re-victimizes them. Being supportive is a multilayered process, which requires a supportive, therapeutic, and understanding that may take quite some time. Accepting that there are abusers is also a difficult process often because of the social and religious affiliations they may have. Putting those connections ahead of the needs of those they have abused is just one more re-victimization of a victim.
I am privileged to be one of the speakers at a conference to be held in Jerusalem December 1 -3, which is one more step in aiding victims by educating caretakers and responders. Some very well known professionals and rabbis are scheduled to present a variety of presentations at these meetings. My presentations will focus on ethical, research and clinical issues but will be accessible to all. It is time to set aside the misinformation and politics that contribute to re-victimization and arm ourselves with the tools that will allow us to help those who desperately need our aid.