It is a fact that too many victims are afraid to come forward to file a report with the authorities indicating that they have been traumatized and by whom. It has been estimated that as few as only three in 100 abuse victims of sexual abuse ever report their attacks or their attackers who most often are people that they know either through family, neighborhood or school. Even in those cases where reports are filed victims often do not appear at hearings or ask to have the charges dropped. In one such case a judge in Sacramento County, California recently jailed a 17 year old girl to ensure that she would testify at her own rapist’s trial.
Having been abused is fear enough but moving to the cathartic level of reporting the abuse and following through with the proper authorities often engenders additional trauma. For a victim there is the fear of being in the spotlight; the fear of retaliation from the abuser or the abusers community; in some communities the fear of excommunication and not getting a shidduch for self or a family member can be disabling; and the primary fear that the victim, not the perpetrator, will be blamed for the attack. There is also all that shame, guilt and the intensive grooming that has molded the victims’ fears all of which contributes to the dearth of reporting. Additionally there is the mistaken belief that by reporting their abuser victims may be causing more damage to themselves or their family. But, the most prominent reason seems to be the belief that abuse can and will be handled within the community by religious or lay leaders who advise victims that the community will deal with the situation and no official report should be made.
The lack of reporting is not the fault of the victim. Victims need emotional support and understanding. The behavior of the victim is purely a reaction to the fears and shame of being victimized. The sad part of the entire issue is the lack of willingness within the community to accept the reality of abuse and then, even today when there can be no denying that it does occur, the attempt to sweep it under the rug; to pretend it can be handled or worse, that it never really occurred. Too many cases, some of which I have been involved in, have been sidelined or completely buried by Rabbis, lawyers and lay leaders believing that they can handle the problem without the help of the police or other legally mandated professionals. Inevitably, they cannot. Abusers who are not investigated, detained and charged within the legal system find ways to continue abusing, often for decades.
All of the above reasons for the limited number of sufferers alleging abuse apply to the Rabbi Moti Elon sex abuse case. Only two young victims were originally set to testify against him in his court case slated to start next week. One can only imagine the pressure placed on those two individuals, both reportedly underage students. So it is an interesting turn of events to see that prosecutors in the case are seeking to introduce the testimony of four additional young men who were also claiming to have been abused by Elon. It is not clear how the trial will go, what sort of pressure will be brought to bear on the victims, their families or the community by defense lawyers and Rabbis invested in making the case go away. One thing, however, is crystal clear – it takes guts for the now six victims to come forward and follow through with their testimony. They are to be commended for coming forward and overcoming their fears and the pressures. They should be supported in their efforts and the legal process should be meticulously followed in this case. And, we should support those who have been victimized in addressing and changing a system that continues to try to keep them from coming forward and doing what must be done – reporting abusers.