Can you imagine being six years old and being deserted on the streets by your parents? What would you do? How could you fend for yourself? What happens when you get hungry, tired or when darkness comes? Can you imagine the terror?
The term “Throw Away Children” originally referred to kids abandoned by their parents. More recently I’ve been hearing Jewish survivors (both adults and children) referring to themselves as “throw away children” when it comes to trying to connect with our religious leaders, Jewish communities and God. It’s important to remember that even though a person may be physiologically an adult, on an emotional and spiritual level they may still be in their infancy when discussing abuse issues and understanding and connecting with God.
Why you may ask? This happens when an individual isn’t given the opportunity to work through various issues, or given the opportunities to learn and develop the needed skills to grow. It’s NOT their fault; it’s just what happens when a person doesn’t have mentally healthy role models or a stable home during their childhood. This can change, with the right interventions. But those wanting to help, have to be able to be “really there” for someone who had been victimized.
When a survivor trusts someone enough to disclose their childhood, and they are ignored and or shunned, it may feel to the survivor as if you are deserting them. If you desert them, they may also feel as if God is doing the same thing.
All too often survivors of childhood sexual abuse feel as if they are wearing a scarlet letter. They often feel as if their very essence is no good. Too many feel as if they have no purpose in life and that they were born evil. It’s not uncommon for survivors of all ages (Jewish and non-Jewish) to feel suicidal, and unfortunately too many act out on these feelings. These are just a few of the issues as a community we need to start addressing.
“Maureen”, a professor at a major university in the United States said she felt as if she was “a bad, dumb, dirty, little girl” after an encounter with her rabbi. Maureen was having a spiritual crisis, and needed guidance. She went to someone she trusted. She did the right thing, yet the rabbi had no training or experience dealing with abuse issues. He told her that he didn’t believe her. The rabbi not only knew Maureen’s parents; he also considered them to be his friends. The rabbi couldn’t imagine that there could be a connection between Maureen’s eating disorder and her childhood abuse. During the encounter, Maureen was crushed. “Her child within” her was emotionally devastated. After several attempts of connecting with other forms of spirituality, Maureen decided that “organized religion wasn’t for her”. She decided that there was no such thing as a God. “If there was, why would God allow these things to happen to her?” Maureen also figured if none of the rabbi’s or other religious leaders (of various religions) could answer her questions, then the concept of a God was just a myth.
Times are changing; Maureen is trying once again to connect with her Jewish identity, along with hundreds (perhaps thousands) of other adult survivors. Our rabbis and communities around the world are being given an opportunity to help heal some deep wounds.
Many adult survivors are filled with a lot of anger, mistrust, and sadness. My hope is that everyone will open their hearts and be able to embrace our victims of the past, so that they can heal and grow. I know it’s not going to be an easy task. Imagine thousands of survivors who feel as if they were “throw away children”. We will have to learn to listen and allow them to bear-witness. We will also be forced to deal with our own feelings. Many of us will have symptoms of secondary post-traumatic stress disorder, compassion fatigue, and or vicarious victimization. But as a people and as a nation, we MUST help them heal. We need to do this together.
Remember, just as we need to make sure our survivors have support groups, those of us who are working with them also need to be prepared to debrief with each other. The “truths” of survivors can be painful to hear. It is not uncommon for those who are around survivors (rabbis, teachers, parents, spouses, etc.) to have similar symptoms as the survivors. One way to combat this is by networking with others, sharing what you hear with those you trust (as long as you don’t violate the identity of the survivors). We may be afraid to hear the deep dark ugly secrets, but as a community we must. As a nation WE CAN do this.
This article was originally published by The Awareness Center, Inc. in 2003