Sunday afternoon I received a call that Levi Moscowitz was no longer amongst the living. It hit me hard – a punch to the gut. Only several weeks ago, Jewish Community Watch publicly exposed Levi Moscowitz on their famous Wall of Shame.
Jewish Community Watch, also known as JCW, has been an organization I’ve backed more than any other. I’ve associated my name with the cause and implored those who trust me, to trust them. I’ve stood behind all aspects of JCW, including the Wall of Shame, and informed anyone who would listen that although my abuser is not on the Wall of Shame, it was the fear of being exposed there that gave me the closure I so desperately needed.
I’ve encouraged victims, who feel they’ve reached readiness, to confront their abuse and abuser head on; I’ve shouted as loud as I can that providing healing to victims cannot be accomplishing without holding abusers accountable. The imbalance that came about from the abuse needed to be restored – and that only happens with accountability. Providing any measure of protection to abusers at the expense of victims was tantamount to the abuse itself. This was my message and I said it often.
Prior to my involvement with JCW, I never used Facebook much but now I post frequently – almost always related to Jewish Community Watch. I have been introduced so many times in the last few months as the “guy who supports JCW”, it has become a part of my identity. Last month, when I was at the Kinus Hashluchim, a gathering of all Chabad Rabbis worldwide, I was approached by many people, but not for the reason I am typically approached. I was congratulated for the work I am doing on behalf of JCW and “for making the community safer”.
The reason Moscowitz’s suicide hit me hard was not because I feel JCW caused it. It is obvious to all that this man struggled terribly with dark demons. It was these demons that led to his conviction, his exposure on the Wall of Shame and his eventual suicide – demons which pre-dated JCW. His suicide brought home for me a reality that I already knew but never quite felt as strongly as I do now: abuser’s struggle mightily. They live a tortured and pained life and are desperately in need of help – one which is hardly accessible. As difficult as it is for victims of sexual abuse to come forward, those who struggle with pedophilia or have G-d forbid molested a child, have nowhere to turn to for help.
To a significant degree, my support of JCW has pitted me on the side of the victims of sexual abuse standing up against abuse. On one side, stood victims of sexual abuse – I with them – and on the other side were the dark and dirty predators. When some insisted that victims become predators, I fought against it passionately. Of course, as I’ve shared before, the suggestion touched a raw nerve because of how many years I suffered in silence as a result of this outrageous myth. However, there was also a little something more that ate at me when I heard “victims become abusers”. If a victim was also an abuser, how do I stand in support of half of him or her while fighting against the other half of him or her? It threw off my internal balance and I resisted it.
Moscowitz’ suicide suddenly made it hard to fight against the abuser – in his death, he became human once again. His struggles were evident and so was my insensitivity to it.
Another reason his death shook me was that I became concerned that the timidity to stand against abuse would once again set in. I’ve seen the comments blaming JCW for the death of Moscowitz. Would this cause some supporters to shrink back into the shadows too scared to vocalize their outrage against decades of abuse?
Would this set us back another 10 years and we would return to a time where victims were aggressively silenced and predators were protected at all costs?
Would this give victims one more reason to stay silent – for fear that speaking about their abuse could result in their abuser’s suicide? After all, we know at this point that most abusers are known to their victims (often they are family members). Holding their perpetrator accountable is hard enough; the possibility that speaking up may result in their death could be too much to bear.
As much as the accusations against JCW for causing Moscowitz’ death bothered me, those celebrating the news of his suicide disturbed me even more. He is a human being who had terrible struggles and hardships and was no longer able to cope – how can one rejoice upon hearing of this tragedy?
Some proposed defending JCW by providing a long list of the many victims of sexual abuse who committed suicide and in this way justify Moscowitz’s. We’ve lost so many, now it’s the other side’s turn. This too disturbs me.
Are these really the only 2 choices? Is it either victims of sexual abuse give up hope or the abusers do?
Perhaps, there is a 3rd way out that addresses each equally.
I have found in my own journey of healing that it common for several symptoms to share the same cause. Oftentimes, the symptoms can appear to be opposite yet the source is identical. I may berate myself for working and ignoring all other responsibilities during the week. When the weekend comes, I may feel depressed and spend the entire weekend in bed, unable to find interest in anything. On the surface, they may seem like opposites but digging a little deeper we find that both are rooted in a common cause. Both are from a general discontent with “me” – an inability to find comfort in my own skin. One day I escape in overworking and the next day I escape into victim-hood and depression.
In a family dynamic, we also find opposite symptoms resulting from a singular cause. Parents who struggle in their relationship and fight between themselves may find one child become irritable, angry and impossible to discipline while another child becomes a mature adult overnight. An unaware parent may provide evidence of the well behaved child as support that their undisciplined child’s behaviors is not rooted in the parent’s dysfunctional relationship. However, both children are clearly reacting to the exact same family dynamic.
The same is true here. Silencing the victim and shaming the abuser are rooted in the exact same malady. Those who blame JCW for the death of Moscowitz and those who celebrate his demise suffer from the same disease. In the very last communication I saw from Moscowitz, which came less than 24 hours before his death, he stated that he “was desperately trying to get the proper help but wherever he turned to he was rejected”. The common thread running through these symptoms – and there are many more seemingly completely unrelated to sexual abuse – is the rejection of our humanness. The aspects that make us most human (our struggles, our pain, our individuality, our struggles) have no outlet or expression. Having no release valve, the pressure builds up and erupts into countless forms of dysfunction and impairment.
Victims of sexual abuse suffer from intense shame and so do abusers. In truth, though, so do we all! Which one of us has not experienced shame? Which one of us has not felt the feeling of being inadequate, judged, ridiculed or less than? Shame is nothing more than the fear of not being worthy of belonging.
The irony is that it is precisely the parts of us that make us most human, that bring us the most shame. It is sharing our pain, our struggles and our challenges that are most difficult for us. To feel shame is to be human; connection happens through vulnerability. In our desperate attempt to protect our ability to connect, we block off any possibility of doing so.
When the shame becomes too much to bear, we start seeing the escapes into depression, addiction and occasionally the ultimate escape: suicide. It is so vitally important for each of us to have some form of connection and belonging that when we fear losing it, the repercussions can be fatal.
The antidote to all of this is creating an environment where each of us can share our struggles, face our demons and clean the skeletons in our closet free of ridicule, judgment and shaming. This is by no means a pass on past behaviors. Cleaning the skeletons in our closet includes making amends, paying retribution and righting our wrongs. If this can be done without suffering humiliation, name-calling and experiencing shame, we will have created an environment that will simultaneously allow victims and abusers to get the help they need.
Victims of sexual abuse are not afraid to share their story; they are afraid of your reaction. Pedophiles are not afraid to share their struggles; they are afraid of the stigma. Each one of us is not afraid to be human; we are afraid to become dehumanized the moment we tell you how human we really are.
I will continue to stand steadfast in support of JCW and their mission, including public exposure where necessary – although one realization that became clear to me is that the name “Wall of Shame” absolutely needs to be changed. This is not about shame; this is about accountability.
It has become evident that the war those of us wage on behalf of victims of abuse is a war to regain our vulnerability, humanity and ability to be authentic. On one side stand all of us seeking to regain our humanness and on the other side stand those who desperately need us to win. On one side stand victims of sexual abuse needing to share their stores, gain closure and heal their wounds and on their other stand the many who will benefit from it – none more than the abusers themselves.