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Child sexual abuse is no joke Ms. Streisand

Those of us who were seduced and abused as children know that even as we thrive we are scarred for life

Barbra Streisand isn’t the only one who thinks survivors of sexual abuse are doing just fine if they manage to grow up and have a life. According to Streisand, the two victims of Michael Jackson who came forth with their harrowing experiences in “Leaving Neverland,” were “thrilled to be there,” and furthermore, “they didn’t die” did they? Hey, it served everyone’s needs, the children wanted it and the pedophile needed it. What’s the whining about?

The two little boys, now grown men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck lived.

They grew up, went on to have a life, and even children.

To hear them describe their abuse is disgusting, heartbreaking, and humbling.

For years most of us saw the pictures of Jackson with little boys and brushed it aside. We didn’t know the details, but really did we have to have the details to get the picture? Apparently we did. Now with “Leaving Neverland” we have the details. It should be required viewing.

And even with what we know now, Streisand is probably not the only one who fails to feel the appropriate degree of disgust. She felt free to throw out malignant opinions drenched in denial. Because of her name and her fame, her insanely un-empathic comments went viral. And the only good thing about her comments is we can learn from them — stop minimizing, stop going into denial, stop refusing to take those we admire to task.

Seriously Barbra, if we “lived” it negates the damage? Those of us who were sexually seduced and abused as children know that even as we thrive we are scarred.

“We survived and now we eat,” is a punchline Jews love to repeat at our festivals. We make a point of remembering and being grateful we survived. Sometimes we Jews get accused of “whining” by anti-Semites when we talk about our pain and fears. We get accused of paranoia, and over sensitivity. And when we go beyond surviving and actually thrive, as Jews do, we do it with scars. Scars that show up in different internalized ways.

There is a price to internalizing shame and self-blame. That is why Streisand is being called out. Sexual abuse cannot be minimized, trivialized and denied. It’s easy to do when it didn’t happen to you, and even when it did happen to you.

Yes I lived, yes I had a family and I made my life work. I write a lot about anti-Semitism but generally don’t talk about the incest anymore.

Unlike my experience of anti-Semitism, I kept “it” a secret. It haunted me for almost my entire childhood, until I told my mother many years later, after I became a new mother at 22. I didn’t want to hurt her, her father was already dead, and it was over. But it wasn’t. I was having some sort of breakdown and panic attacks. At the time I didn’t make the connection. But when you become a parent, and see the utter vulnerability of a child, a sense of protection and fear kicks in. It’s overwhelming.

My mother was the beginning of my healing. She believed me. She didn’t minimize, she didn’t blame me. “Adults know how to seduce children…”

How did you know, Mom, did he molest you, did anyone? No, not her, but we did find out he had assaulted other little girls before he moved in with us in Japan. He used to talk about one cousin who would have been around the same age in India. Mom asked her sister, the cousins, anyone she could, if her father had crossed the lines. I always knew I wasn’t the first.

Yes, he looked like a very nice man. And he was in many ways. He was lovable, intelligent, opinionated, compulsively neat…and a pedophile whose lusty neediness came first. Like a hardcore addict. Although I found the support to stop the incest when I was eleven, I didn’t feel free until he died when I was fourteen. He stopped touching, but he made comments when no one was listening.

The day he died I have one line in my teenage diary. “Grampa died today my secret is safe forever.”

We lived under one roof, in a rambling two story house in Japan with paper thin walls. But it’s actually very easy to hide sexual seduction. It happened at “tea time” when no one was home. And who thinks someone they admire, an adult, is having sex with a child? No one in their right mind goes there.

When I started working as psychotherapist in the late 1970s, my mother’s wisdom guided me. I created my own incest support groups in a community mental health clinic for adult women sexually seduced and abused as children. One powerful tool was bringing in pictures of everyone at the age of the seduction. Seeing how young the others were, made us look at ourselves as children. The act is so adult, it’s hard to imagine we were so little.

Michael Jackson’s victims were as young as seven years old. Seven years old, Ms. Streisand, and all the disbelievers, as disgusting as it is, look at yourself at seven and imagine…

I never saw myself as a child until I heard my mother’s response. He had the control, he knew what to do, and it wasn’t my fault. Even if I “willingly” got on his lap.

Children think they are powerful. Powerful enough to make adults do terrible things. Powerful enough to think these adults need them, that it is our duty to give them what they need because we think we can. I felt sorry for Grampa. I was the light in his life, he needed me, I was the only thing between him and death. And I cared about him. He would die if he couldn’t have me.

“Your mother will never speak to you again if you tell her,” he said.

“I wish we were closer so you could have come to me,” she said twelve years later when the secret was driving me mad.

Several years before my dad died — and we were the best of friends — he and I were talking about childhood sexual abuse. He said “in Egypt we didn’t’ have such things.”

Dad, it happened under your roof, and you didn’t see it!

Pause…We looked at each other.

…It’s just that hard to wrap a decent mind around such sick evil. But we must.

About the Author
Rachel Wahba is a San Francisco Bay Area based writer, psychotherapist and the co-founder of Olivia Travel. An Egyptian-Iraqi Jew, Rachel was born in India and grew up stateless in Japan. The many dimensions of her exile and displacement are a constant theme in her professional work as well as her activism as an advisory board member for JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa).
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