Trauma of betrayal: Sex abuse victims and Israel

Living through the terror wave of the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon. Conversations with friends, not to mention my Facebook feed, have been focused on two topics: the latest attack, and the latest outrageous headline.

Midday catchups with my husband sound like this:

Him: Did you hear there was another stabbing in Raanana?

Me: Yeah, awful… Did you see the Reuter’s headline?

Him: Yes. Knife Man!? What IS that? Like an ice cream man!?

Terrorist attacks are devastating. They take away our basic sense of security, make us fear every passing shadow, break our hearts with the spilling our brothers’ and sisters’ blood. But the world’s opinion expressed in the media? I personally feel a rush of vertigo when I read the headlines, and couldn’t figure out why. Ok, so they blame Israel. From Jesus’ death to Blood Libels- shouldn’t we be used to that by now? Why are these headlines spreading in social media like wild fire? In short, why do we CARE?

Working in the field of sexual abuse sheds some light on why we are so bothered. When victims of abuse disclose what they’ve experienced, they often experience a negative reaction to their disclosure. Many people find the response that they receive to be EVEN MORE TRAUMATIC than the abuse itself. In “Turning Surviving into Thriving:What to do When Your Child has Been Sexually Abused,” Helise Pollack writes, “The parents’ response to their abused child is one of the most critical factors in child’s healing. Understanding and supporting abused children IS the beginning of their healing process.”

When someone is sexually abused, it damages his or her basic ability to trust. When they disclose the abuse, they create an opening for that trust to begin to be rebuilt. If they receive a response that includes believing them, validating that what happened to them was wrong, and committing to protecting them in the future, their sense of trust will begin to heal. Pollak recommends responses such as: “I’m so glad you’re telling me.” “What happened to you is not okay.” “I will protect you from him from now on.” “You are not alone.”

Conversely, if the disclosure is met with a negative response, their inability to trust deepens from their abuser to their parents, community, the world at large. Negative responses can include doubting them (“are you sure you didn’t misunderstand?”), minimizing the abuse (“oh, he’s just very touchy-feely”), denying the abuse took place (I can’t believe such a nice guy would do something like that!”), or blaming the victim (“I don’t understand why you didn’t fight back.”). According to Pollack, even questions like, “why didn’t you tell me sooner?” make children feel guilty and shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim.

In the words of Genendy Radoff, an incest survivor and founder of the organization Mitzva L’Sapper, “The ongoing denial by the rabbonim who I approached for help and by my family, was actually more traumatic and devastating than the sexual abuse. Now I wasn’t just abused, I was also being treated like I was crazy, and I was utterly alone.” The abuse itself was a betrayal by Radoff’s father, the denial from the rest of her family and community was a betrayal by all the systems meant to protect her.

Research supports this. A large-scale study seeking to determine how the reaction to disclosure affects long term symptoms found that “reaction to disclosure had a mediating effect between childhood abuse and adult symptoms, with those experiencing a bad reaction from the first person told having worse scores on general trauma symptoms, posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and dissociation.”(1)

Back to life in Israel, today. Terror attacks are the primary trauma. Our basic sense of safety is damaged.

We “disclose” the trauma to the world, and there’s hope to rebuild trust and security. The world at large can put the abuse into perspective. What’s happening to you is wrong. We’ve got your back. We are here to help make things right.

Instead we are hit with the worst possible response to trauma, the headlines we all love to hate.


“Palestinians shot dead in alleged knife attacks.” -Sky Times,


“Palestinian Shot Dead after Jerusalem Attack Kills Two.” -BBC
“Joseph’s Tomb catches fire in spate of Palestinian-Israeli violence.”-CNN

Blaming the victim galore

“Four more Palestinians shot dead on the streets.” -Irish Independent, October 18.
“Israelis kill four Palestinians as violence surges.” -USA Today, October 17.

These headlines attack us in a deeper way than terrorists can.

They tell us clearly: not only are you in danger, you are exaggerating, you are imagining it, you are crazy, you are asking for it.

And you are alone.

(1) Roesler, TA. Reactions to disclosure of childhood sexual abuse. The effect on adult symptoms. Nerv. Ment. Dis. 1994 Nov;182(11):618-24.

Note: This post is an elaboration on an idea I heard from Tzachi Fried. Check him out here.

About the Author
Miriam Friedman has a Master’s in Social Work from Yeshiva University and certification as a trauma therapist from the Israel Institute for the Treatment of Psychotrauma. She is the Director of Magen, an agency that deals with all aspects of sexual abuse and whose services are specifically geared toward the Anglo population in Israel (, and has a private therapy practice in Ramat Bet Shemesh, where she lives with her husband and four children.
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