Two Lives and the Lessons We Must Learn

Why would two seemingly healthy, bright young women make a pact to commit suicide and then follow through?

Why would they leave a suicide note and why would governmental professionals be so concerned by their action that they would dispatch professionals to show up at the homes of friends of the women to make sure that they are safe? The answer is very straightforward. Unfortunately, while the answer is clear most people are unwilling or unable to openly address the reason. It is swept under the rug, just too difficult to deal with. Abuse in the family is just too difficult to accept. At least one of the girls was abused. While there has been some movement in understanding the horrific impact of childhood sexual abuse there is so much more change that is needed. When it happens in a family there is often a reflexive desire to sweep it under the rug. Communities are made up of families like these.

The impact of childhood abuse can cause a depression so deep that for survivors of that abuse life may feel not worth living. But worse, if the news reporting about these two unfortunate women is accurate, shortly after one of the women began therapy her family pressured her to stop. We know that this also is unfortunately common. Therapy is needed but the need is not always accepted, and the pain is expected to be hidden. After all, acknowledging that a family member should be in therapy can impact the shidduch opportunities for the siblings.

Another common outcome of childhood abuse is the questioning of one’s faith. If your faith community, if your family that is the role model for your faith, gives messages that are perceived as mixed, promising to be there for you, support you through troubled times, but asks you to ignore the abuse that you experienced, preventing you from getting professional help, than your faith can certainly be rattled.

I do not know these two young women or their families. I feel terrible for them all. What they must live with now is so much more frighteningly immense. I do, however, know that while their story is horrible it is not unique. I also know that there are, as is typical in these situations, many errors committed in the process of trying to heal from childhood abuse.

The relative who abused was arrested, convicted and sentenced to service which essentially means probation, no jail time. There is no sex abuser list in Israel that his name appears on and his freedom likely gave him the opportunity to reoffend others. Furthermore, given the family history, the odds are high that the offender, after completing his service, left for the US. Did Israeli authorities notify American police officials about his history? Not likely.

Perhaps there is something that can be learned from this calamitous situation. There is nothing that can bring these two back, but their lives can be more meaningful if we take some lessons from them. Perhaps the death of these two young women who had their entire lives to live could not be just another random, shocking, awful event.

Childhood abusers need to be caught and prosecuted. They therefore must be reported. In this situation the abuser was arrested. Kudos that he was reported to the authorities. There is some indication that if an abuser is prosecuted and sentenced with substantive penalties the likelihood that they will reoffend is diminished. There is also some research that suggests that, while restricting sexual offenders to certain communities may not impact future outcomes there is some data to indicate that local police are better able to protect children from offenders and react more accurately if they have some insight, knowledge that there is an offender in the community. Reports should be made. Offenders should be arrested and prosecuted.

Families that have a child that has been abused need to be counseled on the best ways to handle the survivors and their own reactions, reactions that include grief, anxiety, depression, physical reactions and so many other sequalae. But it is not just families that need to be educated. Abusers are deft at grooming not just victims but the communities in which they operate. They manage to get people to believe that they are “very nice” who “would never do such things.” If there is something to indicate that there is an abuse in our midst minimizing the damage with platitudes only allows the offender to continue to offend. We all must learn more about abusers and use that knowledge to limit their ability to harm.

Most important, survivors of abuse need to know that there is help for them. Even if their family is not supportive, even if they feel that there is no one who understands them or what happened to them, even if they feel that what happened to them is so painful, so secret, so frightening that it can’t be discussed, it can, it should be openly addressed and there are professionals who understand and are willing and able to help.

About the Author
Dr Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is a 2018 APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications) and "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America). His newest book is called "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."
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