Recently, I have been contacted by a surprising number of people who have shared with me their stories of past sexual abuse of different kinds. This has been a very difficult period for a lot of people. The senatorial process dealing with the approval of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court reinforced the feelings of many survivors that coming forward will do no good and only cause them as victims to be victimized again.
This devastating feeling was exacerbated when President Donald Trump, at a rally in Mississippi, mocked Kavanaugh’s accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — this after she testified that the most devastating part of the assault she alleges she suffered was hearing her attackers laugh at and mock her.
People do not look to me as a rabbi for punditry on politics or the law, so I will take no position on the veracity of the allegations raised against Kavanaugh. I just want to deal with one point that is sometimes raised to cast doubt on Ford’s story, as well as those of many others: If what you claim really happened, why didn’t you report it at the time? Why didn’t you go to the police or your parents or, as Trump tweeted, “Why didn’t somebody call the FBI 36 years ago?” (Most of you reading this realize, of course, that the FBI is not the agency that normally investigates sexual assault committed by teenagers against other teenagers.)
I have counseled a number of women, as well as men, who were victims of assault and waited years to talk about it for all kinds of reasons. I know this as a rabbi, but I also know this because when I was 19 years old and spending a month on a kibbutz between semesters at the Hebrew University, I was sexually assaulted by a middle-aged man who was married to a woman and had a teenage daughter. His job on the kibbutz was to serve as night security guard, and he invited me to accompany him one night on his rounds.
As a teenage American Jew, I thought all Israelis were heroes and I thought that being invited to spend a night accompanying a security guard was intriguing and an honor, so I happily agreed. The result was unwanted sexual touching, but I was able to get away and return to my room without any physical injury. And I never told a soul until quite recently.
Why not? I guess a number of reasons. I was scared — after all, the man was the security guard and carried a gun. I was embarrassed — I should have known better, I put myself in that position, if I wasn’t so eager to spend time with a “hero,” it wouldn’t have happened. I didn’t want to ruin the man’s life — it could not have been easy being a deeply closeted gay man married to a woman in Israel in 1979.
In retrospect, I wish that I had spoken out. Chances are that I was not the first victim of this man nor the last. But my 58-year-old self is a lot wiser and more experienced than my 19-year-old self was — and at 19, I was legally an adult and four years older than Ford when she alleges she was assaulted.
I share this now simply as a way of explaining that the long delay between the occurrence of an event and a victim speaking up is entirely normal and is not, in and of itself, a reason to cast doubt upon the veracity of the account.
I am grateful to those who have put enough trust in me to share their stories. I am here for you if you feel a need to do so. JN
Rabbi Charles L. Arian is rabbi of Kehilat Shalom in the Washington, D.C., area.