A Confession of Being Abused and Abusing

When I was ten I was sexually assaulted in camp. I was the odd boy out. My parents and yeshiva were more modern and affluent and the kids in this camp came from more traditional yeshivas. There was a boy; lets call him Beirish, a bit of an outsider and a bully.

One day, after swimming, we got back to the bunk for rest period. We were hanging around. I was ignoring the group and reading. At some point he said to the other kids “let’s do a pink belly.” Pink bellys were things that were talked about as part of camp lore, like water fights or raids. I had never seen one but I assumed it was some sort of horseplay like noogies, but it consisted of tapping someone’s stomach instead of rubbing his scalp. I wasn’t a big one for horseplay but I thought it was something innocent. With Beirish in the lead, several boys grabbed me and pushed me down on Beirish’s bed. I am not sure of the number of boys, but I would guess 3-5. They all tapped on my belly. It wasn’t physically painful.  At first I thought of it as an annoying stupid ritual but nothing worse.  At some point Beirish dumped some toothpaste and suntan lotion and they kept on tapping. Finally, Beirish pushed down my trunks and poured some suntan lotion on my genitals and smoothed it out.

By now the other boys were pulling away and he was alone.  It was soon over. Some of the other boys looked embarrassed and sympathetic. The rest of them were not bullies. They didn’t apologize to me but I sensed their disapproval of Beirish. I scurried back over to my bed. Beirish came over to my bed and offered up a sneering apology. Then he tossed a penny on my bed.

At the time, I did not dwell on my feelings or share them with anyone else. I wasn’t aware of any feelings except a gross dislike for Beirish. Oddly I did not think of resenting the other boy. A few days later I punched Beirish. I don’t remember what brought it on at that moment. I was brought to the head counselor who asked me to explain why we were fighting. I could not verbalize what was at issue. Sitting there I am not even sure I remembered the assault. But I know I felt justified in hating Beirish. However, I could not imagine any way to say it and I certainly did not expect a helpful response.  In retrospect I wonder if he knew or suspected what had happened. In retrospect, Beirish was a kid who had moved through a lot of schools and camps. Knowing the frum world, I am sure the head counselor knew the history and had some doubts himself.  If so he was laying the onus on me to be forthcoming instead of helping me articulate the problem. Not one person in that camp helped me voice my hurt and grievance. I never returned to that camp.

I loathed Beirish but I did not think the episode was a big deal. But it was. It drove me from a camp I liked. I had to spend time with other boys who were part of this abuse. I will never forget that offensive penny. It was the ultimate token of false justice.

Only recently have I become more aware of my numbness, helplessness, abandonment, anger, and shame. I think those feelings dropped down on me instantly, but only now have I allowed myself to acknowledge and feel the intensity and pain of my responses. For the first time in my life I have allowed myself to cry about this assault.

I am not sure I am ready for the other part, which is admitting that in a smaller way I mistreated a ten-year-old boy a while later. There is much less to report. He resembled me as the more modern kid. One night I attempted to touch his genitalia through his blanket while he was sleeping. It was all very brief, less than a minute. I bolted when I saw he was beginning to wake up. That is it for my deeds. I was never caught.

I was repelled by my behavior. Thankfully I never again had the desire to touch a child that way.

When our first child was born, those memories came back. During diapering our child for the first time I just gazed. Then I was hit with panic because I was afraid my gaze had lasted too long. A first I was very skittish about diapering. Eventually diapering became a non-event. Now that child is grown up I can say with relief and pleasure that our relationships have always been affectionate and innocent.

When I misbehaved with that boy I did not understand my experience of abuse. I barely remembered it. I suspect I would never have misbehaved but for the way I was treated.  I wonder how many of those molesting were themselves abused? It is so easy for us to be outraged with no compassion for those who offend. I am fully in agreement with the need to challenge and penalize molesting. Yet I feel for anyone who is driven by an impulse they don’t understand. Yeah there are some monsters. Yeah, I don’t believe I could ever have ended up  manipulating, and hurting kids who were begging me to stop. But who knows?

A compulsion looks very different when you don’t have to struggle with it. When I have a drink or two, stopping is a no-brainer. If I play cards for money, win or lose, I just get up after a few games. I feel compassion for those who are always one drink or bet away from a runaway binge.

We know that there were many victims and that only a small percentage of them become abusers. But how many more of them have had to struggle with compulsions. Perhaps the least sympathetic adults are those who survived and managed their compulsions. These individuals may think that others should also conceal their pain and control their impulses. In this way some people come to believe that the problem can be managed with silence. I wonder how many of our community leaders who favor the solution of silence were themselves victimized?

Some people would say that silence worked in my case. Without any help I came out OK but it was a perilously close call. Any of a few small things could have led to a different outcome. I shudder to think that I might have ended up as one of those people I despise. It makes me sad to think of the many children who still don’t have anyone who will listen to them.

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13 thoughts on “A Confession of Being Abused and Abusing

  1. You’d have been wiser to keep stuff like this to yourself. Let bitter bygones propel you to attaining higher reaches. By exposing the bygones, you slip backwards with the effort it takes to dredge up the stuff all over again. You end up churning water. Look ahead, my friend. Keep the eyes sharply ahead.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I to was abused as a young child by a Rabbi in Toronto so I can sympathize with you.
    I need to make a comment about what Myer said.
    Myer, have you ever been abused? Do think remaining silent and churning waters up is the right thing to do? Your statement is typical of what the orthodox community says in order to protect the abusers, not the poor children who suffer their whole lives. I remained silent, till now. I am mature enough now to fully understand what happened to me and to several other children 30 years ago, yes 30 years ago, it still churns waters in my mind. Thank G-D I am a strong enough person who was able to live a productive life, but what happened never goes away. So please if you are going to make shallow comments about things you know nothing about, keep them to yourself because you too are churning up waters and looking in places you shouldn’t be.

    • I think we need more stories being told with details that make the story register. Alas there is a lot of resistance to overcome. Those of us who have come out of it relatively OK have a special obligation since others are not able to do this or are not able to do it as effectively.

  3. thank you for posting your story. i know that took a lot of courage and was probably very painful to write. it is people like you, yerachmiel, who, by speaking out, will cause positive change in our communities and help others to speak out as well.
    myer, i am truly appalled and disgusted that you would tell a victim of abuse to keep it quiet. child abuse and sexual abuse are against the law. i hate to think that you might advise victims of criminal acts to remain silent to protect the guilty. it’s extremely troubling. why you feel the need to cover up sex abuse is beyond me. perhaps it’s because it is within the jewish community and we all know jews don’t partake in such things. (that was sarcasm there.) the truth is, these problems DO exist within the jewish community and the only way they are going to be solved is by bringing them to light and yes, if it is the public light, so be it.
    victims should never be made to feel ashamed to speak out. speaking out makes one a survivor. kol hakavod, yerachmiel and thank you again for sharing.

  4. My heart cries for you
    Wow you are so brave in telling your story; it helps so many of us to cope with our pain
    It was on your blogs that I for the first time spoke about my issues. Which I did not realize was actual molestation since I thought molestation means the molester doing it all the way.
    Since posting on your blog I have confronted my abuser
    We spoke about the issues; he is deeply regretful and sorry. He was a teenager himself when it all happened.
    I have learned that he is working closely with Rabbi Nuchem Rosenburg to get child molesters off the street and he is helping abused kids as well
    I feel much better since I confronted him
    All thanks to you!

  5. Wow, I know you wrote this some time ago, but this was an incredibly powerful piece of writing and you were incredibly brave to put it up. My hat goes off to you.

  6. This is a brave, honest and responsible essay. Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin makes the same point in his piece titled “The denial of history” – http://www.drsorotzkin.com/psychohistory.html

    —Lest we underestimate the harm of minimizing the damage inflicted by childhood abuse, it is important to recall the work of Freda Briggs (Briggs, 1995: Briggs & Hawkins, 1996). In her extensive research on male child molesters, she found that the major factor that predicted victims of childhood abuse becoming offenders themselves was their downplaying of the harm caused by their molester.—

  7. Pingback: Stopping the Molesting Chain « FRUM FOLLIES by Yerachmiel Lopin

  8. This is a very courageous post, Yerachmiel. I relate very much to being unable to articulate what had happened to me. I knew how to say somethings. But others, the more invasive acts, I guess, were in my mind somewhere, without words to explain. I had symptoms and pain without anyway of saying how they got there.

    I also relate to not being able to cry. This is still a painful part of my recovery that I have so much trouble accessing. The first time I sobbed I felt so much relief. Like the soda bottle that is shaken, I am full of unspent tears, bursting at the boundaries but unable to break free. I’m glad you’ve been able to find some compassion for yourself as well as healing. Raising your son sounds like an accomplishment you have a right to be proud of. It’s a hard job, no matter what. All the more so if you were abused. Kol Hakavod.

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