Dr. Shkop of Hebrew Theological College Tries to Suppress Openness About Abuse

Guest Post by Asher Lovy

As anyone who has the misfortune of being a survivor knows, being able to say the words “I am a survivor of sexual abuse” is quite possibly the hardest part of moving forward. The enormity of that statement and its ramifications for any survivor’s future are always overwhelming, and the courage required to come forward would rival that of Arthur’s bravest knights. It gets even harder when you’re frum and still living in a frum (observant) community because of the stigma associated with sexual abuse. Typically victims are dismissed as liars, besmirched by their communities, and ostracized. At best they’re told to let it go either because it will damage their chances for a shidduch (marriage match), or because the abuser has a family who doesn’t deserve to be hurt. Regardless of the reason, institutionalized silence is a major part of being a frum survivor, and that makes it so much harder to come forward.

For the past fifteen years, there have been those in the Jewish community who fought back against the stigma and have made significant progress. We’ve gotten to the point where, while it may not be common table talk, the subject of sexual abuse is known and the community is aware that it has a problem it must address. Although it isn’t much, even Yeshivas under the leadership of Agudath Israel of America (aka Agudah) are inviting awareness and prevention programs in to address the problem. We’re approaching a point, especially given the recent victories for survivors, where to come forward as a survivor will no longer be as hard as it once was. We’re not quite there yet. We still have minds to change at places like Hebrew Theological College’s Blitstein Institute in Chicago.

A few days ago, a friend of mine posted on her Facebook wall,

I’m a survivor of sexual abuse. This is not a new thing. I’ve been a survivor as long as you’ve known me. Are you going to change your opinion of me just because three evil people took advantage of me? Are you embarrassed of me? Are you willing to share our story? Let’s see who my real friends are.

She received this response today from Dean Esther Shkop.

I received an anonymous phone call last night with a message from one of your “friends” on Facebook, who expressed great consternation and concern that you have chosen to publicize to “friends” (regardless of their age, sincerity and level of intimacy) your history of sexual abuse.  Your public Facebook page is troubling enough, as is your Google history [which are open to the whole world].  It is troubling primarily because you have chosen to identify yourself by your pathology.  You no longer appear as a full human – but rather as “case study” of a young woman warped by her childhood experiences, and is thus identified wholly by that past.

I am not asking you to deny your pain.  I am asking you to exercise a measure of discretion, and develop a plan to go beyond your past  towards healing.  You seem too intent on wallowing in the past, and drawing sick attention to yourself for all of the wrong reasons.

At the same, you identify yourself as a student of Hebrew Theological College, and by association besmirch your peers as well as yourself.

This misuse of social media is definitely a violation of the HTC Personal Conduct Policy (see page 17 in the Student Handbook). Consequently, the HTC Administration is putting you on formal notice that all inappropriate materials should be removed from your Facebook page forthwith – both on the front page and the back pages.

If you have questions about what is and is not appropriate, feel free to come to speak to me or Mrs. Lipshitz.

Esther M. Shkop, Ph.D.
Dean, Machon Torani L’Banot
Blitstein Institute of Hebrew Theological College
2606 West Touhy Avenue
Chicago, IL  60645

Later, Dr. Shkop claimed that she was simply looking out for this survivor’s best interests. In my experience as both a survivor and someone who is very involved with survivors, silence serves no one but the abuser. When I first started coming out about some of my story, I remember that the response was overwhelming. For two months, people kept finding the courage to come forward with their own stories. That’s why coming out is so important, because there are so many people, so many survivors, who live with the misconception that they are all alone, and that no one cares. Much of what keeps a survivor silent is the idea that even if he or she is believed, which is unlikely, no one will care; that their situation is so freakish, so unheard of, that there couldn’t possibly be other people out there experiencing the same thing who would believe them and care about them.

When my friend came out about being a survivor, she was trying to give hope and strength to all those survivors who are still too afraid and feeling too alone to come forward with their own abuse. She was trying to tell them that yes, there are other people out there who survived the same thing, that it is not only possible to survive but to thrive and transcend your past. So many people need to hear that simple message, and the more people there are spreading that hope, the more people there are like my friend, the sooner we will be able to bring an end to the silence that binds survivors in their pain and insecurity.

What institutions like Hebrew Theological College should be doing is supporting survivors who come forward, and celebrating the fact that they feel safe enough to entrust the world with that part of them. Responses such as the one quoted above are what hold us back from progress. I remember having a similar conversation with my grandmother when I published my first article about my past. She told me that there really was no need for me to say anything; that I should just get over it; that if I was dead set on saying something I should remain anonymous; that there was no need to air my dirty laundry in public and that nothing could be gained from it. I’ve come a long way in my journey to healing and I still have a very long way to go, but I know for a fact that the first and most important step I took was publishing that first article.

I hope that for my friend, being able to come out is just as important a step in her journey. I hope that people like Dr. Shkop are never able to keep her from being able to transcend her past, or from helping other people do the same. I hope that at the very least, Dr. Shkop comes away from this whole situation understanding why coming forward doesn’t make one simply a “case study” or a specimen ofpathology, and that being associated with a survivor who feels comfortable and safe enough to come forward will besmirch neither her name nor the name of her institution. I hope that she comes to understand that moving forward from a history of abuse never involves silence. Who knows, Dr. Shkop may yet see the error of her ways and become a vocal advocate for survivors of childhood sexual abuse? Stranger things have happened in the past.

Postscript by Yerachmiel Lopin- This case first came to light through a post by Chaim Levin followed by a post on Failed Messiah and then a post by Manny Wax of Tzedek, Australia.


21 thoughts on “Dr. Shkop of Hebrew Theological College Tries to Suppress Openness About Abuse

  1. Thank you for voicing your support of your friend and other survivors. If everyone’s reaction was like Ms.Shkop’s, no one would be coming forward to get the support they need or to offer support to fellow survivors.

  2. I am a survivor and I have to say that while I am not impressed (highly unimpressed) with Dr. Shkop’s response I think it is being twisted a bit. I agree that posting this information on a public facebook is not the same as coming out and asking for support. People have to be more careful about what they put out there in the internet world or they can easily become victims yet again. I don’t believe it is responsible and I don’t see it as anything close to the healthy route you took that your grandmother tried to deter.

    I also know Dr. Shkop personally and while we have very different views on things (most if not all things), her attitude in this case is really more about ignorance than asking people to keep quiet. She has never advocated silence of any kind and resents people who feel things shouldn’t be spoken out. But she also believes people fall back into ‘excuses for not moving forward’ and being their best. She believes every woman should be out there conquering the earth and not taking a back seat to any one for any reason. My guess would be that if a survivor came to her, she would push them to speak out and conquer themselves.

    I completely disagree with the school’s stand on this, and I do plan on saying so to them, but I feel like we can’t just jump on every ignorant or dumb comment someone makes and assume they were saying what you expected them to say.

    • Then it sounds like she is of the Manis Friedman school of thinking regarding abuse survivors.

      Well, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But when that opinion translates into making decisions regarding a young person’s future, then she is not entitled to an opinion that may cause irreparable harm. In another forum, the young woman has stated that she has been informed the school was planning to expel her.

    • She later claimed that she had only been looking out for my friend’s interests, but that seems incongruous with the way that email was worded. If out of compassion for a student you wish to tell her That something she just made public may hurt her chances for a job let’s say in an unfortunately ignorant and intolerant world, you don’t call her a warped less than human case study that besmirches the names of her friends and her college. Nope, I’m calling bull on anything less than Dr Shkop being vindictive and callous.

      • I know that if I say anything in defense of Dr. Shkop you will assume I am one of “them” but in this case there is way too much more to the story and your assumptions of Dr. Shkop are not on target. Don’t forget to post that Dr. Shkop sent this girl for therapy, defended her for months when she almost got kicked out, and that this girls intentions were NOT to come out and get support. There was too much preceding this letter.

        I am NOT one of “them”, I am one of “you”, but I refuse to throw anyone extra into the fire. She is not a Manis Friedman, and even those who don’t like her but KNOW the facts will tell you that. If we don’t stick to honesty and discretion when we make accusations then we are no better than all those idiots out there who support people based on their own biases and skewed logic. I will be the first to throw the match on any abuse supporter etc. but I’ll be darned if I don’t make sure that I’m right before I throw it.

  3. edit: it wasn’t over this situation that she almost got kicked out, but that information failed to be added.

    • It’s pretty clear from the email that the school is considering kicking her out due to her coming out as a sexual abuse victim on facebook. Unless there was some other text in the email that hasn’t been publicized.

    • I don’t know where you got your information from, but speaking as a source it was only about this. (As a hint, if you want to be believed, don’t hide behind anonymous. It’s a bit of a giveaway you don’t know what you’re on about.)

    • Irrelevant. Now, if Dr. Shkop publicly rejects the premise of the letter we can have a discussion about other issues. But in the mentime, the letter stands and speaks for itself.

  4. Thank you Shoshy, yes there was more. The kicking out was much before this and Dr. Shkop actually intervened to prevent it at that time.

    I am just disturbed to hear people jump in and take this whole story at face value as an opportunity to bash out another frum institution. I expect that behavior from the “other side” and I expect more mature, contemplative and unbiased behavior from us survivors.

    This is not my institution, I speak of this incident only and not the institution itself or its administrators.

    • Are you suggesting that Dr, Shkop’s letter should not be taken at face value? That it is inauthentic or doctored in some way? And if so, how do you have access to the full text or true content of the email? As Mr. Lopin says, the letter speaks for itself. If there have been other times that Kaylie and the administration have clashed, it’s really irrelevant. If those are Dr. Shkop’s exact words, the institution has to answer for the criticism it is receiving. If her words have been misquoted, she should speak up herself, and not through some anonymous spokesperson.

  5. Sounds cold to write an email. And regarding all the back and forth of intentions of the email, someone familiar with the nature of technological communications out there should be wary of putting things into that arena that could be misconstrued. That’s 100% true even if I believe the anonymous statements 100% as well.

  6. Ouch. and Shoshy is not anonymous? and Yerachmiel Lopin is not anonymous? Smear effort? Wow, I can only say that now that I hear how my words are being addressed, I will have to be much more careful who I trust. I always thought of this site as one that operated on a more mentchlich level and respected others opinions. Not sure what part of my trying to give a clearer picture deserved crap. I seriously thought you WANTED to know if there was more information, whether you agreed with it or not. I am really taken aback, and hurt. No need to post this, my words are obviously fodder. Sorry for not getting the point here.

  7. the ‘anonymous’ part was because of the survivor part, but I guess I don’t deserve that privacy either. Thanks for kicking me while I was down.

    • I’m sorry, I really don’t think I was “kicking you while you were down”. I don’t really know what you mean by that. You made some allegations, and I asked for further clarification. You seem to be privy to information that only a member of the school’s administration would have, so that was why I questioned whether an anonymous poster should be believed in making such claims. I’m sorry if my words offended you.

  8. I am completely up front about the fact that I have no special knowledge of this case and I’m just reaching conclusions based on the facts as they have been presented in the media.

    You have alluded to other incidents and information and state with apparent “authority” that there are other facts which change the entire story, (ie the “smear effort”), yet you offer no information about yourself that would indicate how you have such special knowledge.

    I don’t need to know your name; I want to know how you are so sure that the threat of expulsion did not involve this specific facebook post, as indicated by Dr. Shkop’s letter. It would also be helpful if you would use a consistent pseudonym so that people can tell which of the many “anonymous” posters is you.

  9. I appreciate the apology. Don’t think I’m ready to take the risk again though. Blogging is not my strength apparently and since I’m not willing to use my name I can’t contribute anything anyone is interested in hearing.

    • It takes a second to think of a name, any name.

      Nobody is saying you must use your full, legal name, but then you know that. You’re just whining because you got called out on your “I know the real truth, and the girl is just a. troublemaker” crap.

      It’s the typical frum routine, blame the victim and then cry “Foul!” when people tell you, quite rightly, how disgusting that is.

      The email was a disgrace. Telling a girl she is sick and less than human for DARING to admit that she was abused is just violating her all over again.

      Anyone who does that, or defends that, should be put in cherem. Instead, the frumma put the victims in cherem instead. Neanderthals.

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