Thank You for the Apology, But About Tznius… – Guest Post by Asher Lovy

Dr. Shkop of HTC today apologized for her insensitive statements to a student in an email last week. 

Dear Kaylie*,

Over the last number of difficult days, regret and a stirring sadness have overtaken me because of the insensitive and harsh email I recently sent you.  I ask for your mechila [forgiveness] and extend you my deepest apology.

Inasmuch as [Torani L’Banot] has always endeavored to provide all of our students with full academic, emotional, and spiritual support – taking into account the variety of life experiences – it has become clear to me that we must do a better job in creating both the appropriate environment and the systems necessary to support our students in their greatest hour of need.  I do maintain our position that it is not in keeping with the standards of Tznius [modesty] and fundamentally unsafe to post intimate information about oneself and others on social media.  [Torani L’Banot], therefore, provides a private and safe forum for support and guidance.

We know that the Almighty places tests before us not only to draw closer to the Creator of the World, but to bolster our capabilities in improving the lives of His children, particularly those that are in great pain and in need of our help and support.  We will be assembling the expertise needed to make recommendations to the Board and to me on the resources and support systems we must improve to serve our cherished students to the fullest extent of our capability.

We as Jewish educators of young adults are on the front-line of life’s many challenges.  Tragically, the scourge of sexual abuse and misconduct has not spared the Orthodox community and its precious children.  We, therefore, must continue to be an institution that sets the standard in helping and supporting our students as they demonstrate the bravery and fortitude required for the healing process.  This is the test the Ribbono Shel O’lam [Lord of the Universe] has clearly put before me in the wake of my private email to you.

Sincerely,

Dr. Esther M. Shkop

The apology was appropriately contrite and apologetic, but Dr. Shkop stuck by her position that posting about sex abuse on Facebook is a breach of tznius and fundamentally unsafe. I think that merits further discussion.

There are two aspects to her opinion: First, that there is something contrary to the concept of tznius about posting that one is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, regardless of the level of detail provided. Second, that it is fundamentally unsafe to post such information on Facebook. The fact that she still sticks by her position makes me wonder what will happen the next time a student comes out as a survivor on Facebook. I’m assuming that she will be called into Dr. Shkop’s office and told to remove it from her Facebook wall, in compliance with the HTC student handbook, albeit a lot more tactfully. That’s ok. Dr. Shkop is entitled to her opinions, and she apologized for her hurtful words to Kaylie. What worries me is the existence of such opinions. This isn’t just about Dr. Shkop; she is not the only one to believe that.

The idea of invoking the concept of tznius in this situation is itself distasteful to survivors. Basically what that position implies is that it’s dirty laundry. Why air your dirty laundry? Publicizing the fact that one is a survivor is therefore immodest because you are drawing attention to a part of yourself that no one should see, much like wearing a miniskirt would, according to the laws of tznius, be showing the world more than they should be seeing. But that implies a certain degree of shame. It smacks of the stigma we’re working so hard to break. Having been sexually abused is not shameful; being a sexual abuser is shameful. Survivors should hold their heads high and feel comfortable coming out with their pasts because the fact that they still survive, and transcend, and thrive is truly admirable. There is nothing shameful or immodest about it, and yet, people still feel otherwise.

As for personal safety, it’s true, there are things to consider when coming out publicly as a survivor of abuse. Because of the stigma that still exists, it can indeed damage a person’s chances for a shidduch or a job, depending on whom the survivor is going to for either. The way I see it, her concern is touching, but really it should be up to each survivor what they’re willing to sacrifice in pursuit of their own healing. When I started coming forward with my own history of abuse I knew full well that I was giving up my chances of finding a shidduch through the traditional way, and I was ok with that. But it was my decision to make. College is supposed to be about becoming an adult and making your own decisions–shaping your own future. I appreciate that Dr. Shkop was trying to protect her student, but at this point it’s not her decision to make. Only Kaylie can decide how to shape her future.

I have no doubt that Kaylie carefully considered her decision to come out as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and all the consequences which may follow, and made a decision that she felt was best for her. I wish her luck in her studies, and much success in her future.

What we can take away from this whole situation is that we still have a ways to go in making our communities friendly to and accepting of survivors. Dr. Shkop’s apology is greatly appreciated and gladly accepted, and I congratulate her for having the courage to admit her mistake. Granted, her opinions still haven’t changed, but in time they may. They are not her opinions alone, and there are many people’s minds to change, but her apology was a definite step forward. Our cause has been furthered by this experience and I hope that progress continues in the future, both in HTC and the rest of our communities.

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13 thoughts on “Thank You for the Apology, But About Tznius… – Guest Post by Asher Lovy

  1. all those in power today who are making the lives of so many miserable with their abuse of power beware, your days are numbered.
    we dont need you to accept us or be friendly to us. why would we take your lies as friendship??
    what a victim does not know the truth????shame and blame and shut us up.

    well its over. because people are starting to talk. and not shutting up. me at age 59, yes it took me so long to be able too , too much damage. only started at age 49. and some of the little ones are talking, really little. and then others like kaylie and so on. its coming out.

    accept us. hell we dont need your acceptance. we need you out, out of power, out of our sight and far away from torah and hashem. as you dont belong there.

    the fight to cover up this is intense. but they are going to lose. its overwhelming. world wide. kiddie porn is going to go as it drives the industry of sex and money and rape of children. its over.

    no forgiveness. the system has protected the wicked too long. the cruel vicious lawyers, the corrupt judges, the horrendous rabbinim turning the other cheek, its over folks. your day is over.

  2. We all have the power and choice to read into anything what we choose to read into it or see into it. I don’t necessarily see in this what you do. Sex in and of itself is a private and personal matter in OUR religion. It is NOT something we openly discuss because it is intimate and private between individuals and meant to be special and personal. It is no one’s business other than the couple involved and that is why the relationships in a Jewish marriage is supposed to be honorable, respectable and special. “supposed to be”. So the inyan of “tznius” in regard to this topic is appropriate and proper. The fact that the school has an opinion on the subject of “sex” in any way, shape or form in that concept is not unheard of nor is it inappropriate as far as they are concerned. I get that. The fact that Kaylee felt the need and was courageous enough to come forward with her story is an important accomplishment for her, Kol Hakovod. I get that too. But it goes against the grain of the school. Their attitude and belief is NOT going to change overnight because we wish it to, and they are NOT wrong because WE don’t agree with them.

    As Dr. Skopf said “We will be assembling the expertise needed to make recommendations to the Board and to me on the resources and support systems we must improve to serve our cherished students to the fullest extent of our capability.” These experts might advise them on the needs of such students who were so horrifically abused to have “control” and come out publicly with their stories. It will be a learning process for her and the entire school. She had admitted that she has a “need” to learn about this issue and how to deal with it. Until that happens she stands by the previous opinion. That does not mean that things won’t changes when she is better educated.

    WE need to learn from this as well. Don’t dig your heels in and look to accuse and blame others because they are NOT of the same opinion as we are or they don’t see things the same way. We don’t have to criticize everyone and fight with everyone. Because some very well educated and smart people chose to address Dr. Skopf appropriately, it caused her to learn something from them and gain a new perspective to the point that she apologized and recognized that not only was she wrong but she needs to educate both herself and the board on the needs of students such as Kaylee. That is a huge admission on her part and a major step forward for survivors of abuse and their advocates.

    At this point we have to appreciate and accept her apology and wait for Kaylee to advise us further. Don’t be so quick to judge and don’t stir up more trouble where it is NOT warranted. Give them the opportunity to work on this together and turn things around. If Kaylee needs our help we are always here for her, but if we don’t allow them the opportunity to give each other a chance to heal and work things through, we are just getting in the way of progress.

    • Sherree, equating discussing sex publicly and discussing sexual abuse publicly is like comparing apples and lychee nuts. Tznius is lovely and valid and as someone who is frum it is something I believe in. But don’t confuse random discussions about sex and immodest dress with something that is ruining the lives of children. Don’t confuse it with something that should be discussed openly and unabashedly. We must become comfortable with talking about sexual abuse openly or we will only continue to perpetuate the stigma. That has nothing to do with modesty, it’s pikuach nefesh.

    • Sherrie, your opening paragraph appalled me. How you can draw any sort of conclusion about the crime of paedophilia from using, quote, the private and personal matter of sex, unquote, is beyond the pale. Have you not got an understanding of what paedophilia is? It doesn’t sound as though you do.

      • linda that attitude of fudging the issue is the most prevelant. drawing attention to non issues and downplaying the real problems is the norm here unfortunately. its like people are totally blind and dont get it when you say rape of children and babies. like they switch off. and these are people who are not on drugs. it freaks me out to say the least. but i will continue on despite this self willed blindness not to see the damage done to the real victims. no one wants to deal with this, its too hard for them. it will make them break with the rabbi who tells them to shut up. it will make them change their lives totally. they cant break away not even when their own children are suffering. its so sad. there are no words.

  3. The full text of a statement posted this morning on the website of the Hebrew Theological College:
    http://www.htc.edu/component/k2/item/281-call-to-action.html

    Call to Action

    Tragically and painfully, sexual abuse and misconduct is a plague in our world and our Orthodox community has not been spared. Throughout its history, Hebrew Theological College has always provided caring support and guidance for its students. We are proud of this tradition and are committed to continue to actively demonstrate the highest ideals of Torah and Chesed. Regrettably, in a recent communication with a student who enrolled in our school with a past history of being a victim of sexual abuse, we failed to exercise appropriate sensitivity. As a consequence, we regard this as a catalyst for immediate action, growth and institutional improvement.

    Our Board and Executive Leadership are now in the process of identifying a cross section of experts to present recommendations to us that will enable us to develop the resources and support systems needed so that we are positioned to the fullest extent possible to help our students through the healing process.

  4. I certainly understand, to the best of my limited ability, how some may feel the apology fell short in a number of ways.

    The fact that an educator and more so, a person in position of authority had the temerity to publicly apologize for a previous indiscretion is like a breath of fresh air. I’d love to see the same behavior exhibited by at least one Rabbi affiliated with Agudas Yisroel.

    • I agree. It is a breath of fresh air. And yes, believing in the arrival of the moshhiach is easier than believing Agudah will embrace the old fashioned idea that you publicly apologize when you have wronged others.

  5. Does anyone know whether the HTC men’s division rules contain the same Personal Conduct Policy as the one that has been quoted from the women’s division?

    Personal Conduct Policy

    As members of a Torah-observant community and institution, students are expected to comport themselves in full accordance with the laws and ethos of tznius as delineated in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law). Tznius, generally defined as modesty, implies much more. It connotes humility, concealment, reserve, privacy, and inwardness.

    Most significantly, tznius is a way of life – the choice of garb is merely its most visible manifestation. It encompasses behavior, speech, and even thoughts. Tznius means an awareness of being in G-d’s presence at all times. Tznius applies to men no less than to women. Clothes do more than reflect one’s fashion sensibility; they can create a mood and an impression – with or without intention. Tznius allows us to communicate rather than obscure the deepest level of selfhood.

    Questions concerning appropriateness or acceptability of specific behaviors or apparel within the school’s community should be directed to leadership members the faculty and the head of the school.

See Commenting policy ( http://wp.me/pFbfD-Kk )

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