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