Letters to Bystanders – Shay Kaiser

This first appeared in Frum Follies on 1/10/2013. I am reposting as part of an effort to draw more attention to intra-familial abuse including incest. This phenomenon gets short shrift in anti-abuse advocacy because it is even harder to get victims to come forward revealing their own identities and the names of the offenders. Yet such abuse is a big part of the problem, maybe even the majority of all cases, especially for girls. – Yerachmiel Lopin.


guest post by Shay Kaiser*

WARNING: This post deals with child abuse in ways 
which may trigger very disturbing responses for some survivors

When you are hurt by someone else you can vent anger by writing a letter which you don’t send. But the offender doesn’t find out what they did wrong. Imagine what would happen if these letters were sent. These are letters that I am not ready to send in real life. They are addressed to those who let me be abused yet never laid a hand on me. They are the people who looked the other way. I don’t know if it is worth sending them. If they refuse to hear what I have to say it would hurt me again. Yet many of us keep on mentally writing and rewriting  these letters.

scales of justice and childDear Woman,

Why didn’t you notice? Didn’t you see the locks on your husband’s door? Did you  wonder about his business trips and his strange office hours, and all the chesed he did with children? Did you wonder about why he went out in the middle of family gatherings and what he did on his private daddy-daughter trips? And that look on his face – didn’t you see that greedy monstrous look? Didn’t you care about his interesting shopping trips? Didn’t you wonder, didn’t you see?

Dear Teacher,

Why didn’t you ask about the bruises on my arm? Did you think a child could trip so often? Didn’t you see me shudder when you told stories about Daddies who are so sweet to kinderlach? Didn’t you wonder why I always wore the same dirty clothes and never had enough to eat? Didn’t you see me drifting off in class, because I was afraid to go to sleep for fear of would be done to me while I “slept?” Didn’t you notice me wince when the other girls touched me? Couldn’t you see how I was always a little bit out of the group, even when I was right in the middle? What did you make of the fact that I was always on my guard when you spoke to me? I was always petrified when I made a mistake. Didn’t you notice any of this?

 Dear Mother,

Didn’t you notice how quiet I’d gotten? Didn’t you wonder why I started wetting the bed at night? Didn’t you watch when his eyes traveled up and down my body and how he rough-housed with me, too often, and too long? Did you notice the broken razors in the bathroom garbage and the scars on my arms and legs? There were all these clues to what was going on next to your comfortable bedroom. How did you sleep at night?

 Dear Bystanders,

All of you, it was right there in front of you, the silent suffering and the masked expressions, the screams and the chilling quiet that followed. Instead of doing something you complained about antisocial children. You never even stopped to think about whether your complaints got us beaten into even more secrecy. After all, it couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be. She must have been lazy, socially awkward, immature, unhealthy, tired, very tired.  Mono, it must have been mono! Yes, it must have been mono! Well, if it wasn’t mono, it must been some teenage thing that they grow out of. You didn’t face us; you still won’t face us. You say someone else will take care of it. You say so many things. Why don’t you say something that matters? Why don’t you reach out? Why don’t you tell someone else? Why don’t you dial three simple numbers? Why don’t you finally say, “You are our children and we will protect you?”

The Living Hidden-Dead
*Shay Kaiser is a pseudonym

4 thoughts on “Letters to Bystanders – Shay Kaiser

  1. Scary stuff. People need to be better informed to know what to look for. While it’s too late to help past victims, we need to be better educated for the future. I, for one, would have no idea what was behind a child who exhibited these symptoms.

    But on the other hand, people have to be careful not to engage in witch hunts as seems to be going on now in Sanhedriya.

  2. Wow. Just wow.

    This was scary to read and yet so needed. I truly think every single parent/ anyone should read this. It has many signs to notice when a child is possibly being abused.

  3. All too true. In my book I cite the words of a survivor:

    “He told me he feels less anger toward his attacker than toward the Orthodox community that followed rabbinic advice in protecting the man. While a bullet in one’s flesh ‘does the damage,’ he said, it’s obviously the one who fires the gun who deserves the greatest blame.

    “And then he said what the Orthodox rabbinate cannot bring itself to admit…: ‘The abuser is the bullet. He does the damage. But the community — all the people who let him get close to you, who don’t stop him when the damage starts, who don’t listen when you tell them…they’re the ones who pull the trigger.'”

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