Opening Up the Conversation about Sexual Abuse in the Jewish Community

By: Elana Luban  |  May 15, 2019
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By, Elana Luban

On the evening of Tuesday May 7, roughly fifty YC and SC students gathered in Furst Hall to hear sexual abuse survivor and advocate Asher Lovy share his story. In a panel that followed, Faye Wilbur, LCSW-R, Dr. Sara Gluck, PhD, educator Dr. David Pelcovitz, and Sacred Spaces program coordinator Daniella Pitkoff shared their insights on how best to combat and deal with sexual abuse in the larger Jewish community.

The idea for the event was first sparked due to “YU and Stern Confessions,” a Facebook page where students’ anonymously submitted experiences with YU are posted regularly. Rivky Wigder (SC, ‘19), head of the “To Write Love in Her Arms” division at Stern, says her friend Neima Pollak (SC, ‘20) approached her with the idea “since there were several posts on the Confessions page that related to sexual abuse and how it’s so difficult to come forward and talk about it, and we realized that we need to provide a space for survivors and supporters to come together, even if the survivors don’t share their experience explicitly. We realized that the fact that this conversation was only happening on an anonymous forum was telling — we wanted to expand that to a more productive and open discussion.”

As far as the event’s execution, Wigder explains, “The event had been in the works for a few months; we were fairly nervous and hesitant about the approval process but were pleasantly surprised at how receptive the administration was of making this event happen. Another plus was YSU’s eagerness to sponsor it.” Concerning location, Neima Pollak says, “Sexual abuse is equally applicable to both men and women — we had the event uptown because we wanted to make the event accessible to as many people as possible.” Wigder adds, “We knew it can often be difficult for men to feel comfortable attending events like this, and we wanted to open it up for everyone to feel welcome and involved.”

A similar event about sexual harassment specifically had been had been organized several years ago by the College Democrats, but Wigder says, “In today’s climate, we knew that this should be discussed more and we wanted to expand the discussion more to areas of sexual abuse, including abuse on campus, childhood sexual abuse, and harassment in the workplace. I think my biggest focus was just giving students a forum to express their support… The turnout of this event proved how many students wanted to take part in the conversation and just needed a place to do it.”

The organization of the event shows great forethought; the flier explicitly stated: “Due to the sensitive nature of his experience, Asher Levy will be sharing his story before the panel, from 7:30 to 8:00 pm. The panel will begin at 8 pm. Feel free to join the even whenever you feel comfortable.” This level of consideration is particularly crucial when it comes to sensitive and potentially triggering topics.

Neeli Fagan (SC, ‘21), who attended the event, says, “I think it’s a topic that is very stigmatized, especially in the frum world… I’ve had several friends who have been sexually assaulted, and I think it’s crucial to shed light on this area. I thought the speakers did a great job of speaking about the community as a whole and how it has taken steps forward in terms of awareness of sexual abuse, and about all the work that still needs to be done. It’s very interesting to see what has been improved and what has yet to be improved.”

Concerning Asher Lovy’s account, Racheli Shafier (SC, ‘19) says, “Asher bravely shared his personal experience with sexual abuse, and I think it was a powerful way to open the evening — there was no arguing over whether or not sexual abuse happens in our community, or how harmful it is, when we had a survivor share his story with us tonight.” About the educators and mental health professionals who spoke at the panel, she says, “It was comforting to hear from experts that there is hope — both from their experience as practitioners in helping survivors heal from devastating traumas, and also in their position in the community, where they see that we have come a long way in understanding and preventing sexual abuse.”

Phillip Nagler (YC, ‘21), another attendee, says, “The panel covered an extremely important subject that unfortunately is not discussed sufficiently on campus. Sexual assault exists in every community, including ours, and we have to educate ourselves to be prepared to deal with it and support survivors. I commend Neima Pollak and Rivky Wigder for taking initiative and running this event.”

The only question that remains is whether future students will continue taking initiative to bring to light issues like these that are relevant but so often stigmatized. Wigder says, “I’m graduating, but I hope that events like this happen more. We can use this event as a start, but it needs to continue and expand to truly make a significant change.”

You’re not alone. If you’re experiencing any kind of sexual harassment, assault, or abuse, confidential help is available for free at: Hotline.rainn.org or 800-656-HOPE (4673)

If you feel that you would benefit from therapy or just a listening ear, you can reach the YU Counseling Center at counseling@yu.edu or (646) 592-4200

(Wilf) and (646) 592-4210 (Beren)

 

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