Stop the Cycle
Project S.A.R.A.H.’s Healing Circle Stops the Cycle
“When I told my parents what had happened to me, they did not believe me.”
“It is impossible! He is a Talmid Chacham!’ my father said, and that was it. I was 5 or 6 at the time. In fact, no one ever told me that they believe me.”
— from the Project S.A.R.A.H. Healing Circle support group
A recent study shared by the CDC, shows that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys experience sexual abuse during their childhood. Statistics vary but most agree that child sexual abuse is underreported, and the occurrence of sexual abuse is too often. Furthermore, research shows that over 90% of abuse is perpetrated by someone the child or family knows. The notion that “these things do not happen in our communities” has been proven false over and over again. In fact, the data suggests that the prevalence rates of childhood sexual abuse in Jewish communities are similar to (and among men, higher than) the rates found in the general population.
1 in 4; 1 in 13. Let these numbers sink in–and know that sexual abuse is the most under-reported violent crime, with almost half the victims of childhood sexual abuse never disclosing the abuse.
There are many reasons why a child victim of sexual abuse is not likely to tell anyone about their abuse. A child may fear that they won’t be believed. They might think they are somehow responsible for the abuse and would be punished for it. When the abuser is someone the child knows and trusts, or is respected authority figure, the child may feel they would be betraying that person. Many children remain silent to protect other family members from upsetting information. A child may also be confused if they experienced some physical pleasure from the abuse. This confusion can make it difficult for the child to speak up. A child may feel that they permitted the abuse and should have been able to stop it.
Let’s be clear – there are no situations where a child is responsible for any sexual interaction with a more powerful child or adult. It is never the child’s fault. Abuse should not ever become the child’s shame.
It is our responsibility, as a community, to help stop the vicious cycle of secrecy, silence, and judgment of survivors of childhood sexual abuse. This means taking steps to prevent abuse, condemning abusers, and supporting the survivors by acknowledging their trauma. It starts with saying: “I believe you. It was not your fault.” These simple, yet significant words have a strong role in post-trauma recovery. They provide emotional support, validate feelings, and offer survivors an opportunity to tell their story on their terms, while feeling meaningfully heard. Just as questioning and blaming a survivor can amplify feelings of shame and self-denigrating behaviors, demonstrating empathy and believing the disclosure has been shown to increase the likelihood of getting assistance, moving toward healing, and achieving recovery.
When an individual discloses that they were sexually abused, our reaction matters. As a community, we need to better demand accountability for sexual abusers and to facilitate recovery for survivors.
Project S.A.R.A.H. is the NJ statewide program for Jewish people affected by domestic violence and sexual abuse. The “Healing Circle,” a support group for women survivors and “Stronger Together,” a support group for men survivors, are Project S.A.R.A.H.’s initiatives which recognize the unique needs of Jewish adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. These groups provide a safe space for survivors to support and be supported by others who can relate to their trauma, under the guidance and facilitation of trained trauma-informed therapists.
Remember, if you, or someone you know, have suffered the horror of childhood sexual abuse, you are not alone. Our groups can help you explore new ways of coping and support your healing journey. If you or someone you know can benefit from these services, please visit projectsarah.org or call 973-777-7638, ext. 151.
Ruthie Bashan, MA-AT, LSW
Project S.A.R.A.H. Staff