Since my initial blog regarding my abuse and my abuser, two other survivors of this man’s terror have contacted me (and I’ve eaten way too much chocolate). There is a sense of not being alone, but sharing this in common is not comforting – it’s just disturbing. I know there are dozens of women Marc Winiarz Gafni has hurt over the decades, and at the time of my abuse I knew of one other he was inappropriate with, and considered his then wife a victim as well, but until the past decade or so the others have only been numbers to me. Now they are people and the shared pain is excruciating. It only fuels my anger more that decades later still no one may be listening.
I understand that times are different now. I understand that people are less afraid to talk about sexual abuse when it comes to the clergy, but there is one thing I will never understand. I am a parent of two daughters (and three sons) a now sixteen-year-old daughter, and a daughter who was once 16 as well. In a million years I can neither both imagine blaming her for being sexually abused, nor envision that people I know would not believe her and/or speak out in defense of her abuser. As painful as recalling the abuse has been, and is – each and every time, equally painful is the reaction to my speaking out each of those times as well. Honestly I don’t know why I bother to tell and retell my story (a story that has not changed for 30+ years). No change occurs; and neither does justice, reparation nor apology. There will always be those few who appreciate, who encourage and who offer support, but they are few and far between.
The Rabbinate is NOT immune to sexual dysfunction or mental disorders. Rabbis (male and female) are human with imperfections; some of these flaws are so severe and run so deep that they are irreparable. These same dysfunctions occur across humanity. It is not “safe to assume” simply because someone is in a position of leadership, (religious or otherwise) that they present no threat to others. I would argue quite the opposite. Individuals in such positions must be held to an even higher standard, and must be placed under a more intense light of scrutiny. These people influence our children and other vulnerable members of our population.
If anyone comes to you (especially a child) to share a painful experience, PLEASE really listen, reserve any judgment and believe what you are hearing. Statistics alone have proven that the majority of those who share stories of abuse are not just lying to get attention (as I was accused of), or being coerced by others to bolster a campaign against a particular individual. Talking about an uncomfortable sexual encounter is not something people do easily, readily or honestly even willingly. More often then not someone who cares knows something is wrong, and it is with his or her support that a survivor speaks.
If you need help, ask. If you are being abused sexually, emotionally, physically; tell someone. If you are using food in any way as a coping mechanism (over eating, not eating, vomiting); tell someone. I was lucky to have ONE such person I could tell in 1986. Had that person not been there I’d likely not be here now. I don’t think she realizes that I owe her my life. Please be that person for someone if they need you – you may actually be saving a life.