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We began to speak. We used words like “abuse,” “rape,” “molestation” and “pain.” We began to tell our stories to investigators, to journalists and on blogs. Some of us, for the first time, told our friends and our spouses.
The reaction was immediate. We were branded as tainted, damaged and dangerous, often by close friends and others. We were declared by leaders and respected rabbis to be “mosrim,” traitors; deceptive liars. They called us self-hating Jews. They described us as young and shallow, rebellious men and women bent on vengeance and destruction; adults whose empty, worthless lives were filled with bitterness and rage.
We had violated the rules of what we were not allowed to know. We were using words that had been banned, forbidden. And we, who were stained with someone else’s crimes, were ordered to disappear, to stop whining. For how could we claim trauma and pain when we did not really exist? How could we have witnessed crimes that our leaders, wiser and holier than we are, said were not there? Because there was only one truth in this world, that of the rabbis and the holy men — and it was only they who could decide what had happened and what had not.
In 2003 I began writing my novel, “Hush,” a story of two ultra-Orthodox girls who endure the horrors of sexual abuse. People often asked me how I did it, how I wrote and published such a book while still living within the community.
I never answer their question. I have never been able to explain. It would take another book to do so. Because from the day I wrote until the day I finally ran away, I lived through the darkest parts of my world.
“The truth shall set you free,” David Foster Wallace wrote in “Infinite Jest.” “But not until it is finished with you.”
Victims of sexual abuse, forced free by a horrific truth, live with gashlike scars across their souls. One scar from the crime, the other from the denial that followed. They live with a constant question:
How did this happen?
How did a community of values, of family, of God, become stripped of its own humanity? How did a group of people, warm and giving in so many ways, so viciously deny the suffering right in front of their eyes?