August 24, 2020
The Orthodox community needs to do a better job of education around consent and protecting victims.
I am an Orthodox Jewish woman. I am proud of my identity and heritage, and find enormous value in my culture. I find that most of the flaws and challenges in my community stem from a severe lack of information, so I have an enormous amount of empathy for people who may not know the impact that their words may have. However, that does not erase the impact of their words. I have felt this most acutely when it comes to my community’s reaction to my sexual assault.
I was sexually assaulted two years ago. After the assault, as I recognized the enormity of what had happened, and especially as I realized that the case would be proceeding to trial, I slowly opened up to select family members and a few friends. Some people’s reactions could not have been more ideal. However, others left a lot to be desired.
Comments ranged from asking whether my knees were covered to stating that as long as I was not “technically raped,” I could still marry a kohen and would not have to worry about the assault. This attitude reflected what I was taught — the incorrect belief that yichud, the halacha (Jewish law) that stipulates that men and women should not be alone together, and shomer negiah, the halacha that says men and women should not touch unless they are close family or spouses, were established to protect women from assault because men cannot control their sexual appetites. Even in environments where these beliefs were not explicitly stated, the trickle down impact of these attitudes resonate throughout much of the Orthodox community as well as the wider Jewish community that I have been a part of.
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