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My Journey to Freedom

It started five years ago, when I married my now ex-husband. Well, that’s when it officially started. But you see, it never just starts with a bad marriage. There is usually a history leading up to that poor decision. In my case, I had been abused previously. True, it was a different kind of abuse. But essentially, it’s all the same. It has the same devastating effects and takes the same sort of energy to shake out of your system.

It started when I was 7 years old. Thankfully, it’s over. But the journey has not yet ended. I am in a healthier place now than I have ever been in, but there is always work to be done.

Sparing you the horrific details, I was sexually abused for many years as a young child. I then went on to marry an abusive man. He put me down, shamed me, beat me, raped me and ultimately, succeeded in making me feel worthless and like I was nothing more than an empty shell. He did a ‘fine’ job of finishing off my rapist’s mission.

Throughout my years, I subconsciously took over the role of my abusers in treating myself like I do not have a voice, and doubting the small little voice that would attempt to speak up every now and then.

Now that small little voice has gotten stronger and louder and more assertive. But every so often, the condescending voices of my abusers pipe up and try to dissuade me from pursuing my dreams. But now, it is their voices that are hushed and quiet, the muttering that I am now able to ignore and prove wrong.

Because I am strong. Stronger than the weak men who needed to put me down in order to build themselves up. Stronger than the naysayers who thought I could never break free. Stronger than myself, because every day I am getting stronger than I was yesterday.

Here are some of the ways that I was able to nurture and bring forth my inner strength. For those of you who have battled with similar struggles, I hope this can help you break free too.

Live your life for you! You are the most important person in your world. Your own mental health should be top priority. What everyone else thinks is just background noise. Ultimately, they are not living with your decisions – you are. This does not mean to totally disregard wisdom and advice from those wiser and more experienced than ourselves, but rather, to take it into consideration when you look at the grander picture that only you have access to. Remember: you can never please everyone.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being selfish. If something or someone makes you feel bad or gives you negative vibes, remove them from your life. You do not have to care for the world. You have to care for you. Take time to do the things that make you happy, that give you positive energy, and only surround yourself with those who do that for you.

Set boundaries  Very clear and strong boundaries  When interacting with you, other’s should know what you will put up with. And the only way for them to know what your boundaries are, is if you tell them. Be firm. Be your own advocate.

♥ Independence. For every individual, this can mean something else. For some, it may mean getting a job and paying their own bills. For others, it can be taking college courses. And yet for others, it can be as simple as going pottery painting in the evening after the kids are asleep. Whatever it takes for you to feel like your own person, do it.

Which brings me to my final point: Date yourself. This one may be more difficult for the extroverts out there, but it may prove to be even more beneficial. It entails doing exactly what it sounds like. Take the time out to be alone and do what you enjoy doing. Allow yourself the quiet and solitude to think deeply. Let your mind wander. Get to know yourself. Keep a journal of the thoughts you have. You would be surprised at how much you discover about yourself. It can only lead to good things.

Now as Pesach approaches, I am aware that I was bound by shackles of abuse, similar to that of the slaves in Egypt. But I, like them, am no longer a victim, rather I am a survivor.


I survived the deepest hell and came out stronger. Like the Torah tells us, the slavery in Egypt was compared to an iron furnace. It refined us to be able to receive the Torah. One of my favorite expressions sums this up perfectly “Stars can’t shine without darkness.” I am a shining star, as is each and everyone one of us. We all have struggles and those struggles shape us to be better, stronger and kinder people.

Let us use this upcoming holiday to reflect within and find our deepest strengths.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, Kosher and liberating Pesach!

Photograph by Rivka Bauman Photography

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When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Women

Considering the recent discussions on sexual abuse, Gabi Aharonov writes an insightful book review on how abuse affects the child bearing woman. On the forum you can read personal counts of sexual abuse and how the recent YouTube clip that went viral is affecting them, see here. You can also participate in a “Vote” on the Facebook fanpage, see here. We hope you find this review to be helpful. Please share it with your lady friends and professionals. 

We come into contact with survivors every day. Every day. Think about that for a second. A quarter of women were sexually abused by the age of 18. Once, I looked at my class and thought, “Oh my G-d, I have no idea what some of these girls have already gone through”. Then I realized that they are not girls, they are women.

Each woman deserves to be treated with respect. We should not belittle our sisters, our friends, our daughters. We may not understand what they have gone through, but we can do our best to empathize and help them carry their pain. We do not even have to know that a woman has been abused to treat her with respect.

Pregnant survivors in particular have a need to be treated kindly. They need to be reminded that their body is indeed theirs, even though it may not feel like it, although they are sharing it. Pregnant survivors need to know that they are not damaged. They need to know that they are in control, even when they do not feel that they are.

After reading “When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Women”, by Penny Simkin and Phyllis H. Klaus, I stopped saying certain accepted phrases to pregnant women, like “Wow, you got so big!” or “Can I touch your stomach?” I cannot assume that any given woman was not abused, and I cannot assume that my words will not trigger a hurtful memory.


The first part of “When Survivors Give Birth” describes the effect of child sexual abuse on childbearing women, and will answer to any skeptics who do not think that child molestation is a big deal. It also explains why a survivor should be open with her caregivers, and not ignore the past, since no woman knows what might come up again during the birth itself. This section of the book describes scenarios that may disturb survivors, so please be cautious if you are sensitive to hearing about other’s abuse.

In the birthing room a woman can feel out of control, have flashbacks, lash out at all of the people around her. She will have no idea what to do, how to react, does not feel safe in her own body, and this is a feeling she knows from somewhere else. Being prepared for this will help. Having a plan will help.

A woman having a pelvic exam can be re-traumatized hearing familiar phrases like “If you relax this won’t hurt as much” that she may have heard under a very different circumstance. Knowing enough about triggers would allow her to tell the doctor which phrases should be avoided.

If she is told that she must love being pregnant, that this will all be worth it, yet she feels nothing for the child, she may come to think that she is damaged. She may think that she is the only one hating the feeling of kicking, the only one having problems “connecting.”

The second part of the book describes solutions to these various problems that can arise. There are great solutions that are important for women to know even before they conceive. Many of the ideas involve communication skills, self-help techniques as well as pinpointing possible triggers and making a plan specific to the survivor.

The main point that is reinforced is the need to be sensitive and patient. The authors recommend that every doctor, midwife, and doula treat each patient as a survivor. We should all treat the women around us with respect and love, no matter what they may or may have not gone through. This book should be in the hands of every woman who is a survivor, as well as anyone who works with pregnant women.

At the very least, we should learn to nurture and care for those around us who have been hurt. We should assist their healing, not belittle their past. We should make them stronger. We should love them.

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Our Story – Sexual Abuse

Clarification: the person in this photo is not the author of this article. 

Abuse, lies, threats and a cover up exposed.

I call it my story, but it is not really my story to tell. But it has become a part of me, it is part of my life; in fact it is taking over my life.

My husband was raped.

I can say it over and over again. Yet each time it almost doesn’t even sink in.

Thirteen years ago, when my husband was 14 years old, he was raped. He was a young Chassidish boy, who came from a family that never quite fit in however hard they tried. His parents divorced when he was 2, and he suffered for years as a result of that. At the age of 9, a judge made him decide. Mommy or daddy? Yes I repeat, mommy or daddy, “who do you want to live with?” the judge sweetly asked him.

My husband chose daddy, because mommy was no longer frum, stable, nor lived in the community, and daddy said he could still see mommy and he would let her come and visit. Mommy promised she would. But she never did.

After those events, it is safe to say that my husband was emotionally scarred for life. His behaviour or lack of, and education suffered tremendously. His lack of cooperation and willingness to be a part of his new family, with daddy, Ima and his half brothers and sisters tore the family apart. And at the grand age of 12 years old, it was decided that my husband would leave school and officially, he would be home-schooled, but primarily he would get a job to keep busy.

A young and innocent Chasidish boy, with his bekesher and long payos, and who davened in the local Chasidish shtieble each week, was about to embark on a journey that would not let him return.

I recently watched his Bar Mitzvah video and I had to hold back the tears. He gave a beautiful Dvar Torah and thanked all those that needed the relevant Hakoras Hatov. Only watching it in hindsight, it was just so apparent to see the innocence that was about to be ripped away from him in the coming years.

And so it came to be.

He was 14, he had a job in a local shop and got rather close with the owner. Until one day he got a little too friendly and raped him.

I would say I have spared you the details, but in all honesty, I have been spared the details so I am unable to relay them to you. I am not sure whether I am lucky, or whether that means I will never truly understand what my husband went through.

My husband knew something was wrong. Something bad had happened. Being the technological savvy teenager he was, he managed to actually obtain the cd of the CCTV camera that had recorded them.

He decided he would go to speak to their Rabbi about what had happened. Surely his saintly chassidish Rabbi, who everyone in the community flocked to for advice, would be able to help him.

And so there he found himself, seated in his Rabbi’s house, telling him his story. From beginning to end.

Once he had said his piece, he looked up at his Rabbi, with his tear stained face and asked him “what shall I do? What shall you do?” and brace yourself for this response:
“You won’t do anything, you must not tell anyone about this or about this conversation, don’t tell your father, don’t tell your friends, or everyone will know what a bad person and boy you are, you will be shamed, you will be nothing. Now go and never speak of this again to anyone.”

And so he went.

Years past. And there were lots of changes.

Yiddishkeit, Torah, Mitzvos, they soon became memories of the past. And his father, well he surely must have been evil, if he knew about such things happening to boys and then not being allowed to speak about it.

After the numerous meetings daddy had with the Rabbi, surely the Rabbi must have told him why he suspected that daddy’s son had tried to commit suicide a few times, and why he did not want to be Frum anymore.

Relationships broke apart, a father and son, Hashem and his child.

Being involved in the youth program for the ‘off the derech’ teens is where things all started to change. They did not force Frumkeit, they just helped to educate and facilitate. It was there that new strong bonds were created, and my husband got to learn about evil things that people normally get sent to jail for. He spoke about what happened, got therapy, and was offered someone to accompany him in all his meetings with police and lawyers. But for my husband, it was not something that he wanted to do.

He did not blame the man that raped him. He blamed the Rabbi for covering it up.

When I met my husband at some point in our relationship prior to marriage, I was told about all of this. He confided in me, and I promised to keep his secret and support him no matter what.

The glass was smashed, Siman Tov uMazel Tov was sung, and Sheva Brochos were over.
Now it was time for real life to begin.

We found our happy medium in Judaism. We kept some Chasidish traditions, but on the outside, we look like your standard Orthodox Jews.

As every young couple starts their new marriage, one of the most exciting aspects is the physical side, the intimacy. In our relationship, we had it before we were married, although we had firmly kept to our self-made rule of anything but sex before marriage.

I first realised something was wrong when I would cry myself to sleep at night, feeling so rejected when my husband once again told me “I’m not in the mood tonight, I just want to cuddle.”

We had sex, but it was not as often as I would have liked or wanted. But after countless arguments, we just came to the conclusion that we were different from each other and we had different sex drives. And the good outweighed the bad, so we tried not to make it a big deal out of it.

After all who wouldn’t want a husband that loved to cuddle? To him, sex did not equal love.

We had our first child almost two years after marriage. We were so happy.

But that was when the flashbacks started for my husband. Every time he looked at our daughter, all he could feel was fear, and images of what had happened played in his mind over and over again. All he saw were images of himself being raped. He feared for our daughter’s safety, and he fell into a deep depression.

I begged him to go to therapy. “Please go”, I would say over and over again. But it was and still is too painful and it had never helped him in the past.

He did not want to talk. He wanted to forget.

Up until six months ago, we were at breaking point. We spoke to our Rav, who really helped and guided us, and I got myself into therapy, which taught me how to understand the abuse my husband had endured and how to be there for him and cope with the repercussions it had had on him.

And then it happened.

Our community exploded.

Headlines read as follows: “Hariedi Rabbi Exposed in Rape Sex Scandal”, “Prominent Marriage Counsellor Inappropriate with Married Women.” The list can go on and on. And then the big one: “Rabbi Resigns from All Positions”

During the course of these past few months, we have watched the biggest cover-up in our community unfurl. Finally, this Rabbi is being exposed for the heinous crimes he has committed. Not only did he cover up for rapists and pedophiles, but he was a molester himself.

But as always, there will always be the poor misguided souls that will follow their leader to whichever depths of the lowest places they will go. There were those that fought back, and the fights are still taking place. It is far from over.

But finally, my husband is beginning to heal.

Justice has started to take place.

More victims are speaking out.

More abusers are being named and shamed.

The only hard part to deal with is the somewhat like ‘Stockholm syndrome’ that my husband continues to suffer from. For those that are not familiar with the term, it is when a bond is made between captor and captive, or in this case, abuser and victim.

I would not say my husband empathises with or understands the man that raped him. But to this day, he is not willing to press charges against him or speak to the police. Therefore, there is a pedophile roaming the streets of our community and has gotten away scot free.

And that is the hardest part for me. I need this man to be punished. I feel like he has ruined my husband’s life and my own.

I do not think that my husband realises what our sex life could be like if he had not been raped, or maybe he does realize but he does not want to dwell on it, because the harsh reality is that the lack of sex, has led to the lack of a pregnancy. We have been desperate for a second child for over a year; but until now, we have not been able to make that happen because of the lack of intercourse.

I stand by my husband and I am patient for him because I love him. I love him unconditionally, partly because I know he is my soul mate and partly, I make the extra effort because I know he has no one else in the world that can love him unconditionally.

He will never be able to forgive his father for exposing him to the Rabbi that covered this up. And he will never forgive him for not realising that there was something severely wrong with his son all these years.

I urge all victims of abuse to speak out.

This story started thirteen years ago, and the end has only just begun for us now.

I have given you a glimpse into my world, the world of a wife of a victim of abuse.

I have learnt not to cry myself to sleep at night because my husband does not desire me; but instead, I hold him tight and I keep him close and try to protect him from the world that has caused him so much pain.

All I can do is try to understand and encourage people to speak out. Staying silent is easy, but bottling it up is the hardest thing to do.  Whatever a victim does will be painful, and we need to show them support no matter what.

I wish I could end my story with a happy ending, but unfortunately I cannot. Right now, there is no happy ending. My happy ending will be when we live in a community where we do not allow any Rabbis to cover up crimes of abuse of any kind, and when all victims of abuse feel safe enough to speak up.

Please, I urge you, if you know someone who has suffered at the hands of any abuser, be it emotional, physical, mental or sexual abuse, help them to speak up and act now.


Photograph by Rivka Bauman Photography

Clarification: the person in this photo is not the author of this article.