Monday, November 19, 2012

When I Lost Hope: Levin v. Eichler

Early this past July, I filed a lawsuit against Sholom Eichler, a first cousin who sexually abused me for four years starting when I was 6. From the day the abuse began until last year, I hadn’t felt confident, strong or ready to attempt to pursue justice and hold Eichler accountable for what he did to me. I was afraid. The people I counted on to protect and help me when I was young only fed that fear, allowing it to grow. I had confided in my school principal, Rabbi Lustig of Oholei Torah, when I was 14 and the years of secret pain were too much to bear alone. Rabbi Lustig advised my parents not to create “a family fight” by confronting Eichler or his parents and strongly urged them not to say anything. Consequently, Eichler remained a welcome presence in my parents’ home for the rest of my youth, and my family celebrated his wedding despite knowing that he brutally abused and molested me for four years of my childhood four years that I’ll never get back, four years that I live with everyday of my life.

It’s been difficult. And, forgiving my family and the caregivers who betrayed me is no easy thing. Yet, I am grateful to most of my immediate family members for their support that, although it came late, did still come.I have been lucky to have the unwavering support of my parents and siblings throughout the journey the past few years has taken me on. My parents stand proudly behind me and support me in the work that I do the cause I believe in and live for. They accept me completely as I am; my orientation is just another inherent aspect little different from the color of my eyes or my skin tone. Everyday, I hear from people whose families reject them, sometimes even disowning them, just because they’re gay. I had truly believed and feared that my family would never come around, but I was wrong. They have arrived, and I couldn’t be more proud to call them my family, my blood. They have been there for me as I have tried to pursue justice.

Before filing a lawsuit against Eichler, I attempted to envision the different scenarios that might result, but I was not prepared for what ensued. Many people sympathized with Eichler and recast the traumatic abuse as just “two kids fooling around,” others called the lawsuit a ploy for attention, and some even had the audacity simply to feed into the denial all too commonly surrounding abuse, dismissing what had happened to me with assertion that Eichler is “family man” incapable of the horrific crimes he committed against me, my body and my mind. It had taken years for me to regain some sort of wholeness with which I could try to move forward, and the negative reactions to the lawsuit challenged that.  

And, I lost hope. I had to take a step back. I had lost my way. I have spent the last few months trying to figure out my place, where I belong and what I want to do in the future. I have also done as much I can to begin to heal from the childhood trauma that I endured. I had lost the confidence that was so hard to build. I lost my drive. I was disappointed and angry with many people; it was truly horrifying for me to hear anyone try defending the likes of Eichler despite what was known. So many people were focused on “Jewish gay activist sues cousin for sexual abuse” that the story was lost. It was a headline that told them all that they thought they needed to know. It was a headline that allowed them to conclude that the abuse I experienced at the hands of Eichler must have been consensual despite his being six years older because I proudly identify as a gay man and had not told anyone while the abuse occurred. It was a headline that allowed people to continue to ignore abuse and to blame and dismiss survivors. The misguided conclusions people made about me and what had happened to me were far from reality; still, they were a source of pain.

While I don’t feel the need to defend my choice in taking actions against someone that hurt me, I do think it’s important to address some matters before other abuse survivors’ motives are questioned and they are harmed in the process. Eichler may have been a minor at the time of the abuse, but I was a child; I couldn’t consent, and I didn’t have a choice. Eichler exploited my vulnerability in feeling different and inferior, which made me a perfect target for a predator. He once told me that he had to be mean to me in public so that no one caught on to “our” secret. Eichler sexually, physically and mentally abused me. He devised elaborate strategies to isolate and intimidate me and to lure me away to commit unspeakable acts. Even after Eichler sodomized me with a pen when he became frustrated with my small, unaccommodating, fragile, eight year old anatomy, I was still too afraid to tell anyone. Like many other survivors, I was afraid and ashamed. That was why I kept it a secret for as long as I did, but when I was more able to understand what had happened I reached out for help.

My principal, family and community’s reaction are examples of what fed and continues to feed the pernicious silence that creates an environment conducive to abuse and that revictimizes survivors. I reached out again to my former principal upon retaining my lawyers, but he refused to cooperate, claiming that it was against Jewish law for him to get involved in any capacity. Rabbi Lustig knew what was at stake when he refused to cooperate less than a year ago, when abuse was no longer taboo and most rabbis called for everyone to help survivors achieve justice. Given Rabbi Lustig’s past and the history with running Oholei Torah for which he has not been held accountable, I cannot be too shocked by the way he continues to handle matters. My family, on the other hand, were there for me when I needed them this time, and it means so much to me. It’s been a long and painful road in finding some middle ground with my family. Instead of ignoring it and pretending like nothing happened as they had for too long, they were ready and willing to do whatever it took to bring justice and closure for me in any capacity necessary.

Justice and closure have been hard coming. Eichler and his family refuse to face the limelight. Neither he nor his family have publicly commented on the charges. There were those who thought he deserved his day in court; well, he got it, but he chose to not to use it. Eichler did not even file a response to the complaint against him, and a default judgment has been requested. And, it appears that his response to the default judgement against him will be immigrating to Israel.

I used to wish I could just escape from the past.Today, I think differently. Today, I want to move forward. I know that if I had missed the opportunity to pursue some justice as I decided after my 23rd birthday this past May, it would have been all the more difficult to move forward with my life, still burdened with a conflicted conscious and consuming secret. Now the secret is out, Eichler is exposed, and other children may be safer and other survivors find it easier to come forward. I am unapologetically proud of my choice to file a suit against Eichler for the damage he caused me. Now, I stand prouder and stronger, ready to move forward with my future while being mindful of the evils of the past. While they might be in my past, they continue to be a source of struggle for me and are a present reality for far too many people. The case was brought to court, but that does not mean it’s over; sadly, these battles are never over. Nonetheless, I am relieved to be in a better place in my life to do the things I hope and plan on doing; these include continuing to be an outspoken, unashamed survivor and an unapologetic critic of those who continue to feed toxic and dangerous environments in which abuse is covered up, and, most importantly, to put an end to the deafening silence that has handicapped so many of us.

28 comments:

  1. Chaim, stay strong. this brought tears to my eyes and I don't even have the words to support you with.

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  2. Chaim, you ABSOLUTELY did the right thing by pressing charges. It breaks my heart that you'd been treated this way and betrayed by a family member, no less. I have your back. NEVER forget that. Eichler will ABSOLUTELY get his. G-d will NEVER let him get away with the monstrous acts he subjected you to. I sure as hell wouldn't if I had a say in the matter!!

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  3. Silence is an admission of shame and guilt Chaim. You had to speak up; you had to tell the world what happened. I pray that you will go from strength to strength as you heal, recover and pursue your important work on behalf of all those who are mislead into thinking that silence is "in everyone's best interest."

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  4. I'm glad to see you've bounced back! Writing again and looking forward to the future with hope and anticipation. Your resilience despite tough challenges and your dedication to protecting others from the tragedies you firsthand know of is both brave and inspirational. I love you and you always have my unwavering support.

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  5. I'm very proud of you Chaim. You're one of the nicest, bravest, strongest, and most sincere and well meaning person I know.

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  6. I don't think I could say anything more about you and your courage than I've already said already. Thank you for who you are and what you do.

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  7. I am so glad you spoke up. I am a survivor of this to. I pray that Hashem gives us all the courage back to reclaim our power and our life. May Hashem bless you with continued healing and health.

    Hadassah

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  8. I am commenting as anonymous because I am also a survivor of sexual abuse. My main perp was my step father. I have told people, but never my mother or my half brothers. They don't need to know, he is dead and I forgive him. After all these years I can remember that he also brought good things in to my life. Those things do not outweigh the damage that can never be healed. As a child and a young woman I didn't even know how deep the damage went.
    I know that my step father was most likely also molested. His behavior towards me was not the only sign of his twisted sexuality.
    I pray that you will find peace and that this experience will find a smaller place in your heart and mind. No, you can not escape what happened to you and the damage it caused. But the wisdom that comes from pain is also yours. Use it well.

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  9. Looks like the story is not complete.
    A kid get sodomized there would be visual injuries .

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    1. Brilliant observation - what makes you think there isn't any evidence to corroborate that?

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  10. a crime was committed of sodomy.
    you say there was evidence to that ?
    the parents of the minor should be investigated for child endangerment.
    unless there is more to this story.
    even if you are not in the court of law still to tell a story one expect to hear the truth the all truth and nothing but the truth.
    for some reason you elect to say part of a story. and people are not as foolish as some think, and that leads to formations of opinions different than your conclusions.

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    1. Yes this story has more holes than Swiss cheese.
      Please Fill the holes with the story.
      did a mother of 8 year old child see the blood ?
      was someone else suspected in the crime (maybe other family member) why cover up such story ?

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    2. The case is wholly incontrovertible, and the perpetrator did not even file a response; he has won the case. I cannot imagine a parent examining their 8 year old child's anus regularly or even infrequently. However, the trauma is well documented in medical records. Why his parents were not informed, one can only imagine that the environment of denial and suppression of abuse Mr Levin has written about was involved.

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    3. any mother would look in to a stain underware very carefully.
      unless the mother is a no show

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    4. And any seasoned perpetrator, especially one, as stated, taking great pains to make sure that no one suspects the abuse, would make sure to get rid of such things. Besides young Chaim was taken to the doctor hence the medical reports.

      This is sick. Mr Levin won the case; the predator did not file a response as the case was very well documented and evidenced. The complaint is online. The abuse is clearly stated in the complaint.

      If the perpetator did not challenge and his lawyer did not question Mr Levin's veracity, it is completely ridiculous, disgusting and disturbing for those never involved to accuse a survivor of dishonesty. He WON the lawsuit. Is it shame that inspired the anonymity? The comments are certainly shameful.

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    5. Complaint filed against the predator, who did not respond to the incontrovertible evidence: http://theawarenesscenter.blogspot.com/2012/07/orthodox-gay-prey-kin-suit.html

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    6. Twelve is too young to go to the doctor alone, particularly for a physical. Even though children may seem very grown-up and capable at young ages, they still need the support and guidance that parents can offer. They also don't necessarily know all of their medical history and problems, and it is important for a parent to be there to provide that information. At about age 15 or 16, I will see a teenager without the parents present.

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  11. He says the abuse occurred from the ages of 6 to 10 and he first told the rabbi about it when he was 14. The sodomy with the pen happened when he was 8, six years before his parents found out. I think the bleeding would have stopped by then. I'm amazed at the ease with which people can discount and disbelieve these kinds of horrors. Does their denial come from guilt at being perpetrators themselves? Shame at being victims themselves? Guilt because once upon a time they could have stopped someone else from being abused but didn't? Or something else altogether? Chaim, I believe you, and I hate that you suffered the abuse and then had to suffer the silence even after you were brave enough to speak up. My wish for you is peace and healing. I won't say what my wish for your cousin is...

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  12. any NORMAL parents would do that unless you are talking about sick situation.
    Q: When is it a good time for kids to go see the doctor by themselves and not have their parents with them? My daughter is 12 and she is having a physical soon, and I am wondering if that is a good age to start. She is very nervous about getting undressed in front of people, especially doctors.

    A: Twelve is too young to go to the doctor alone, particularly for a physical. Even though children may seem very grown-up and capable at young ages, they still need the support and guidance that parents can offer. They also don't necessarily know all of their medical history and problems, and it is important for a parent to be there to provide that information. At about age 15 or 16, I will see a teenager without the parents present.

    That said, I usually try to spend part of the visit alone with a child starting at age 12 or 13. Initially, this may just be 5 minutes. Gradually, as the adolescent matures, the time alone with the adolescent gets to be a greater portion of the visit, and the time with the parent is shorter. In most visits I start out with parent and child together and get all the information about the child's health and any particular concerns either may have. Then I may ask the parent to excuse herself and I'll talk with the child and do the exam; but this may vary. Some 12-year-olds want their parents to leave, while others desperately want them to stay for the exam. If the latter is the case, I will do the exam with the parents present, and then talk with the child alone for a few minutes afterwards. By age 14 or 15, most kids want some independence and privacy, and will ask their parents to step out.

    The purpose of my talking to the child alone is not to try to conceal information from the parents, but rather to have the child start to learn how to manage his own health. This means letting them know that they can ask questions that they might be embarrassed to ask their parents -- particularly in regard to puberty, body changes, and sex. And also to make sure they are not beginning to engage in any risky behaviors that could be harmful to them. Not many 12-year-olds are engaged in smoking, alcohol, drugs, and sex, but many 15- and 16-year-olds are, and it is important that they feel they can tell me the truth about those experiences.



    Read more on FamilyEducation: http://life.familyeducation.com/emotional-development/medical-treatment/42280.html#ixzz2DTg21VKU

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  13. So many curious, unfounded, distracting and dismissive assumptions... Where is it stated that the parents were not there? And, how many doctors upon finding trauma would immediately inform the family (generally the primary suspects) and inform them of the trauma? Abuse is denied and not reported in communities such as these.

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    1. You can’t make from wrong right.
      All your explanations are very weak.
      Something is very wrong with the story.
      I do not accept the bull crap about that community or other community.
      Like we don’t say all gay are so or all blacks are so or all doctors are wrong

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    2. The story is so wrong and weak that the predator and his attorney did not bother even to question it? The defense generally viciously attacks any weakness in the plaintiff and inconsistencies in the narrative. But, there was no weakness in this case; Mr Levin has WON. It appears you do accept BC, but only on your terms and only your own -- when flung at survivors If you have questions about the story, why don't you ask, rather than making accusations of fabrication? Perhaps, you'd rather not hear the truth about your community or another, but that doesn't change the facts which were indeed prepared and presented before the Court.

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  14. Chaim you are so brave! Thank you for speaking up.

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  15. Thank you for being a profile in courage and a positive example to other survivors.

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  16. Chaim, I am in awe of your courage. First, you came out publically to give other gays hope. Then you came out publically about your abuse. You are a strong, brave and courageous man, and your family and community should be proud of you. Your story, every part of it, will indeed give hope to others. Thank you for taking a stand.

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  17. Anonymous said on
    November 26, 2012 at 8:24 AM
    "a crime was committed of sodomy."

    Yes that's true. It reminds me of the WW2 "allegation" that the crime committed by Germans against various Jews of all ages was "inadequate access to medical care and food." That is also true, but it came from the defense lawyers for the Nazi war criminals of Auschwitz. The crime here was "severe mental, physical and vicious sexual abuse of a child, including but not limited to rape, and sodomy with a pen, by an older teenager of an 8 year old boy." Is "inadequate access to medical care and food" of prisoners a crime during war time? What is the penalty? Is sodomy always a crime? Sodomy is a crime punishable by death, even between adults, but not in the United States. Is sodomy with a pen punishable by death in the Torah or anywhere? Congratulations on your victory in court and your courage. Perhaps your story can teach some homophobic Torah scholars the difference between sodomy and the actual crimes you were the victim of.

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  18. Mazel tov pursuing justice across the globe!

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  19. I'm so angry, He immigrated to Israel, to a closed community, and no one knows of what happened, or at least not the majority of people. Yossi, do you think he;s still dangerous?

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Feel free to post any comment or questions. Negative commentary that does not serve a useful purpose will be deleted.