Has the world gone mad?
Over the past few weeks, we in Israel have been exposed to a case of incest that at first glance seems absurdly scandalous: "Father convicted of raping his daughter based on a dream will be sent to jail," screamed the newspaper headlines.
"A dream that my daughter dreamt ruined my life," cried the father who has been convicted of raping his daughter in both the District and Supreme courts.
And if that were not enough, 47 specialists from various fields in psychology and neuroscience joined the outcry in a public declaration after the father's conviction of by the Supreme Court, recommending that "in order to prevent harsh mistakes, those responsible should reconsider their reliance on repressed memories as acceptable evidence with a scientific basis."
In the service of silencing
At first I ignored the headlines and the prattle, but when my nights became frenzied, I decided to check. I read every word written in the 77-page Supreme Court ruling. I reviewed the multiple testimonies with all their complexities. I read the summary of the expert psychologists' opinion. I was not lazy (and anyway my conscience would not let me sleep...) and I even checked the exact special training and/or education of the 47 researchers who published the public declaration.
Contrary to the headlines and what the public declaration implies, the judges' unanimous ruling at two different levels of judicial courts is based on a wide variety of evidence and testimonies that combine to form the picture of an awful and shocking life.
The issue of repressed memory is only one of the issues in this trial (if we are indeed even talking about a repressed memory). It is all the more clear that no one has convicted the father merely on the basis of a dream his daughter had.
Amongst the declaration's signatories I found only four (!) who specialize in trauma and not one whose main specialization is working with victims of incest (and I apologize if I have misidentified any of the researchers).
Is it impossible to disagree with the judges' position? Is it impossible to conduct a debate on the quality of the general memory for the sake of clarifying reality? It is possible and necessary, but the context and platform of the public declaration distort the true picture of the trial, and are likely to discourage future testimony and witnesses, and - most importantly – leave the victims with no alternative.
One in seven
Dr. Zivya Seligman, an expert specializing in sexual trauma whose professional opinion was submitted to the court, quotes studies which found that the phenomenon of incest affects one in seven people! ("The Secret and Its Breaking: Issues in Incest," p. 16).
It should be pointed out that this refers to the entire spectrum of the phenomena of incest – from caressing intimate body parts to full sexual intercourse.
So it's reasonable to assume that:
- The building you live in has at least one family whose children are suffering from incest.
- The class you teach has at least five children concealing the secret and suffering of incest within their bodies and souls.
- Someone in your family or one of your distant relatives is suffering from incest.
- Incest is one of the most widespread crimes in our society, much more than murder, theft, car accidents or terrorism.
'You will walk alone'
(From Hebrew poet Leah Goldberg's 'The Anthem')
Whoever publishes a professional opinion as a response to a highly publicized trial is seeking to affect the community's conduct. Whoever seeks to undermine the credibility of interrupted, fragmented and repressed testimonies in incest trials must offer an alternative.
When the researchers speak of "a sincere but false memory" of some of the complainants, they are focusing on their professional therapeutic position, which isolates the suffering of the victim to the four cubits of the clinic and separates the suffering from any connection with reality.
In this system, the suffering of the victim is transformed into part of the patient's damaging psychological defense mechanisms which are believed in relation to the suffering, but not in relation to reality.
This terrible way, which shifts the cause of the suffering from external reality to the internal reality, was previously taken by Freud when he discovered the true dimensions of the phenomenon of incest and could not believe his eyes. This method is recommended from time to time by religious authorities and psychologists, but this is precisely the method we must abandon.
We are one in seven
I am not a psychologist by profession, and I say the following things exclusively from painful life experience: There is nothing that victims of incest need more than compassionate recognition and confirmation in reality. An especially awful byproduct of incest is the demand to lead a double life for many years. To know that it is forbidden to know, forbidden to remember and definitely forbidden to tell what is being done to your body.
Aside from the physical pain, the main suffering that afflicts victims of incest is the feeling of the secret, and the deep understanding that he or she does not understand or even know what happened to them. This experience was impressed on the victim by the attacker over many years, and only the community that is willing to listen to and believe terrible things can help her confront the falsehood, concealment and erasure.
We are in need of communal trust, just as one wandering in the desert is in need of water. We are one in seven. We have no interest in inventing such a tragic biography for ourselves. No one implanted these stories in us. We do not fantasize abuse, and certainly not out of deception.
"You again with your tales of incest."
What happens in these real world scandals happens in the weekly Torah portion. We have only just begun reading Genesis and we are already required to address incest. As soon as God finished drowning the world, the survivors burst forth with the sin of incest.
This pattern of behavior will be revealed again in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Humans sin. God destroys the world (or at least part of it). Immediately after the salvation, the survivors sin with incest.
Genesis 9:20-25 reads: "And Noach the husbandman began, and planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine, and was drunk; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. And Noach awoke from his wine, and knew what his youngest son had done unto him. And he said: Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren."
A lesson in concealing incest
Hereinafter is the first testimony of incest in the Bible, and it serves as an archetype for discussions about the topic to this very day:
1. What really happened there? The problem of false memory is tied like shackles to the ankles of incest issues. What did Ham do? If he only saw his father naked, what was so enraging? If he did do something significant, why is the essence of the story suppressed?
The rabbinic sages sense the difficulty and propose two possibilities for the sin Ham committed with Noach (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 70A): "One said, 'He castrated him.' Someone else said, 'He raped him.'"
We will never know what happened in the tent nor why the story is told in such an inexplicit fashion. An additional question that the story raises is the question of assigning responsibility between the grownup drunk, his son who did or did not do something in the tent, and the miserable grandson on whom the accusing curse ultimately falls.
2. Are the children guilty? Noach is the head of the tribe. Yet he irresponsibly gets drunk and rolls around, exposing himself in his tent. And who is blamed for the incest? Initially the blame is placed on the shoulders of Noach's son Ham, and immediately passed to Noach's grandson who was not even present at the event's occurrence.
What did Canaan do to deserve having the punishment placed around him?! In stories of incest, the moral responsibility is always the adult's. Nevertheless, the tendency is to roll the blame downhill, to the youngest and most vulnerable: "Cursed be Canaan" while the tribal elder is positively remembered as a "pure and righteous man" (Genesis 6:9).
It is also important to see that in every Biblical incest story, the blame is placed – as is commonly accepted – on the children, and not – as it should be – on the adults.
3. Division among the children. As soon as one child states that he has "seen father," the family becomes divided. The patriarch of the tribe makes sure to isolate the "bad child," and with the same move blesses the "good children."
The difficult means to guarantee the lasting silence of the victim are demonization and isolation: "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren." And after all this, who would want to endanger himself and support the victim's version of events?
4. It happens all the time. When the Bible chooses to tell us that incest is the first committed by humans after being saved from destruction, it is pointing to the sin's widespread and frequent occurrence. This happens all the time, everywhere, and this is the first sin.
So what can we do with the first sin? I am opposed to prisons for every situation and all issues. Imprisonment does not contribute to the rehabilitation of criminals, and does not offer a long-term solution to the community or the victims. Criminality requires serious, strict, and wise therapeutic treatment. Its root cause must be fully understood in order to rehabilitate criminals and fiercely protect its victims.
Contemporary systems of punishment do not answer the requirements. While I have no final solution, I do have some thoughts that can be a starting point. I am envisioning some sort of reconciliation committees, which would include many victims of incest, and many criminals too, as a significant number of people are simultaneously victims and perpetrators.
In my name exclusively, I say that the essential needs of victims of incest are two: Acknowledgement of past suffering and the promise of security in the present and future.
I would like to see that instead of the effort to send tens of thousands of people to jail, we would be able to build a medical and communal process whose main task is acknowledgement and accepting testimony of incest perpetrators, and of the victims (if the victims so desire), and commitment by the perpetrators to a rehabilitative process established by experts that will also take into account protective guarantees against future victims. Whoever does not agree to a reconciliation process will find himself facing a harsher law.
As stated, this is not a solution but initial thoughts of a mere laywoman who believes that public declarations that shirk responsibility for incest victims' pain and suffering are insufficient.
I will conclude this column with a poem gratefully dedicated to the person who chose to take responsibility and helped me say the ineffable name.
The Voice Went Out / Ruchama Weiss
He uttered the pure ineffable name -
Revealing the nakedness of incest
Without knowing what miracle could occur
One clear statement.
We understood how much this had always been
Concealing the nakedness of incest
And how much quiet dwells in revelation.
And all the animals that ate away at my heart
Fell silent in the face of the blessing
Of the most open-eyed seeing
Revelation. Nakedness. Incest.
Translated by Uzi Bar-Pinchas.
Click here to read this article in Hebrew.