- She had been touched inappropriately by her stepfather (an elder in the Mormon church) since age 12, only to have him tell her when she was 14: “I won’t touch you anymore because now you’re too old for me.” Sick, I know.
- She was anorexic.
I encouraged her to tell someone about her stepfather, but she already had. Yet it never went well. For example, when she initially told her mother, Jessica was slapped across the face. (I discovered later from listening to other victims of stepfather-abuse that being slapped across your face by your mother when you tell her what her husband is doing to you is not uncommon.)
Jessica tried telling others, like a young male guidance counselor and the school nurse, but neither did do anything, although I believe the guidance counselor responded with sympathetic words.
(And it wasn’t due to “lack of awareness.” This was the late Eighties and hotlines, organizations, and advice addressing abuse were literally all over TV, newspapers, talk shows, and magazines.)
I felt like maybe her eating disorder and the abuse might be connected.
(Eating disorders are indeed a common response to this kind of abuse.)
The school nurse cheerfully tackled Jessica’s anorexia by having her come to the nurse’s office weekly to weigh Jessica. Even at age 13, I realized that weekly weigh-ins could not help anorexia. Yet the adult nurse seemed not to realize this.
(I found out later that this same nurse used to take girls to get secret abortions during school hours. She genuinely thought she was being supportive and helpful. It was only later that I realized that this is typical of Liberal cowardice and hypocrisy: sporting girls off to get abortions while ignoring criminal sxual abuse and a dangerous eating disorder.)
Jessica also explained that as the oldest (she was the product of her mother’s first marriage and her half-siblings from this second marriage were much younger than Jessica), she was responsible for a lot of household chores.
Washing dishes became a dreaded task because if she broke a dish or cup, she got hit for it. This made her more nervous when she washed the dishes, and her nerves made her clumsier, which meant she dropped something breakable and got hit again. And so on.
Hunched over with a naturally round face and wearing bulky sweaters even on hot days, Jessica didn’t look anorexic. But really, she was becoming dangerously thin.
Really Nice and Smiley Do-Nothings
It helped her with the anorexia and she got up to a healthy weight, at which point the hospital released her back to her mother and stepfather.
Please note that everyone Jessica had turned to had been really nice. The nurse was a cheerful spritely older woman. The male guidance counselor was a friendly personable guy who used to walk down the halls of the junior with a smile and a friendly greeting for everyone. The medical staff treating my friend was mostly really nice.
It’s America in the Eighties. Everyone’s really nice! Bright colors and cheerful music is in!
But even people who chose to be in these helping professions that not only call for being “really nice!” and validating feelings, but also sometimes call for courage and virtue…these people ultimately did not and often still do not come through for Jessica and others like her.
Why? Because American culture has developed into a zombie-brain that only wants to feel good, but cares not a darn for actually being good and doing the right thing—especially when doing the right thing is uncomfortable and scary.
Dealing with Bad People at School
(Okay, so there were a lot of Mormons where I grew up and Mormon males are either really awful and like her stepfather OR they’re really good, sort of like really sincere yeshivah bachur types. I think it’s because their religion was founded by a total sicko, but because the surrounding value system of 19th-Century America was pretty good, so they adapted those values as part of their religion even today. So they either embody Joseph Smith or 19th-Century Americans.)
Anyway, I want her to tell and call the police, and am willing to stand by her through the whole ordeal, but she can’t bring herself to do it. These things are notoriously hard to prove and she is anyway feeling beaten down from her home life.
I want him dead, but alas, can’t do a thing about it. It’s very uncomfortable to pass him in the hallway or sit across the room from him in class, knowing what he really is and wishing I could whack him upside the head with a metal pipe. But all I can do is warn other girls with whom I see him flirting not to go out with him or be with him anywhere alone. (L’maaseh, I only needed to this a couple of times.)
What's Up with Jessica's Real Father?
Also, by siding so violently with Jessica’s stepfather against Jessica’s accusations, Jessica’s mother made it pretty clear that she doesn’t give a whit about Jessica being abused or violated in any way.
Things Get Worse for Jessica
But Jessica isn’t ready yet.
Jessica dates a couple more boys, then stops after they also violate her.
Despite us being close friends, Jessica never said that she’d been asked out or was going out on a date. If I’d known, I’d have tried to intervene.
(This is actually pretty common with survivors of abuse; they have “secret relationships” because that’s what feels normal to them and it doesn’t occur to them to chat with or confide in their friends about these relationships.)
So I would only find out after the fact, with Jessica looking glum and sounding so defeated, and quietly becoming suicidal.
I feel like I’m going crazy from this and am outraged that things like this can just happen with no repercussions. I also talk to the guidance counselor about Jessica and how to help her, but the lady just shakes her head sadly and says no one can do anything until Jessica herself decides to bring charges and testify, and she tells me to just keep on being a supportive friend because that’s what will ultimately help Jessica the most.
Finally, even though I never yell at my friends, I say to Jessica, “Stop dating! Don’t go out with ANYONE! Just stop!” I can see that she’s attracting and being attracted to predators, which again, is a very common result of abuse.
But Jessica just stares at me and I realize that she doesn’t know how to say no. Even to being asked out on a date, she just can’t say no.
So I tell her to just tell everyone she’s not dating right now. Anyway, Mormons have rules not to date until you sixteen (and then often get married at eighteen), so this should be okay. But she looks like I’m asking her to climb over a wall, so I rehearse with her what she will say next time she’s asked out.
Part of the Problem But Deluded into Thinking I'm Part of the Solution
Who would want to go through that?
She stares at me like I’m victimizing her now and I don’t understand why. I’m helping her, I’m being so altruistic! What’s wrong exactly?
What I didn’t understand was that she is against abortion and my pressuring her kill her own baby makes her feel like she was being violated again.
(Much later, I read about women who became pregnant from assault and who did have an abortion and grieve over how they were eventually able to heal from the assault, but not from the abortion. It’s a thorny and heart-rending situation, but I learn from reading and watching interviews with those conceived in abortion and their mothers that abortion is usually not the answer, even though “pro-choice” proponents insist it is the only compassionate response. Women pregnant from assault generally need unending support, compassion, and validation...not abortion. It doesn't matter how you or I imagine we'd feel in that situation, chas v'shalom, it matters how SHE feels. And this is learned from the parsha on Dina too, when the family allows her to make all decisions concerning her aftermath.)
Anyway, Jessica finds out she’s not pregnant and we are both much relieved.
(Now, I feel horrible about having pressured her to do such a thing. According to the Liberal values I’d been indoctrinated with at that time, I thought I was being so compassionate, but I was really being cruel. And I am so grateful to Hashem that He saved me from participating in an abortion.)
Later, Jessica manages to turn down a date and she feels great about overcoming that hurdle.
I confide in her too, and she never puts me down or rebuffs me for having my own problems in contrast to her very dysfunctional life.
It's amazing how normal and sensitive and good-humored she is despite all the abuse.
Meeting Jessica's Family for the First Time
I’m surprised at how small and run-down her home is. I thought that as a church elder, her stepfather would have a better livelihood. He is a short squarely built man with sandy hair and blue eyes. He looks more like a logger than a church elder. Her mother is a quiet pale brunette.
I feel this weird sense of disassociation being in the same room with such awful people when I know what they’ve done. Especially her stepfather. I wish he would just drop dead, but I have to greet him politely so Jessica doesn’t get into trouble for bringing home rude friends. We all sit on the shaggy carpet in a corner of the living room and quietly give her presents. Somehow, we all sense we need to be quiet, but we don't know why.
Her mother and stepfather coldly ignore us, but I don't know why.
Her younger three siblings sit nearby and watch us. They are scruffy-looking with sad eyes. We try smiling at them, but they don’t smile back.
(When I ask Jessica, she insists that her stepfather doesn’t do to his own daughter what he did to her. But the daughter is only five and I wonder. I feel like something needs to be done because I feel like the younger children, especially the girl, are in danger too, but there doesn’t seem to be anything that can legally be done. Anyway, Jessica insists that her half-siblings aren’t abused like how she is.)
The Seeds of Truth Start to Set Jessica Free
Toward the end of 10th grade Jessica is growing stronger emotionally and she finally decides that with her sixteenth birthday coming up (in our state, children 16 and up can legally choose with which parent they want to live), she wants to seek out her father to live with him and press charges against her stepfather.
Christian Compassion and Love
Jessica isn’t allowed out of her house or on the phone. She calls me here and there, but speaks quietly and hangs up suddenly because she hears someone coming. Then she contacts me to let me know that they’re having a youth group meeting at a church not far from my home and we agree to meet in the church driveway.
She sneaks out of the youth group meeting and we speak in the shadow of the tall bushes at the bottom of the steep walkway that leads up to the church entrance.
Suddenly, the church door opens and something like 20 Mormons come streaming out looking for Jessica.
Me and Jessica exchange looks and I ask if me being here will get her into trouble, and she says no, I can just say I was passing by and anyway, they probably won’t tell on her because they are trying to “help” her and don’t want to get her into trouble with her parents.
The head of the group is an outgoing confident girl named Allison. She spots Jessica and brings Jessica to the front of the group. She starts to talk to Jessica as if Jessica was an errant but beloved child.
Suddenly, I feel in danger. I sense that they won’t do anything particularly vicious to Jessica, but I’m a Jew and I somehow feel certain that would matter to them. I don’t stop to ponder this, but rationally, it didn’t make sense. I was open about my Jewish identity, but I was very assimilated and didn’t look specifically Jewish. Also, these people were very nice and proud of being open-minded. Furthermore, being a religious minority themselves, I’d always been treating with understanding and sensitivity by Mormons. Mormons are the nicest group of Christians I've encountered as a group.
So I have no idea where this sense of danger came from.
At one point, Allison is wagging her finger in Jessica’s face and looking intently into Jessica’s eyes.
“Now, Jessica,” says Allison firmly yet patiently. “You know your stepfather never did any such thing to you. You know you’re making everything up and you know that it’s all lies. You need to stop this.”
Danger or not, I can’t stand hearing this and seeing Jessica being treated like this.
I step out of the shadows and say, “Allison, Jessica’s not lying.”
Allison looks at me in shock, as do the rest of our peers and I realize they didn’t realize I was there. Allison isn’t sure how to handle my presence and I quietly defend Jessica, pointing out that her history of anorexia says something and also that they all probably have sensed something “off” about her stepfather, but are in denial themselves. Using Allison’s exact same tone of voice, I say, “Allison, you know that Jessica’s not lying. You know her stepfather and you can sense exactly what he is.”
And I can’t remember what else I said.
They all just stare at me for a moment. Then Allison glances at Joanne and as if hearing the same call, they all run off together.
I don't know why they keep running like a herd of antelope, rather than walking.
Jessica looks at me. “Thanks,” she says. But she still looks troubled.
We both know that anything I said was for Jessica’s benefit only, just so that she wouldn’t feel completely alone, but that everything else in her life was going to continue exactly the same. In other words, whatever I did was useless and only served to make me feel good. But nothing useful happened.
(Also, there was clearly no foundation for my sudden sense of danger as a Jew. Where did that come from?)
Jessica's Situation Turns Really Wonky
Allison’s family agrees to take her in and Jessica goes to live with them. They feel holier-than-thou because in their eyes, they are taking in this poor delusional girl who is making terrible accusations against one of their elders—yet they are behaving with exemplary Christian compassion toward her anyway.
Also, they can work on "curing" her while she is under their roof.
Jessica is in a crazy-making situation because it’s either her abusive family or Allison’s family or the street. Allison and her parents are really nice to Jessica, but are firm in their belief that Jessica is delusional, yet they love her enough to help her and support her even though she is nuts.
I can’t stand the whole thing.
Jessica's Anorexia Creeps Back
Allison and her mother are not so happy to see me and I feel intimidated, but am on a mission, which gives me some courage. Allison and her mother make a big show in the kitchen about working together and humming and generally acting all familial and “apple pie.”
Jessica allows me into her room and then doesn’t want to show me the pills. She says she has regrets about confiding in me because she’s getting fat again (she’s not) and she really needs them. I ask her to show them to me, which she does reluctantly.
I pull on the package, but she doesn’t let go. Finally, she lets go and I throw the package in the waste paper basket next to us. We both look at it doubtfully.
“Is that good enough?” I say.
She looks me in the eye and says, “I’ll just take it out again after you leave.”
“Right,” I say.
So I take it and put it in my purse. Jessica looks very unhappy. I need to go and I try to say something encouraging and reassure that I’m doing this for her own good, even though I feel really bad and condescending for saying it.
I go and throw the diet pills in a dumpster.
I feel like I’ve done something and not just stood idly by, but deep down, I know I didn’t do anything useful at all.
I’m becoming like the surrounding culture: doing things to make myself feel good and proactive, but in reality, my efforts are useless.
Jessica Contacts Her Father
He never remarried and has a job and is much relieved that she never believed the false accusations against him. There is more to the story that I can’t really remember, like something about the church ganging up against him and it all being too much for him.
Secretly, I’m upset with him for abandoning her for 14 years. I understand why he couldn’t handle the initial pressure against him, but if he knew what his ex-wife was like, then why did he never try to fight for custody or visitation rights again?
Why wasn’t his only child worth fighting for?
And what kind of man did he think his ex-wife would marry—why wasn’t Jessica’s father more concerned?
Why did he wait until Jessica contacted him?
Why didn’t he care enough about his only child?
But I say nothing about my thoughts to Jessica. I want her out of this community and living with her father too.
Encountering the Injustice System
The middle-aged female guidance counselor goes to testify on Jessica’s behalf, but I see her beforehand and she doesn’t look happy. She doesn’t say much, but implies that she doesn’t trust that particular court to do the right thing. But she will try her best.
I am thrilled. Finally! Jessica will be away from all the nuts and abusers! Now she’ll be able to heal. I can’t wait!
Excited, I wait for a call from Jessica.
Finally, she contacts me and she’s just despondent. The female judge declared that a child belongs with her mother and sentenced Jessica to the custody of her mother until she’d turn 18.
I feel like my heart and stomach are caving in. How could this happen? Anyway, without the abuse, Jessica has a legal right at 16 to choose with which parent she wants to live.
Why is this happening?
According to everything I've read and everything I've seen on TV, it’s not supposed to happen like this. Once you tell a trusted adult, then everything gets better. Once you scrounge up the guts to go to court, everything gets better: Justice is served.
Also, the judge was a woman! According to feminism, the entire reason why abuse victims were ever treated unjustly was due to the monopoly of insensitive white males in the system.
Installing FEMALES in traditionally male roles was supposed to fix at all that and right all those wrongs!
So what happened here?
Questions with No Answers
But I don’t understand how this happened and what “family-oriented” has to do with forcing a child back to an abusive family.
“Is the judge Mormon?” I ask, thinking maybe the judge wants to protect her own.
“No,” says the guidance counselor. “Not at all.”
This is even stranger. I know that mainstream Christians tend to consider Mormonism weird, like a type of cult.
So even if the judge is “family-oriented,” why would she side unjustly with Mormons?
Why didn’t she believe Jessica and the guidance counselor and the others who showed up on Jessica’s behalf?
What about Jessica’s lawyer?
What about Jessica’s history of anorexia?
In an effort to understand, I try asking more questions, but the guidance counselor’s mind seems to be somewhere else. She has other things to do (I found out what later) and I can tell that it's time for me to leave.
Penalizing the Victim
I’m very upset and confused and feeling betrayed on Jessica's behalf.
Spending another 2 years with her mother and stepfather seems impossible and I can’t stand the thought of it. I don’t see Jessica at school and I wonder where she is.
As I trudge out of the gym, everyone is streaming out around me with boisterous, loose energy. Suddenly, someone whomps up against me and arms are thrown around my neck.
I look down and see Jessica’s face beaming up at me.
“I'm going!” she says.
“Where?” I say.
She giggles. “Into hiding! They found a place for me to be until I’m 18 and can go live with my father!”
Into hiding? I start to feel rage boiling up inside of me. Why is Jessica going underground? She’s the victim! The other people should be hiding themselves, not Jessica! Why is the victim being punished?!
But Jessica is so happy, I force myself to smile at her. The truth is, I’m relieved for her too, even though it’s not fair. But of course, it’s better than the current alternative.
“I have to go now before anyone sees me,” says Jessica. “But I couldn’t leave without saying good-bye to you. Thanks for everything, for being such a good friend!” She squeezes her arms around my neck again in a hug and in shock, I hug her back. “See you in 2 years!” she chirps. Then she disappears and I’m left with my empty arms still in a half circle.
I look around, but can’t see her among the crowd.
This is the last blow of injustice. I feel devastated.
Jewish Justice Whomps Up Against Christian Complacency
It was she who contacted this underground foster care system organized by people who wanted to help the children failed by the official system. She’s very pleased that she managed to save Jessica after all.
Me too, but I’m still outraged that the system and society failed her and that she needs to go underground against the law with a false identity and when she’s the victim.
“But aren’t you happy for Jessica?” says the guidance counselor.
No, I’m not happy. Oh, yay, abused and innocent Jessica is a fugitive and gone to live with God-knows-who! Does that seem like something to be happy about? No, I’m relieved for Jessica, but I’m also very, very angry at almost everyone else.
I can tell that the guidance counselor is a bit hurt that I don’t appreciate more what she did. After all, it’s totally illegal and she’s taking a huge risk.
Realizing I’m too absorbed in my own feelings, I re-focus and thank her for doing all that for Jessica and reassure her that I’m happy for Jessica and that I appreciate everything the guidance counselor has done.
Then I go to English class and sit there, glaring into space while the teacher talks. Then everyone gets to work on the assignment and I’m still sitting there with my arms crossed and glaring at nothing.
The teacher, a middle-aged Catholic woman approaches me and asks me what’s wrong.
She sounds nice, but she often looks at me a bit distrustfully, as if remembering what my Pharisee ancestors did to her godhead, and now is no exception.
I say something like I just lost a good friend because the system fails victims.
Pursing her lips, she lowers her head to contemplate me with eyes radiating rebuke.
It occurs to me that she might have been peripherally involved on Jessica’s behalf and know about Jessica’s escape into hiding. Jessica had mentioned something about this English teacher being sympathetic, but I couldn’t remember what. I think I didn’t pay attention at the time because different Christian groups could be nice to those from other Christian groups in an effort prove themselves as the REAL good guys and get new converts. And I think that’s why I thought the English teacher was being sympathetic toward Jessica.
Anyway, the English teacher fixes me with this look, then says pointedly, “But aren’t you happy for her?”
I am getting really sick of this word. No, I am not happy.
This isn’t fair, this isn’t right, this isn’t the way things are supposed to work.
Victims should be vindicated, not punished.
This is America, this is 1990, this is a culture of awareness, hotlines, organizations, women's rights, and lots of other propaganda I'd believed in.
I feel like everything has failed Jessica—and by association, failed me too: feminism, democracy, the Constitution, psychology, the justice system, therapists, organizations, treatment centers (like at the hospital), the culture…nothing works.
You can't trust any of it. It all fails in the end. There’s nothing you can really do to help someone being hurt.
“No, I’m not happy," I admit. "I mean, yes, I’m happy that she’s out of harm and in a safer environment." Safer. I know that legal foster homes can be abusive. So this underground foster care system is still risky. "But this still isn’t right. It's not ideal.” I pause. “Also, she’s my good friend. I’m going to really miss her.”
The Catholic English teacher looks at me with disapproval. “You should be happy for her," she said. "If you really care about her, you’ll be happy for her and not just think about yourself.” And with that, she went back to her desk.
I felt slapped.
And for some reason, I felt it was an anti-Jewish thing. Here I am, the uncompassionate Jew—just like the Sanhedrin of Pharisees who sentenced her god to death just because he was a nice, loving little shepherd who only wanted to spread love and compassion throughout the world. [sarc]
And so a Jew like me needs a righteous, compassionate Christian to put me in my place and set me straight. [sarc]
For some reason, I also felt like the strong strain of justice within me was also a Jewish thing. I sensed that the non-religious guidance counselor and the Catholic English teacher were content with just feeling “happy” because they weren’t Jewish. Jews have a “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof—Justice, justice thou shalt pursue” passion in us and others can’t always relate.
But it’s the extra oomph that Jews have which makes us go that extra mile in social justice. Its expression is often distorted among Jews who don’t use Torah as their guide, but it’s definitely there.
Yet at that time, I didn’t know why I felt that me being Jewish had something to do with the difference in our responses and why I felt so certain that the Catholic English teacher was relating to me in a dynamic of Christian vs Jew.
I can't prove any of this, including the Catholic teacher's intentions. It was just my strong feeling at the time for some reason.
I also sensed that feeling personal loss wasn’t as selfish and immoral as the English teacher was making it out to be. Somehow, I understood that having more than one feeling (“Happy!”) about the whole issue was perfectly justified.
It was okay to feel relieved, “happy,” outraged, betrayed, and despondent all at the same time, even if no one else thought it was okay.
I also understood I couldn’t talk about this with anyone and that the guidance counselor couldn’t discuss it either. Good people could get into trouble.
Jessica on the Run
As cheered as I was to receive each card, they also plunged me back into outrage and despair again. Why was Jessica having to run around 3 different states like a dangerous fugitive? She was the victim!
I noted her 18th birthday and wondered how I would get in touch with her again.
Jessica Makes It Through
“Hi, it’s Jessica! I turned eighteen!”
“Omigosh!” I shrieked.
She was living with her father now and so we met up at a park.
She didn’t say much about where she’d been for the past 2 years.
I guessed she couldn’t for fear of accidentally revealing something.
She mentioned being with an elderly couple in one place. It was boring and they just basically ignored her. I guessed that maybe they were paid, which added to their meager pension, and told to just keep things hush-hush, and that they were helping out a good girl failed by the system.
At first, I was concerned that she endured more abuse in these homes as is common in the legal foster system, but she said no, no one was abusive in any way. It was just more that she was ignored and bored most of the time.
She was harder and more cynical than I remembered, but it made sense considering what she’d been through. She was also more direct, which I thought was a good sign, even though she was still nice and caring.
Living with Dad: Not All It's Cracked Up to Be
“He’s wants more control over me,” she said at one point. “But he doesn’t understand that I’ve been on my own for most of my life. He can’t just start being my father when I’m eighteen. We don’t have the normal father-daughter dynamic.”
And I understood that she struggled with resentment against his abandonment of her for so long until she, the child, had to reach out and contact him.
Moving in Different Directions...Literally
At one point when we were around 22, I got a wedding invitation from her, then later a couple of photographs of her standing with her groom and her in a wedding dress looking pregnant.
Then I received a birth announcement declaring the birth of a daughter.
Then a year or so after that, I received another wedding invitation. I surmised she got divorced in the interim and was now getting remarried.
We were both moving around a lot and we lost contact.
Life as a Massive Wake-Up Call from Hashem
Believe me, I know how convincing these agendas can be.
Some of it has crept into the frum community and people put their trust in non-Jewish resources and believe their propaganda, with some frum Jews feeling like we need to emulate these non-Jewish resources and systems even though I can tell you from personal experience that, while there are good and effective people within the system, these resources are neither as good nor as effective as they portray themselves to be.
(Jessica is not my only story either. Other people confided in me over the years and I've had my own experiences with social workers, therapists, and other aspects of the system.)
Note: You can certainly utilize non-Jewish resources if they’re effective—I have done so myself—but placing your trust in them as the be-all end-all or attempting to emulate their projected image is neither wise nor correct.