Incest: One Victim’s Story

Incest: One Victim’s Story

30% of child sexual abuse cases involve abuse by siblings, fathers, or other relatives.

I received the rude awakening that the Orthodox community is not free of this sickness earlier this year when an adolescent boy from a highly-esteemed American religious family was arrested for long-term molestation of his own sister. Most horrifyingly, despite the daughter’s repeated complaints, the parents did nothing to protect her from her brother.

According to the new book, Woman’s Life: Personal and Medical Perspectives (Beit El) by Rebbetzin and senior gynecologist Dr. Chana Katan, this shocking case was just part of a more widespread phenomenon. IY”H, through raising awareness about this horror within our midst, may we manage to banish it from our homes.

The following is an excerpt from Woman’s Life by Dr. Chana Katan:

She enters my office. She looks strange, a little spaced out, her eyes are eyes of glass. Her hair is curly, wild, dyed a rainbow of colors. Wearing long earrings in her ears, a worn denim mini-skirt, and a T-shirt. She has colorful bracelets on her ankles and torn sandals on her feet.

She hasn’t lived at home for 2 years. For a long time she searched for a shelter from her fears, from the long dark nights that were all too often bitter and difficult, and that is how she ended up on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street and Kikar HaChatulot where she met more friends like her.

She is certain that her mother was very happy to “get rid of her disgusting presence”—since she had “made a laughing stock” of her entire family—and her mother was afraid that she would “ruin” her younger sister, who was 12 years old.

In elementary school she had been an excellent student, but when she arrived at her religious girls’ high school, slowly but surely she stopped investing in her studies. She simply was unable to concentrate, until she was eventually diagnosed by the school’s certified guidance counselor as suffering from ADHD. If the counselor had provided her with an opening, if she had had a listening ear and an open heart, maybe she would have been able to reveal what was the real reason for her drastic academic fall…

He would arrive in the evenings, when Eema would leave for work as the Mikveh lady of their settlement. Their mother was occupying herself with purity, and she was drowning in filth…The horrifying plot that repeats itself from time to time had returned…The place that is supposed to grant her security: her home, her beloved room, had turned into the scariest place on earth…

And where is the mother? Why is her voice not heard? Even a quiet voice…Why is she neglecting her oldest daughter?

“I am so alone, humiliated, full of filth and guilt. I am like an unprotected flower in a public park that everyone who passes by is allowed to pick…And why did he choose me? And what’s happening with my younger sister now that I have left the house? Who is protecting her?”

She unrolls before me the story of her life, and my eyes are streaming with tears. I listen to her with my complete attention and I want to hug her with a warm and loving embrace; but I am a doctor, and I need to maintain boundaries…

The laboratory tests reveal evidence of serious malnutrition as well as alcohol consumption and drug use. There is a long road ahead of her, many prayers and much effort will be required of her and of those around her in order for her to arrive at the light that is awaiting her at the end of the tunnel. I finish our visit with warm words of encouragement. If only they could enter her heart.

By law, as a gynecologist I am required to report such cases to the authorities, as unpleasant as this can prove to be. My obligation to report is my obligation as a doctor and also, in fact, the obligation of every human being.

Unfortunately, the phenomenon of sexual abuse of teenage girls within the family exists among all communities, religions, and ethnic backgrounds, and even within every single section of the Orthodox community.

This is a phenomenon that demands special attention, in order to raise awareness about its existence and about the array of therapeutic possibilities that exist to help these girl to full recovery.

As a doctor I see that there is a definite overlap between abuse and other serious health issues, including eating disorders—anorexia or bulimia, a tendency towards depression and suicidal thoughts, use of addictive substances such as cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs, and other dangerous behaviors…

These girls, almost without exception, do not share their suffering with others due to feelings of guilt, embarrassment, powerlessness. There are cases when even the mother chooses to ignore what is taking place; out of a feeling of powerlessness she attempts to keep her family intact at the expense of her beloved daughter. This is one of the most terrible tragedies. The girl is the sacrifice in a miserable and painful reality.

Resources for Victims of Sexual Abuse in the Jewish Community

In Israel: 24 Hour hotline of the Crisis Center for Religious Women 02-6730002 or 03-6106666 (If there is no answer leave a message for extension number 23912 and a volunteer will get back to you quickly)

Project Y.E.S.’s Resource List

The following resources are recommended by Dr. Michael Solomon in his book Abuse in the Jewish Community (Urim): Confronting Domestic Violence in Israel:
Provides shelters for women, transitional housing, hostel for teens
and legal aid for all. Bat Melech-Miklat works with families and women of all ages addressing domestic violence, from economic empowerment to breaking the inter-
generational cycle of violence, and from advocacy in the courts to
lobbying the government. A comprehensive site designed for parents to prevent sexual abuse of children. Programs for prevention of childhood sexual abuse. The National Domestic Violence Hotline: Education, resources and links. The Child Welfare Information Gateway for
Prevention of Abuse and Neglect.!_SexAbuse.htm The American
Academy of Pediatrics: Guidelines for keeping children safe from
predators. Child protection and abuse
prevention information. The
US National Institute of Health: Source and reference site for
articles, programs and guidelines for child and domestic safety. Organized by the Pennsylvania
Coalition Against !ape: Provides consultation. The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention: Portal to the study of Adverse
Childhood Experiences. The Family Violence Prevention Fund: Programs for children and families. National
Consensus: Guidelines on identifying and responding to domestic
violence victimization. Provides specific recommendations
for assessing and responding to domestic violence that may be
applied to health care settings; also useful as a general database.


  1. What is scary is that most of the education we are giving our kids is related to outsiders or strangers. The abusive parent or sibling has so much more access to their victims. The parent has to be really focused to pick up on the signs since the victims hesitate to ask for help and feel tremendous guilt. We need to be vigilant and remind our kids that no matter what they can come and talk to us and we will listen.

  2. Thank you for sharing this, as disturbing as it is, it is important to be aware. I looked at a few of the links you included but did not find what I am looking for, which is, as a parent, some guideline as to how to help prevent such abuse, especially among siblings. What may start out as a natural curiosity can easily become inappropriate. But isn’t it common for young children to enjoy prancing around the house without clothing? After a bath my 5 year old son curiously noticed his 3 year old’s sister’s private parts are different and commented (so I answered)… Chas v’shalom- how do you prevent curious thought from turning into action? I have spoken to the kids countless times about being tzanuah and how your private parts are special, just for you and no one else has permission to touch you there etc…but I know that kids will still do things they are not supposed to and I cannot always know what they are up to. That REALLY scares me. Any thoughts? Thank you for your terrific blog.

    • JewishMom

      thanks, that is an excellent question…I also haven’t seen any resources on this, and think there should be…

      • I was abused by a family member for years. Including rape. Best way to prevent it is show ur children love. That is where I was lacking. I have never felt loved before. Had I felt love from my mother, I for sure would have told her what my step father was doing.
        Till this day she still doesn’t know. Pls pls pls. Love ur children and show them this love so they feel comfortable to spk to u about ANYTHING. even such an embarrasing topic!!!!

        • dear Bf, I am so very sorry you had to go what you went through. I too, was molested by a family member and found out my 2 older sisters were suffering the same thing. Oldest ran away soon as she could and our 2 brothers ran away, too, because of mental/emotional abuse.
          I agree with what you said about love is a great prevention but I have heard stories of girls going to their moms whom they were very close to and felt loved by them to tell them that their mom’s husband (step or natural) was sexually abusing them turned on their daughters in order to maintain the family unit. I think the mom is the one who has made the family a unit because the man doesn’t have the guts to or doesn’t care at all about the integrity of the family.
          At that time when I was so young I wasn’t sure how wrong & bad the abuse was but I knew that I hated it so badly. One time as my abuser was hurting me I kicked them as hard as I could and told them to leave me alone. I tried to never let myself be afraid of them because they were mentally ill and I wasn’t. I hated their sickness and I did something about it. I told the school principle and he called the police on my abuser. I, the youngest daughter, blew the whistle. My poor older sister wouldn’t testify in court. It was me & my other brave sister who testified against our abuser. If you need a friend I am here for you. I hope you are ok but life is never the same again after abuse. I could use a friend I’m finding myself alone again but have had some good support in the past but have also been blamed and told it ‘wasn’t that bad’. Still the words haunt me and it was told me so many times I had convinced myself that maybe it wasn’t that bad. Lie!

  3. Naomi Cohen

    some prevention is in order, re brother-abuse

    PARENTS! don’t think it’s harmless and even cute to put teenage brothers and sisters in same bedroom… not even for one night while you have lots of guests.

    yes they’re siblings but the boys still have raging hormones. DON’T tempt fate. DON’T focus only on making sure the girls will tell you whatever happens to them (that is too late!). PREVENTION – make it almost impossible for this terrible thing to happen – to the best of your ability

    and then, yes, do make sure the atmosphere is open and let them tell you things, make sure to protect, etc

    but FIRST and foremost – prevent.

    another point in prevention is that the boys need active sports every day to get their energy out. don’t underestimate the importance of this. many yeshivos fail to provide this for the boys, expecting them to sit in front of a sefer all day and then fall asleep like little angels at night. not realistic.

  4. Incest is utterly ungodly. I feel nauseous knowing that this is going on among frum circles. Hashem should have mercy on us all.

  5. Not a simple matter to blame the mother. I was very close to my youngest daughter. One of the older boys always gave me chills in certain manners he had. I was olways on guard with him-maybe call it intuition. One day My daughter fell asleep, and I was in the area, but don’t remember if I was in another room,fell asleep or was taking a shower. All i remember was I was giving her a shower,and telling her in a non chalant way nobody is allowed to look at her,touch her, by her private parts,when she told me that this one son did touch her(more than that) when she had fell asleep on the couch. She was only 4 years old at the time, and she had a hard time describing what happened. I used a doll so she could show me which she did. To make a long story short, I tryed to get help from outside authoritiest reported it, made it public by telling her kindergarten teacher about it ,and in the end my husband went around telling everyone that I was crazy,and nothing ever happened.
    I stayed at a freind until he sent this child to live by his grandparents for a year. Then this was used against me as proof that I throw away my kids. His whole family was informed that I was crazy and made up this story to throw my son away!
    Even today, years later, he wanted to prove that I was crazy and brought up that story(embarrassing my now teenage daughter) again for no reason, publcizing it amoung friends and family.

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