The Frum Pedophile
There has been a new conversation about sexual molestation in the frum world, and this is good. The conversation is happening on the fringes of the community, and, as more courageous victims speak out, in the heart of it as well. The much publicized Weberman trial has prompted rabbis and activists from within the community — such as Rabbi Yakov Horowitz and Ezra Friedlander — to call publicly for a change in how the frum world deals with sexual abuse. As I hear people discussing these cases, my heart breaks for the victims, but it also saddens for the perpetrators.
In all of this talk about how to deal with abuse, there is one aspect that has so far been overlooked: the sexual repression of the frum community and the role it plays in leading to sexual deviancy. Only a team of statisticians, psychologists, and sociologists (and I am none of these) can determine this conclusively, but it would be foolish to overlook this. Common sense suggests that the extreme sexual repression of the frum world would lead some to prey on children, not necessarily because these pedophiles are all pedo philia – lovers of children, but because some of them might find children to be one of few available outlets for their sexuality.
The frum world has today turned sexual repression into a full blown obsession. The teenager is terrorized into avoiding masturbation and taught to treat sexuality as degrading and shameful; casual interaction with the opposite sex is a major act of deviance; couples are paired for marriage with little regard for mutual attraction; and tznius is expected to be the dominant religious obligation of the female population (and that of their male overseers).
If the cost of ordinary sexual outlets – sexually satisfying adult relationships — is so high, then a higher incidence of less ordinary outlets becomes far more likely. The frum world has several unique instances of such: It is no secret that otherwise heterosexual yeshiva students often seek sexual encounters among their peers. It is also not unheard of for ordinary children and teenagers to seek sexual encounters among their siblings.
So too, adults who do not have satisfying relationships of their own might turn to the easiest and most vulnerable prey: children and minors.
A culture that judges extra-marital sex more harshly than sex with children sends a clear message about its sexual mores and ethical priorities. If so much of sex is bad from a religious perspective, then that which is merely criminal does not stand out as uniquely grotesque. It stands to reason that at least some frum pedophiles (although certainly not all) are not true pedophiles but suffering under a system that has led them to follow aberrant impulses.
This does not excuse the pedophile’s behavior–not in the slightest. A pedophile’s motivation does not alleviate the devastation he might wreak on the lives of his victims. But understanding the unique profile of a frum pedophile, and the conditions that lead to his actions, might help us better protect our children.
Perhaps the frum community knows this, and this understanding fuels their outrage when pedophiles are brought to justice. “He’s a good guy!” they cry. He’s not a criminal, is the subtext; not like the non-frum pedophile. And perhaps they’re partly right. Perhaps there is something different. Perhaps some percentage of frum pedophiles would lose their awful predilections in a freer society.
The frum world must ask itself now–in addition to all the other difficult questions: is it not creating a society in which tragic sexual dysfunction is uniquely bred? Is it properly allowing its members to lead healthy and fulfilling sex lives?
The pedophile’s crime is surely one of the most heinous. But perhaps, just perhaps, it is sometimes borne of a greater dysfunction within frum society, that of unnaturally suppressing men and women’s most natural desires.Printable Version