25-year-old Avrumi Kroiser grew up in the Vizhnitz Chasidic community in Bnei Brak. Beginning from the age of 11, Avrumi was sexually abused regularly by several different people. Despite talking to several adults including his parents and the community’s Admor, no steps were taken to help prevent the abuse. He was simply told that if he “did Tshuvah”, the abuse would stop. After becoming a father himself, Avrumi finally left the community. Avrumi was interviewed for Kaan’s new program “We’re Not Silent”:
“When you’re in bed at night and suddenly woken by another person touching you, you are startled by the cold, painful contact. You can wake up, open your eyes, scream and shout. But you know that if you shout, the shame will belong to you. Everyone will know what happened to you. And when you go to shul the next morning, the person who hurt you will still be there.
“I was abused for the first time when I was 11. It was Purim. A young man around 20 years old invited me to go to the Yeshiva with him to watch rehearsals of the performance that was planned for the Admor. When I arrived, it was dark and empty, except for him. That’s when he abused me.
“At some point, I just ran away. I couldn’t even muster up a “Don’t touch me!”, I just said that I had to leave and ran. I told a few others about what had happened, and they encouraged me to tell my parents. When I told them, my mother broke down in tears. My father promised he would do something, but despite appealing to authorities in the community, nothing happened. I had to carry the shame with me every day, and my abuser was completely unaffected. So the next time I was abused, I kept it to myself.
“I stayed in the same community, the same institutions, the same places where I was being abused. It could happen while everyone was crowded around the Admor’s table, and someone would put their hand where it didn’t belong. It happened many times at the Mikvah, where everyone is walking around unclothed, but nobody sees what’s happening under the water. The Mikvah was a particularly bad place. There’s so many people, noise, water, and nobody is really watching anybody else because that would be immodest. Abusers take advantage of the chaos, putting their hands where they don’t belong. I was abused there many times.
“The people who are supposed to protect you blame you instead. You tell them about what’s happening to you, who’s touching you, how you can’t sleep at night without finding him right beside you when you wake up. But they just tell you to do Teshuvah and go to the Mikvah, and then it won’t happen anymore.
“As the years went by, I collected more and more abusers, who were always around me. If I saw them on the street, I would cross to the other side. I became introverted. I was afraid of socializing in the community. I didn’t want to be there anymore. But I was a child, I had nowhere to run to. So I stayed, in those same places where I was abused again and again. I carried so much shame, put on my shoulders by my parents, my friends, my community, for ever having dared to speak out. So I was silent. I knew I would continue to be abused routinely, and I was. I felt dirty and delegitimized. I lost my sense of right and wrong. It was a warped version of reality. This is a place with no mature sexuality, so all sexuality becomes distorted. When you see these abusers being promoted to important roles in the community, you get the message loud and clear: Don’t complain. This is normal, this is just part of your life.
“When I was 20, I got married. The abuse continued. Then I had a child. I realized that I had brought an innocent life into this horrible place, that it wasn’t a matter of if it would happen to him, but when, and I nothing was going to stop me from protecting my child. I went to the Admor and begged him to do something about the abusers in the community. I thought he would be sympathetic to my cause, that he would heed my call to action. He told me to go to the Mikvah every day. When I told him why I hated the Mikvah, what had happened to me at the Mikvah, he told me to just take care of it quickly and to ignore what was happening.
“I realized that I had to do something to protect my child. I also realized that I couldn’t stay in the community anymore. Since getting a divorce and leaving the community, I have done all that I can to speak out, to expose abusers, and to encourage survivors to speak out as well. Even if nobody listens to you, or if people are angry at you, don’t give in. This isn’t supposed to be happening to you, this isn’t ok. Stand your ground.”