In an increasingly connected world, the shortcomings of public education regarding the subject of sexual violence is alarming. With many students being unable to define the term “sexual violence,” yet acknowledging the necessity in being able to give that term meaning, the drastic need for re-established educational curriculum is evident. Thirteen of the fifty U.S. states require sex education to be medically accurate, yet comprehensive sex education neglects topics of sexual violence as a mandatory aspect of the curriculum.
A definitive term for the danger that this ignorance facilitates is the term, “rape culture.” What this means is an environment in which sexual violence is both normalized, as well as excused, within the current culture. The perpetuation and ignorance regarding sexual violence and corresponding issues is an immense part of “rape culture.” In today’s society, two main environments of this culture are academic institutions and religious communities.
Within academic institutions of higher education, women aged 18 to 24 are three times more likely to become victims of sexual violence. This statistic translates into the fact that 23.1 percent of females, as well as 5.4 percent of males, experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. A now infamous example of this statistic is the case of Stanford University student, Brock Turner. In 2015, Turner was convicted of sexually assaulting an intoxicated and unconscious woman referred to as Emily Doe. He was indicted on two charges of rape, two charges of felony assault, and one of attempted rape. Following much deliberation, Turner was sentenced to six months confinement in Santa Clara county jail, for which he served half; as well as three years’ probation. The state of California reacted by toughening its laws on sexual assault by requiring jail time for instances where victims were unconscious. Following this event, the victim released a statement surrounding her assault which has been read over 11 million times.
Within religious communities, similar occurrences exist. In Brooklyn’s Haredi community, allegations concerning sexual abuse against its spiritual leaders has drawn scrutiny. Rates of sexual abuse in this community are similar compared to others, there is dissimilarity in accusations. In this specific community, reports of sexual abuse to rabbis, teachers and religious leaders, often fail to be reported to Brooklyn police due to stigmatization coming from the community.
When victims do come forward with accusations, they often stay within the community, rarely reported to police and never influencing statistics of sexual violence. Many in the community believe that reporting a Jew to authorities that are not Jewish constitutes a religious crime against the Messiah, making the action forbidden by Rabbinic Law. Shomrim, a local Jewish security team, are often the highest authority responsible for accusations, keeping the names of those accused private. This community and their means of addressing sexual violence offers an example of one immense aspect of rape culture: stigmatization. Victims who come forward with accusations are often shunned, or their accusations are manipulated through intimidation.
To combat these instances, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, an ordained ultra-Orthodox rabbi, created a hotline for victims featuring his lectures in Yiddish, Hebrew and English, urging victims to report their experiences to the authorities. Although some measures are established to try to combat the culture of sexual violence in this community, true prevention begins with education. Jewish communities need to acknowledge that sexual violence is in many ways a direct result of the refusal to even discuss the topic. To create a safe environment and to implement the topic of sexual violence into Jewish education is to actively prevent it.
Regarding prevalent topics, modern education often lacks the apparent urgency required for factions of reality, rejecting taboo subjects rather than obtaining a place for them as decidedly necessary subjects of education. With this foundation of decided rejection surrounding education, subjects of sexual violence are often absent from required curriculum. In a world of increasing ease regarding communications and shared information, sexual violence is growing as a product of miseducation and blatant ignorance, further illustrating the dire need for proper education, established and acknowledged within required educational curriculum as means of absolute prevention.
Please note that the opinions in this piece are presented solely by the author, and neither The New York Jewish Week nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
Molly Alexander is a junior at Larchmont Charter School in Los Angeles.