Sexual harassment within a community is a difficult topic no matter the context, but within religious communities it’s a topic that isn’t commonly discussed. Dr. Linda Freedman, a psychotherapist, spoke at New Toco Shul on Feb. 14, 2018 with the hopes of shedding light on the value of these conversations.
Her workshop, in particular, focused on sexual harassment within the Orthodox community, citing a New York study of 360 married Orthodox women between 19 and 58. One quarter of those surveyed said they had experienced some form of sexual assault by age 24, with most saying it took place by the time they were 13.
The study can’t be generalized to the whole community, but Freeman emphasized that 360 is a strong sample size. She also discussed the rationalizations that take place in the way perpetrators convince themselves that the attention is wanted instead of discomforting.
Since that February event, Freedman has given additional thought to the topic of sexual harassment in the Orthodox community.
She specifically discussed the textual origins of the concept of women as property, suggesting that it served initially to protect women and to deter others from sexual assault and other wrongdoing. She also points out that women needing the protection of men is dangerous because this puts them at the mercy of the protector, a male.
“Men, even fathers and husbands, are not always benevolent,” Freedman said.
She emphasized that interdisciplinary study finds traditional patriarchal roles associated with sexual harassment.
“The Orthodox community is still very traditional. A woman will joke that her spouse thinks he’s making the big decisions, but that she is behind all of them,” Freedman said. “That she feels she has to make her spouse feel he has more power than he has really might indicate that this traditional dynamic still plays out today … Patriarchy disturbs us because of that word, power.”
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