Category Archives: Sexual Abuse

What Is A Jewish Idea Of Trauma?

We commonly think of trauma as a terrifying, life threatening event.

Examples are car accidents, traumatic medical emergencies, crime, and terror.

In fact that’s the definition of trauma given by the authoritative manual of psychiatric disorders, the DSM V:

‘The person was exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, in the following way(s):

  • Direct exposure
  • Witnessing the trauma
  • Learning that a relative or close friend was exposed to a trauma
  • Indirect exposure to aversive details of the trauma, usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, medics)”

While there is no doubt that the DSM’s definition is authoritative, it leaves much out of what the vast majority of people experience as trauma.

Look at it this way:

Trauma requires two ‘ingredients’:

The unwanted event and how you experience it.

The DSM V emphasizes the unwanted event yet tragically and mistakenly leaves out the personal experience of the event.

In the DSM’s approach to trauma, all that is important was the presence of a violent event.

The personal effect is neglected.

But that’s the most important part!

How you feel after what you’ve gone through and the person that you become because of it.

So let’s looking at it this way (and leave the DSM on the side):

An event or a series of events, can shatter you and compel you into a chronic state of traumatic stress, makes the event traumatic.

As we’ll discuss further in coming blog posts, the state of traumatic stress is encompassing: it effects us physically, socially, spiritually, sexually, and intellectually.

In fact, from a Jewish perspective, the experience of trauma is akin to violent unwanted death.

As I wrote about previously, the essence of human existence is autonomy and self hood.

To be alive, gloriously functioning human is to be able to come and go, to form relationships as one pleases, to learn new things, to fail and then to master whatever one wishes.

To be denied that is to be denied life, God forbid.

And treatment for PTSD is to become alive again.

Why is sexual abuse like murder?

We commonly speak of sexual abuse as murder.

Some perhaps go even further: they say that sexual abuse is WORSE than murder.

That’s because in the case of physical murder the victim, now dead, no longer suffers the ignominy of the crime committed against them.

In the case of sexual abuse, the victim goes on living but with all of the psychological and social damage hobbling them.

The parallel of murder and sexual abuse is drawn from the Bible.

In the discussion of sexual violence in Deuteronomy 22 we find these verses:

25 But if a man finds the betrothed girl in the field, and the man overpowers her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die.
26 Whereas to the girl, you shall do nothing the girl did not commit a sin deserving of death, for just as a man rises up against his fellow and murders him, so is this case.
27 Because he found her in the field. The betrothed girl had cried out, but there was no one to save her.

This parallel is compelling.

Speaking for myself, it makes me wonder about life and what it means to be alive.

And by extension it makes me think about what is destroyed when a woman or man is sexually violated.

Look at it like this:

If you were to ask anyone what is it to be alive they would probably say that it means to have a heart beat, to show signs of physical life.

In all honesty, I wouldn’t say that they are wrong.

But the Bible is placing in murder and sexual violation in one category.

Pretty shocking, no?

It would seem that the commonality between the two is that there is denial of self determination.

To be robbed of agency is to die.

It would seem then that to be alive is to be able freely determine where one wishes to go and what one wishes to do.

To be able to chart the direction of one’s life.

Having worked with victims of sexual abuse over the past thirty years this kind of murder is real.

These victims are caught in a web of shame, powerlessness, fear, and confusion that denies them the ability to live joyfully and powerfully in their own lives.

Their hearts may still beat out a normal sinus rhythm but their spirits, like a corpse, are dead and buried.

But that is what makes their resurrection so much more amazing and miraculous.