It has been quite a week and I, for one, am looking forward to Shabbat. I am looking forward to staying off social media for a while. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of the opportunity Shabbat offers to us each week to focus on family, on friends and on our own inner life, our own souls. At the same time, it would be remiss of me to try to set the events of this week totally aside. The issues of consent and sexual assault need to be addressed, and we need to change our culture so that we finally take accusations seriously and, when doing so, take an approach that does not re-victimize the victims. Because, if we have learned anything in recent months it is this:
-Sexual assault is real, it is far too common and the current climate makes it incredibly difficult for those who have been abused to come forward.
-For far too many, especially those in positions of power, attitudes toward sexual assault have not changed nearly enough.
-We need a far more rigorous discussion of “consent” if we are to change the culture of our times.
-The “boys will be boys” defense is never acceptable when it comes to sexual abuse or assault.
-When it comes to how we speak about and address issues of consent and sexual assault, we have a long way to go before we can even begin to approach creating a “more perfect union.”
Like so many of you, I listened to Dr. Ford’s testimony yesterday. It was compelling. It was heart wrenching.
The response by so many in power to Dr. Ford coming forward helps explain why victims of sexual assault are likely to remain silent. That is not acceptable.
Perhaps the medieval Jewish commentator Sforno put it best when he wrote, “When a person has the ability to protest and remains silent, his silence is similar to verbal consent. When you do not say something to disagree, it is as if you agree with what was said or done.”
Sforno was not, I believe, referring to the silence of victims but to the silence of those who, in one way or another, make it difficult for victims to speak out. That needs to change.
May we speak out and, perhaps even more importantly, may we listen to others when they share their stories.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen