Maya Vered-Lev has been on a hunger strike since June 5. Perhaps for someone like her whose body has experienced some of the greatest horrors in human existence, extreme hunger may not be so terrible. Still, she has been sitting in front of the Knesset for weeks trying to get someone’s attention. She’s competing with the World Cup and 100,000 Haredim protesting in front of a jail. But she hasn’t given up. She is on a mission for justice, a mission to protect children from sexual abuse and incest.
Vered-Lev, a survivor of incest, is protesting the statute of limitations on crimes of sexual abuse of children. Like many survivors, she only came forward as an adult. After all, a child does not have the language, the skills or the understanding to say how wrong it all is. As Dorit Abramowitz, incest survivor and author explained in an op-ed in Tuesday’s Ynet, when the person who is supposed to be protecting you and sheltering you in life is the very one committing all the atrocities, how can a child ever feel safe coming forward? The amount of courage and resilience needed for a child to say to the world, “Someone in my family is sexually abusing me,” is unimaginable. Add that to the immense shame and guilt that children in this situation feel, and it’s astounding that any children ever come forward.
Yet, the law in Israel is remarkably dense about this entire dynamic. The statute of limitations effectively means that an adult seeking to bring her childhood abuser to justice is doomed from the start.
So when Vered-Lev was recently told by the prosecutor that her case was being closed, she decided that was time to challenge the system. The law must acknowledge the pain and suffering of incest victims, and allow children survivors the extra years they need to bring their attackers to justice.
Given the reluctance of incest victims to come forward, the Rape Crisis Center estimates that 90% of all cases go unreported. Moreover, sexual abuse of minors is a crime that multiplies itself, especially when untreated. That is, according to Debbie Gross, founding director of the Crisis Center for Religious Women, untreated child victims of sexual abuse are almost certain to become attackers. Gross believes that the reluctance to speak up is what has created the epidemic of child sexual abuse that we are witnessing today in Israel.
Vered-Lev has received scant publicity despite the passion and justice of her struggle, although she receives lots of visitors, and her Facebook page has almost 1,000 fans. Of course, her visitors included a grand total of three Knesset members (out of 120). Actually, MK Miri Regev gets the humanitarian award: She promised Vered-Lev that she would take this issue on legislatively. Obviously we know how politician promises can be, nevertheless, Regev had the duty and daring to verbally commit to this less-than-popular issue.
I would just like to say, well done to Vered-Lev for single-handedly taking on the pain and suffering of all those victims out there.
P.S. As I’m writing this, I received word that Vered-Lev is ending her hunger strike, but not her campaign. The campaign has a new name and logo, “Shover Shtika” — Breaking the Silence. Tomorrow night (Thursday), the organization is organizing a rally in the north of Israel. Click here for details.