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November 02, 1990 - Image 43

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-11-02

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Jewish Survivor Of Incest
Breaks The Long Silence


Staff Writer


usan Lasker's father
was a model member
of the Boston Jewish
community. He wore a white
shirt, wing-tipped shoes and
he never swore.
He also sexually abused
his daughter.
Ms. Lasker, who was in
Detroit to talk about her ex-
periences, remembers wak-
ing up in her bed feeling cold
and discovering her pajamas
had been removed and her
father in her bed.
She doesn't remember
when the abuse began, Ms.
Lasker told 300 people who
attended an Oct. 22 Temple
Beth El program on incest
and sexual abuse within the
Jewish community. "But
people who knew me, really
knew me as I was growing
up, said the abuse began
when I was 4. It stopped by
the time I was 13."
"People warn you of the
stranger," she said. "It's not
always a stranger. It's often
a person you know."
Child abuse crosses all
socio-economic lines and re-
ligious beliefs, said Sandra
Jaffa, manager of the
Skillman program at Jewish
Family Service. Four years
ago, with funding from the
Skillman Foundation, JFS
established a family
intervention program to
prevent child abuse.
While Jews are reluctant
to talk about the sexual
abuse of children, B'nai
B'rith Women's Council of
Metropolitan Detroit and
JFS felt it was time to break
the silence. Earlier this
year, Lucy Gersten, chair-
man of the East Central Re-
gion, spoke to Mrs. Jaffa
about putting together a
public forum where the topic
could be addressed. Both
organizations hope Ms.
Lasker's experience and her
film on the topic, Breaking
Silence, will bring the issue
out in the open.
Breaking Silence
chronicles the experiences of
women who have survived
sexual abuse. Juxtaposed
with their stories and faces
are pictures children have
drawn in bold, angry strokes
of Crayon depicting their
feelings about their own ex-
periences. In one picture, a
five-year-old has drawn her
family. There's only one
thing missing; no one has a

mouth. It was the child's
way of showing that her
family couldn't talk about
the subject.
Ms. Lasker knows all
about the silence surroun-
ding sexual abuse.
For years, she tried to put
the abuse out of her mind.
She repressed it so deeply
that, like other victims of
abuse, she forgot it. But she
knew something was wrong.
"I was depressed and I'm
sure my ex-husband would
call me frigid," Ms. Lasker
said "I felt isolated. I used
drugs to escape. I had a
sleeping disorder."
She became so dysfunc-
tional she sought counsel-
ing. It was only during in-
dividual and group therapy
that the childhood memories

"As a child, I was
never believed."

— Susan Lasker

of her grandfather and her
father sexually abusing her
came flooding back.
"As far back as I can re-
member my grandfather
molested me," Ms. Lasker
said. "When I was alone
with my grandfather I never
could sit in peace."
It was only after attending
a conference on incest sur-
vivors that she discovered
her mother, who died shortly
before Ms. Lasker went into
therapy, must have been
abused by her father.
"My mom was a cold, hard
woman. Many people who go
through abuse become dis-
tant from their own chil-
dren," she said. "Suddenly it
clicked. I bet she was abus-
ed, too."
Ms. Lasker confronted her
mother's sister, who didn't
deny the abuse but only said
"We should have protected
"A pedophile is a
pedophile," Ms. Lasker said.
"My mother should never
have left me alone with her
dad. She lived the experi-
ence herself. Not only did
she leave me alone with him,
but she married a man who
persisted with the abuse."
Finally, she told her
brother that her father was
molesting her. "He told me I
was lying and that I made it
all up. I tried to confide in
my rabbi. His basic message
was honor thy father. As a
child, I was never believed."

For years, she put up with
the abuse. "If I rejected my
dad I would have lost the
only love I knew in my fami-
ly," Ms. Lasker said. "My
father gave me so much.
Whenever I needed some-
thing, even as an adult, he
would help me. I wasn't real-
ly interested or able to give
that up."
Yet, she wasted little time
in getting out of her father's
home. Shortly after high
school graduation, she mar-
ried and had two girls of her
own. As her memories slow-
ly returned, Ms. Lasker's re-
lationship with her father
became strained. At the
sound of his voice on the
telephone, she would feel
like vomiting. "What ap-
peared to be a model
daughter/father relationship
had so much anger behind
it," she said. "My goal in
therapy became to confront
my dad, to let him know how
he affected me as an adult, "
Ms. Lasker said. She's now
42 years old, but her father
continues to refuse to take
responsibility for his actions.
Only once did her father
seem to break through his si-
lence. He went to one
therapy session with her and
for a brief moment his eyes
welled up with tears and he
said "I feel so awful that I
caused so much pain for my
daughter." Later, he told her
he only said it because he
thought she wanted to hear
Although her father calls
every few years, Ms. Lasker
has repeatedly told him she
would only consider resum-
ing a relationship with him
if he would accept respon-
sibility for what happened,
tell her brother the truth,
and keep his physical
"I have chosen not to have
a friendly relationship with
my father," she said. "I
chose not to have a relation-
ship with someone who cares
more about himself."
When she was making the
film Breaking Silence, her
father told her, "Susan, pro-
tect me," Ms. Lasker said.
"He should have thought
about that 40 years ago. He
should have protected me.
The father should protect
the child."
Today, Ms. Lasker refers
to herself as a healing incest
survivor thanks to years of
group and individual
therapy. She admits she is
one of the lucky ones.

Sidney Silverman, national ZOA President, slated for the Brandeis
Award at ZOA's 57th Balfour Celebration, was honored at a cockail-
reception hosted by David Hermelin and Irwin Green of the tribute

The statistics involving
child abuse are grim. In the
United States, more than 1
million children are abused
by their parents or guard-
ians, while violence occurs
in more than half of Ameri-
can homes.
One out of three girls will
be molested before she is 18,
Ms. Lasker said, quoting na-
tional statistics. For boys,
those figures are one in 10.
That figure may be low be-
cause boys are more reluc-
tant to speak out.
Four out of five criminals
were abused as children,
statistics show.
In the Jewish community,
almost one-third of the
families experience some
kind of domestic violence,
said Ms. Jaffa. Of the 45
families currently seeking
treatment through the
Skillman program, 75 per-
cent are Jewish, she said.
Child abuse does not have
to involve violence or
penetration, Ms. Lasker
said. Families should look
for signs of possible abuse
which include bed wetting,
personality changes and
Both children and adults
know when the touch goes
beyond a simple hug, she
"But the last thing I want
for you is to go away think-
ing you can't hug your
grandchildren," Ms. Lasker
said. "Kids need affection;
they need to be cuddled."
Statistics show most child
molesters were abused
themselves as children and
child abuse is multi-
Ms. Lasker was able to
stop the cycle of abuse in her
own family. Unlike her
mother, who learned to ac-
cept the role of victim, Ms.
Lasker made sure her chil-

dren did not suffer the same
fate she did. They were
never permitted to be alone
with their grandfather.
As she tells her story
around the country, reaction
from the Jewish community
has been mixed.
She remembers the first
time she spoke to a large
group in San Francisco
about her experience. A
prominent Jewish woman
told her not to talk about in-
cest, Ms. Lasker said. "I was
frightened. I didn't know if I
was doing the right thing."
But other audience mem-
bers were more supportive,
asking Ms. Lasker to con-
tinue. And when the speech
was over, she received
nothing but applause.
"People are so glad we are
addressing this issue. There
are so many people who live
with this," Ms. Lasker said.
So Ms. Lasker wasn't sur-
prised when after her pre-
sentation here, one woman
told her it was about time
something was said about
sexual abuse in Detroit's
Jewish community. About
15 others took time to speak
to Mrs. Jaffa and three JFS
Skillman program
counselors about sexual
abuse. ❑

Wiesental Speaks
In East Lansing

The first of the Citizens
Symposia, a series of six
discussions, will be held 4-6
p.m. Nov. 14 at the Kellog
Center of Michigan State
University in East Lansing.
Simon Wiesenthal, Nobel
Peace Prize nominee and
Nazi hunter, will speak.
Tickets are $35; $17.50 for
students. For information,
call Ron Freedman, (517)



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