By Neal Rodriguez (Forbes)
August 16, 2012
A lone tear falls from my eye. Tell me G-d, How many times can one die? – Debbie Teller
A sexual assault survivor is using her blog to expose sexual assaults in her community and elsewhere. She blogs by the pseudonym, Debbie Teller. The graphic and specific way that she exposes the horrors of being abused in a secretive and closed community on her website, has helped her secure a television interview on NY1; and the site welcomed as much as 13,000 unique readers in a day. Debbie now writes that it is read by 3,000 people a day.
Debbie was molested by her father at the age of five. The abuse continued until she was 10. Her blog narrates the graphic tale of a time when Debbie was forced to perform oral sex by her father, while she thought it was all a dream.
This is a strange dream, where is the person to whom the hands belong? Her eyes are closed, she is afraid to look, she is afraid to see who is sitting on her bed. And the hands continue their journey across her small body, making his breath quicken and his heart beat faster. All of a sudden he reaches into his pajamas and abruptly rises to stand closer to his little girls face. He whispers to her to open her mouth. She turns towards him and in her dream she opens wide her mouth.
One thing I learned early on in my career is that specificity converts! Do you notice how her authentic account of the horror she experienced at the hand of her father, leads the reader to want to consume more of the content? Read on!
Debbie met a man when she was 19. They got to know each other, and he ended up raping her. Debbie wrote about her first encounters with this man on Tuesday, October 31, 2006. After being raped for the first time, Debbie writes that she met with this man several other times. Debbie describes a time when she was with him at his workplace.
And then one day in the dead of the night, he takes me for a tour of his workplace, where he works the night-shift in a nursing home. I follow slowly behind him when suddenly he pushes me through two giant swing doors. I follow blindly. I enter the room and the doors swish softly closed behind me. I am engulfed in darkness. As my eyes adjust, I notice that we are standing in a cavernous room filled with tables. The smell of old food hangs in the air.
Darkness all around. He stands beside me for a moment and then without warning, I find myself being flung onto one of the tables. He pushes me onto my back, and yanks my skirt over my head. I struggle. I try to scream but no sound comes forth. He is strong and he succeeds in pulling my underwear around my ankles. I lie there on the dirty table.
Exposed. His strong arms holding me down and the smell of rotting cabbage in my nostrils.
All of a sudden we both hear a noise. In a flash he pulls my skirt back over my body and yanks me off the table. I scramble to pull up my underwear. Light floods into the room as he opens the huge doors. We walk out into the bright harshnes of the corridor. Once again I am dead. Each time I become more dead than the last. Is it possible to keep on dying? I wonder.
We head back to his office. He sits on a chair while I sit on the couch in the corner. We sit and talk as though nothing out of the ordinary has occurred.
Stop right there, entrepreneur. Do you see Debbie’s use of the four senses to allow the reader to visualize exactly what she experienced? Who doesn’t love a great story? When you incorporate what you are sensing through taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing, when telling the story of your brand, the reader can better identify with what you have experienced. You have them live life in your shoes; and increase the chance of having the reader become a more engaged part of your community.
After the initial encounters with her first husband, Debbie was worried and thought she might have been pregnant. She states that she sought the counsel of her Rabbi after this man raped her.
“There was no one for me to ask, so I went to this Rabbi,” Debbie said. “I said to him, ‘What do you think I should do?’ and he said, ‘Well, did he touch you?’ He couldn’t even say the words, ‘Did you have sex?’ or ‘Did he rape you?’ or anything, he said, ‘Did he touch you?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Well, then you have to get married.’ ”
Debbie felt forced to marry this man because she states an Orthodox Jewish person must follow a Rabbi’s instructions. The man sexually abused her while she was married to him. He anally raped her, and Debbie writes that she would cut her arms afterward. He urinated on her after he ordered her to urinate on him. Debbie eventually divorced this man after a year and a half, and she married another man who was also very abusive.
Debbie stated that she felt isolated because she felt she couldn’t tell any one about the horrors she had experienced; and the abuse she faced at the hands of her current husband. She argues that if she told somebody, she wouldn’t be able to register her children into school, and those that were already attending a community school, would be removed. Debbie wrote an article on sexual abuse and sent it to some Jewish publications. The article was rejected.
“And at that time, I went online to try and reach out to try and find some support from people,” Debbie said. “And I did find support online.”
Debbie starting exchanging emails with Asher Lipner Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist who has been working in the Orthodox community. Mr. Lipner accuses Rabbi Moshe Eisemann of groping him when he attended Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore. Mr. Lipner states that Mr. Eisemann counseled him on religious matters because Mr. Eisemann was the dean of men and the school’s Mashgiach, or spiritual advisor. Mr. Lipner trusted and looked up to Mr. Eisemann for guidance because his parents were in California, and they had sent him to boarding school at the age of 15. Mr. Lipner started to feel uncomfortable when Mr. Eisemann started to hug, kiss him, and repeatedly tell him that he loved Mr. Lipner.
“And when he finally went over the line, and one time, he started groping me,” Mr. Lipner said. “He put his arm around me and started groping me; he made a pass at me. At that point I realized, I needed to get the hell away from him, but I didn’t know where to turn. I was too scared of making an accusation.”
A friend who was a minor and younger than Mr. Lipner was groped by Mr. Eisemann while staying at Mr. Eisemann’s house. Mr. Lipner’s friend told other members of the school’s administration, and he was asked to leave the school. After several accusations of sexual abuse by minors later followed, Mr. Eisemann retired from his administrative position in Ner Israel.
Mr. Lipner became a very vocal figure in his aim to expose sexual assaults in the Orthodox community. People who saw him cited in the media emailed him questions. Mr. Lipner collected the emails of 300 people. The emails were addressed to the people who asked him questions or made comments on his citations, influential Rabbis, and community leaders. Mr. Lipner stated that at one point, he was sending out an email every day or every other day aggregating news stories exposing sexual assaults in the Jewish community.
Debbie states that she had been reading Mr. Lipner’s emails for about two years when she met him.
“One day, I decided to try and communicate with him because I was in a very bad place, and I wanted to reach out to some one,” Debbie said. “So I actually emailed him and he responded.”
Debbie states that Mr. Lipner encouraged her to start the website. Mr. Lipner told her how to name her pages, like the Wall of Shame, which lists images of sexual predators. Debbie also aggregated news stories exposing sexual assaults in the Jewish community and elsewhere.
Debbie syndicated the shocking case of twin girls who were raped by their brother and father. Debbie embedded Oprah’s segment reporting on this case.
On her most recent post, boys who were molested in an Orthodox Jewish summer camp were told to avoid telling their parents about the sexual abuse.
She also told me about a story where a New York Rabbi and his sons allegedly sexually abused four female relatives, including two of the Rabbi’s daughters and the sons’ sisters. The Rabbi, 58, and one of the suspected sons, 21, fled to Israel. Debbie said that the daughters went to their Rabbi and asked for advice. They wanted to know whether the Rabbi thought they should cooperate with the police department.
“The Rabbi told them, ‘You know what? You’ve given them enough information,’ ” Debbie said. ” ‘Enough! Just leave it. You don’t have to cooperate with the police anymore. Just leave it and get on with your lives.’ ”
Debbie states that Mr. Lipner would send emails to people on his list with links to Adkanenough. Adkanenough initially welcomed about 200 unique visitors a day. A month later, 500 unique visitors were reading her content daily.
“People just found out about it, and it kept on growing until now, I have 1,500 a day,” Debbie said. “Sometimes it climbs up to 2,000, but the least amount is 1,500 unique visitors a day. Since I was on New York 1, just a few days ago, it has 10,000 people (daily) reading it.”
Email marketing remains one of the most engaged if not the most engaged form of communication on the web. If you’re not building an email list, ditch the pterodactyl you have delivering notes for you, and sign up for a service like Aweber or Constant Contact. Either service will allow you to add a form where people can subscribe to your email list.
Debbie blogs anonymously because she fears that she will be ostracized by her community if she reveals her true identity. She states that she would probably not be able to have her children married in the community. She also stated that the community’s perception of her family would be dramatically degraded.
“As far as every one knows, I have great kids, they’re all good, they’re well behaved, they’re successful, they’re pretty, they’re attractive, I have a nice house,” Debbie said. “I have all the stuff that people look from the outside, and they think, ‘Wow! That’s a great family!’ If they knew the other side, and that I have this website, all the stuff that think about me now would be absolutely worthless.”
And even when victims want to speak out, some Orthodox communities require their congregants to consult with a Rabbi before taking their accusations to the secular authorities. Avi Shafran, Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel, wrote that in a situation where there is “roughly, reason to believe” or raglayim la’davar, that some one was sexually abused, then the accusation must be forwarded to secular authorities.
“However, where the circumstances of the case do not rise to the threshold level of raglayim la’davar, the matter should not be reported to the authorities.” Mr. Shafran wrote.
Further, Mr. Shafran continues by emphasizing that an individual should not determine whether a situation “rises to the level of raglayim la’davar.”
“Rather, he should present the facts of the case to a rabbi who is expert in halacha and who also has experience in the area of abuse and molestation – someone who is fully sensitive both to the gravity of the halachic considerations and the urgent need to protect children.” Mr. Shafran wrote.
In a NY1 interview, Brooklyn District Attorney, Charles Hynes, stated that a Rabbi had no right to screen sexual assault allegations prior to forwarding them to his office.
“In fact I told Zweibel, it’s a very dangerous ground to be involved in because if a Rabbi decides that he is going tell some one not to come to the secular authorities, he could end up in handcuffs,” Mr. Hynes said.
Mr. Zwiebel told the Jewish Forward that he would continue to require congregants to consult their rabbis prior to going to the secular authorities. In the same article, however, The Jewish Forward reported “that a person who had personally suffered or witnessed abuse could report directly to the authorities.” Any one else would be required to see a Rabbi.
During another interview on 77ABC Radio, when asked what would happen if a Rabbi told a victim not to go to the authorities, Mr. Hynes responded by saying, “There’s nothing I could do about that… If the victim is threatened, then I could do something,” Mr. Hynes said. “Then I could prosecute for obstruction.”
Mr. Hynes added in a statement made to me by email:
Currently Rabbis and other clergy members are not mandatory reporters and their failure to report evidence of abuse is not a crime. I have requested the NY State DA’s Association to support legislation I will propose that mandates all that all clergy members to report allegation of sex abuse to secular authorities or be subject to criminal sanctions. I have consistently made it that any clergy member who receives credible evidence of sexual abuse from someone and counsels that person not to report that crime to secular authorities may be subject to prosecution for obstructing justice.”
In defense of Agudath’s policy, Mr. Zweibel sent a letter to the New York Times arguing that screening by Rabbi’s helped deter false accusations that could destroy the lives of “innocent adults victimized by accusations of abuse.”
As for the lives of the innocent people victimized by sexual abusers, Debbie Teller states that she suffers from flashbacks, bad memories, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, and she tried to kill herself twice. The first time she cut her wrists, and the second time she tried to overdose on anti-depressant pills. She also has a recurring nightmare that has haunted her since the age of five.
“I’m on a beach or something; the ocean; it looks like a tsunami,” Debbie said. “I start running and every one else is just walking peacefully along the sand. I’m the only one who’s panicking. I’m the only one who could see this huge Tsunami, and this huge tidal wave coming to destroy us. And no one else can see it. I’m screaming and yelling and my kids. I’m trying to alert and tell every one, ‘This thing is happening!’ Every one notices that we’re trying to save ourselves. No one could see it. They’re just strolling along, and the sun is shining for them.”
When you are utterly transparent and expose your feelings and your struggle to this degree, your content will be original, for everybody finds their own way to success online or off. You will effectively find your niche and area of focus to be unmatched. Debbie makes this evident speaking the last words she used to describe her nightmare.
“I’m having all these things happening to me, and no one can see it,” Debbie said. “Every one is just carrying on with their lives, and they don’t see the terrible things that are happening to me.”