I've been having a discussion (see the comments there) with an anonymous poster over at Yudel Shain about the phenomenon of kids being abused and kids going off the derech.
The anonymous poster made the claim that over 50% of the kids who go off the derech are abused.
I responded by stating that I found that figure to be a bit high. There are quite a few reasons why a kid (or anyone else) might go off the derech -- and certainly abuse is a potential reason to do so -- but to say that over half the OTD people are abused sounded just too far fetched to me. I thought that perhaps my disputant was simply phrasing his words incorrectly.
I asked if perhaps he meant that over 50% of abused kids go off the derech -- which is not quite the same as saying that 50% of OTD kids are abused. While I believe the former is in the realm of possibility, I'm far less certain that the latter is true.
Anonymous reaffirmed his original statement and, as a citation, brought an article by Rabbi Horowitz. In the article, Rabbi Horowitz quoted a person who operates a run-away shelter:
A close friend of mine runs a shelter/group home for charedi runaway kids. I recently ran into him at a wedding and asked him what his thoughts were on the correlation between abuse and the off-the-derech phenomenon. His immediate response was, “Yankie, all I deal with is abuse [victims],” meaning that virtually all the teens in his program were molested.
That's a pretty powerful quote. However, I began to think about it in the context of our discussion. It's possible, I thought, that perhaps this shelter operator is not seeing a representative sample of OTD kids. After all, he's not running a home for OTD kids, he's running a home for run-away kids. Many OTD kids don't run away from home -- heck, I know quite a few people who went OTD as teens who did not have the need to run away from home. On the other hand, kids that are abused (sexually and otherwise) frequently *do* have the need to run away from home. The shelter operator, in answering the question about the linkage between abuse and OTD kids, may be looking predominantly (or perhaps exclusively as per his claim) at abused kids. He never sees the kids who go OTD for other reasons.*
Furthermore, I went back and decided to read the entire article. As it turns out, the third paragraph in the article seems to say the exact opposite of what my correspondent was saying:
This is not to say that a majority of kids who are ‘off the derech’ were abused. But of all the complex and varied educational, social and familial factors that endanger to our children, the most damaging by far, in my opinion, is abuse. The very real threat posed by the external influences from which we all strive (in various degrees) to protect our children – such as media, Internet, and ‘bad friends’ – are all firecrackers compared to the atom bomb of sexual abuse.
Now, I absoltutely agree with Rabbi Horowitz (and my anonymous disputant) that sexual abuse is probably one of the strongest things that can cause a kid to go OTD. It's far more likely that a kid will go OTD from being sexually abused than from watching television, reading books about evolution or surfing the Internet. But all that means is that a kid who is sexually abused has a very good chance of going OTD. It still does not mean that the majority of people who go OTD are sexually abused.
So, what's the story? Am I reading this wrong? Is it really possible that half of the kids who go OTD are sexually abused? Or is my disputant just flat out wrong.
* Intellectual reasons, emotional reasons, or perhaps simply because they find the lifestyle too confining.