Monday, May 11, 2009

Abuse and Going Off The Derech... What's the Relation?

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.

The Wolf

* Intellectual reasons, emotional reasons, or perhaps simply because they find the lifestyle too confining.


ProfK said...

"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." I think you are correct in your reading.

But one problem we have is that we have no idea how many children have been sexually abused, something that is kept under tight secrecy--a don't ask, don't tell policy in the frum community. Therefore, we can't know how many OTD people went off because of that abuse. One shelter does not a viable statistic make. And abuse covers a large territory, not all of it sexual. I worked with a kiruv group which also worked with OTD youth to try and bring them back. A lot of their complaints were about emotional and verbal abuse, about being bullied, particularly about religious issues, about being told they were a disgrace to their families, to their schools, to their religion.

Anonymous said...

At least ten people I grew up with went OTD in our teens. Most went to a yeshiva, a few of us went to public school and daily to a melamed. None of us were abused. The primary reason for leaving, and we discussed this over and over was that we could not get answers. There was lots of yelling and insults rather than answers to questions we considered valid and important. After we broke away, we found more rational reasons for staying ATD than going back to things that ranged, in our minds from arbitrary to superstitious.

Ahavah said...

It's not just sexual abuse. When you expand your definition of abuse to include non-sexual physical abuse, emotional and psychological abuse (either at home or at school) as well as sexual, then I would be very willing to support a statement that most of the kids who go OTD were abused. A person who goes OTD has not just had their faith in their home or shul ruined, their whole faith in Hashem is ruined. It takes a whole lot of reading about evolution to get that effect - most kids never have any chance to do so, that's almost strictly an adult phenomena. Kids don't go OTD because of that. Kid's worldview is immediate and personal - they go OTD for very immediate and personal reasons, not high intellectual ones. And abuse of some kind or another is far and away the biggest reason a kid would go OTD.

OTD said...

I wonder how many kids who *don't* go OTD were abused.

Jewish Atheist said...

Obviously abuse would cause a person to be mistrustful of their parents and other authority figures, so abused kids might in fact be more likely to go OTD, but obviously that says nothing about the % of OTDers who were abused.

And obviously, a shelter/group home is not a random sample!

Anecdotally, I know around 10 OTDers personally (including myself) from LWMO to RWMO backgrounds and none were abused to my knowledge. I'd say about half even had above-average relationships with their parents.

Ilan The Portlander Rebbe said...

It sounds good to me, but I don't know that I belive it. I know kids from families far better at parenting than I can ever hope to be who went off the derech. As a parent it scares me that I could do everything right and still the kids get messed up. I think thats why people find a reason to explain their leaving, like abuse, we can a concerte reason we can point to.

Jewish Atheist said...

As a parent it scares me that I could do everything right and still the kids get messed up.Going OTD does not mean that they are "messed up."

topshadchan said...

The people I know who are Orthoprax were not abused as children.
I think that OTD statement is ridiculous and is a smoke screen to deflect attention from the real problem.
You see its easier for OJ to say the reason people go OTD is abuse, this solves their problem.
Whats the problem?
The problem that OJ doesnt make very much sense.

topshadchan said...

Would like to add
The reason people feel the need to make OTD seem unstable is that if someone stable goes OTD it calls into question our own sanity.