Staying silent on abuse hurts us all

This week we run a story that makes for very difficult reading — a son accusing his father of sexual molestation. And not just any father, but a man revered in the Bay Area Jewish community as a leading light in the Conservative movement of the 1970s.

Earlier this month, Tom Mitchell, now 55 and living in Las Vegas, posted a heartrending letter on Facebook accusing his father, Sheldon Mitchell, of abusing him and a number of other Jewish boys in the late 1960s and ’70s. The abuse allegedly took place at different locations, notably the Mitchells’ Sacramento home; on United Synagogue Youth outings; and at Camp Arazim, a Bay Area Jewish summer camp that Mitchell co-founded in 1972.

Tom and two other men who also say they were sexually molested by Sheldon Mitchell as pre-teens and teens spoke to J. about their experiences. Given the times, before sexual abuse was discussed openly, the crimes went unreported, the victims silent in their shame and pain.

This all took place a very long time ago. Sheldon Mitchell died in 1980, and the men accusing him are now in their 50s. Some might ask, why dredge it up at this point?

First of all, the victims deserve answers.

Those interviewed for this story who worked at the camp or USY and knew Sheldon Mitchell were all shocked at Tom Mitchell’s allegations. None of them dispute his story, but none of them confirmed it, either.

Someone had to know something, but no one is talking.

Second, we are running this story because there is no statute of limitations on trauma. This is not an issue that should ever be swept under the rug or kept silent, no matter when, where or how it happened.

Tom Mitchell decided to end his years of silence and encourage other victims of sexual abuse to come forward and begin the healing process. We decided to publish our story for the same reason. On page 5a, Rabbi Nat Ezray of Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City writes that he and other Jewish professionals are here and ready to counsel those affected by abuse, be it sexual or physical. His essay ends with a list of local resources for victims and their families.

This is not a Jewish problem, but one that transcends all cultures, all societies. We are fortunate that in our day there are myriad avenues of help available to victims. Professionals are trained to be on the lookout for signs of abuse, and the justice system shows little mercy for perpetrators.

We call for renewed vigilance as well as strong community support for all those damaged by abuse at the hands of those they trust.