SALT LAKE CITY — A judge on Monday scheduled a trial for a former nanny accused of sexually abusing a Utah Orthodox rabbi when he was a child — a case that has led many to disclose their own stories of abuse to the faith leader.
In February, when Rabbi Avrohom "Avremi" Zippel came forward both in a courtroom and in the Deseret News, "I did it kind of to get it off my chest," he recalled Monday.
"It ended up being a far more supportive and empowering experience than I ever could have imagined."
The 27-year-old Utah Chabad emissary acknowledges the case is far from over. A five-day trial will begin Oct. 28 for Alavina Fungaihea Florreich, 69, who has denied allegations that she abused him repeatedly over a decade in his family's Salt Lake City home. Her attorney, Jonathan Nish, declined comment Monday.
In the two months since he came forward publicly, Rabbi Zippel has heard from several from within Utah and the Jewish community — and others outside — who told him they also were sexually abused by a caregiver but previously had not told anyone. His story has resonated with men in particular.
"I felt that the vulnerability that I decided to show in light of this has been well-received by other men, you know. People have appreciated it and felt able to open up about it. I think blessedly our culture is changing, slowly, in terms of the stigma of abuse, in terms of the stigma of male victims of abuse, and I think that's a blessing. If your actions can shine a light, then that's the responsibility that you have."Comment on this story
Rabbi Zippel testified at a preliminary hearing in February that he was 8 years old when the abuse began. It continued intermittently until he was 18, mostly in a guest bathroom, where Florreich appeared naked and encouraged him to remove his own clothes before she touched him or had him touch her, he testified.
Elizabeth Smart, who at age 14 was abducted from her Salt Lake home in 2002 and was held captive for nine months, attended the February hearing to show her support for Rabbi Zippel. She called the rabbi a hero.
Florreich is next due in court for an August hearing ahead of trial. She has pleaded not guilty to five counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony, and two counts forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.