By Vivien Resofsky (J-Wire)
June 25, 2013
About a month ago I sat in the Rabbi’s office, hopeful despite the negative responses over the last 7 years. The question took me by surprise. ” How many people support you?”…writes Viven Resofsky.
I first saw a Rabbi about child sexual abuse in 2004 while I was working at Jewish Care. A terrible example of child sexual abuse was the catalyst. The abuse had gone on for years and finally the girl had the courage to ask for help. She went to a teacher she trusted at Beth Rivkah Ladies College but the teacher did not help her. Instead she told her student that she was not a pure diamond because her parents were not born into Ultra Orthodox families and had become Ultra Orthodox by choice. (Baal Teshuvah).
Despite the fact that the teacher was mandated to report disclosures of abuse she did nothing and consequently nothing in the girl’s life changed. So the girl did something she could do by herself and began to hurt herself physically. Luckily, she came across a doctor who not only knew how to respond but had the confidence and conviction to respond responsibly.
There were other referrals about child sexual abuse and in my opinion, many people who were working with children weren’t sufficiently educated and confident to deal with child sexual abuse.
Four years later I spoke to the same Rabbi again about child sexual abuse. It was 2008 at the time of the publicity surrounding alleged abuse and non-reporting by school authorities at Adass Ladies College. Comments from community members and leading organistions plus the Australian Jewish News (AJN) editorials revealed widespread ignorance about child sexual abuse.
“We are pleased to be able to report is that the likelihood of such an event taking place now or in the future in any Australian Jewish school – Orthodox or otherwise is remote”. (A lesson learned, AJN Editorial 17/10/2008).
At the time I publicized my opinion that there indeed was a high likelihood of such an event taking place again. Compliance with Working With Children checks is a minimum measure, Yeshivah’s assertion that it would enforce mandatory reporting and child protection polices outside school hours (but not during school hours)‘ reflects the minimum standard of care that the law required.
The solution to child sexual abuse is public awareness backed up by comprehensive community education. This is more than the minimum required by law. The organisation leading the response to child sexual abuse, The Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault (The Taskforce) opposed providing comprehensive community education. The Taskforce is a volunteer organisation whose leaders who address the public are not qualified in child protection or any field related to children. I believe that it’s policies are based on selectively chosen ‘experts’ assertions, rather than those derived from research and programs that have been evaluated and been proven to work.
This is clear from the written policy of The Taskforce in 2008 in relation to parental education that ‘parents should educate themselves: by attending workshops, internet research, or taking advantage of the many professional organisations that provide information, resources and training.’ (1).
The approach of parents educating themselves contradicts the latest Victorian child protection inquiry report (2012). Recommendation 10 states : “The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development should develop a wide-ranging education and information campaign for parents and caregivers of all school-aged children on the prevention of child sexual abuse.(2) Comprehensive educational programs have not been developed in Australia so how parents be expected to find the right education by themselves? Why not help them? Research supporting the inquiry’s conclusions is now at least 10 years old.
In 2011, Manny Waks told the public about the abuse he suffered at Yeshivah and the fact that leaders of Yeshivah including Rabbis, did not report the abuse. For example, Rabbi Kluwgant made public comments such as this one published in the US, Jewish Daily Forward newspaper.
“ ..Rabbis approach to disclosures of sexual abuse has definitely changed for the better in recent years.” But Kluwgant added that there has been no attempt to cover up abuse in Australia and that the rabbinate there is committed to addressing the issue. “A lot (of abuse accusations are) based on rumour and innuendo, unless they’re proven in a court of law,” Kluwgant added. “I could tell you lots of lashon hara (evil talk).”
I contacted the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) about this and other comments made that I considered misled the public. A Rabbi looked at a community education program which had been developed by a highly regarded child protection organisation in the UK. The program is easily accessible on the internet, at no cost. His feedback seemed positive. “It’s like the education for Rabbis. But that’s to be expected”. But still nothing changed.
It was AJN’s Editor, Mr Zeddy Lawrence’s article Enough is Enough that led me to contact Rabbi Kluwgant again. Mr Lawrence was scathing in his criticism of our spiritual leaders, "for not owning up their past actions in relation to allegations of child sexual abuse.” (AJN 8/3).
Surely now, I thought the RCV would be more willing to look at the elements that community education should contain. It was due to this contact that I found myself sitting in the Rabbi’s about the same issue. He told me that had recently attended an educational workshop presented by Tzedek (the new child advocacy organisation). I think he was suggesting that the issue of community education was resolved as Tzedek was providing education. I disagreed. I believe that Tzedek’s workshop was a good beginning but it did not cover all of the elements community members need to know to prevent, recognize and respond responsibly to child sexual abuse.
” How many people support you?” Rabbi Goodhardt asked me. Seven years ago The Taskforce took away support for community education when it pressurized The National Council of Jewish Women to withdraw its support for a community education initiative.
I believe that Rabbi Goodhardt’s question reflects the essence of the problem. Responding to child sexual abuse should not be about who has the support of influential organisations. I believe that until our leading organisations seek the best answers, based on information derived from genuine experts that reflects the best interests of children, the change required for the future health of our children will not be good enough.
Some missing elements in existing community education efforts.
- Education about child protection policies
Schools and programs for children should have specific child sexual abuse prevention policies that focus on appropriate adult and child boundaries and adult and child situations. The Taskforce did not deal with child protection policies. They just left it out, yet they told the community that they were ‘Tackling abuse head on.’ (AJN 21/09/12 ).
The Taskforce also left out community education that incorporates parents checking their school’s policies, how to check them and what to look for. How can parents advocate for sound policies if they don’t know they exist and if they don’t know what ‘good policies’ look like?
The JCCV recently started another group within its organization, called the JCCV Reference Group to deal with this important element of protecting children that The Taskforce had previously ignored.
History has shown that leaving it to organizations to reform themselves is not the entire answer. I agree with Rabbi Yakov Horowitz that parents will have to take the lead role and create a groundswell for the protection of children. (3 ). Although JCCV Reference Group leader, Andrew Blode “acknowledged the role of the parent in sharing this responsibility by requesting child protection policy and practice from the organisations to which their children are entrusted” he does not mention providing parents with the education they need to request these policies. Why not?
- Education about responding to child sexual abuse.
What would you do if you suspected that a member of your congregation is abusing a child? What should you do if a child told you that this person is sexually abusing him or her?
When a child tells someone about sexual abuse, a supportive, caring response is the first step in getting help for the child and re-establishing their trust in adults. Many of us feel panicked and want to deny it, or are afraid of making a mistake and some just want to brush it aside and not be involved.
Our fear of responding to child sexual abuse is one of the reasons many incidents of child sexual abuse go unreported. Experts tell us that protecting children is the responsibility of every adult as there is the possibility of any adult being called upon to help a child. That is why community education that includes responding to child sexual abuse is so important. Not only do we need to be educated and prepared – just in case, we need to be confident enough to respond responsibly.
Education about how to respond to child sexual abuse is one missing element in existing community education.
- Support to act on suspicions.
What should you do if you sense something is wrong but you are not sure? How can they check it out and work out what choice might be the best option for this particular situation. How should you deal with it?
If you suspect abuse or suspect that someone is grooming a child for abuse, you don’t have to assume you are right. By acting on suspicions of child sexual abuse you may spare not only one child but perhaps countless others. Many of those who abuse have more than one victim.
Support lines for professionals as well as community members are important. I believe that best practice for such a service is when professionally qualified people, with expertise in child protection, work within organisations that are independent, transparent, and accountable respond. This is not the case in the Melbourne Jewish community.
- The role of Rabbis.
In its submission to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry, The Taskforce stated that they have an informal liaison with the Rabbinical Council of Victoria and “can informally advise them when a situation arises”.
What does that mean? Is the word informal code for ‘keeping it in house?” How does The Taskforce advise Rabbis during certain sensitive cases, including ones “where there wasn’t enough evidence to charge anyone but there were many concerns”? Where is this stated? Doesn’t this come under the heading of responding to child sexual abuse? Where can the community access information about the processes between The Taskforce and the RCV?
Who decides whether there is enough evidence to charge anyone? What exactly is a ‘sensitive’ approach? Is that an approach based on what some self proclaimed so called experts assert? Do Taskforce volunteers who are not professionally qualified advice about how to deal with a person suspected of abusing? Dealing with offenders is a very specialised area that requires expertise. What are the policies and measures The taskforce have adopted to deal with sex offenders to prevent further child sexual abuse?
Surely the rabbinate who are involved with responding to child sexual abuse have learned lessons from the past. I believe the late Rabbi Groner tried to address allegations of abuse by trying to ‘cure’ alleged offenders through psychiatry and that he genuinely thought this was the best solution. Isn’t that what The Taskforce with the support of the RCV is doing despite the fact that we now know so much more about child sexual abuse?