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The First Arrest – A Grassroots Movement to Protect our Children

September 6, 2011 – 10:31 pm106 Comments

By Malki Rose

Today is unique in Australian Jewish community history.

The first arrest has been made, and a man has been charged with 16 counts of indecent assault and 13 counts of gross indecency.

In coming days, those who were responsible for enabling these acts to occur will be shaking in their boots.

This issue, although currently challenging Chabad (because it is the first time it is being confronted openly) is not about Chabad and it is detrimental to victims the world over that the issue is being ‘owned’.

Chabad does, however, much like Adass and the Beth HaTalmud community, need to confront the issue openly and honestly and change its mindset about how best to manage treatment of victims and predators.  This is the current challenge to the Orthodox leadership. Other communities, the world over, have had to confront this. It is now our turn.

Shortly after my previous piece on this topic was published, Manny Waks of the Capital Jewish Forum came forward to the media to speak about his own experience as a victim of sexual abuse.

The result of his stepping forward has been two-fold.

Firstly, that some have felt emboldened to do the same and the issue itself has been taken out of the shadows and brought the conversation to the forefront of the Jewish community. This has led directly to the arrest.

Secondly, that other victims of multiple predators have retreated back into the shadows for fear of having their own names or names of their families published by media outlets in much the same way.

In the past three months many young victims and their abusers have been subjects of complete mental collapse, financial ruin, suicide attempts and family breakdown.

Some see this as the “unfortunate collateral damage of sexual abuse” while others have seen this as the direct result of “vicious rumour, gossip and an over-zealous media frenzy”.

Despite this, the fact that the discussion is now taking place at all is what is most significant and has brought a new level of vigilance to our community.

But vigilance on its own can be crippling. Without assertive action it can develop into a hyper-paranoid culture of community fear.

The Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence have been running a program in Jewish schools to teach youngsters about keeping themselves safe. Thus far parents are reportedly very satisfied with the program as being “age appropriate” and providing the right balance of caution and information.

But what steps are being taken to actively help victims?

Thus far, short of several “statements of support for victims, where is the action from our leadership, our rabbis?” asked one ‘concerned parent’.

How do we stop predators? How do we make sure that predators are not being enabled? What do you do if you find out that a child you know is being or has been molested? Or if you have information on a predator? And one of the questions which has been most challenging to parents who are unsure or in denial “Something happened to my child, but is that really considered molestation, or is it a single, forgivable misunderstanding that I shouldn’t make a big deal about?”

One leader remarked privately, “We are not psychologists, we cannot possibly offer help to victims, they have to seek it themselves”.

There are two major problems with this statement.

The first problem is with the first assertion. Granted they cannot offer the help directly. But they simply must provide the access to the resources. If not our leaders then who will step up and provide proactive solutions and helpful advice for victims and their families?

The second problem is with the second assertion. The problem being that it is, to a large extent, true. If people do not speak up there is no possible way we can know they have been harmed nor to help them.

But we are a community of great distrust of outsiders, for many culturally sensitive and historically justifiable reasons. Even with a thousand rabbinical statements encouraging victims to go to the police, most would still never dream of going to an ‘outside authority’.

There remain four key fears factors:

  1. Nobody will believe me (will think I am exaggerating);
  2. Telling someone (rabbi, police, psychologist) could cause a lot of trouble for myself, my family and my community;
  3. People will get angry and I will become ostracized;
  4. I have no idea how to deal with this, where to start, who to go to or that I can even cope with this.

Victims and their families need large-scale, practical and ongoing support in tackling all four of these factors.

Yeshiva’s statement issued earlier today to parents is NOT action. It is yet another statement.

The failure by leadership to act means that the responsibility to do so has been left to the people. To the parents, to the kids, to the families and to the victims themselves.

At best we have a small handful of suspected child molesters roaming freely up and down Carlisle Street and sitting in mikvehs, with no suggestion by leading authorities that current systems are to be overhauled to flush out the dangers within.

No suggestion that the administrative hiring policies in shules, schools and youth organisations be re-examined and no suggestion that the men’s mikveh be closed and rebuilt in the style of the more spiritual women’s mikveh, to allow for more private bathing rather than the gratuitously Roman style of public nude bathing, which has already proven a breeding ground for inappropriate behaviour towards young boys.

Sick and tired of watching their leaders sit on their hands, one group of concerned individuals have decided the issue is too grave to wait a moment longer.

They are not part of the Yeshiva Centre. They are not Rabbis. They are not affiliated in any way with the Victorian or Australian Jewish leadership and most of them have little to do with each other socially.

But their united and growing concern is fast bringing about an ever-strengthening grassroots movement towards better protection of children in the Jewish community.

“If our leaders won’t do it”, one organiser commented, “then we bloody well better”.

And while they are not affiliated with any group, they are calling on leaders, authorities and experts in the field to assist in any way possible.

Another of the organisers remarked “Parents need to hear from experts on how to handle things, and what to do in these situations. People need real solutions and real advice from those in the know”.

To aid in this, they will be holding a discussion evening in a private home this Thursday evening in East St Kilda, where concerned individuals will be able to ask questions and seek advice from Detective Scott Wells of the Victoria Police Sexual offences unit, Dr Joe Tucci of the Australian Children’s Foundation and the Department of Human Services amongst others. Click here or here to see the flyer for the evening.

All who are keen to know more about what to do, the how’s and who’s and where’s of getting help or support for someone who has been molested are welcome and encouraged to attend.

It is now clear that something has changed. The shift in mindset and the raw emotion of our communities trauma has placed us well outside of our comfort zone. And today, finally the first of many arrests to come.

For the victims sakes, this can only and ultimately be a good thing. The conversation has started. The action has started (Courtesy of ordinary people, not our leaders!) This is a good thing and it means there is hope for those who never thought there would be.

It is time for this to stop. The community is small and many of us know who the predators are; they walk our streets, pray next to us in synagogues, teach our children and yet those who know this remain silent, more keen to protect their own interests and every moment we as a community do not act is another child harmed.


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