25 Chabad-Lubavitch survivors spoke to the Royal Commission

December 15, 2017 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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The Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has released its Final Report.

One of our case studies examined the responses of two Jewish institutions in the Chabad- Lubavitch movement to allegations of child sexual abuse: the Yeshiva Centre and Yeshiva College in Bondi, New South Wales (Yeshiva Bondi) and the Yeshivah Centre and Yeshivah College in Melbourne, Victoria (Yeshivah Melbourne).

We also held an institutional review hearing which provided an opportunity for senior members of the Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne institutions to inform us of their current policies and procedures in relation to child protection and child safe standards, including responding to allegations of child sexual abuse.

As of 31 May 2017, of the 4,029 survivors who told us during private sessions about child sexual abuse in religious institutions, 25 survivors told us about abuse in Jewish institutions. Fifteen of those survivors told us about child sexual abuse in connection with Yeshiva Bondi or Yeshivah Melbourne. Those 15 survivors were all male, they all told us about sexual abuse by males, and most told us about sexual abuse by adult perpetrators. The average age of victims at the time of first abuse was 11.3 years. Most of the perpetrators we heard about were teachers. We also heard about perpetrators who were people in religious ministry (rabbis), ancillary staff at the institutions or volunteers.

Institutional responses to child sexual abuse in Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne

In relation to both Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne, when children or their parents made contemporaneous disclosures of sexual abuse to persons in positions of authority, they were disbelieved or ignored. Alleged perpetrators were either left in positions with continued access to children or were quietly removed from the institution.

At least until the 2000s, those in leadership positions did not report allegations of child sexual abuse to police or other civil authorities. In some cases, the failure of those in positions of authority to act after receiving allegations of child sexual abuse allowed perpetrators to continue to sexually abuse children.

If action was taken in response to allegations of child sexual abuse, this occurred ‘in-house’. In two cases, alleged perpetrators of child sexual abuse were allowed to leave Australia after allegations were made against them to persons in positions of authority at Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne. One of these alleged perpetrators was subsequently convicted of sexual offences against children that were committed overseas.

In the cases we examined, the institutional responses to survivors of child sexual abuse who reported the abuse years after it occurred were dismal. Rather than supporting survivors or assisting them through the process of reporting allegations to police and during and after criminal proceedings, community leaders of Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne made efforts to silence survivors and to condemn those who would not be silent. Members of the relevant communities shunned survivors and their families, which added to their suffering and may also have deterred other survivors from coming forward. Neither the Yeshiva Bondi nor the Yeshivah Melbourne community leaders provided direct, personal apologies to the survivors who did come forward, either for the child sexual abuse they suffered or for the manner in which the institutions handled their complaints.

Contributing factors in Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne

We considered a number of factors that may have contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse in Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne or to inadequate institutional responses to such abuse.

Until at least 2007, Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne did not have adequate policies, procedures or practices for responding to complaints of child sexual abuse.

In each community, the head rabbi was considered to be the spiritual head of the community. However, there was no overarching external rabbinical authority to which rabbis could be held accountable. A reverence for rabbinical leaders and a lack of oversight contributed to an absence of scrutiny of the rabbis’ responses to allegations of child sexual abuse.

The failure to recognise and deal transparently with perceived and actual conflicts of interest contributed to poor governance on the part of the Committee of Management at Yeshivah Melbourne. We found a marked absence of supportive leadership for survivors of child sexual abuse and their families in Yeshivah Melbourne. We also found that the leadership did not create an environment that was conducive to the communication of information about child sexual abuse.

The manner in which some cultural beliefs and practices, including Jewish law concepts, were applied in Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne contributed to inadequate institutional responses to child sexual abuse. For example, senior leaders at Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne did not take action to dispel concern, controversy and confusion among the community over the application of the concepts of loshon horo(unlawful gossip) and mesirah (which prohibits a Jew from informing on another Jew or handing them over to a civil authority) to the reporting of child sexual abuse to civil authorities. During the institutional review hearing, witnesses from Jewish representative bodies and representatives from Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne unanimously confirmed that the concepts of loshon horo and mesirah have no application in the case of child sexual abuse. We recommend that all Jewish institutions’ complaint-handling policies explicitly state that these concepts do not apply to the communication and reporting of allegations of child sexual abuse to police and other civil authorities (Recommendation 16.30).

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaking on behalf of the Government said: “We want to thank the commissioners and their staff but, above all, we want to thank and recognise the courageous survivors of child sexual abuse and their families who gave evidence and told harrowing stories to the Royal Commission. We thank them, their families and their supporters and we honour their bravery in sharing their stories, often for the first time.”

He added: “The Royal Commission has validated the stories of survivors, has enabled survivors to be heard, and importantly, to be believed. For too long, crimes against our nation’s’ children were covered up, or ignored.”

The Turnbull Government announced it will provide $52.1 million to ensure there is support and assistance for victims throughout the process of accessing redress and will also establish a taskforce to consider and coordinate action on the recommendations and track the progress made by all Australian governments.

The taskforce will operate from January 2018 until June 2020. The Government will now carefully consider the recommendations and respond in full next year.

Mr Turnbull stated: “The Joint Select Committee on the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – oversight of redress related recommendations, will be Chaired by Senator Derryn Hinch.  We look forward to the Committee beginning its important work.”

The Turnbull Government has introduced world-leading reforms to stop registered child sex offenders from travelling overseas without permission. The reforms came into effect on 13 December 2017 and include a new Commonwealth offence (for travelling, or attempting to travel, overseas without permission) and a mechanism to cancel the passports of registered child sex offenders.

On 13 September, the Justice Minister introduced the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures) Bill 2017 to deal with the manifestly inadequate sentences that Commonwealth child sex offenders often receive.

J-Wire has contacted the Yeshiva in Bondi and the Yeshivah Centre in Melbourne. A spokesperson for Yeshiva Bondi told JWire that “We are studying the report and all of its recommendations to ensure that our policies and procedures are of the highest caliber. Child safety is and will continue to be an important priority and we are grateful for the guidance provided to us by the Royal Commission.”

The Yeshivah Centre is yet to respond.

Rabbi Paul Lewin president of the Rabbinical Council of NSW said: “The RCNSW would like to acknowledge  the release of the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

On behalf of the community we wish to express our thanks to the Australia government and the commissioners for the time, money and resources that they have invested into the Royal Commission.  

The RCNSW will be reviewing the report and looking closely at the recommendations made by the commissioners.  

Our thoughts and our prayers are with the survivors whom we failed to protect at a most vulnerable time in their lives.  

We are sincerely sorry for the pain and suffering they have experienced and in many instances continue to experience.

We pray that they find healing and peace in their lives.

The protection of children is paramount and as such from our part, we will be pushing for ongoing professional development in this area for the leaders of our community to ensure that children will never have to go through a similar experience.”

The Commission’s work took five years covering all relevant institutions.



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