Redress scheme for sexual abuse victims

December 7, 2015 Agencies
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Melbourne’s Yeshivah Centre has established an independent Redress Scheme to support victims of sexual abuse.

Mike Debinski

Mike Debinski

In a release issued today the organisation stated: “The Yeshivah Centre condemns any form of abuse and acknowledges the serious harm it causes the victim. The Yeshivah Centre deeply regrets the failure to protect those who were victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by people in a position of trust in the Yeshivah Centre and its schools. The Yeshivah Redress Scheme has been established to ensure that the wrongs committed against children while involved in the Yeshivah Centre and its schools will not go unnoticed or unacknowledged.

The design of the Scheme has been guided by learnings from schemes across Australia and the Redress and Civil Litigation Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released on 14 September 2015. The Report details the Commission’s ‘concluded views’ on its recommendations ‘to ensure justice for survivors’.

Yechiel Belfer, speaking on behalf of the recently appointed Yeshivah Centre Committee of Management said, “In establishing this scheme, our primary concern is for the welfare of anyone who may have experienced such abuse. We are offering to victims financial redress, access to specialist counselling, case management and support. And most importantly, we offer our sincere apology.”

“This support will not prejudice any individual’s rights to pursue further legal action,” Belfer added.

Mr Michael Debinski, will oversee the operation of the Scheme and is one of the case managers available to undertake reviews. Mr Debinski also draws on the experiences gained having recently overseen an abuse redress scheme at Jewish Care Victoria where he is President. Reviews will also be undertaken by Mr John Leatherland PSM, whose wealth of experience in child protection and youth justice services spanned over forty years. He was awarded a Public Service Medal for services to vulnerable families and children.

Mr Debinski has endorsed this initiative of the Yeshivah Centre and its concern for the welfare of abuse victims. He acknowledged the commitment by Yeshivah to accept the recommendations made by the Royal Commission into victim redress in establishing this Scheme.

He said the Scheme will operate independently of the Yeshivah Centre. Jewish Care Victoria will operate a confidential 1 800 number and email address for abuse victims. “Abuse victims will be able to call this number and their referral will be received by appropriately trained staff and confidentially directed to the Scheme”, he said.

“All calls to the Scheme will be dealt with promptly. Responses will be marked by decency and compassion,” Mr Debinski said.

Campaigner for child sexual abuse victims Manny Waks, himself a child victim at the Yeshivah Centre, spoke at the event accounting the redress scheme said: “From the very beginning of this journey, I said that one of my aims was to return to the Yeshivah Centre – to be welcomed back. This would indicate a certain level of comfort on my part – both in terms of my personal experience with Yeshivah, and more broadly in terms of how Yeshivah is addressing the issue of child sexual abuse.

Manny Waks

Manny Waks

My presence here today should be viewed both as a stark reminder of the past, and an optimistic reflection on the future. A desire from all of us to move forward.

The profound and long-term impacts of child sexual abuse have been well documented. Often it’s not only the sexual abuse itself that leads to trauma, but also the secondary abuse brought on by the institution’s response – the cover-ups and intimidation – which often is worse than the primary abuse.

There’s no doubt that many of us have been traumatised and re-traumatised by Yeshivah’s actions and inactions. Over many years. While the Royal Commission has heard many instances of abuse and cover-ups in institutional settings, there are few cases like Yeshivah, where a community turned on its victims and where good people stood by and did nothing.

Today’s announcement of the Redress Scheme is a watershed moment for our community. The Yeshivah Centre is finally taking this issue seriously and is trying to right past wrongs. Redress is about finally saying what everybody outside this place has known for a long time – that you had a responsibility to protect children and you failed. It’s about doing what the Torah commands and what the Chabad ethos demands. It’s about doing the things which would have avoided the media headlines and the embarrassment of a Royal Commission. It’s what the previous Committee of Management, and the Rabbinic leadership of the community, lacked the courage to do – to say we’re genuinely sorry for what happened to you and for what we did to you, and we now want to make things right.

This dual message of acknowledging the horrible past, while moving forward in a constructive manner, is a powerful one. We certainly need to learn from the past and to accept responsibility in all of our failings – but we must also unite in the important mission of supporting all those who have been harmed by the endemic scourge of child sexual abuse, and to prevent it from recurring as best we can.

I warmly welcome Yeshivah’s Redress Scheme, which I know has been considered very carefully to take into account many important and complex issues. It demonstrates a great deal of sensitivity and compassion towards victims of the Yeshivah Centre. It prioritises the needs and rights of victims. Things that have been completely lacking in the past.

It’s important to emphasise that this scheme is confidential and independent. This is important in order to attain the trust and support of the most important people in this shameful episode: the many victims.

 

I call on all Yeshivah victims to seriously consider engaging in this process as it may assist in their healing. There are options of ex gratia payments, therapy and even a personal apology. Each victim/survivor should do what is best for them. This may be a healing and empowering opportunity, so it’s worth seriously considering releasing some of the burden, if that’s indeed necessary for the person. 

 

I mentioned that there is still a long way to go. For example, I remain gravely concerned of very recent incidents of intimidation occurring against victims on the Yeshivah premises. This is unacceptable and needs to stop. Nobody here should think that their job is done so long as that behaviour is still occurring.

Having said this, there’s no doubt that there will continue to be hiccups along the way and not all the issues are going to be resolved overnight – not even after months. Ultimately, I believe that it’s part of a generational change – it will take years to change the culture. But it won’t happen in isolation. We need to be committed to this prolonged and challenging process. It will take commitment and resources. And all the positive developments that we’re seeing are a critical part of this process.

It’s also important to remember that the Royal Commission findings are not yet out. When that happens, it’s essential that the community fully accepts those findings. Yeshivah not only needs to implement the recommendations but, to the extent possible, take appropriate action in respect of those against whom adverse findings are made, irrespective of who they are.

I want to express my gratitude to the interim leadership here. I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with some of them and they have my full support and praise. It would not have been easy to step up during such a dark time – but they did, and hopefully they and the Yeshivah community will start to reap their rewards. I’m confident that the Yeshivah Centre has turned a corner and brighter days are ahead.”

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