Child Sexual Abuse: A victim’s statement
David Cyprys has started an eight year jail sentence and will not see freedom for at least five and a half years. Manny Waks was one of his victim’s and has released his victim impact statement as presented to Melbourne’s County Court….
The repeated and ongoing abuse that I suffered at the hands of David Cyprys – someone who was in a position of power and authority, and a person whom I had admired, respected and feared – has had a long-term traumatic impact on me.
During the period of my abuse, my world seemed to have collapsed. Before the abuse I was a regular child who was a reasonably well-behaved son, brother, student and friend.
At home I was the proud older brother to many siblings (I am the second oldest of 17 children). I helped out a fair bit. I was happy and positive. At school, while not necessarily a model student, I completed my work and did not have any particular behavioural issues.
This all changed after the abuse. I remember the shame. I remember the guilt. I remember the anger. I remember the taunts and the teasing. I remember the pain and suffering. And this went on for years. The impact has been felt for a lifetime. Both the long- and short-term consequences have been significant, and at times debilitating.
Having grown up in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish environment, where every aspect of daily life is dictated by religion, I soon came to loathe religion, its practices and leaders. I have no doubt this was due directly to the abuse which occurred within a religious institutional environment. The abuse marked a dramatic change in my religious belief system. So, as a child around my Bar-Mitzvah, one of the most important milestones for a Jewish boy, I was lost in the only world I knew. It is very hard to explain the depth of this despair, given my background. I was essentially questioning my very existence.
At home, I became a very difficult child. I rebelled openly against religion. I removed my religious attire at every opportunity. I regularly committed some of the gravest sins possible within our religious lifestyle – I desecrated the Sabbath, I ate non-Kosher food, I didn’t pray, I didn’t fast, among many other things. I was also regularly consuming large quantities of alcohol, something largely facilitated by the very institution that was meant to protect me from the abuse (serving alcohol to young children was – and may still be – very common in this institution and community).
In school, my behaviour deteriorated, especially during religious studies, which invariably resulted in constant confrontations with, and alienation from, my parents, teachers and friends. Ironically, at this point I was placed in a full-time religious studies programme. Later, I was accepted to the religious institutions for older males in Sydney and Melbourne respectively (Yeshivah Gedolah). In due course, due to my irreligious behaviour and clear disinterest in my studies, I was expelled from both institutions. I was also expelled from home a number of times.
As a confused and troubled teenager who recently experienced repeated sexual abuse, I was left to fend for myself, alienated from my family, friends and community.
There were a range of other consequences that I endured, both in my youth and later on, as a result of the abuse, however, I will not delve into them here – suffice to say they are consistent with that of the suffering of many other victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.
It is clear to me that so much of my youth was wasted. Why? Because of David Cyprys. Because he chose to sexually abuse an innocent, defenceless and vulnerable child.
It is important to note that had the Yeshivah Centre dealt appropriately with the initial allegations against Cyprys from the early to the mid-1980s, there is a good chance that I would not have been another one of his many victims. The Yeshivah Centre has a great deal to answer for and I (and so many others) intend to follow this up in due course – through the civil court and/or the current Federal Government Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Soon after turning 18, desperate to leave the place and community of my abuse, abuser and enablers, I travelled to Israel to serve in the Israel Defence Forces. This was a superficial escape, as the pain and anger – in relation to both the abuse and cover-ups – was enduring. I regularly thought about my experience of abuse, this included having flashbacks, and feeling a sense of helplessness and despair.
In 1996, in the middle of my military service, I travelled to Australia for my sister’s wedding. It was during that visit that I finally mustered the courage to make a police statement. It was therefore bitterly disappointing to hear the police’s response; after documenting my statement and interviewing Cyprys, they claimed there was insufficient evidence as it was my word against his word. This decision left me feeling invalidated and re-traumatised. As a direct result of these developments, when I did finally return to Israel, I continued to suffer significantly.
I should note that in hindsight Victoria Police made a major error in their response to my allegations back in 1996, as they should have been aware that Cyprys had already faced court for similar allegations only a few years earlier. I have never received an explanation as to why this link was not made, or any other information regarding why the case did not proceed back then. At the time, this left me despondent and disillusioned, and ensured that I had lost faith in the police and the judicial system. I still hope that Victoria Police will shed some light on this matter.
I should also note that in my discussions with the head of Yeshivah Centre at the time, the late Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, I was told that Yeshivah was dealing with Cyprys and that I should not do anything of my own accord. This, too, left me completely despondent and disillusioned, and reinforced my views on religion, its leaders and my own powerlessness.
From my perspective, I had done everything that I could do to obtain justice for Cyprys’ crimes and to protect our community from the possibility of Cyprys committing future crimes. However, my efforts had been to no avail. This was not easy to accept for a 20 year old who was trying to do the right thing. As previously noted, the consequences were significant.
During that entire period, both in Australia and Israel, I continued to shed any practice that was associated with my religion and forced myself to obliterate as much of my religious knowledge as I could. I simply wanted no part of it whatsoever. The continuous hypocrisy I had witnessed and continued to witness was mind-boggling. This process was very challenging and lonely from numerous perspectives. It alienated me from my family, as well as my friends.
Upon my return to Australia in March 2000, it became apparent that I was unwilling to let this matter rest. I needed closure.
My parents live across the road from the Yeshivah Centre, where they also prayed. Often I used to have to walk – alone or with my family – past Yeshivah to get to my parents’ house for a Sabbath meal. Most synagogues in Australia have security officers standing at the front of the synagogue. Astonishingly, David Cyprys was often that security officer protecting the Yeshivah Centre. While walking past, I recall many occasions where our eyes met. His response was to deliberately smirk at me. Often he fixated his eyes on me and continued to smirk until I was forced to look away. To me his facial expression said: “We both know what I did, and I got away with it”. It infuriated me. In fact, it still does whenever I think about it.
Occasionally I had to walk inside the Yeshivah Synagogue – for example, for my brother’s Bar-Mitzvah. And who was the person standing there who technically needed to authorise my entry? My tormentor. The person who had such a negative impact on my life. Someone who had abused so many others and raped one of my schoolmates. This rapist, David Cyprys, was the person nominated by the Yeshivah Centre to decide who is safe to enter this institution, and who was tasked with protecting the many children there while having access to every room and facility on the premises.
What also infuriated me was that this institution, the Yeshivah Centre, allowed this to happen. This wasn’t only soon after the “alleged” abuse. It wasn’t after one allegation that was brought to their attention. Rather, this continued until very recently, the mid-2000s. And it was after numerous allegations were brought to the Yeshivah leadership’s attention. They were informed regarding Cyprys at least as early as 1984 regarding two victims, in the mid-1980s regarding another victim and in the late 1980s or early 1990s regarding up to two other victims. They were also aware of the Cyprys court case in 1991 in relation to similar allegations for which he was found guilty. And of course, they were also aware of my case. It is safe to assume that they may have known of additional matters regarding Cyprys – I have only listed the matters that I’m certain they were aware of.
Despite all of this, for years I was often exposed to Cyprys standing guard in front of this institution. I could not understand this back then and I am still flabbergasted by Yeshivah’s immoral and dangerous behaviour.
I should note that in the early 2000s, I approached Rabbi Groner to discuss specifically this matter with him. In his office, I asked him why Cyprys was still employed by the Yeshivah Centre and tasked with this highly sensitive role, which provided him unrestricted access to many children. Rabbi Groner stated that he was personally dealing with it and he was adamant that I should not raise this entire story elsewhere. My final question to Rabbi Groner was “Can you assure me that Cyprys is not currently re-offending or that he will not re-offend in the future?” to which Rabbi Groner responded “No”.
By that time, in the early 2000s, I had lost faith in both the police and the Yeshivah Centre.
As I had been referred to the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) by the police, I approached them soon after my return from Israel (after I had made initial contact in 1996). This process made me feel empowered, and I was relieved that my experiences and predicament were finally validated. Indeed, the ultimate positive point was when the Magistrate acknowledged everything that had happened to me and I was awarded modest compensation.
Recently, in anticipation of this trial, re-reading the reports from the VOCAT process for the first time in over a decade, brought back some very difficult and troubling memories. In trying so desperately to move on with my life, I had suppressed much of my painful past.
Since the early 2000s, after the VOCAT resolution, I tried moving on with my life. But being aware of Cyprys’ position, and being exposed to him in the manner described earlier, I was never really able to let go; justice had not been done and there were so many vulnerable children who could be Cyprys’ future victims. The lack of justice both for myself and others, as well as being aware of the overriding hypocrisy of the community I left, continued to have an impact on me emotionally.
In the mid-2000s I started contemplating the use of the media to tell my story, mainly in the hope that other victims would come forward. However, I decided to wait with going public with my story at that time.
In 2011, this all changed. For a number of reasons, I felt that the time was right to take a public stand on the matter. On 8 July 2011, authored by senior Fairfax journalist Jewel Topsfield, my personal story featured on the front page of The Age (http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/jewish-community-leader-tells-of-sex-abuse-20110707-1h4t4.html). And my life, and that of my family’s, changed forever. There have been many challenges since this public exposé – including the ongoing and vicious personal attacks against me, my family and supporters, which have been part of a prolonged campaign in a range of modes, emanating mainly from the ultra-Orthodox community (mainly by people associated with the Yeshivah Centre – indeed with the imprimatur of this institution and often orchestrated by its leaders). This has culminated with my parents’ recent decision to sell their home of almost 30 years, my childhood home, and relocate, due to their excommunication by the Yeshivah Centre. Nevertheless, I do not at all regret the decision to go public, as it yielded the desired results. Soon after, many victims came forward to the police, including most of the other victims in this case. Essentially, much of the progress within the Jewish community in terms of justice, awareness and prevention may be attributed to my decision to come forward publicly.
I should note that soon after going public with my story, and upon learning that there were a number of related developments, I decided to contact a group of former schoolmates urging them to share any information they had from our time at school regarding allegations of child sexual abuse. In this correspondence I specifically mentioned David Cyprys by name. A few days later I received a Concerns Notice from Cyprys’ lawyer informing me that Cyprys was threatening to sue me for defamation. I was shocked to be on the receiving end of such an arrogant, absurd letter. Unsurprisingly, I never heard back from Cyprys’ lawyer.
This incident makes it clear that Cyprys is completely unrepentant for the crimes he committed against me. Sure, he pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal after being found guilty unanimously by a jury for five charges of rape against another victim in this case, but this letter, and the fact that he has never tried to make amends in any way, shape or form, demonstrates a clear lack of contrition by Cyprys.
I would like to take this opportunity to emphasise that under no circumstances should there be any retribution towards Cyprys’ family or friends. I view them as additional victims, especially his parents and children. I empathise with their pain and suffering; it is something that has weighed heavily on my mind since this became public. His family has nothing to be ashamed about; they did nothing wrong. It was David Cyprys who committed these unspeakable crimes, not them. To his children I would like to say, please try not to allow this to impact your life too much. Your father committed these crimes and he is now being held to account for it. Hopefully we can all move on from this.
Going public with my story over two years ago, assisting many other victims of child sexual abuse and in some cases their families, and working to protect other children within our community, has been a great part of my healing process. It has given me hope. It has empowered me. It has given me a voice. Indeed, it has empowered so many other victims and given them a voice, too. The decades of living in silence with the shame, guilt and anger has been shattered. Importantly, it has provided me the opportunity to turn a tragedy into a positive – something that has benefitted me and countless others. Indeed, it has been of benefit to our entire community.
Thankfully I have the support, resilience and other attributes that are necessary to withstand the consequences of having been a victim of this type of crime, to go public with my story and to become a public advocate on this highly complex and sensitive issue. Indeed, I went on to establish Tzedek (Justice in Hebrew), an advocacy group for Jewish victims and survivors of child sexual abuse (www.tzedek.org.au). If I had not been a victim, in all likelihood we would not be where we are today. More perpetrators would be roaming freely and with impunity on our streets and within our community. Many more victims would be suffering in complete silence. Many parents would not be talking to their children about this issue. There would not be the level of general awareness and education that now exists within our community. So I am grateful, proud and humbled by these achievements, most of which have come with the support, assistance and guidance of many others.
I have also been impacted by the abuse I suffered from a financial perspective. For example, I spent years making up for the missed education during my youth much later as an adult. I have also currently put my career on the line to lead Tzedek full-time.
Similarly, publicly coming out as a victim of child sexual abuse has had a significant impact on me and my family. For example, it has soured relationships with numerous siblings, extended family members, friends and acquaintances.
My tragic experience has had a broad and profound impact on me. It has shaped me into what I am today – I cannot maintain my silence in the face of injustice. I consider myself to be a human rights advocate – whether it is for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse or the suffering of others in other predicaments. I will take a public stand on as many issues as I can. For this I am grateful.
I have also been able to reflect on a range of matters relating to my past, and over the years my confidence in relation to so many issues has been restored. For example, working closely with the police has restored my faith in the law enforcement agency. On this note I would like to acknowledge and thank the police and prosecution for everything they have done to achieve the incredible results that have been achieved to date. I know it takes so much hard work and dedication under very difficult circumstances. I greatly appreciate it and I know so many others do too – so a heartfelt thank you.
In terms of my religion, I remain secular. However, while I still experience faith-based consequences stemming from the abuse I endured, I have grown to enjoy and appreciate many aspects of my religion and its traditions. Importantly, I am and always will be a proud Jew with a strong Jewish identity.
There are still issues that I continue to address as a result of the abuse I endured – however, I genuinely feel that I am in the best position that I have ever been.
I am happily married to an incredible wife and a father to the most amazing children. I have a fulfilling job. I have an extended network of family, friends and colleagues. I have many supporters. Thank you to each and every one of you.
Life is currently good – in fact, it’s probably the best it’s ever been. And importantly, whatever David Cyprys took away from me at one point or another – my innocence, my dignity, my faith, indeed my life – this he can’t take away from me. I simply will not let him.