Waks addresses Parliamentary Inquiry

December 12, 2012 Agencies
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Alleged sexual assault victim Manny Waks has testified before the Victorian Parliament Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations.
Victorian Government Inquiry into Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-Government Organisations
Opening Statement
Manny Waks
10 December 2012 1:30pm-3pm

Zephaniah Waks and Manny Waks Photo: Tony Fink

I would like to open my statement by sincerely thanking the Victorian Government for taking this bold initiative in launching this Inquiry. There is no doubt in my mind that this Inquiry played an instrumental part in the ultimate decision by the Prime Minister to launch the Royal Commission. For this achievement you should all be proud.
I am here today not only as a dual victim of child sexual abuse within the ultra-Orthodox community but also representing many other such victims within the broader Melbourne Jewish community. This is an incredible opportunity for us victims – incredibly empowering – frankly, we never thought this day would come.
Since our joint written submission in September, there have been some major developments relating to the Jewish community. No doubt you would be aware of some of them.
Before I get to the specifics, I wanted to broadly reiterate what we have previously highlighted in our written submission; that there is overwhelming evidence that the level of child sexual abuse within the Jewish community and the appalling way in which it has been mishandled, including through credible allegations of ongoing cover-ups, may be described as being nothing short of endemic.
Also, as the written submission only referred to the extradition proceedings in relation to David Kramer, I would simply like to bring to the Committee’s attention that this process has recently been concluded and David Kramer has now been charged and remanded in custody.
Now to the specifics.
First, the bad news. Since our written submission there have been additional serious allegations of child sexual abuse within the Jewish community. Worse, in all of these new cases, those in positions of authority attempted to cover up these crimes against innocent children. While only some of these allegations have been made public, as the only Australian-based victim who has gone public about my abuse, I am often contacted by victims or their families asking for advice or support. These discussions have revealed a great deal; that the abuse has been endemic within our community and the cover-ups have been the consistent response. Make no mistake about this – recent revelations indicate that both the abuse and cover-ups have occurred in various institutions and are not restricted to a particular segment of the Jewish community.
I feel obliged to share with you some of the allegations that have recently come to my attention. My understanding is that the police have been made aware of most of these allegations. I will not mention any names here, but would be happy to provide them to the Committee if this is appropriate. These include:
•    A 36yo male who is alleged to have sexually abused a number of children within the Yeshivah community over the past few years. My understanding is that as soon as he heard that he was under police investigation he fled the country and is now in Israel apparently receiving psychiatric treatment. Coincidentally, it is alleged that the accused was himself repeatedly sexually abused as a child by a family member. This family member is currently married with children and an active member of the Sydney Jewish community.
•    An older gentleman who is alleged to have sexually abused at least one child when they were aged 5yo-12yo. The abuse is alleged to have occurred between around 1994-2000 within the ultra-Orthodox community (not Yeshivah). According to the victim, their family was ultimately forced to leave Melbourne mainly as a result of the pressure by the rabbis who were informed of these allegations. Apparently a police statement was made in 2007. The perpetrator is still roaming freely within the Melbourne Jewish community and until fairly recently has held at least one senior position within our community.
•    A male around 30yo is alleged to have sexually abused at least one 13yo child within the Yeshivah community. The abuse is alleged to have occurred around three years ago. Apparently the police are aware of this case but at this stage the young victim refuses to make a formal statement as they are concerned with the possible ramifications against him as a result of going to police.
•    There is also the case that I referred to in our written submission where a young member of the Jewish community last year apparently pleaded guilty and was convicted of multiple counts of sexual assault and related charges against several minors. This perpetrator is apparently the youngest person ever registered on the Sex Offenders Register in the State of Victoria.
•    I have also received a number of allegations regarding instances of abuse and cover-ups within the Sydney and Perth Jewish communities.
•    Most devastatingly, over the past few days I have been informed of a possible link between an alleged incident of child sexual abuse at Yeshivah and a subsequent suicide. I must emphasise that this has just been brought to my attention and I intend to follow this up in due course. While this is still unconfirmed, it would be naïve to think that suicides due to child sexual abuse would not have occurred within our community as well, just as it does in all other segments of society.
It is important to mention something regarding a major case, which is currently under a suppression order. It has recently been widely reported that this is a major Jewish communal institution involving multiple victims with many charges.
I would like to read the following statement on behalf of someone who is intimately involved in this case (they have requested that I ensure to fully protect their identity):
Since the reports of abuse were revealed in September 2000 and the perpetrator was dismissed from his position, nobody from the organisation has ever contacted any of the victims, or anyone involved with him. The issue was swept under the proverbial rug, and no mention made of it within the organisation again.

No counselling or debriefing was ever offered to any of those who knew the perpetrator, as the organisation managed to ‘forget’ that the incidents had ever occurred.
In November 2011, Executive members of the organisation, including the President, were informed that the man had been arrested on sexual abuse charges. They were informed again by email and over the phone in June 2012, and specifically informed that victims and witnesses were soon to appear in court. In November 2012 they were informed that a trial was scheduled for July 2013. Nobody from the organisation has yet to contact any of the victims involved. In fact, when queried about their involvement just recently, they claimed, “Nobody from the courts or police have contacted us, so it’s not our issue”.
Also in November 2012, articles began circulating on online news sources about the court case. In particular, an article on The Age website identified the type of Jewish organisation involved. Still, nobody from the organisation has made any attempt to contact any of the victims involved with the case.
The lack of support and failure to accept any responsibility for the crimes that occurred whilst the victims were ultimately in the organisation’s care, serves to add to the distress and anxiety suffered by those involved. Of great concern is that no further action was ever taken to prevent the risk of sexual abuse occurring to other members of the organisation, and that the organisation continue to appoint people in positions of authority over junior members, with no Code of Conduct by which to abide. The organisation appears to condone sexual abuse, by virtue of its failure to accept responsibility or promote a change in its practice.
While in our written submission we outlined the mishandling of this entire child sexual abuse scandal by the Jewish community leadership, I am disappointed to say that in some ways their response has further deteriorated.
The peak body of the Australian Jewish community, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), has done everything it can to try to downplay this scandal. In the year and a half since these allegations have been in the public spotlight, the ECAJ has done very little, and in some cases, their scant response was in fact highly damaging, both to the victims and to the broader Jewish community. The ECAJ has published two or three media releases, held a meeting with the Yeshivah Centre, and made a submission to the Royal Commission regarding the Terms of Reference – all of this in the one and a half years since the allegations became public in June 2011. When compared to some of their other work, it is quite clear that they do not regard this as a pressing issue. For example, the ECAJ undertakes this level of work regarding Israel-related issues in just a single week. As a former Vice President of the ECAJ, I know this to be a fact.
The following public material clearly demonstrates the ECAJ’s shameful approach to this scandal. In response to an article by The Age’s Barney Zwartz dated 29 November 2012, the ECAJ wrote the following:
Contrary to the salacious, misleading and deceptive headline in the Barney Zwarz (sic) story in the Fairfax media today “the Jewish community” is not “embroiled in new child sex scandal charges”.
Allegations of serious sexual abuse in incidents some 15 to 20 years ago have been made in relation to Yeshiva College in Melbourne and are being dealt with by the courts. Allegations have also been made in connection with at least two other Jewish organisations. In the latest allegations, neither the alleged perpetrator nor many of the alleged victims are Jewish. So to smear the entire “Jewish community” in this way is outrageous. Unlike, for example, the Catholic Church, the Jewish community is not a single organisation and cannot act as such.
As for the claim that communal organisations have done nothing about this issue, Barney Zwarz was provided with the attached media releases dated 14 and 27 November 2012 but there is no mention of them or their contents in his report.
Further, the ECAJ today lodged its submission with the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in response to the Federal government’s consultation paper. A copy of the submission is also attached.
The alleged Israel-obsession is also nonsense. There is no domestic issue affecting the Jewish community which we have not dealt with. The ECAJ’s Objects, as set out in its Constitution are:
(a) To represent and speak officially on behalf of Australian Jewry.
(b) To take such action as it considers necessary on behalf of Australian Jewry in matters that concern Australian Jewry or Jewry in other parts of the world.
(c) To support and strengthen the connection of Australian Jewry with the State of Israel.
This letter was signed by Peter Wertheim, Executive Director of the ECAJ.
In response to this ECAJ statement, on the same day I wrote the following:
•    Did the ECAJ find yesterday’s Fairfax article entitled ‘Gillard under Jewish pressure over Palestine’ also ‘salacious, misleading and deceptive headline’? Did it say anything about it? I know many within the Jewish community who were appalled at the pressure, especially coming from the ECAJ. But I haven’t heard that the ECAJ raised this headline as an issue. It wasn’t ‘Jewish pressure’ but pressure from the pro-Israel lobby (and like every other lobby, of course this lobby also has every right to lobby). So clearly they’re being selective in their criticism.
•    Let’s be clear, the allegations we are talking about include allegations of child sexual abuse up to the past couple of years. I’m personally aware of serious allegations of abuse that occurred under three years ago (and I understand that there are also allegations of abuse even more recently). I am aware of at least two young paedophiles roaming around our community. Obviously the ECAJ is not aware that it often takes literally decades for victims to take action. Just because no statement has been given to police does not mean that abuse is not taking place. So no, the allegations regarding Yeshivah are not from ‘some 15 to 20 years ago’ and not all of the allegations ‘are being dealt with by the courts’.
•    ‘Allegations have also been made in connection with at least two other Jewish organisations.’ The important words here are ‘at least’. Peter is obviously referring to Yeshivah, Adass and the most recent revelation (a major Jewish institution). But I can assure you that the allegations go well beyond that. There have been reports coming from other capital cities within Australia. Indeed, there is another very credible report from another Melbourne institution, which I’ll hopefully be in a position to divulge shortly.
•    ‘In the latest allegations, neither the alleged perpetrator nor many of the alleged victims are Jewish.’ This is not entirely accurate. Yes, the perpetrator is not Jewish, but only two of the victims are not Jewish – this could hardly be classified as ‘many’. Also, importantly, the serious allegations are not only regarding the abuse itself, but of the alleged cover-up by this institution, and its alleged mistreatment of the victims. As you can appreciate, I cannot share all of the very credible (and sensitive) information that I have but let me assure you, it paints a very grim picture of the behaviour of this institution’s leadership.
•    So despite the fact that the ECAJ or others within our community may not like it, this is very clearly a ‘Jewish community’ issue. It is indeed very accurate to say that the Jewish community is embroiled in a child sexual abuse scandal. It is not one organisation, nor two or three – it is several that we already know of and probably others that we don’t yet know of. And it’s not just the abuse but also cover-ups.
•    ‘Unlike, for example, the Catholic Church, the Jewish community is not a single organisation and cannot act as such.’ What chutzpah (and hypocrisy)! The ECAJ refers to itself as the voice of the Australian Jewish community – apparently it represents all of us, at least that’s what it claims. Yet now that it doesn’t suit the ECAJ to refer to the Jewish community as a single entity, under its jurisdiction….how dare anyone perceive/describe us as a single entity like the Catholic Church?!
•    ‘As for the claim that communal organisations have done nothing about this issue’ – no one has made such a claim, not the journalist nor me. This is what was written: ‘Mr Waks said Jewish communal groups such as the Executive Council of Australian Jewry had not made tackling child sexual abuse a high-enough priority.’ That is 100% accurate. Disseminating a couple of media releases over the period of around one and a half years is simply not good enough – by anyone’s standard. Yes, there was also a meeting or two. Should we compare that with the resources expended on, say, Israel-related issues? This was my point. It’s not a high enough priority for the ECAJ. And Peter is disappointed that Barney didn’t mention anything about these media releases. For the ECAJ’s sake it’s probably better that he didn’t!
•    Good on the ECAJ for making a submission to the Royal Commission.
•    ‘The alleged Israel-obsession is also nonsense. There is no domestic issue affecting the Jewish community which we have not dealt with.’ The first sentence is subjective. I and many others claim that the ECAJ (and the other peak bodies) are obsessed about Israel-related issues. Unsurprisingly, the ECAJ doesn’t quite see it that way. Fair enough. But again, let’s have a look at the resources expended on Israel-related issue when compared to domestic issues. It’s quite clear that Israel consumes most of their resources. Regarding the second sentence, I nor anyone else has said that the ECAJ hasn’t addressed a domestic issue. Again, it’s simply about the priorities and resource allocation.
As you can see, the ECAJ’s response to this article is riddled with many inaccuracies at best.
I don’t have an adequate response as to why the ECAJ is responding to this crisis in the way they are. There may be a number of reasons for this – it could be the desire to keep things that may reflect poorly on our community out of the public’s eye. It may also be due to the lack of knowledge and experience in responding to this issue. Child sexual abuse has been a taboo topic for a long time. It is now finally being discussed everywhere. But many people, including the community leadership, simply don’t know how to address it.
It’s not too late. The ECAJ and others can change their attitude and actions and start to work on this issue for the benefit of the community and the victims.
In a number of recent media interviews, Danny Lamm, President of the ECAJ, publicly stated that all Jewish community organisations were fully cooperating with the authorities and responding appropriately to this scandal. Shockingly, he singled out Yeshivah for their outstanding work. Danny also publicly questioned on ABC Radio the integrity of Herald Sun journalist Shannon Deery for a 14 November 2012 article he wrote regarding new revelations of a cover-up. By so doing, Danny chose to completely ignore the overwhelming evidence available, including disregarding the views of the Magistrate, the police, victims, their families and supporters, all of whom made it abundantly clear that cover-ups and intimidation were still prevalent within Yeshivah.
Moreover, in the comprehensive reports based on the ECAJ’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), which was held only a few weeks ago, shockingly there was absolutely no mention whatsoever of the child sexual abuse scandal. As the report was drafted and sent to the Jewish media by the ECAJ, and published verbatim by at least one of the media outlets, this can only mean that the ECAJ felt that the child sexual abuse scandal was not worth mentioning in their lengthy report, either because it was not discussed at all at their AGM or that it is an insignificant issue – or both.
I should note, however, that in the past couple of weeks there have been some positive signs emanating from the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), a constituent of the ECAJ. Hopefully this will continue. Importantly, hopefully the ECAJ will follow suit. I would like to take this opportunity to reach out to the peak bodies within the Jewish community to work closely with the victims on this issue and to address it with the importance, sensitivity and compassion that it deserves.
In this context, one of the many victims I am representing here today has asked me to read the following specific statement on their behalf:
The “offer” by the JCCV to assist with referrals of victims to the Australian Jewish Psychologists (AJP) is naïve and quite possibly unethical, especially given (at material times) the involvement of Michelle Coleman with the JCCV (http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/committees/fcdc/inquiries/57th/Child_Abuse_Inquiry/Submissions/Jewish_Community_Council_of_Victoria.pdf (last page)). As noted in our written submission, Michelle Coleman was the Executive Director of the JCCV – she resigned around two months ago after a year in the role, apparently due to this ongoing scandal. She has been dating David Cyprys, the alleged paedophile in my case, and reportedly married him last Thursday. One seriously wonders how many contacts the JCCV has had from victims, how many have been passed to the AJP, and how many have been referred to the police. While the AJP should be commended for its initiative in extending services to the community, the JCCV should be accountable for its handling of these referrals.
The additional point the same victim has requested I raise on their behalf is the following:
Although the predominant focus of the Jewish community concern has (rightly) been Chabad and the Yeshiva Centre, it should be noted that other (more secular) Jewish schools are also indirectly implicated by virtue of the spiritual/religious influence of Chabad/Yeshiva and the largely self-administered way in which rabbis at each school interpret and apply halacha (Jewish Law).
This is in addition to the natural exposure that many (if not most) secular Jewish school students have to Chabad/Yeshiva-influenced synagogues by virtue of their attendance for bar/bat mitzvah classes etc., at an especially influential and impressionable age.
Finally, this influence is even greater (one would contend) for Jewish students who attend non-Jewish or state schools for whom their only Jewish contact may be their attendance at Synagogue or a Sunday School or similar. It is much more apparent in these circumstances that these Jewish children (especially at impressionable ages with little or no other Jewish cultural experience) would be susceptible to the advances of influential religious guides.
While it is easy in light of recent events and media coverage to focus solely on Chabad/Yeshiva in respect of its direct implication as an educational institution, it would be remiss to omit consideration of its indirect influence, and it would be wrong to conclude that only Chabad/Yeshiva is responsible for wrongful acts to our children.
I am aware of one case from the mid/late-1980s where at least one student of a large secular Jewish day school was “groomed” by an accused (whose matter is currently before the courts), and concerned parents approached the then-principal who did not refer the matter to the police but either advised the parents not to proceed any further or referred the parents to the Chabad rabbis.
As a direct result of these recent developments, I am pleased to report some good news. Of course, the obvious one is that victims or their families are now starting to speak out – in some cases to me, in other cases to the media (anonymously), while in other cases to police. To facilitate the need to address this growing crisis within our community, we are currently in the process of establishing an advocacy group for victims of child sexual abuse within the Jewish community. This has been undertaken in close consultation with many victims and in some cases their families. The group is called Tzedek, which means ‘Justice’ in Hebrew.
Briefly, the two main goals for Tzedek are:
1.    To:
a.    represent;
b.    advocate for;
c.    seek justice and accountability for;
d.    empower; and
e.    provide confidential support and assistance to;
victims of child sexual abuse within the Australian Jewish community.
2.    To educate the Jewish community on issues relating to child sexual abuse.
We are currently in the process of registering the organisation and we hope the community will get behind this initiative in terms of providing the necessary resources. Many have already expressed their support and willingness to assist in whatever way they can. I would particularly like to thank and acknowledge Josh Bornstein, a Principal with Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, who has agreed to be on the Tzedek Board of Directors and is assisting us in various ways to get this initiative off the ground. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage child sexual abuse victims from the Jewish community to contact us at info@tzedek.org.au. Also, those who are in a position to assist in whatever way, especially financially, can contact us through this email address.
I would now like to conclude this opening statement by adding to our recommendations as stipulated in our written submission. This is based on additional feedback from some of the other victims that I am representing here today:
•    There should be procedures in place to ensure the victims feel physically protected once they make a police statement – otherwise it may deter victims from reporting abuse.
•    All child sexual abuse allegations should be fully investigated by the police – irrespective of whether a formal police statement has been made. The police can then decide whether there is sufficient evidence to lay any charges.
•    Often, once a police statement has been made, people in the community are contacted to make additional statements. Currently there is nothing to protect the victim’s identity or allegations to these individuals.
•    Police require revised procedures for the delivery of the Court Summons and Police Statements. These are private and personal documents and the police should not just deliver them to anyone at the victim’s mailing address – it should only be given directly to the victim, ideally in a sealed envelope.
•    Victims attending court are left out of pocket. Around $5 is provided for transportation, which is insufficient even for the use of public transport. Additional reimbursements for other expenses are inadequate. Also, in some cases victims are not informed that they can claim these expenses.
•    Victims may feel that justice for them personally has not been served if their abuser receives a concurrent jail sentence. Perhaps this concept can be reviewed.
•    Something urgently needs to be done to address the lengthy duration of time between the various hearings and the trial date. The longer the process, the greater the impact on the victims’ lives, and the more likely victims will drop out of the case due to stress. This may also help reduce the time the accused person has access to do the same crime to a new victim. This may be a funding issue for the courts.
•    Greater emphasis should be placed on reaching a plea bargain with perpetrators.
•    Between the investigation and trial, the accused are generally questioned or interrogated only once while the victims are subjected to much greater scrutiny. For instance, during the Committal Hearing, perhaps the accused should also be cross-examined.
•    It is imperative that the police should keep a record of all allegations about every person – even if initially there is insufficient evidence. This will ensure that past allegations are considered when new allegations about the same person are raised.
•    There needs to be more confidentiality regarding victims’ identity when child sexual abuse cases are reported by the media, including ensuring that peripherally identifying details are not published. This is of greater significance within smaller communities where individuals are more easily identifiable.
•    The remote witness rooms at the Magistrates Court are not sufficient in making victims feel safe during the court process. As you could imagine, many victims of child sexual abuse feel uncomfortable, scared and literally ill just at the thought of seeing their abuser. The fact that the victim has to attend the same court at the same time as their abuser – and there is only one entrance/exit – makes the whole process even more overwhelming than it already is. Perhaps consideration can be given to use remote facilities in a completely separate physical location.
•    In some cases, and only with the support of the victim, perhaps an appropriate sentence for a perpetrator can be to receive psychiatric help rather than to serve a jail term.
Madame Chair, Committee members, I sit here before you today deeply hurt; not only by the abuse I and so many others suffered; not only at the cover-ups we have witnessed; not only at the harassment and intimidation that victims, our family members and supporters have endured over the past year or so, but also at the meek response by the Jewish community leadership. And let me assure you, this is the feeling amongst the many Jewish victims I represent here today. There is anger and incredulity at the Jewish communal leadership’s response, or lack thereof, to this scandal that has profoundly impacted the lives of so many within our community.
When I went public with my story in July last year, I did so for a number of reasons. Firstly, I suspected that there were many other Yeshivah victims out there, and once my story went public, I was confident others would also come forward. This proved to be accurate. Secondly, I had been living with guilt, shame, pain and a profound sense of disempowerment. Going public, I felt, would be cathartic. This too proved to be accurate. Lastly, as a Vice President of the ECAJ at the time, I felt that the onus was on me as a leader to take a leadership position on this relatively unaddressed issue within our community – if I was not going to do it, then who would?
Upon reflection, I have no absolutely regrets. I am proud of what I did and what has been achieved since I went public. But while initially there was an important element of catharsis in my decision to speak up, this has almost been obscured, if not completely eliminated, by the sense of communal responsibility that I now feel is the driving force behind my decision to maintain this ongoing public campaign. Unfortunately, there are still major and powerful forces within our community who would love nothing more than for me to step down from this role, so that as a community we could revert back to how things used to be. I would like to make it abundantly clear that I do not plan to sit back and let that happen. I will maintain the pressure and the public campaign. While it is most unfortunate that our community is embroiled in this scandal, it is a reality that we must face. We must learn from the past in order to address the future. We owe it to the victims and we owe it to our community. It is a case of short term pain for long term tranquillity. As one of the important mottos of Judaism, and as is written in the holy Torah (the five books of Moses), Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof (‘Justice you shall pursue’). This is precisely what we have been doing to date and will continue to do into the future – pursue justice, under the aptly-named Tzedek organisation.
But despite the many challenges and hardships, I do feel empowered, and I do feel that justice is finally prevailing. So thank you again for this incredible opportunity. I must also take this opportunity to thank publicly those who have supported the victims – on behalf of all of us, thank you. Your ongoing support is greatly appreciated, empowering and uplifting. Please do not underestimate the impact of your support, and our profound appreciation for it.
I would like to take this opportunity to also publicly thank and acknowledge the unequivocal support of my parents and other family members, especially my dear wife. People often think about the toll on the victims, but there is an incredible toll that the victims’ families also have to pay, often unacknowledged and in complete silence, especially the family of a victim, such as myself, who has chosen to speak out publicly on this issue. So my profound gratitude to all of you. Simply put, I could not have undertaken this process with your ongoing support.
My sincere hope is that those within the ultra-Orthodox community who have not been quite as supportive, or indeed critical or worse, will see the errors of their ways. Placing religious interests above humanity merely reflects poorly on you and your misguided definition of religiosity.
Before I take any questions that you may have, my father, Zephaniah Waks, who has also been invited to testify here today, would like to commence with an opening statement.
Thank you.

Comments

One Response to “Waks addresses Parliamentary Inquiry”
  1. Dina says:

    I fail to understand why nearly half of this statement was spent on a detailed rebuttal of an ECAJ press release. How is this of interest to a Victorian Government inquiry? It is not the ECAJ, but our fundamentalist sects that are being investigated. It would not surprise me to discover that in common with all fundamentalisms, these sects are hotbeds of sexual repression, with predictably tragic impacts on those who are vulnerable. What we should be asking is why have we, the rational majority, granted respectability to these sects for so long? They have gained influence as a result, and now we are paying for our pandering.

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