An insight into Child Sexual Abuse and the Media

September 16, 2012 by J-Wire Staff
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A Melbourne journalist has spoken at a forum focusing on the topic “Airing our Dirty Laundry: Child Sexual Abuse in the Media”.

JewellTopsfield and Manny Waks   pic: Tony Fink

Last year, Melbourne broadsheet The Age’s Jewel Topsfield wrote a story naming community leader Manny Waks as an alleged victim of child sexual abuse at Melbourne’s Yeshivah College. The report gave a name and a face to the victims of the abuse, and was instrumental in enabling other victims to come forward with their stories.

Inevitably the coverage also ignited debate about the way the Jewish community handles child sexual abuse and about Manny’s decision to take his story to the media.

Recently, a capacity audience at Melbourne’s Shira Hadasha heard community leader and anti-child sexual abuse campaigner Manny Waks and The Age Education Editor Topsfield speak at a forum titled Airing Our Dirty Laundry: Child Sexual Abuse in the Media. Senior journalist and former Australian Jewish News Editor Ashley Browne facilitated the forum. Ashley opened the forum with a range of questions to both Waks and Topsfield and the forum was subsequently opened to the floor.

At the end of the forum, both speakers made themselves available to those who had been unable to ask questions due to tome constraints.

The main issues covered at the forum included:

  • Waks felt compelled to speak publicly about this issue because:
    • he felt he had exhausted other avenues, including making a formal police statement and raising the matter with Rabbi Groner;
    • it would encourage other victims to go to the police about the abuse they suffered; and
    • as a senior leader within the community, and as someone who had experience child sexual abuse first-hand, he had to take a leadership position about this.


  • Waks elected to share his story with Jewel Topsfield from The Age because:
    • Jewel had only weeks earlier broke the story that Victoria Police were in the process of extraditing from the US another alleged Yeshivah paedophile, Rabbi David Kramer;
    • after speaking with a number of journalists about his story, Manny felt most comfortable with Jewel;
    • this was a broader issue than just a Jewish community one—hence the desire to go to a non-communal media outlet; and
    • due to conflicts of interest that exist within our community (which may therefore impact the reporting of the story)—hence the desire to go to a non-communal media outlet.


  • The decision to go public was one that Waks considered seriously over a prolonged period and in consultation with close family and friends.


  • Due to the ongoing developments over the past year, Waks has felt vindicated by his decisions.
  • Waks shared some of the personal costs he and his family have paid for speaking out publicly on this issue.
  • Waks reiterated his position regarding the recent Yeshivah apology—that despite its many flaws it was a good first step but that much more needs to be done. Most importantly, he emphasised that Yeshivah should be judged by its actions, not just its words.
  • Waks  said he felt ambivalent regarding Rabbi Groner’s legacy. He noted Rabbi Groner’s incredible contribution to the entire Jewish community, for which Manny highly respects him. However, Rabbi Groner’s response to the allegations of ongoing abuse at Yeshivah leaves a huge stain on his legacy.
  • Waks noted some of the conflicts of interest that exist with some communal bodies, including the Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence (there was a public exchange with the Chair of this organisation who was present at the forum).
  • Topsfield shared her initial interactions with Waks and the high-level discussion that were taking place at The Age about how to cover this story.
  • Topsfield also informed the audience of the ongoing developments over the past year from her perspective.


One Response to “An insight into Child Sexual Abuse and the Media”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    And he did the right thing
    One would never believe such evil could be committed against innocent children, for us of another persuasion not unheard of at the tender age of four.
    This Parliamentary Inquiry will never disclose the full extent of it, our heirarchy assured of that, by the confidentialities signed by traumatized victims and refusing to release them, irrespective of parliamentary laws and priviledges.
    For us, Liberal MP Ken Smith who chaired an earlier inquiry into abuse stated the church wasn’t “fair dinkum” then and doubts if “fair dinkum” now.
    From what I know, even with the tireless work of one Brigidine Sr Angela Ryan, I’m afraid I have to agree with him.
    You would never want to know how they treat women held to ransom, subjected to a life of subterfuge.

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