Repair the harm to survivors

March 28, 2017 by J-Wire Staff
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100 people attending an emotional ‘Night of Healing’ hosted this week in Melbourne by Tzedek, the national advocacy and support organisation for survivors of child sexual abuse in the Jewish community were told the Jewish community must unite in its efforts to repair the harm done to survivors of child sexual abuse.

They were also told that adopt stringent policies and procedures that prevent such abuse from happening in the future must be put into place.

The meeting comes in the wake of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, Rabbi Daniel Rabin, told the gathering, which included a number of survivors of child sexual abuse, that rabbinic leaders had failed them.

“We failed in our role and we for that we must say sorry,” he said.

“Ultimately we didn’t react appropriately and in a timely fashion. To the victims, we are sorry, I am sorry. We too didn’t listen; some criticised you, some rebuked you, some ignored you and for that we are deeply sorry.”

Rabbi Rabin said education – for the Rabbinate and the broader community – need to be ongoing.

“There is still work to be done. We need to keeping stressing the unequivocal position that reporting allegations of child sexual abuse is not only permitted in Jewish law, but in fact is an obligation.

“It is also critical that the community understands that the shunning of victims who have come forward, or will do so in the future, is absolutely forbidden.

Tzedek CEO Dr Michelle Meyer said the process of healing was a difficult and personal journey, and survivors need to know that they are not alone and that help is available.

“We must all work together to foster an environment to enable healing,” Dr Meyer said.

“At a community level, speaking up and advocating for survivors is one important step. Breaking the silence and challenging the cultural barriers is so important.

“But we are also able to do more than that. The community needs to participate in education programs. Education fosters a better understanding of the dynamics, to know how to recognise, react and respond to a disclosure.

“The community can also advocate for change within Jewish institutions. Institutions in Victoria have a legal requirement to establish child protection policies. But a policy is meaningless without a culture that promotes responsibility for the past and the future.

“The path to repairing harm for survivors must include demonstrated cultural change within institutions, particularly if abuse had occurred.  This includes acknowledging harms, remorse and a demonstrable ability to promote future protection.

“Survivors must be supported by vigilant and compassionate leadership. Ultimately, a leadership that demonstrates care and support for abuse victims will give confidence to any other survivors to come forward. It also gives confidence to the rest of the community about entrusting our children to their care in the future.”

Dr Vicki Gordon of Australian Jewish Psychologists likened child sexual abuse to a murdering of the soul, and said the Royal Commission’s hearings had been an important opportunity for survivors to have their stories witnessed and validated.

“To be in the room, and hear testimonies from survivors of their abuse, and of their treatment post abuse, was to connect, to empathise, to feel, touch, smell, taste and hear a glimpse of what that soul murder looked like,” Dr Gordon said.

“While acknowledging that procedures and policies may have been put in place and the correct boxes ticked, we need the culture to change. And this is not so simple. The first step in this cultural change is to witness. Witness with understanding and support survivors that were there and those that weren’t there. We need to validate their experiences, and reach out to them.

“For trauma victims to begin to heal, we must acknowledge their pain, allow them to talk about it and help them to process it. In a safe place.  To witness and validate… to begin to heal…to begin to restore that soul.”

Manny Waks, a victim himself, said “We must focus first on prevention through raising awareness and education. We have organisations like Tzedek who are prepared and equipped to deliver the sort of training required to institutions and to parents. There are age-appropriate educational programmes, which need to start in our primary schools and go all the way through to the end of high school. We need to consider the funding which our community allocates to child sexual abuse prevention. Consider the community funding for the Community Security Group, clearly a necessary and worthy expense, but how do we justify the discrepancy between the funding directed towards external threats, versus the funding directed to internal threats, which have caused so much more damage?”

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