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Jewish community in public protest against sexual abuse

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Energetically brandishing placards, demonstrators took a decisive stand against abuse in our community on Wednesday afternoon.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Nov 22, 2018

Encouraged by the hooting of passing cars, taxis, buses, and trucks, members of the Jewish community gathered at the roadside in Sandringham to take a stand against sexual abuse in our community, and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

The demonstration was organised by Koleinu and Shalom Bayit, both local organisations committed to fighting abuse. “Today, we take a stand for men, women, and children who face abuse and tell them that they are not alone,” said Rozanne Sack, the Co-Director of Koleinu. “We need to break the silence which surrounds cases of abuse even when it is not popular to do so.”

The decision to gather in public on the side of George Avenue was of particular significance. Said Wendy Hendler, the Co-Director of Koleinu: “When people heard about what we were doing, many of them said we would regret drawing such attention to abuse in our community. People said to me that I should expect a backlash for bringing our community into disrepute.

“This makes me very angry, because we need to be open about these things in order to be the light to other faith-based communities. We are the pathfinders who are determined to tackle the silence, and make sure that these things do not happen.”

Nicholas Ingel, a survivor of abuse, said that it resulted in a loss of his sense of self-worth.

“I found myself sitting on the couch with a gun in my mouth on many occasions,” he recalls. “I asked Hashem for strength to pull the trigger, and at the same time, begged him to help me prevent myself from taking my life. I strove to give my life value, and find something to live for.”

Aged three when his parents divorced, Ingel moved to Cape Town with his mother, and fell prey to a string of abusers while there. “When I was six, my mom took to sending me to spend nights and weekends with gay friends she had at the time. They raped me. And, after going through that ordeal, I stood in the locked room while they slept, looked out the window, and thought to myself, what have I done that is so terrible that has caused my mother to put me through this experience?”

It was after suffering this trauma repeatedly that Ingel said he lost all understanding of love, trust, and respect. The cycle of abuse was perpetuated when Ingel’s mother sent him to a group of drug dealers in town. “My mom killed herself when I was sixteen,” he says, “so I’ve never been able to ask her why she sent me to these places. Part of me wants to believe that she used the drugs, and didn’t send me there because she wanted me to go through what I did.

“Those dealers raped me. A six-year-old boy was penetrated by 10 individual men. I couldn’t understand what I had done to have to endure it.”

Ingel suffered abuse for four years, took to drinking at the age of nine, and at 36, was on the brink of taking his life. It was at this point that he chose to sober up, speak out, and make an effort to regain control of his life. Still, the trauma he underwent lingers today.

“Until today, I cannot understand love,” he says. “I’ve been married and divorced, and I doubt I’ll marry again. I cannot comprehend what it means to trust or to love as a consequence of abuse.”

He stressed that initiatives to break the silence early and support victims are almost inexpressibly vital. “People need to know that abuse kills. Someone has to be the one to stand up and prevent the cycle of abuse from turning. Being a victim of abuse does not allow anyone to abuse someone else in turn, and is no excuse whatsoever.”

Like Ingel, Olivia Jasriel took years to break her silence and speak out against her abuser. “It took me 34 years to come out and speak,” she said. “Children feel that they will not be believed. They keep their trauma to themselves for years and harm themselves more.”

Abused by her tennis coach, Bob Hewitt, when she was in high school, Jasriel saw him brought to justice and sentenced to prison for eight years a few years ago. Having served two years in jail, however, Hewitt believes that he has served enough time, and is pushing for release.

“My trauma is ongoing,” says Jasriel. “I lost my family because of that man. He convinced them that I was lying and they testified against me in court. They still don’t believe me today. Why should he be allowed to return to his family when he has made sure that I will never have a family again?”

Jasriel explained that though Hewitt has admitted his guilt in court, he remains unrepentant, and has yet to offer an apology. “He doesn’t believe he belongs in prison because his act was not committed with violence,” she says. “If he is released, I am terrified he will find me and kill me.”

In spite of her fear, and her belief that the justice system is failing children who fall victim to abuse, Jasriel is determined to make sure that her abuser remains behinds bars. “I will not let him go home again,” she says. “I will keep saying he cannot and will not stop. People like him deserve to stay in prison.”

Other people who spoke at the protest were child development and protection specialist Luke Lamprecht, psychologist Joanne Zagnoev, and Parktown Boys hostel matron Mariolette Bossert.

Hendler closed the protest by stressing that as a Jewish community, we could not allow misguided compassion for the perpetrators to blind us to the severity of their actions.

“Our drive to be compassionate trips us up,” she said. “We believe in kindness to the extent that we allow ourselves to be put at risk in our attempts to show compassion to perpetrators and excuse their behaviour. We need to equip ourselves to be sensible.”

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