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The Jewish Report Editorial

In dark places rot festers

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We have a kind, generous and caring community. You just have to read the story about the 11-year-old Hannah Katz on page four to be inspired. We have a community that goes out of its way not only to help our own, but the broader South African community as well. We are just like that.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Sep 28, 2017

But there is also a strong element in our community that wants to keep all that is dark in the dark. Don’t tell anyone that you were abused! Don’t you dare share that your father beats you. Keep quiet and keep up the appearances…

But this doesn’t work, because quite simply: In dark places, rot festers. If we hide abuse – and yes, like in any community around the world, there is abuse in ours – it will not go away. It will get worse. Instead, we will fuel the fire of abuse and violence against women, rather than putting it out.

When people who abuse others are not stopped, they will not only continue unabated and feel empowered in their sickness, giving their abuse free rein. How many people need to be harmed before we realise that by speaking out, naming and shaming, taking an abuser through the legal system, we are not wrong? We are right.

Even if the abuser is a powerful, supposedly good man. Even if the abuser is a devout man. Even if the abuser is respected by all for the work he does for the community. Even then, it is incumbent on us all to make sure he is not able to harm anyone again.

This does not mean sending his victim or victims away. All you are doing then is punishing someone who has already been harmed. By this, you are telling the abuser to go ahead and do as he pleases because there are no consequences to his actions.

Following our story “Johannesburg doctor guilty of unprofessional conduct”, we were both praised and lambasted. In some cases, those who opposed us running this story were rabbis and there was a general rumbling among our rabbonim about us having done wrong. Although there were a number of rabbis, too, who called us to tell us how brave we were and how they supported us.  

We heard about a wise and great Posek (a rabbi to whom rabbis go to for help with moral decisions) in New York who deals a lot with abuse and has done so for more than 25 years. His name is Rav Dovid Cohen. I knew he had been consulted on the situation behind this particular story we ran last week, so I contacted him.

He was familiar with the case and confirmed that without question we had done the right thing by running the story as we did. He told me that by publicising it, it was not a question of punishing the man, but rather about protecting his victims and potential victims. He said we are not out to punish anyone, but to protect innocent people. In this, he believed it was important to publicise the situation.

When I spoke to Rav Cohen about the accusation that we should not have written the story to protect the family, he said the family gets hurt when the law takes its course against someone who is guilty. The family gets hurt when someone goes to prison. It is not about the family, but rather the importance of protecting the innocent and the victims. He told me that this was most important and is halachic.

As a newspaper and as members of this community, we would like us to play a part in healing victims of abuse and protecting other innocents. In the last week, we have had a number of women coming to us with their stories of abuse that they had hidden because it might embarrass the family or the abuser.

They were made to feel they had done wrong by being victims. They live with such pain and their lives are forever changed. If we could prevent one such instance, I know we are doing the right thing. If we could protect many, what a mitzvah!

This could be your child, your mother, sister or wife. Or it could be you.

We as a community need to stand up against abuse. Not just pay lip service to it, really take it on and cleanse ourselves of this evil. The perpetrators are not evil, they have a problem and need help. By keeping quiet, we aren’t helping them or anyone. We are not helping their families either. Let us stamp out abuse in our community!

I wish you all G’mar Hatima Tova and well over the fast!

 

3 Comments

  1. 3 Choni 29 Sep
    With you 100%
  2. 2 Nikki 13 Oct
    Well done on publishing a story that all too often goes unreported. I am sure there are many in our community who suffer abuse, sexual and otherwise who keep quiet because of the potential of stigma, fear and judgement if those small-minded, short sighted folk who have lambasted you.
    The only way we can heal this abhorrence is to bring it to light.
     You are brave and right in reporting the truth. You have not hurt this family or the children, this guilty, sick, unethical and dishonest man has hurt them-- and his punishment is far too light. 
  3. 1 Gary Selikow 14 Oct
    Sexual abuse of women and children is a terrible terrible thing and nobody who does it should be protected no matter how religious or successful they are in their careers. The accusation of ''loshen hara' is a pathetic attempt to use religion in a hypocritical way to protect evildoers.

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