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Abuse is a solvable problem

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ROZANNE SACK AND WENDY HENDLER

Last week, we attended the Tahel conference in Jerusalem, a gathering bringing together experts from 15 countries, presenting strategies to deal with sexual abuse and violence against adults and children. It is clear that Jewish communities, the world over, are struggling against an increasing amount of domestic violence and abuse cases.

The Torah commandment of “al taamod al dam re’echa (Do not stand idly by your brother’s blood)” opposes apathy, and inaction in the face of another’s suffering.

Sexual assault and violence, causs more than just physical damage – they destroy a person’s trust, sense of dignity, and shatters their self-worth. No one can in good conscience stand by and watch this happen, and as a community we need to adopt a zero-tolerance approach policy.

Still, there is a sense of apathy that allows sex offenders and child predators to avoid prosecution. Judith Herman,professor of clinical psychiatry at Harvard University Medical School, explains in her book Trauma and Recovery: “All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander does nothing.” And indeed, many people say to themselves: “This isn’t my problem, why get involved?”

But how do we understand this unwillingness to act? Anne Munch, one of the key presenters at the conference, pointed to the “Unnamed Conspirator”,  when we tell ourselves that we don’t have all the information, that someone’s private life isn’t our business, or that the victim in some way provokes their situation.

Another common dismissal is the fact that someone else must have already reported the case, so why should get I involved?

Often the perpetrator is someone we know and respect, and we cannot imagine such a person committing such acts. This leads to cognitive dissonance. In order to try and make sense of this shocking information, we come up with explanations for the allegations. These could include thinking such as: “The child misunderstood the action”, ”he/she has an overactive imagination” and ”the person is just very friendly and affectionate”.

In the case of physical violence against a child by a teacher, the thinking might be: “The teacher knows best how to discipline my child”, “my child’s behaviour must have warranted the teacher’s violent act” or ”the teacher is closer to G-d and is mandated to discipline him”.

Yet, we cannot afford to think this way. The truth is, that were our own loved ones in the shoes of the victim, we would certainly act.

If we want our communities to be safe for our families, one of the first steps is for us to realise that this is not just the task of community organisations alone. Each individual is needed to make a difference.

As Debbie Gross, director of Tahel, states: “Every mother, every father, every sister, every brother, must step forward and become an integral part of the necessary battle to prevent and stop violence and abuse in communities.”  

The consensus worldwide is that what is needed is for comprehensive policies to be implemented to prevent and deal with cases of abuse when they occur.

Koleinu is a community organisation working to combat abuse in the Jewish community. Koleinu is currently working with Dr. Shira Berkovitz, the founder of Sacred Spaces, to aid shuls, schools and youth movements in the implementation of policies to prevent and deal with cases of abuse which may occur.

 

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