Chief Rabbi pulls out all the stops against abuse

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Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein has taken a zero tolerance approach to all forms of abuse within the Jewish community. He has set up a world class abuse review board to make sure that no case is swept under the carpet or slips through the cracks.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Nov 09, 2017

“Sadly our community is not immune to abuse. Potential perpetrators need to know that the community is watching,” said the Chief Rabbi. “It is crucial that we have in place safety mechanisms that will ensure full accountability and transparency in cases of abuse within the Jewish community.”

The newly formed Abuse Review Board, according to its head, Advocate Liza Segal, is not the first port of call when reporting a case of abuse. It acts as a “safety net” to ensure that every report of abuse is “properly dealt with and that no victim is left unprotected”.

Cases of abuse should first be reported to the Jewish Community Services of the Chevrah Kadisha, said Segal, “This is a statutory body that fills the requirements of the law and it does incredible work.”

“As a community we have to do everything in our power to make sure we protect people vulnerable to abuse,” said the Chief Rabbi, “The review board is an extra safety mechanism to do this. We cannot be complacent.”

“Abuse will not be hushed,” said Segal, “Abusers will not be put on the first aeroplane out of the country, so as to shift the problem from one place to another. Abusers will not be spared the full weight of the law... the purpose of the board is to protect the community and take steps that are constructive for all concerned,” she said.

Segal has had many years’ experience in family law matters. The board includes psychologist Brenda Lasersohn, Dr Efrat Barnes, medical director of the Teddy Bear Foundation and child abuse expert; Rabbi Gidon Fox, chairman of the SA Rabbinical Association and Rabbi of the Pretoria Hebrew Congregation; and Rabbi Anton Klein of the Johannesburg Beth Din.

Segal said the board will investigate complaints regarding abuse that have “not been properly handled.

“The scope of the Board’s objectives include inter alia safeguarding the community from and ensuring that all complaints in cases relating to sexual, physical, domestic and communal abuse (including the abuse of power by individuals and institutions in positions of authority) and neglect are managed and dealt with appropriately and in accordance with necessary protocols as well as halacha and the laws of the Republic of South Africa.”

The board will produce reports containing findings and recommendations for the Chief Rabbi where appropriate; liaise with and give direction to activist organisations and interest groups to ensure the best international practices are employed; review and prescribe communal policies and protocols in relation to the prevention of abuse; ensure that at all times the best interests of minor children are upheld; and retain the confidentiality of matters dealt with by the Board.

“Abuse is on the increase. On the positive side, our society has progressed from what it was in years gone by (where abuse was considered shameful for the victim and their family and swept under the carpet to avoid public humiliation and/or bringing the name of the family into disrepute) to a place where victims feel more comfortable, supported and prepared to speak up and take action to prevent the abuse being perpetuated,” said Segal.

Lasersohn said the creation of the board “stems from the accurate view of Chief Rabbi Goldstein that at times, even as matters are reported to supposedly relevant agencies or institutions, the process may not be adequately addressed in ways that are necessary. In the case of child abuse for instance there is a ‘Duty to Report’ as well as a ‘Duty of Care’ which have to be responded to.”

“The phenomenon of abusive practices is an uncomfortable truth to admit and thus denial and ‘covering up’ in our community is rife. Not unlike secular settings it is simply accepted as ‘that’s the way it is’ or ‘everyone knows he doesn’t mean it’ or ‘she’s a good person deep down’. These platitudes simply trivialise and normalise disturbing behaviour which simply perpetuates the trauma for victims of abuse who are often disbelieved or dismissed as ‘trouble makers’.

She said currently there is no strict protocol available to the community as to how they should respond or to whom they could report a matter, should they suspect or are witness to the abuse of a child particularly. Differing organisations respond in their own way to the concern with little co-ordination.

 “The Chief Rabbi’s vision is to create a protocol advising our community as to what they can do if they experience abuse of any kind; witness abuse of any kind; or are victims of abuse of any kind in their daily lives involving persons within any structure of our community. Their first port of call then would be to report such matters to CKCS who would then immediately trigger the necessary processes required to adequately and timeously respond to the reported matter.”

The  Review Board is not to work as a reporting agency, but rather to be available as an oversight body, she said.

Rebbetzin Wendy Hendler of Koleinu, an organisation offering a helpline for victims of abuse, welcomes the initiative. “We are very excited about this oversight committee. It will serve as a mechanism within the community to which cases of abuse requiring a halachic approach can be referred. As well as this, the board would greatly enhance the work of the other abuse organisations in the community, specifically making these organisations accountable as to how they deal with their cases.”

She said the board would be able to accomplish a great deal in situations where authorities were unable to do anything.

For example in cases the police closed due to insufficient evidence; cases in which someone was guilty of worrisome behaviour but the law was not broken; cases in which victims refused to press charges; cases in which victims wait until they are over 18, in which case mandatory reporting no longer applies; cases in which the victims refused to come forward, but where the rabbis were able to confront a perpetrator effectively.

 For all queries contact [email protected]

1 Comment

  1. 1 Dr Billy Levin 09 Nov
    Abuse in children and less so in adults is very often associated with neglected and undiagnosed  and untreated ADHD. World research suggests this is a major problem of ignorance and neglect of a recognizable and treatable condition.


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