How effective are our child protection programs?

There’s a tug-of-war going on when it comes to Jewish communities and child protection. On one side there’s science and nothing beats good science. Science says that we need change. On the other side there’s the tendency to keep things as they are.

I’m passionate about effective, scientific and up-to-date programs that protect children. It’s in the spirit of science to always look for a better way to do things. Regular evaluation is important to good outcomes. So, lets see how our programs hold up.

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Tzedek/SECASA are leading the Jewish community in protecting children. Click on this sentence and have a look at a review of their J-safe training that was published in the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse.

How does it hold up? I’ve had a scientist friend of mine do a summary of the review. I’d like to share that with you.

 

Article Review:
Educating Australia’s Jewish Communities about Child Sexual Abuse

Article summary:

This article attempts to measure the effectiveness of a J-Safe Protective Behaviours pilot session conducted in two schools by interviewing three of the teachers who attended the workshops. The J-Safe session is supposed to offer culturally sensitive information about Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) to a Jewish school community. It is aimed primarily at teachers and administrators, with students mentioned but not considered in the study.
Article conclusions:
According to the researchers, the study was largely inconclusive. It wasn’t clear that the program had any long-term impact (529, 531, 534).

  • The interviews suggested that the training felt general, not tailored to their community (529-530, 534).
  • In some cases the training served enforced existing stereotypes and assumptions instead of providing new and impartial information (532-533).
  • Interviewees stated that it was unclear that the training addressed any of the problematic cultural traditions and practices that relate to CSA in their community (534).

The program was considered effective in two ways:

  • It ‘started the conversation’ of CSA in the Jewish community. Delivering information about frequency and prevalence made people realize that CSA was something to look out for (529, 530). Teachers appeared to ask more questions and raise concerns (529)
  • It highlighted the legal responsibility of teacher reporting (529, 532).

Issues with the program:
At the start of the article the authors outlined some of the specific cultural problems that allow CSA to proliferate in the Jewish community. These problems are:

  • That the community is diverse, with different levels of distance from the mainstream community – Orthodox, Conservative and Progressive.
  • That distant communities (like the Classical Orthodox) tend to not follow mainstream values in relation to CSA
  • That the Jewish community has a distrust of reporting to the mainstream because of a long history of prejudice and prosecution.
  • The specific cultural ideas of Loshon Horo and Mesirah prevent people from reporting.
  • Taboos around sexuality keep children from knowing the anatomically correct names for body parts (no language for reporting).
  • The practice of bringing issues to the Rabbi as a first point of reporting, instead of outside authorities.
  • Traditional gender norms that marginalise women and children’s issues as compared to those of men.
  • Shunning and social stigma around breaking community norms (523-526).

The program didn’t appear to deal with ANY of the issues outlined above. The teachers who were interviewed expressed that the program didn’t provide specific solutions related to their situation. They wanted more ‘in-depth’ scenarios that gave them a road map of how to deal with the child, parents the school and state administration, as well as potential social repercussions (532). While they liked the role-play element of the training they didn’t think there was enough ‘depth’ and that the program was ‘dry’ overall.

Another issue was a lack of ongoing engagement. Follow ups showed that teachers had issue remembering the specifics of the program later on.

Issues with research:
There is a tenuous link between evidence-based programs like the one cited in the article (526) and the J-Safe pilot. The article cited (Lau, 2006) is about the ways in which cultural groups deal with clinical diagnostic issues like PTSD and ADHD. Such diagnoses come with evidence-based treatment plans in the realm of clinical psychology. The issue of CSA in the Jewish community is a cultural one that doesn’t relate to ideas of clinically measurable pathologies. As used in the article, the term ‘evidence-based’ offers undue credibility to the J-Safe program. This program has not undergone sufficient trial to warrant this label.

Additionally there are numerous methodological issues with this study:

  • Lack of control group as baseline of comparison.
  • Small sample size (three participants).
  • Purposive sampling (including teacher-administrators which creates a possible conflict of interest).
  • Context exclusionary analysis (realist evaluation methodology).
  • Limited literature review.

 

Bibliography

Epstien, S. B. & Crisp, B. R. (2018) ‘Educating Australia’s Jewish Communities about Child Sexual Abuse’ in Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 27:5, pp. 523-536.

Lau, A. S. (2006) ‘Making the Case for Selective and Directive Cultural Adaptations of Evidence Based Treatments: Examples from Parenting Training’ in Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 13:4, pp 295-310.

 

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The story of two leading Chabad rabbis

On 13 February 2015, two Chabad rabbis gave important evidence at a public hearing of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. These rabbis were both members of a large, and in my opinion, influential Chabad family.

Both rabbis have served as president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV), but have charted very different courses after that day. One rabbi, Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, was confronted with a text message when giving evidence at the Royal Commission that, in my opinion, disgraced him. Shortly after giving evidence at the Royal Commission, he resigned from his rabbinic position on the RCV. The other rabbi, Yaakov Shneur Zalman Glasman (Yaakov Glasman) remains a top rabbi in the Melbourne Chabad community and is a leader at a new rabbinic council.

Rabbi Yaakov Glasman

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Rabbi Yaakov Glasman

Rabbi Glasman rose from being a suburban rabbi to being a leading rabbi of Victoria when he was elected to replace Rabbi Kluwgant as President of the RCV in 2009. The Australian Jewish News (AJN) reported, “After five years in the top job, Rabbi Kluwgant decided to step down, handing the baton to one of Melbourne’s youngest senior rabbis, Rabbi Glasman” (https://ajn.timesofisrael.com/new-president-of-rabbinical-council/). Rabbi Glasman was 30 years old when he was called senior rabbi.

It was due to his role as past President of RCV that Rabbi Glasman appeared as a witness at the Royal Commission, and was the RCV’s formal liaison to the Royal Commission. Prior to giving oral evidence, Rabbi Glasman provided a written statement to the Royal Commission that set out his evidence. The statement is an important document. Questions asked by Counsel of witnesses at the hearing of the Royal Commission are often based on the information in statements provided by witnesses.

The following exchange occurred between Rabbi Glasman and Ms Maria Gerace of Counsel:

Ms Gerace:        Rabbi, your statement outlines some of the various steps that were taken by you as past president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria setting out the chronological narrative of the RCV’s response to child sexual abuse at the Yeshivah Melbourne, and you were the president of the RCV from 2009 until 2012?

Rabbi Glasman:              That’s correct.

Ms Gerace:       And it was through this time that the RCV was very active in seeking to shape community responses to the issue of child sexual abuse?

Rabbi Glasman:               That’s correct

Ms Gerace          And, without bringing it up unless I need to, part of the reason why the 2010 resolution was issued was that you understood or perceived that there might be conflicting community attitudes to coming forward to report abuse or to deal with the authorities; do you agree with that?

Rabbi Glasman:                I do.

Rabbi Glasman’s written statement to the Royal Commission was dated 20 January 2015. It stated in part:

This statement is made by me and sets out the evidence I am prepared to give to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual abuse. The statement is true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.

One of the headings in that statement was:

Details of any policies, processes promoted by the RCV for responding to allegations of child sexual abuse in existence at the time of the allegations and presently, and how these processes and procedure were promoted.

Rabbi Glasman attached to his witness statement the 2010 Rabbinic Resolution Condemning and Combatting Child Sexual Abuse that dealt with the involvement in the RCV in responding to the disclosure of abuse, and which stated in part:

The RCV works in partnership with the Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence (JTAFV) and responds to disclosures of abuse confidentially and effectively. The RCV liaison to the JTAFV may be contacted on {03} 8517-5684.  

Yet, Rabbi Glasman’s written statement to the Royal Commission stated that, regarding the alleged abuse at Yeshivah, “To the best of knowledge the RCV was not made aware of any allegations of child sexual abuse made against employees or volunteers at Yeshivah Melbourne, other than those which appeared in the media and as such it made no investigations or inquiries in this regard.”

 

From memory, the campaign in Melbourne to deal with child sexual abuse in the Jewish community began in 2005. I recall that billboards were erected throughout Jewish suburbs in which large numbers of Jewish people lived. Jewish victims of abuse were encouraged to call a phoneline that was operated by the Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence (JTAFV). The service was a pathway to rabbis. The billboards read: “ABUSE SHATTERS LIVES. Support can help.” A phone number was provided, followed by the description, “A confidential, anonymous free support line.”

The AJN and our peak body, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), promoted the JTAFV. The JTAFV were referred to as “community experts.” At times of crises the AJN sought opinions from the JTAFV. The AJN published opinion pieces and educational articles written by barrister Debbie Wiener who was Chair of JTAFV and who practises in Family Law, but, as far as I am aware, has no formal qualifications concerning child protection specifically. At times of crises the JCCV chose JTAFV’s Sheiny New to be the keynote speaker, thus reinforcing the community’s trust in the JTAFV and its teachings.

The National Council of Jewish Women Vic withdrew from responding to child sexual abuse in the Jewish community at JTAFV’s request. The JTAFV wanted to present a unified and effective response. Jewish Care supported the JTAFV. In my opinion, professionals who were qualified in the area of child abuse could have done more.

The support of leading communal organisations gave the JTAFV a platform, a voice that community members and Government paid attention to. The action of successfully soliciting the support of leading communal organisations meant the JTAFV’s voice was dominant in the Jewish response to child sexual abuse. They called it called it ‘A Sensitive Approach’. In my opinion, “A Sensitive Approach” was based on what Ultra-Orthodox rabbis would accept, which I consider was not widely known in the Jewish community. Callers from all streams of Judaism would use this service.

The fact that the service was underpinned by what I consider to be the extreme ideology of Chabad was not universally understood. Some of the service’s volunteers had connections to Chabad leadership. For example, one of the service’s executive, Sheiny New, was married to Chaim who served on the Yeshivah Committee of Management.   Yeshivah’s school principal reported disclosures of abuse to Chaim New (of blessed memory).

In 2012, a government inquiry, an “Inquiry into Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and other Non-Government Organisations”, was commissioned into how religious and other non-government organisations in Victoria respond to child abuse within their organisations. It investigated how such organisations handle allegations of child abuse of children; whether there are systemic practices in such organisations that operate to preclude or discourage the reporting of suspected child abuse to State authorities; and whether such organisations require reforms to prevent and respond to child abuse. Two volumes constitute the final report of the Inquiry. Volume 1 presents the findings and recommendations of the inquiry, while volume 2 discusses the systems and processes that non-government organisations should have in place to meet their duty of care and other matters.

In its submission to another Victorian Government inquiry, JTAFV states that it worked with RCV to respond to disclosures of abuse, stating, “The JTAFV has informal liaison with the RCV. This is very useful as we are able to informally advise them when a situation arises.”

The submission also stated:

In these cases there is often an informal mechanism by which suspected perpetrators are told to stay away from a particular organisation, or the organisation does not accord them any honours in their services, or in certain cases parents and other persons who should be aware of the possibility of abuse are quietly told that it would be preferable for their child or potential victim not to be bought into contact with the suspected person.

These cases are difficult as one doesn’t want to defame anyone but on the other hand the protection of victims or potential victims is of paramount importance.

The submission further stated:

We have worked with particular rabbis during certain sensitive cases, including ones when there wasn’t enough evidence to charge anyone but there were many concerns. In some cases, advice was given not to allow a person direct contact with children and also to advise parties not to allow a person to be alone with their child. In many cases it its difficult as there is not enough evidence to bring charges but there is a clear need to protect potential victims.

The JTAFV’s submission to the Parliamentary inquiry was not clearly constructed and was difficult to understand. It seemed to offer the Parliamentary inquiry an example of good practice of a faith community. The submission does not state that it reports disclosed or suspected abuse that occurs in institutions to the police, nor it is the police who decide who decide if there is enough evidence to charge someone.

To my knowledge, JTAFV volunteers, rabbi liaisons and rabbis assisting the JTAFV’s activities are not required to have qualifications as trained health professionals or abuse investigators. This means that those who call the service may well receive advice from people without such qualifications and whose advice is influenced by the Ultra-Orthodox way of handling child sexual abuse.

Reactive or Proactive?

Rabbi Glasman stated in part of his oral evidence at the Royal Commission hearing:

I want to highlight, and I’m not sure it has been emphasised enough, that the [Rabbinic] Resolution Condemning and Combatting Child Sexual Abuse which the [RCV] adopted from the Rabbinical Council of America’s original statement … was done eight months prior to the major publicity surrounding Manny Waks came forward.

The reason I think this is a significant point is because obviously after these events many community leadership organisations, be it the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, some in New South Wales or the Executive Council of Australian Jewry all came out positively with the appropriate statements, but they were positive yet reactive in a sense. That’s not of course to downplay them. They are very important.

It is important to note that the rabbis of the Melbourne Jewish community took the matter of child sexual abuse extremely seriously, months before we know that this stuff was going to come out.

The public exposé of child sexual abuse at ultra-orthodox schools like Adass Israel began in March 2008, when Barney Swartz and Bridie Smith of The Sydney Morning Herald published the article “Principal flees after ‘molesting schoolgirls’”. The article stated in part:

The principal of a private Jewish girls’ school in Melbourne has fled Australia facing accusations that she sexually molested some of the students. Outraged parents claim that the Adass Israel Girls’ School in Elsternwick paid for Malka Leifer, a mother of eight, to return to Israel before reporting the complaints to the police.

A second public case, this time at Yeshivah, has received publicity; David Kramer who taught at the college, indecently assaulted students between 1989 and 1992. A Victorian County Court judge, Judge Bourke, remarked in sentencing Mr Kramer that while the college received complaints about Mr Kramer’s offending in 1992, no report was made to the police at that time. It was noted in sentencing that the college offered to pay for Mr Kramer’s return to Israel after the complaints were made, and that Mr Kramer did return to Israel.

Mr Kramer later relocated to the USA. In 2007, news broke that he had been jailed there for abusing a child in St. Louis.

At the Royal Commission, Rabbi Abraham Glick admitted that the school had covered up allegations against Mr Kramer. Rabbi Glick told the Royal Commission that complaints were handled by former Yeshivah head Rabbi David Groner, who was allegedly told of abuse at the school as early as 1984. So it seems that number of Chabad leaders, including, presumably, teachers and parents, knew prior to 2008 about an appalling scandal that threatened Yeshivah. In fact, everyone who read the Jewish News knew about the scandal. Not only did the AJN cover the story but it wrote an editorial , “A Lesson Learnt” (AJN, 17/10/2008).

Rabbi Ze’ev Smason was very critical of those involved in David Kramer’s exit from Australia, writing at: http://theawarenesscenter.blogspot.com/2012/11/case-of-david-kramer.html:


October 19, 2008 — The Kramer case provides a great opportunity to trace the failure of segments of the Jewish community to their source.  If only the problem had been addressed in Australia (or Israel, or Argentina), the victim in St. Louis and countless others would have been spared suffering.  If the process through which the problem was ‘punted’ to Israel, Argentina and St. Louis can be identified — not only will those responsible for their dereliction of duty be held accountable, but such an occurrence will be less likely to take place in the future in other parts of the Jewish world.   When rabbis and school officials see that there’s no ‘statute of limitations’ on the problems they should have addressed, they may think twice before they pass toxic waste on to the next community.

Our tradition teaches that those who are kind to the cruel, are ultimately cruel to those who are kind.   The ‘kindness’ of those who deliberately or negligently refrained from acting when they had the opportunity to put DK away perpetrated a terrible act of cruelty on his later victims.  Let’s find out what happened with the intention of not letting this happen again (Rabbi Ze’ev Smason and Nusach Hari B’nai Zion).
At the 2015 Royal Commission in Melbourne, Rabbi Glasman spoke passionately about the good work of the rabbinate and the fact that rabbis took off time from their busy schedules to do unpaid training, even without knowing about the forthcoming scandal that would later arise when Manny Waks came forward.

Rabbi Glasman gave evidence that the 2009 training of rabbis took place “two years prior to the publicity.” He also gave evidence that, “the [RCV] coupled with [JTAFV] which has been operating for some 20 years and also offers training, the provision of professional facilitators at training, among them would be Pauline Ryan she works at the Royal Children’s Hospital…”

Rabbi Glasman gave evidence at the Royal Commission that “During the course of that training which took place in 2009, the first lot of around 5 sessions of training in 2009, so we are talking two years prior to the publicity, it became evident to us that abuse existed in the Jewish community, not just domestic violence but also issues affecting children. Obviously they weren’t at liberty to tell us names. That would have been a breach of confidentiality, and no doubt they supported victims going to the police at that stage…”

The training, together with a list of the individual names of rabbis who had completed the training, was published in AJN and on the JTAFV’s website. JTAFV, in association with the RCV, ran the first specialized training program for rabbis addressing various aspects of family violence and how to respond appropriately to disclosures of abuse. These rabbis were promoted as ‘safe’ to contact in relation to child sexual abuse matters. Two rabbis on the list, Rabbis Kluwgant and Zvi Telsner were placed in embarrassing positions at the Royal Commission. At the Royal Commission, Rabbi Kluwgant was asked about a text message that he had apparently sent about Manny Waks’ father that reflected poorly upon the rabbi. Rabbi Telsner at the Commission gave evidence that he believed it was possible that gay people and pedophiles could be “cured” by counselling and spiritual guidance. He also accepted that he was complicit in a community campaign to shun those who spoke out against child abuse, by not preaching against the campaign. At some point after this evidence was given, the JTAFV deleted Rabbi Telsner’s name from the list of rabbis who were trained from its website without informing the public of the change.

“Getting it” Effectiveness of rabbinic training

Rabbi Glasman stated in part of his oral evidence at the Royal Commission in relation to the training rabbis did in 2009 concerning child abuse, that, “The comment that resonated with me more than anything was one of the spokespeople for the taskforce who remained present during the training sessions getting up and saying afterwards from the discussion and the debate that the rabbis had in relation to the training they were receiving, she said two words, “I am happy that you get it”   She felt that the rabbis as a whole got the message, understood the message, understood the impact that it was having on families.”

Shortly after this statement was made, Commissioner Fitzgerald asked Rabbi Glasman whether from the rabbi’s experience, there were any parts of the Jewish community that suffered difficulties in understanding the concepts of child protection.

Rabbi Glasman responded: “I believe that the overwhelming majority of rabbis would have a consistent understanding. But regrettably I would concede that there are members of the ultra-orthodox community – when I say ‘ultra-orthodox’ it is varied: what you might consider ultra-Orthodox, I consider ultra-ultra-Orthodox – who don’t quite get it, who perhaps are living in a previous generation in terms of their mind set, who might be extraordinary insular, might not access the internet, but that’s only very rare occasions, and therefore might be ill-equipped to respond. However they would be a fringe, in my humble opinion. The overwhelming majority of rabbis do get it.”

Rabbi Kluwgant appeared as the next witness at the Royal Commission. Despite Rabbi Glasman’s opinion that it was a “fringe” of ultra-Orthodox rabbis who did not ‘get it’, in my opinion, the content of Rabbi Kluwgant’s evidence showed that, as a Chabad rabbi, he did not ‘get it’.

Rabbi Kluwgant exercised considerable influence in the community through the many communal positions he held: he served as president for some years as an executive member of the RCV, he was president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia (ORA), general manager of cultural and spiritual services at Jewish Care Victoria, liaison between the RCV and JTAFV, White Ribbon Ambassador and a Victoria police chaplain.

Over some years, Rabbi Kluwgant publicly repeated the requirement for abuse victims to report any abuse to the police. However, his response to abuse was challenged when Rabbi Kluwgant was confronted at the Royal Commission and admitted that he “may have sent” a text message which labelled the father of Manny Waks, Zephaniah Waks, a “lunatic”, despite the ongoing media releases of rabbinic training that Rabbi Kluwgant was instrumental in organising.
As Rabbi Kluwgant sat in the witness box, a text message that he admitted that he “may have” sent to AJN editor, Zeddy Lawrence, was read aloud:

 

Zephaniah is killing us. Zephaniah is attacking Chabad. He is a lunatic on the fringe, guilty of neglecting his own children. Where was he when all this was happening?”

The most fundamental principle underpinning the safety of children in institutions, is that the institution is responsible for the safety of children in its care. Yet Rabbi Kluwgant, the man who sought media coverage every time there was training for rabbis, was still blaming a man, Zephaniah Waks, who had given evidence to the Royal Commission that three of Zephaniah’s sons were abused while in the care of Yeshivah.
Zephaniah’s evidence at the Royal Commission was sad. The details of the reactions of the Chabad community to the allegations of abuse against his sons were disturbing. It was horrible to listen to details of Zephaniah’s pain as he was heartlessly cast out of his community simply because he supported his son’s decision to tell the police and the public about abuse and cover-up at Yeshivah.

In my opinion, Rabbi Kluwgant clearly didn’t ‘get it.” The only reason the public came to know that he didn’t ‘get it’ was because of the revelation of personal thoughts about Zephaniah Waks that he seems to have expressed to Zeddy Laurence in a text message. Given this, it is open to doubt the sincerity of his public statements condemning child sexual abuse.

Afterwards

“The Rabbinical Council of Victoria has demanded the resignations of all rabbis implicated in testimony before the royal commission into child sexual abuse” (Liam Mannix, “Sex abuse inquiry leads to call for rabbis implicated in testimony to resign”, The Age, 17 February 2015).

The RCV released a statement in relation to this development, stating, “The RCV recognises Rabbi Kluwgant’s dedicated contribution to the RCV and other communal organisations over many years and his work in helping to foster proper methods of dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse and the RCV is pained at this unfortunate development.

Rabbi Kluwgant, who in my view was publicly disgraced at the Royal Commission when the text message was revealed, was nevertheless praised by the RCV for his role in fostering “proper methods” of dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse.   These “proper methods” were part of a model of child protection called “A Sensitive Approach”.


Rabbi Kluwgant, together with influential Chabad men and women that held key leadership positions in the RCV and JTAFV, introduced “A Sensitive Approach”, which, in my view, was an Ultra-Orthodox model of child protection.

Rabbi Kluwgant was caught out in the witness box because of a text message he sent to the editor of the AJN. However, Rabbi Kluwgant’s resignation from the RCV did not eliminate the problem. The problem is systemic. The problem exists in Jewish communities worldwide.

The Royal Commission asked witnesses to answer questions. The questions asked in relation to the RCV’s role in responding to abuse, if answered comprehensively, could have brought understanding to the systemic problem.   Jewish communities worldwide could have used the lessons of the Royal Commission to improve responses to child protection under the Tahel model.

In 2015, the AJN reported that a new rabbinic council was formed in the wake of the Royal Commission. Rabbi Glasman was appointed the new top rabbi.

It has been 5 years since the two rabbis entered the courtroom on 13 February 2015. One is no longer a communal rabbi and no longer the go-to person in relation to child sexual abuse. The other rabbi is a leading senior rabbi, and is still involved with the ongoing response to child sexual abuse. The Tahel model of child protection continues to protect Jewish children growing in in countless Jewish communities of US, Israel, UK, and Canada. Yet, I am of the view that there is still a lack of transparency, that children remain unprotected and that there is still an unacceptable risk that those who disclose abuse to the police and not to the rabbi are labelled “mosers” and expelled from the community.

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A New Global Jewish Taskforce to Combat Child Sexual Abuse

Published in Galus Australis, May 8, 2014 – By Vivien Resovsky:

Recently, I attended the first International Congress for Child Protection Organisations in Jewish Communities [the Congress] that was held at the Haruv Institute at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The Congress was sponsored by Haruv and Magen, an Israeli child protection organisation in Beit Shemesh. I believe that in order to really understand the problems in Melbourne, we need to understand the overall problem and culture underpinning the way in which Ultra Orthodox communities deal with child sexual abuse.

However, it is important to note that here is one big difference between Melbourne and most other Jewish communities in how child sexual abuse is dealt with. In most countries community services for Ultra Orthodox steams of Judaism are usually delivered separately, because the Ultra Orthodox way of life and customs are so different to less religious streams of Judaism. That is not the case in Melbourne.

In Melbourne, child protection is lead by the Chabad dominated volunteer organization The Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault (The Taskforce). Although the vast majority of the Melbourne Jewish community are not Ultra Orthodox and don’t relate to or even understand the Chabad way of life, The Taskforce assert to be delivering a sensitive and unified response to child sexual abuse that covers all steams of Judaism.

Thus the way in which all our children are protected is informed by Ultra orthodox “experts” such as USA based psychologist Dr David Pelcovitz and Israeli based Debbie Gross who works with the Ultra Orthoodox in family violence. The Congress reached the conclusion that much reform was still needed to confront the challenges of child sexual abuse in Ultra Orthodox communities including: undue persuasion by members of the community, institutional cover ups, inappropriate stigma, humiliation and fear has prevented many victims of sexual abuse from being forthcoming and public regarding the occurrence of abuse suffered by them. This failure of public awareness has resulted in immeasurable harm perpetrated on children and their families, who face potential further victimization by inaction or negative actions undertaken.

In Melbourne, we have been reassured that the historical problems of child sexual abuse have been resolved. Many believe that children of Yeshivah College are safe now because policies and procedures have been implemented, children have been taught to protect themselves, parents have been taught how to talk to their children about abuse and assurances have been made that abuse occurring in institutions will be reported to authorities.

I believe that there needs to be a great deal of reform before we can sit back. Last year the Herald Sun reported that USA psychology professor, Dr Pelcovitz trained Rabbis to respond to child sexual abuse. According to Rabbi Kluwgant president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV): “there was a misconception that rabbis were saying to people that they mustn’t report to the police. If somebody has information regarding sexual abuse, they must report it to police – that goes without question.”

The act of reporting to police is far from resolved internationally. Not reporting a fellow Jew has been a long standing unwritten rule and culturally accepted norm in Ultra Orthodox communities.

Another feature of Ultra Orthodox communities is the central role of the Rabbi in everyday life. In many communities Ultra­Orthodox leaders instruct their congregants not to report allegations of child sexual abuse to the police unless a rabbi first determines that the suspicions are credible.

There are many valid reasons why Rabbis should not be involved in the decision to report to authorities. The UK Jewish News offers a very good reason: “Sometimes religion simply cannot provide all the answers, so we must turn instead to secular authorities. Sexual abuse is one such time.” Very recently, The UK Jewish News reported Child sex abuse victim claims – US rabbi advised: ‘Don’t go to police.’

The case of Yehudis Goldsobel is well known internationally. Her allegations lead to the conviction and imprisonment of Mendel Levy. Yet Yehudis and her family were shunned by their community. Yehudis recently alleged that a United Synagogue rabbi advised her not to go to the police, despite an “extremely clear” policy on the issue.

The Age recently reported that Police are investigating how a confidential complaint about sex abuse cover­ups at a prominent Melbourne Jewish college was obtained by senior figures associated with the school, resulting in the exposure of the author’s identity. “The complainant is understood to have been subjected to harassment within the tight­knit St Kilda community ever since his identity was revealed. In some ultra­orthodox communities reporting a fellow Jew to police or secular authorities is discouraged.”

Given Rabbi Kluwgant’s assertions in the Herald Sun that: “…..If somebody has information regarding sexual abuse, they must report it to police – that goes without question.” If it is in fact true that a community member has been subject to harassment for reporting, what is the Rabbi of the shule doing in relation to this ongoing problem of harassment? What is the RCV doing? Should Rabbi Kluwgant comment given the public statements he has made? Very recently another very disturbing episode has been highlighted in the Jewish media worldwide. It involves the case of Evan Zuader a now convicted sex offender and support for him by leaders.

This time the headline read: Pelcovitz and Leading Orthodox Rabbis Line Up Behind Sex Offender Evan Zauder. Zauder, was a teacher at New York’s Yeshivat Noam, and worked in other Ultra Orthodox organisations ,where he was constantly around young people and children. Everyone liked him. No one suspected that he collected child pornography and arranged trysts with under age boys on the Internet—and more.

Zauder faced spending many years in jail. David Cheifetz is a victim of abuse. He recently wrote about the things he discovered in the public court documents concerning Evan Zauder’s sentencing, including a number of character references written by local rabbis and community leaders on Zauder’s behalf.

What he found particularly hurtful were two letters that spoke of Zauder in glowing terms, as if what he did was a momentary aberration or something that can be mediated, much as an alcoholic or drug addict can be treated. “Until that time, one must question the underlying judgement and integrity of the individuals who would advocate for such abusers, and the institutions that they represent. Dr David Pelcovitz ‘s letter of recommendation was one of the letters that so horrified Chiefetz.

Benny Forer is a district attorney in Los Angeles as well as a qualified but not practising Orthodox Rabbi. He too was outraged about the contents of Pelcovitzs’ letter of recommendation. Forer calls into question Pelcovitz’s medical opinion as either grossly negligent or blatantly wrong because the statements in his letter were proven entirely wrong. Forer was not able to understand how “a self­ proclaimed advocate and expert for child sexual abuse” could ‘assist’ victims by not only failing to hold the predator responsible but helping to minimise the predators’ exposure. Pelcovitz subsequently defended his action by stating that he wrote the letter before the initial bail was granted.

He also apologised for hurt caused to victims. This is not the first time that Dr Pelcovitz Dr Pelcovitzs’ credibility as a child advocate has been challenged previously. One example is that he is linked to alleged cover-ups at Ohel (New York) and failure to report child sex abuse as well as other incidents.

I believe that Dr Pelcovitzs’ integrity is a significant issue as he advises Ultra Orthodox communities worldwide. Pelcovitz has also played a significant role in how we protect children in Melbourne. He has come to Australia on several occasions at the request of The Taskforce and the AJN has covered his visits with headlines such as: US sex abuse expert to speak.

According to Rabbi Kluwgant in the Herald Sun article: “Some victims didn’t want to report incidents to police because they felt ashamed. “If someone discloses to the rabbi this information, apart from telling them to go to the police, what can the rabbi offer to that person? What’s the best way for the rabbi to respond?”

Many questions arise from these statements. Reporting abuse should occur when there is a disclosure of abuse or if there are suspicions that a child is being abused. What does: if somebody has information regarding sexual abuse, they must report it to police mean?”

What does: “some victims don’t want to report incidents to police because they feel ashamed mean?” There is often no choice that Rabbis need to make. Disclosed abuse or suspicions of abuse involving a child’s parents needs to be reported to child protection and/or police so that an investigation is undertaken and a safety program is constructed for the child.

If the sexual abuse involves a person outside of the family home the parents will need to be informed immediately. A report is made to the police. A child victim does not have a choice in reporting. The Taskforce have placed emphasis on the role of Rabbis as central to stopping abuse. So much so that they have placed large advertisements in the AJN listing Rabbis who have attended training.

What exactly is the role of Rabbis? Children do not usually disclose to Rabbis. Someone has to bring an allegation of abuse to the rabbi – children don’t usually bring it themselves. Nor do Rabbis usually form a suspicion that a child is being abused through identifying symptoms simply because they don’t spend enough time with each child in their congregation.

Children rely on the adults in the lives to protect them. That is why adults need education and the confidence to respond to a child. According to Rachel Zimmerman (who runs Project Shield the Ultra­Orthodox response to child sexual abuse in Chicago (20/12/2011) the most important advocates for child sexual abuse are community members.

“When someone has been victimized it is very hard to come forward. Most likely when someone comes forward it is not going to be to a professional, therapist, and hotline. Most likely it is going to be to a family member, teacher, a friend or someone close.” “Project Shield helps support the community to support victims.”

Other Jewish child protection organisations have implemented comprehensive community based education based on the belief that community education is the most important response element. This education incorporates how to report to authorities. The Taskforce as well as Rabbi Kluwgant President of the RCV, Rabbi Glasman past president of RCV and Rabbi Goodhardt who has the child abuse and family violence portfolio for the RCV, have strongly rejected telling the community about programs they can access on­line.

Despite assertions of Rabbi Glasman that the RCV would provide community education and that they are working with the Australian Childhood Foundation, to provide comprehensive community education I don’t believe that this has yet reached the community.

Most of us fear responding to child sexual abuse –That is one of the reasons why many incidents of abuse go unreported even when a child discloses or a person suspects abuse. (According to Victor Vieth, executive director of the National Child Protection Training Center at Winona State University, USA: “The problem we have is that most people most of the time won’t report abuse, no matter how clear the evidence is.” “People tell researchers. I don’t report because I’m not quite sure.” For this to occur, the community need to be involved – and armed with the knowledge and confidence to help a child.

I share child protection organisation JustTell’s vision: “a world in which children who are molested immediately turn to a trusted adult figure in their lives and tell them of the abuse. That trusted adult has information to help the child though the next steps so that the abuse is stopped and the abuser is prevented from harming other children.” In our vision, children do not have to bear the scars of un-revealed and repeated abuse.

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OY, EVEN I HAVE MY CRITICS!

“Vivien, how dare you! You think there is not one [child protection policy] in place?”

The Mt Scopus College School Principal and School president recently sent a letter to the school’s community to encourage the reporting of child sexual abuse to the police. Public reaction was very positive. “I have the utmost respect for Rabbi Kennard. We must demand ALL schools do the same.” (Facebook post)

However, when I raised questions about the letter, my concerns were not well received by some. I was surprised that some of what I said should be seen as a criticism of any school.

I wanted to know whether Mt Scopus would tell its community when an ex-teacher was convicted of child sexual abuse, because if I was the parent of a child at a school where one of the teachers had been put behind bars for sexually abusing children, wherever the abuse occurred, I would want to know.

Furthermore, students of the college at the time an abuser worked there should have a right to know.

“Vivien, they know what to do! I am 109% sure they are equipped and always have been.”

At the same time as this was being discussed, the Royal Commission’s Case Study no 23 involving Knox Grammar was taking place. Knox is one of Australia’s elite schools and the case involved sexual abuse of boys by teachers for decades and the subsequent failure to act to protect more children.

Media headlines warned that parents can’t just rely on a reputation of a school: “Schools such as Knox charge a premium and many parents are willing to pay it. But when it comes to child safety, the executives at those schools, along with the old boys and the governing bodies, can no longer be allowed to trade on the school’s name alone.” (Sydney Morning Herald editorial)

In the case of The Mt Scopus school letter, it stated: “Parents can be assured that our current policies and practices in the area of Child Protection are robust and are regularly reviewed in light of best practice.” I don’t believe that parents should rely on the assurances of schools. Parents need to check for themselves.

The Need To Check

In 2011, in the wake of Manny Waks’ public disclosure of child sexual abuse and non-reporting by Yeshiva’s school authorities, The Australian Jewish News asked each Jewish school to comment on their child protection policies.

Mount Scopus claimed to have: “A range of robust policies and procedures in place in response to the risk of abuse. These include strict regulating and monitoring of contact between staff and students; student welfare policies and statutory duty-of-care requirements. Our teachers and counsellors are trained to identify symptoms of abuse and are fully compliant with mandatory reporting obligations.”

Examination of the policies, however, indicated that the school’s mandatory reporting policy did not comply with the statutory standard. When this was pointed out to the school principal, to his credit, the policy was amended and training for staff actioned.

Child Protection Policies

The second issue I raised in 2011 was that Mt. Scopus did not in fact have a dedicated child protection policy. In mid-2014, the first dedicated Child Protection Policy was added to the Parent Handbook.

Much has been said recently about child protection policies, but to ensure the effectiveness of a child protection policy, we need to ask how the school ensures that the Child Protection process works properly, is known and understood by everyone.

According to the SMH editorial on Knox, “It can happen anywhere that safeguards are weak, people turn a blind eye or communities place the reputation of an institution above that of the safety of a child.”

Royal Commission Case Study no. 23 has highlighted that we can’t leave it to schools alone. Instead of statements such as: “Parents can be assured that our current policies and practices in the area of Child Protection are robust and are regularly reviewed in light of best practice.” I would like to read that parents are invited to reassure themselves that current polices have been thought out to protect children when they are in the care of Mt Scopus College. I would like to hear how the school defines “best practice.”

One comprehensive and respected model of best practice widely used is that of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention in the USA: “Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Within Youth-serving Organizations: Getting Started on Policies and Procedures.”

The guide identifies six key components of child sexual abuse prevention for organizations:

• Screening and selecting employees and volunteers
• Guidelines on interactions between individuals
• Monitoring behaviour
• Ensuring safe environments
• Responding to inappropriate behaviour, breaches in policy, and allegations and suspicions of child sexual abuse
• Training in child sexual abuse prevention

“Vivien, why haven’t you mentioned Yavneh or Bialik?”

This is my concern: Aren’t we talking about the protection of Jewish children here? Does it matter what school a child goes to? Why is the focus on schools and not on children? I believe that we have a range of schools that offer children and parents wonderful choices, values, ethos, etc. Different schools suit different needs, and we are spoiled with choice!

Having said that, I advise parents to check on the child protection policies and processes of the school they have chosen.

This raises the question: where can parents of any Jewish child find out exactly what “best practice” is so they can ask the right questions?

Shouldn’t an organisation like the Australian Council of Jewish Schools have a role to play as the “go to” body for child protection in schools, rather than each school on their own?

We should all be working together for the benefit and safety of Jewish children in our schools and our community. We have got to get over all this working at cross purposes!

Let’s use these issues to unite the community, not divide it. Focus on the children and not the school.

Vivien Resofsky
Social Worker/Child Advocate
March 8, 2015

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A Punishment To Fit The Crime?

By Vivien Resofsky  16.2.2015

A question: According to the texts and our sages, what punishment, if any, would apply to Rabbi Kluwgant’s recent  shaming of the Yeshiva community at the Royal Commission Inquiry.  Is there a punishment for chilul Hashem, the desecration of the name of Hashem? Is there a punishment to fit this crime.

The Royal Commission has heard Australia’s most senior rabbi sent a text message calling a parent whose children were molested at Melbourne’s Yeshivah College a “lunatic.”

I was at the Royal Commission’s hearing into the response of child sexual abuse at Yeshivah College.  I heard our self-proclaimed top Rabbi place the blame for the sexual abuse perpetrated against this man’s three sons on the parent!

It was a dramatic moment. First, Rabbi Kluwgant spoke about governance in the what seemed like a myriad of rabbinic organisations.

It all sounded good. He told the hearing that when there is an issue that is a conflict of interests, he declares the conflict and excludes himself.

For example, if the Rabbinical Council of Victoria is making decisions about issues surrounding, for example, Rabbi Glick, he would exclude himself as he is relative of Rabbi Glick. That sounded very ethical indeed.

It all fell apart when he was asked what seemed like a very simple question:  “Did you watch Zephaniah Waks’ testimony on-line?” “No” he answered in a disparaging tone. “I was asleep under a general anaesthetic, having an operation.”

“What day was that?” came the next question.

As it turns out, Rabbi Kluwgant was not in hospital that day. As slick as anything, he said that the day before (when Zephania was giving his evidence), he was preparing for hospital.

Slowly, the truth unfolded. Rabbi Kluwgant had in fact watched the testimony of Zephaniah Waks. The lie was exposed. To see Kluwgant lie so easily and so well, under oath, was not very Rabbinic. Especially for our self proclaimed ‘top rabbi.’

Despite all the shocks of the previous nine days of the hearing, this was beyond belief. Then we heard the words that Rabbi Kluwgant used in his message to Zeddy Lawrence (Editor, Australian Jewish News) about his opinion of Zephaniah Waks and his testimony.

The next shock hit. Our leading Rabbi is not the Rabbi we have been led to believe. His language was not rabbinic. His views on child sexual abuse and who was to blame for institutional abuse had not changed since 2011! He continues to believe that institutions are not responsible for child sexual abuse that occurs to children under their care.

I was not surprised or even shocked that Rabbi Kluwgant lied. That said, why am I so angry at this Rabbi? Because according to my moral code, I believe that a Rabbi is supposed to put children above all else.

Rabbi Kluwgant has put himself in a position of power. He has a lot of control over many elements of our entire community. He has not met my moral code in relation to children.

END

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The Jewish community needs a change of leadership beginning with The Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

By Vivien Resofsky 8.2.2015

I have just read the statement of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, signed by President Robert Goot and Executive Director Peter Wertheim in relation to the Royal Inquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse at Yeshivah schools.

I am so upset I could cry.

According to Goot and Wertheim: “The hearings have also brought to light the failures of the religious leaders of both schools to whom the abuse was reported. They failed to take the reports seriously and to act on them appropriately

Are they serious?  It is the collective Chabad community that is being reviewed, not simply the ‘religious leaders of Yeshivah schools in Melbourne and Sydney’!

The Royal Commission is hearing the testimonies of survivors of abuse and their families. Child sexual abuse produces real victims who suffer real pain, but it was the punishment inflicted on fellow members of the Chabad community that has shocked the most.

The lives of survivors – as they knew it – and the lives of their families, have been destroyed because as innocent victims of child sexual abuse, they chose to report it to the police.

All the victims said the same thing: They made the decision to go to the Police because after years and years of reporting abuse to Chabad Rabbis, nothing had changed. The abuser was allowed access to children.  The victims said that seeing the abuser amongst children, free to groom and abuse more victims, was just too much.

Victim One lives with guilt.  Although he told the late Rabbi Groner that he was abused, he trusted that Rabbi Groner would take care of it.  He was disturbed that others were abused because he had not done more.  Victims Two and Three were, in fact, abused by the same person!

Goot and Wertheim’s comment fails to deal with the impacts of what I would describe was malicious and cruel social isolation aiming at expulsion of fellow community members.  “In some cases, they encouraged retaliatory action in the form of ostracism against those who went to the authorities.”

Are they serious? Human rights lawyer George Newhouse describes how the Inquiry has impacted on him:  “Over my professional career, my dealings with traumatized people has hardened my response to human tragedy to the point that it takes something unusual to bring me to tears. So I was surprised that listening to the allegations about the cruel treatment of child sex abuse victims and their families at the hands of the Yeshivah community made them flow today.” (Australian Jewish News, 7.2.2015)

The reason the Inquiry is being held is to examine the way in which institutions responded to child sexual abuse. This requires examining the Chabad culture and way of doing things because to understand the ‘punishment’ for going to the Police and working with the Police to convict abusers you need to understand this culture.

The Inquiry is examining the way in which Yeshivah Chabad society has behaved. Leading Rabbis stayed silent.  Staying silent was a big statement in itself. Victims and their families have suffered due to the consequences of the silence of Rabbis who lead their community.   It is not only the victims at the County Court who are caught up in this.   It is children who are being abused now who are seeing the ugly battle erupted publicly when Manny Waks went public in 2011.   It is highly likely victims who live in the Yeshivah Chabad society are most probably frightened to tell anyone.   What about their parents who want to remain in the community?  If they are not afraid of being shunned they would be frightened of their child being labelled as damaged goods when it comes to marriage prospects.   They also have to consider the negative impact on marriage prospects of their other children who come from a family of an abused person.  As Sheiny New Chabad member told us at the JCCV educational forum: “child sexual abuse does not a nice family make.”

We are hearing how relatives of our leading Rabbi behaved. Many of these relatives enjoy top management positions within Chabad institutions.  We are hearing how individual members took it upon themselves to vilify victims and their families (in front of children). We are hearing how community members who went along with the silent treatment and stopped inviting a friend to a simcha because they felt compelled to go along with the group as a whole.

Why haven’t Goot and Wertheim mentioned the suffering described by the victims’ families? They put out such a statement and then minimize the punishment on a wife and on a father whose only crime is the relationship with their innocent husband and son who were abused as children?

These people have lost their identity and their community! So have their children.  Doesn’t that deserve a mention? Ignoring it minimizes the terrible and cruel fate innocent people are going through today.

Maria Gerace, Counsel assisting the Commission, has spent hours and hours skillfully asking question of witnesses to get to the bottom of the Chabad community and how it works.  She is battling a shocking lack of transparency and consistency.

Maria Gerace is patient and respectful as she asks questions to get to the bottom of a culture that is a mystery to most. The Chabad leadership is powerful and veiled in secrecy. I believe that with the support of leading Jewish organisations, this veil is not being lifted. It is this mystery and secrecy that has allowed all these horrible events to occur and continue.

We live in a multi-cultural world. Tolerance towards the practices of others is key to getting by when different people live side-by-side. As a multi-cultural nation, Australia is bound together by mutual respect and mutual freedom.

Yet, tolerance has boundaries. What if, under this guise of tolerance, people are getting hurt?    If that is the best that Wertheim and Goot can do, I call on them to resign.

VR

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The Jewish community needs a change of leadership beginning with The Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

By Vivien Resofsky 8.2.2015

I have just read the statement of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, signed by President Robert Goot and Executive Director Peter Wertheim in relation to the Royal Inquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse at Yeshivah schools.

I am so upset I could cry.

According to Goot and Wertheim: “The hearings have also brought to light the failures of the religious leaders of both schools to whom the abuse was reported. They failed to take the reports seriously and to act on them appropriately

Are they serious?  It is the collective Chabad community that is being reviewed, not simply the ‘religious leaders of Yeshivah schools in Melbourne and Sydney’!

The Royal Commission is hearing the testimonies of survivors of abuse and their families. Child sexual abuse produces real victims who suffer real pain, but it was the punishment inflicted on fellow members of the Chabad community that has shocked the most.

The lives of survivors – as they knew it – and the lives of their families, have been destroyed because as innocent victims of child sexual abuse, they chose to report it to the police.

All the victims said the same thing: They made the decision to go to the Police because after years and years of reporting abuse to Chabad Rabbis, nothing had changed. The abuser was allowed access to children.  The victims said that seeing the abuser amongst children, free to groom and abuse more victims, was just too much.

Victim One lives with guilt.  Although he told the late Rabbi Groner that he was abused, he trusted that Rabbi Groner would take care of it.  He was disturbed that others were abused because he had not done more.  Victims Two and Three were, in fact, abused by the same person!

Goot and Wertheim’s comment fails to deal with the impacts of what I would describe was malicious and cruel social isolation aiming at expulsion of fellow community members.  “In some cases, they encouraged retaliatory action in the form of ostracism against those who went to the authorities.”

Are they serious? Human rights lawyer George Newhouse describes how the Inquiry has impacted on him:  “Over my professional career, my dealings with traumatized people has hardened my response to human tragedy to the point that it takes something unusual to bring me to tears. So I was surprised that listening to the allegations about the cruel treatment of child sex abuse victims and their families at the hands of the Yeshivah community made them flow today.” (Australian Jewish News, 7.2.2015)

The reason the Inquiry is being held is to examine the way in which institutions responded to child sexual abuse. This requires examining the Chabad culture and way of doing things because to understand the ‘punishment’ for going to the Police and working with the Police to convict abusers you need to understand this culture.

The Inquiry is examining the way in which Yeshivah Chabad society has behaved. Leading Rabbis stayed silent.  Staying silent was a big statement in itself. Victims and their families have suffered due to the consequences of the silence of Rabbis who lead their community.   It is not only the victims at the County Court who are caught up in this.   It is children who are being abused now who are seeing the ugly battle erupted publicly when Manny Waks went public in 2011.   It is highly likely victims who live in the Yeshivah Chabad society are most probably frightened to tell anyone.   What about their parents who want to remain in the community?  If they are not afraid of being shunned they would be frightened of their child being labelled as damaged goods when it comes to marriage prospects.   They also have to consider the negative impact on marriage prospects of their other children who come from a family of an abused person.  As Sheiny New Chabad member told us at the JCCV educational forum: “child sexual abuse does not a nice family make.”

We are hearing how relatives of our leading Rabbi behaved. Many of these relatives enjoy top management positions within Chabad institutions.  We are hearing how individual members took it upon themselves to vilify victims and their families (in front of children). We are hearing how community members who went along with the silent treatment and stopped inviting a friend to a simcha because they felt compelled to go along with the group as a whole.

Why haven’t Goot and Wertheim mentioned the suffering described by the victims’ families? They put out such a statement and then minimize the punishment on a wife and on a father whose only crime is the relationship with their innocent husband and son who were abused as children?

These people have lost their identity and their community! So have their children.  Doesn’t that deserve a mention? Ignoring it minimizes the terrible and cruel fate innocent people are going through today.

Maria Gerace, Counsel assisting the Commission, has spent hours and hours skillfully asking question of witnesses to get to the bottom of the Chabad community and how it works.  She is battling a shocking lack of transparency and consistency.

Maria Gerace is patient and respectful as she asks questions to get to the bottom of a culture that is a mystery to most. The Chabad leadership is powerful and veiled in secrecy. I believe that with the support of leading Jewish organisations, this veil is not being lifted. It is this mystery and secrecy that has allowed all these horrible events to occur and continue.

We live in a multi-cultural world. Tolerance towards the practices of others is key to getting by when different people live side-by-side. As a multi-cultural nation, Australia is bound together by mutual respect and mutual freedom.

Yet, tolerance has boundaries. What if, under this guise of tolerance, people are getting hurt?    If that is the best that Wertheim and Goot can do, I call on them to resign.

VR

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An open letter to Rabbi Gutnick the new President of RCV about child sexual abuse.

An open letter to Rabbi Gutnick

August 6, 2014 by J-Wire Staff
Read on for article

Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick has been elected president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria. Social worker Vivien Resofsky has sent him an open letter.

 Dear Rabbi Gutnick,

Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick

On hearing of your appointment as President of the Rabbincial Council of Victoria I would like to ask the following:

That the RCV implement the same reforms of child sexual abuse prevention as its counterpart the Rabbinical Council of America.

The Rabbinical Council of America’s resolution of July 2013 to reform child abuse prevention and its implementation by US Yeshiva University’s (YU) Centre for the Jewish Future, is a paradigm shift in child sexual abuse prevention in Orthodox Jewish America that puts our top Rabbi’s new pledge of reform behind and at odds with world leaders and its USA counterpart.

In 2010 the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) followed the Rabbinical Council of America’s direction. Its resolution, Condemning and Combating Child Abuse was identical to its American counterpart.  However in the wake of the child sexual abuse crisis at Yeshiva institutions in Melbourne the RCV took a different direction.

The latest American reform that incorporates, “bringing in professionals with experience in this area to train staff and educate the community about preventing sexual abuse,” wrestles control from Rabbis and challenges the way Ultra-Orthodox communities normally operate.

The RCV who work in partnership with the Jewish taskforce Against Family Violence (The Taskforce) have relied on Dr David Pelcovitz, a psychologist and an Ultra-Orthodox Jew to inform policy.

Yeshiva University, chose Victor Vieth, director emeritus of the Gundersen Health System’s National Child Protection Training Center an independent and nationally recognized child abuse prevention expert to inform the new prevention reform.

Contrary to the Australian position, Vieth’s reforms place the responsibility of protecting children on adults, not on children themselves. It also encourages the reporting of suspected abuse by community members.   These elements of prevention involve community members acting independently in the best interests of a child. This clashes with the historical prioritisation of the reputational interests of the community over the interests of child victims.

Child sexual abuse has challenged the foundation and cohesiveness of Ultra-Orthodox societies because of the fact that a fellow community member can also be an abuser.  These communities have traditionally handled crimes against fellow community members internally and have not reported criminal offences to outside authorities.

This has not proved successful with child sexual abuse.  Victims who sought help from Rabbis were forced to continue to suffer when they were advised to remain silent. Some victims continued to see the person who abused them in everyday life, other children were abused by the same offender and local mandatory reporting laws were broken when the crime was not reported by those mandated to do so.

Principles of Jewish law have been cited as obstacles to secular child abuse laws. So too have cultural beliefs such as public knowledge of abuse would denigrate the name of the community and the expectation that community members adhere to the complete authority of the rabbi. Lastly, social coercion such as fear of being shunned by the community or being labelled as an undesirable ‘shidduch’ (marriage prospect) has further reinforced the culture of denial, shame and not reporting. YU’s reform confronts these religious, cultural and social coercion.  Elements of the new effort include:

Engaging community members by providing them with the education and confidence to respond responsibly to a child needing help. The most important element in protecting children involves community members. In many cases of abuse family, friends, neighbours, and even professionals fail to recognise abuse and/or fail to respond to protect a child because they don’t know how to recognise signs of abuse or they may be too afraid to do anything.  This can be overcome by providing community members with the education and the confidence to respond to a child in need.

Perhaps the most heartening element of reform was the acknowledgement that children who are growing up today may be too afraid to come forward in the current climate.   “’It’s critical that we educate and train our religious leadership to be able to support this community. These are the shadow children of our country—boys and girls, young and younger, who from the corners of their rooms ask us, ‘Is it safe to come out now?’ By your presence here today, you have dedicated yourselves and your communities to the proposition that we should answer this question: ‘Yes, it is.”

Rabbis to lead reform in their individual communities According to Avi Lauer a lawyer at YU,: “community rabbis must take a leadership role in promoting child sexual abuse prevention and awareness, as well as developing and implementing policies and procedures to deal with the issue within their communities,”

For the last eight years Melbourne’s leaders have rejected the same reforms that its American counterpart has resolved to introduce.   Instead, we have been told that volunteers within the community are experts in child protection when they are not. We have been told children can protect themselves when they can’t. We have been given false assurances. We have been assured that the hiding of abuse in the past was a simple as mistakes made in the past.

To take steps toward eliminating child sexual abuse we must support victims and survivors, get involved in a prevention and education effort that does not exclude any elements and report suspected abuse.  We are not there yet.

I call on Rabbi Gutnick to adopt ALL the reforms that YU’s Centre for the Jewish Future recently introduced and not leave out community education that incorporates reporting suspected abuse

 

 

 

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