By: Manny Waks
The Commonwealth Royal Commission Inquiry into child sexual abuse within organisations has now commenced. Tzedek, an Australian-based advocacy group for Jewish victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, is uniquely positioned to provide evidence to the Royal Commission about the nature and extent of past and present child sexual abuse within Jewish organisations.
Tzedek has already gathered significant evidence of sexual abuse against children and young people in organisational settings. Now, as the Royal Commission prepares to hear evidence of the extent of abuse across Australia, an opportunity exists to help piece together our community’s proper understanding of this issue that has historically, and tragically, been enveloped in silence.
How many Jewish children and young people have suffered alone in the agony of sexual abuse? In which organisations has this occurred, and with whose knowledge? Who are the perpetrators, who are the handmaidens, and who are the conspirators? What has happened to the discarded allegations and suspicions that have fallen into labyrinths of obfuscating bureaucracies and worse? Who has shown the courage to raise their hands to investigate allegations, and who has conspired to ensure that a torment burrows ever deeper within our community? What can we do to aid the healing of victims and change the consciousness of some segments of our community? What can now be done to put an end to this scourge?
These are questions that our community must now answer.
Tzedek has already been in contact with around 100 Jewish victims/survivors from around Australia. We will maintain an ongoing communications with these individuals, and in some cases with their families. Now is the time for others who have experienced past abuse (or their family members) to come forward and share their stories. Clearly this is a confronting message for some members of our community. How do victims/survivors end years – sometimes decades – of silence? In Tzedek’s experience, victims experience enormous relief when they share their stories within a supportive and confidential environment. This not only brings healing, but also opens the possibility to report perpetrators to the appropriate authorities. Apart from the opportunities to bring closure to fractured lives, it also helps ensure that those perpetrators cannot re-offend. Now, with the establishment of the Royal Commission, there is a unique opportunity to document past wrongs and ensure that the precedent of silence is replaced with a commitment to prevention and transparency. Victims can share their stories with Tzedek, which will be relayed to the Royal Commission, or Tzedek can support victims to contact the Royal Commission directly.
We are aware of the pain and discomfort to those who value the reputation of our community. Nevertheless, the answer to this unease is not to further obscure an issue whose time has come, but rather to stand together in pride that we are secure and compassionate enough to endure challenges to belief systems that condemn some of our fellow Jews to a lifetime of hiding. The protection of Jewish children and young people against the risk of child sexual abuse is paramount and the past practice of silence and denial has made the problem worse, not better. Enough! No more silence.
The Royal Commission will investigate how all Australian community-based organisations protect the children and young people in their care. This includes Jewish organisations, whether they be schools, synagogues, youth groups, sporting clubs or the like. It is already clear from the short history of Tzedek that our community has its share of sexual predators. The Royal Commission is a unique opportunity for the Jewish community to establish the full extent of this scourge and to prevent its reoccurrence. You can help build a stronger and better Jewish community by coming forward to share your story. Tzedek can assist victims/survivors and their families within a safe and supportive environment. We can also provide victims/survivors and their families with comprehensive information about the role of the Royal Commission and the range of ways to share information that ensures your privacy, if that is your wish.
Please visit the Tzedek website at www.tzedek.org.au or contact us at info AT tzedek.org.au
Manny Waks is the Founder and CEO of Tzedek.