Child abuse experts urge: ‘Don’t put responsibility on victims to make changes’

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Child abuse experts urge: ‘Don’t put responsibility on victims to make changes’

A virtual panel discussion on communal safeguarding, coinciding with Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, called on the community to be more proactive

Francine Wolfisz is the Features Editor for Jewish News.

A virtual panel discussion on communal safeguarding, coinciding with Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, called on the community to be more proactive
A virtual panel discussion on communal safeguarding, coinciding with Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, called on the community to be more proactive

The community must not “wait and put the responsibility on children, young people and those who have been abused” to implement changes that will help safeguard them, child welfare experts urged this week.

Yehudis Goldsobel, who in 2013 established Migdal Emunah, a charity that supports victims of sexual abuse, spoke on Wednesday night as part of a virtual panel discussion on communal safeguarding.

The event was chaired by Jewish News features editor Francine Wolfisz and coincided with Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, which was started by Goldsobel five years ago.

She said that while some progress had been made and “even the Chief Rabbi tweeted about it – that wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago,” communal organisations were still not being proactive enough in helping to prevent abuse and supporting victims.

Goldsobel said: “We do have a tendency to water things down, to make it more palatable when actually there is nothing comfortable about the sexual abuse of children. We shouldn’t be comfortable when we are being trained to safeguard from it.

“I also believe we should have a one-stop for victims, survivors and anyone who has a concern, so they can get the right information quicker than making them go through different agencies.”

Barrister Simon Myerson, who has advocated for a change in communal attitudes to serious sexual offences, said he found there was a high degree of “complacency” on the issue and not enough responsibility.

He said: “All the organisations I have spoken to have been sympathetic, but it doesn’t seem to be anybody’s job. We have a communal leadership that is not willing to hold the fort on this.

“With the structure we currently have, its guaranteed to fail, because primarily we are providing mop-up services. No-one is saying what is going on here and how do we sort it out?”

Speaking about a rape trial he was involved with, in which the 15-year-old victim had developed traumatic alopecia, Myerson said the emotional toll of a court case was obvious.

“But those are the strong ones,” he said. “The question is where are the submerged 90 percent who are not reporting or aren’t going to court. How are they feeling?

“We say we are good at empathy. We need to try and experience how those kids feel when nobody has prevented, helped, or put their communal arms around them.”

Alma Reisel, a consultant social worker at Hackney Children and Families Service said that while both Migdal Emunah and Reshet, which provides training for youth providers in the Jewish community, were doing “phenomenal work”, there was a lack of research on the issue and no central body specifically responsible for safeguarding.

She said: “In the Church of England they have a whole safeguarding organisation supporting all the different churches and doing research.

“They have got a history to face up to, but are doing a huge amount of work to do that – and we just don’t have the equivalent. It would be great if the community made that a priority.”

Meanwhile Talli Rosenbaum, a certified sex therapist based in Israel, said educating children and giving them the right language to communicate was key to preventing abuse.

“What we should not do is shame,” she said. “We need to allow our children to develop normatively with a healthy sense of self, healthy body awareness, healthy boundaries and to have conversations about relationships.”

Watch the event in full here:


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