Tuesday, 4 April 2017


Last Friday saw the completion of the public hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
As one might imagine, over the last few days a deluge of statistics have been shared with the public reflecting the tragedy of matters unpacked by the Commission.
The Jewish community in Melbourne has focused its lens of sexual child abuse overwhelmingly on the most religious for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are the case studies that that the Royal Commission used to exemplify what community stakeholders have referred to as an epidemic of abuse that occurred beneath the Yeshivah banner.   Adass has likewise been under the microscope in light of the events surrounding and the extensive, ongoing, media coverage of Malka Leifer, former principal of the school.
While in these instances poor governance, ignorance and a desire to place an institutional or individual reputation above the care of the victim have been seen to allow for the worst of decisions, it would be disingenuous to believe that others have not made similar choices.  Poor choices rarely take place in isolation.  
This is the reality in the wider world and there is no reason to believe that the situation would be any different in the Jewish world of Melbourne.   Abuse has taken place across the spectrum of Jewish Melbourne, religious and otherwise.  It has been found in a number of our schools over past decades; it is a given that these or like incidents have occurred in further institutions in our community.   
The community has already seen reports in the media of abuse having taken place in some of our major institutions that were not addressed by the Commission.  The overwhelming number of victims have chosen to retain their privacy, a choice that has generally empowered unidentified institutions, organisations or environments where the victims were abused to retain their reputations and control.  Commonly, it has left them and the individuals in authority with the power to choose to act as they would and these choices have not alway been admirable.
Speak to victims or members of their families and you will hear stories of practices in environments, on occasion particularly lamentable, where victims, the youngest of children and their families were not protected, while the abusers interests were prioritised and facilitated.
So while Yeshivah may have been justifiably hauled over white-hot coals by the Royal Commission - there are other Jewish schools, organisations, leaders and individuals that have chosen to keep their heads down throughout and not take appropriate steps of redress or apology - have chosen to guard reputation rather than take an opportunity to acknowledge and clean house.  
On Sunday I had the pleasure to attend the Dedication of a Building of a Jewish school; inasmuch the formal launch of a new school in our community.   There was much to celebrate at the morning's events; not the least of which the Principal's speech during which, amongst other topics, he addressed the importance of compliance.  Not a usual subject matter on these occasions.  After formalities, parents spoke repeatedly of having found an environment where emphasis was placed on open communications  between families, students and staff.   I heard the same message from staff - how this was a school where any and all communications between staff and leadership was both welcome and encouraged.   There is no doubt that if you have a focus on child safety you are going to have to be thinking about consistent, open and safe communications.  The informal tour I received  pointed out various features and modifications in the building designed to address and guarantee child safety.  A range of further teacher commitments to the same end were also highlighted with real enthusiasm.  I have to say that those who established this institution have been listening.  They have taken the safety of our children directly to the heart of their practices and one would find it more likely that this commitment has created parameters where attendant children will be assured of safety.
There are a couple of points to be made here.  Firstly, don't take it for granted that just because your child was, or is, at an institution where abuse has not been publicly highlighted, your child's school or institution of care has been, or is, exemplary in it's history or current Child Safe practices.  You can take it as a given that there are more organisations than otherwise that have chosen not to advertise a negative past given the option.
Advocate today that the organisations to whom you entrust your child has appropriate Child Safety Elements in place, the appropriate policies and procedures.  This requires more than a signboard on a fence or a policy posted on a website.  Ensure that policies reflect quality  and that these are more than paper documents but part of the heart of how the organisation operates, part of their ethos.  
This goes for all the organisations you trust with your child's presence.
The Royal Commission may be winding down, but the community should recognise this time as one for us to reflect, address our shortcomings and improve our circumstances.  Those that have left past victims unacknowledged and those that require profound commitments to installation of mechanisms to ensure child safety in the future must step up and attend to matters.
History is the most telling predictor of likely future behaviour.  

1 comment:

  1. Between Case 22 & Case 53 there were 3 victims of abuse that I am aware of who have addressed the Yeshivah Community.Each of the 3 victims said that the Yeshivah was not yet a safe place for children & they gave their reasons why.As of today I believe from the contact I have with 2 or the 3 victims that they both still hold that view.With regards to the 3rd victim I cannot say as I have not spoken to him.


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