Progressively Speaking: It’s our duty to talk about domestic and sexual violence
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Progressively Speaking: It’s our duty to talk about domestic and sexual violence

Rabbi Sandra Kviat reflects on a topical issue with a progressive Jewish response

“It doesn’t happen in our community,” is likely to be a common refrain when people hear about the latest shocking case of domestic violence or sexual abuse.

But, as research by Jewish Women’s Aid has found, unfortunately it does.

The charity’s recent report caused us to sit up and take stock when it found that Jewish women who have been victims of sexual abuse wait 11-and-a-half years on average before seeking help.

Looking at the wider picture, the figures are just as startling. In Britain, domestic violence and abuse affects a quarter of all women during their lifetimes, while one in five women are victims of sexual violence.

Usually, at this point, I would quote Torah to highlight the issue — but I don’t think we need Bible verses to know that this must end. But what practical steps can we actually take, whether personally or in our Jewish communities?

The major thing is to create more openness around this topic and the fact that it does happen in the Jewish community.

If you ask any communal rabbi — whether Orthodox or Progressive — they will have dealt with a case or two at least, if not more. The problem is that we don’t talk about it enough, and that needs to change.

We need to make it the norm to accept that domestic and sexual violence is there and that it has to be tackled, or any woman who has to deal with this can end up thinking she is the only one and there must be something wrong.

During the last High Holy Days, when our synagogues were at their busiest, I delivered a very difficult sermon on the topic. It was pretty extreme, but it was so useful to start a conversation.

Sermons, events, themed services and taking part in the annual Shabbat organised by Jewish Women’s Aid and the Board of Deputies are all good ways to bring this topic out into the open.

We need to show, encourage, and reassure those people who may be current or past victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse that they are not alone and it’s not their fault.

Rabbi Sandra Kviat serves Crouch End Chavurah

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