Voice of the Jewish News: Sickening claims of a silent conspiracy
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Voice of the Jewish News: Sickening claims of a silent conspiracy

This week's editorial reflects on the Independent Inquiry in Child Sexual Abuse in Religious Settings

Chair of the IICSA, Professor Alexis Jay.
Chair of the IICSA, Professor Alexis Jay.

The national inquiry into child protection in religious settings turned its attention to the Jewish community this week.

It heard first and most dramatically from Yehudis Goldsobel, herself a victim of child sex abuse, who in 2013 founded an organisation to help others. The picture she painted will shock those who do not know its ways. In a nutshell, she said the following:

The Charedim have no internet access, the victim can only report the abuse internally, usually to a teacher or family member. They then report it to a rabbi, who reports it to a more senior rabbi, who discusses it at his dining table one evening with others.

The idea of calling the police is apparently only ever considered as a last resort, and only if the victim is believed. The Inquiry heard that the idea of an offender remedying their offence by paying for therapy is popular.

The chance of the rabbi knowing the perpetrator is high. As a result, Yehudis told the Inquiry, the rabbis’ top priority can be to “save the community’s face”. The victim, she said, is an afterthought.

Those reporting abuse externally without rabbinic consent are shunned as ‘mosers’ (someone who ‘shops’ a fellow Jew). Their families are not welcome in synagogues or shops. Beth Dins claim someone reporting harmful conduct is not a moser, but, according to Yehudis, will not say so publicly.

Offenders, often public do-gooders, appear to be welcomed back from jail as heroes. Their victims are thought to have ‘consented’. Indeed, in one of the most disturbing moments of Yehudis’ three-hour testimony, she claimed Charedi girls are considered ‘of age’ at batmitzvah. Teenage Charedi girls have no sex education (biology textbook pages are glued together) and lack even the most basic terminology of genitalia needed to assist police inquiries.

That was the picture painted this week at the national inquiry. The Charedi world is yet to respond.

The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations testimony to the IICSA will attract more than a few eyes and ears. Yet the problems are by no means confined to the Charedi world, and wherever this inquiry ends up, all must learn lessons from it.

Activists ask for no more statements of intent, they want action. Many religious settings are subject to no mandatory child protection requirements, which is an obvious change we could all support.”

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