The Safety Respect Equity Coalition announced today the release of a first-of-its-kind report on sexual harassment and victimization within the Jewish communal world titled “We Need to Talk: A Review of Public Discourse and Survivor Experiences of Safety, Respect and Equity in Jewish Workplaces and Communal Spaces.” This inaugural research examines the experiences of victim-survivors, the factors that contribute to victimization, responses by Jewish institutions and leaders, and how we can improve our institutions to create safer, more respectful environments for work, community and worship.
As the #MeToo movement has grown, it has laid bare an inescapable truth: the Jewish community is subject to the same kind of issues, inequities and power dynamics that exist in other communities. Research findings indicate that numerous risk factors to victimization and discrimination are at play, including power imbalances, the organizational structure and operations of Jewish institutions, and Jewish values and treatments of gender. Furthermore, this research reveals that there are distinctive and unique Jewish values and concepts that were used to silence victim-survivors, and that have inadvertently created a culture of silence and secrets.
“What is critically important is that research was conducted, and that it was centered on what survivors had to say about their experiences,” stated Dr. Guila Benchimol, Advisor to the Safety Respect Equity Coalition and co-author of the report. “Research on victimization in the Jewish community is lacking. Unless we understand the experiences of survivors, and what was helpful and harmful to them, we cannot effectively move forward to create a Jewish communal world that is safer, more respectful, and fairer for all,” Benchimol continued.
The report identifies a range of key findings and lays out recommendations for Jewish institutions based on these findings, including:
- Survivors believe that there is a lack of safety and respect across Jewish workplaces and communal spaces. They report an absence of both physical and psychological safety and respect which manifests in a range of harassing and abusive behaviors, from sexist name-calling and jokes with innuendo to sexual assault and rape.
- Victims also report that inequity on the basis of gender exists within Jewish communities. Those who did not disclose experiences of harassment did disclose experiences of gender bias, discrimination, and sexism.
- Victim-survivors pointed to numerous environmental and cultural factors that they believe led to their victimization, but public discourse more often focuses on individual perpetrators rather than systemic issues. Jewish efforts at addressing safety, respect, and equity should consider the structures and systems that may need to change.
- Key factors contributing to a lack of safety, respect, and equity in Jewish spaces include: the lack of adequate organizational structures to address harassment and discrimination; a familial sense of community and a lack of professionalism; gender and power dynamics; a culture of open secrets and a lack of bystander intervention; and pressures related to Jewish continuity and Jewish values.
- Safety, respect, and equity are often framed as women’s issues that must also be dealt with by women. The research shows that women are rarely the heads of Jewish organizations and perceive fewer opportunities for advancement into leadership roles. Men must take an active role in preventing and addressing victimization in ways that extend beyond seeking forgiveness.
- In light of victims’ experiences both with victimization and in attempting to bring it to the attention of Jewish organizations and employers, Jewish organizations should consider including survivors in the work they do to prevent and address victimization.
- Strengthening institutional infrastructure can go a long way in creating supportive environments. As the SRE Standards dictate, this means implementing systems of best practice that include: establishing clear and transparent reporting and investigative processes; utilizing experts to conduct trainings or investigations around sexual victimization in workplaces and communal spaces.
“While media has a critical role in shaping public discourse, it is also shaped by it,” states co-author Marie Huber from Third Plateau, a social impact strategy firm. “The public discourse analysis identified areas for critical reflection and spoke to how public and ‘insider’ discourse in the Jewish community might be shaping norms and experiences that aren’t safe, respectful, or equitable,” Huber continued.
The Coalition brings together more than 100 diverse organizations to help drive and support change under a common vision and shared banner to eliminate sexual harassment, gender bias and inequity in the Jewish communal world. In late 2018, Coalition Leadership commissioned this research in an effort to broaden and deepen the conversation around gender discrimination and sexual victimization and harassment within the Jewish community. Following the release of the research report, the Coalition will use the report findings to set the agenda for their future work and priorities.
The full research report and an executive summary are available on the Safety Respect Equity Coalition website at https://safetyrespectequity.org/research-report/