‘We Are Not Waiting’

The UK Jewish community focuses resources onsafeguarding,’ but some say it isnt enough

By Maayan Hoffman
eJewish Philanthropy

A year before the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault swept the American nation and the internet, the Jewish community of the United Kingdom was struck with an alarming fact: In 2016, more than 58,000 children in the UK were identified as needing protection from different forms of abuse, according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

While there is limited research regarding Jewish children, according to Shelley Marsh, executive director of Reshet: The Network for Jewish Youth Provision, the organization decided, “We are not waiting.”

Quickly, Reshet brought together organizations that work with children and young people to identify, discuss and improve gaps in “safeguarding the community’s children.” At Reshet, safeguarding is defined not only in terms of sexual abuse, but as protecting vulnerable adults, children and young people from anything that can cause them harm.

“We are safeguarding against sexual abuse, but also against emotional, physical and verbal abuse, and also peer-to-peer abuse, which is increasing,” Marsh told eJewish Philanthropy.

To get started, Reshet conducted its own survey in 2016, asking 45 Jewish communal organizations about any previous safeguarding training they had and what kind of training they would like to have.

“The learning outcomes from the survey have led to high caliber training being accessed by organizations through the community,” said Marsh, noting that Reshet also developed a Safeguarding Network Forum that brings together colleagues with experience, expertise and interest in safeguarding. Over the past two years, 37 organizations have accessed safeguarding training and support – mostly provided by external trainers through Reshet, which according to Marsh has impacted approximately 5,000 children and young people.

“People may not want to believe that this is going on in our community, but they are coming to trainings – and the trainings are optional right now,” Marsh said.

Yehudis Goldsobel, director of Migdal Emunah, sees the situation differently.

She told eJP that until the end of last year, her organization offered regular counseling, therapy and support groups for women and men who experienced sexual violence. She also ran several awareness screenings and sessions with parents. However, this year, her activity has decreased due to funding challenges.

“We have gone in reverse,” said Goldsobel, who explained she lost government funding because her organization was considered too specialist in that it only serves Jewish people. The Jewish community has not managed to make up this lost income.

“People are talking about” sexual violence, said Goldsobel, “but even with #MeToo, there is still this sense that it is not quite as bad as people make out that it is.”

By “people,” she means members of the UK Jewish community, in comparison to the UK community at large. Goldsobel, an independent sexual violence counselor, is also the founder of the UK’s Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness Week, which takes place the first week of February. Since she launched that event three years ago, it has gathered momentum across the country.

Organizations put on related film screenings, march for safety and hold multiple learning and information sessions. Social media ignites with personal sexual violence testimonies and then affirmations of these victims. This year, the country is campaigning against sexual violence using the hashtag #ITSNOTOK.

“When you compare the attention given to this one week to the work I have been trying to do in the Jewish community for the last seven years, the comparison is quite stark,” said Goldsobel, who told eJP that one out of every five people in the UK experienced sexual violence or assault before the age of 18, which means, “we all know someone who has been affected in some way. We cannot as individuals or as a community say this is someone else’s problem. This is all of our problem – individuals, community leaders and philanthropists,” Goldsobel said.

On this point, Marsh said she agrees.

“Kol Yisrael Arevim zeh ba-zeh,” Marsh said. “We have to say we are all responsible, that this is not someone else’s work.”

She said there will always be those people who say this cannot happen in the Jewish community, but the reality is that it happens in the Jewish community – and in all communities, regardless of faith.

Reshet offered a series of recommendations to further advance safeguarding in the Jewish community. These include:

  • offering a safeguarding introduction module at the commencement of a new role for trustees, rabbis, communal professional and volunteers;
  • further developing a community forum that enables the development of practice to the highest standard in safeguarding and child protection;
  • developing safeguarding support for communal organizations that offer home hospitality/exchange programs, as well as creating specific policies for overseas suppliers;
  • instigating a publicity campaign for parents, highlighting the safeguarding questions they should be asking prior to booking their children into a holiday scheme or residential activity; and
  • establishing a code of practice for Jewish youth activity providers to consider how they advertise the implementation of their policies.

Marsh noted that she is in regular contact with Manny Waks, founder and CEO of founder and CEO of Kol v’Oz in Israel, and with Shira Berkovits, founder and CEO of Sacred Spaces in the U.S., among other leaders in the field from around the world. She said she shares her best practices and learns from theirs, too.

“We have a global need to be able to say to our young people, our children and to vulnerable adults that they are safe to go synagogue and camp,” said Marsh. “We are most powerful together.”

One year after the #MeToo hashtag swept the United States, how are American Jewish organizations tackling issues of sexual violence? Read more >>  ejewishphilanthropy.com/metoo-for-the-jews/