Tackling sexual abuse in the Orthodox community

Conference teaches community leaders and Rabbis how to cope with overwhelming issues such as sexual abuse.

Raphael Poch ,

(Illustration)
(Illustration)
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Tahel Crisis Center for Religious Women and Children, held its second annual conference for professionals worldwide this week at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem.

Dr. Michael Genovese, Chief Medical Officer of Sierra Tuscan, attended the conference and shared with Arutz Sheva some of his expertise and his views on the important work that was being done at the conference to help the Orthodox Jewish Community deal with the trauma of sexual abuse. 

“I think that it is true that the Jewish community is under-treated. They are not unique in this, as a lot of communities are afraid to step out [and recognize the need for treatment]. In my field, I treat patients for trauma. Patients who have been treated all over the world, and are still reaching out for more help.”

Genovese says that the first step is creating awareness of the problem via education. The first step is education; the second step is taking action. “I’m a doctor and I believe people should see their doctor [to get treatment]. What are the consequences of not talking about what happened to your children after they suffer a traumatic experience? How will that effect them down the line?”

Genovese recognized that there are risks when going for treatment of a traumatic episode. But he says the gains far outweigh the risks. “We talk about the risks of treatment sometimes. The larger risk, however, is not availing one’s self of treatment and letting things lie or fall into place. That will condemn the child to perhaps addiction, perhaps depression or perhaps something worse. [People who have suffered trauma should] go to someone they trust. In the world I live in that is the physician. People need to get the help that they can get.”

Rachel Pill works as an educational coordinator  for therapy centers, and teaches the staff involved about the different cultures of the people that they are helping, so as to help the trauma professionals get to know their patients better. Currently she represents the Orthodox Jewish community to centers such as Sierra Tuscon.

In an interview with Arutz Sheva, she spoke of the particular issues that the Orthodox community faces when going for treatment of trauma, in line with sentiments expressed by Genovese.

With regards to cases of certain types of taboo traumas in the Orthodox community being "brushed under the rug" Pill responded by stating that people are afraid.

“Communities are made up of human beings, and every human being gets scared. When something happens we are scared. It is not that people want to make it go away because they are mean, but because we are afraid.”

The solution according to Pill is a greater effort being placed upon educating and supporting community leaders to help them understand what they are dealing with, and at the same time give them a support group that they can turn to for overwhelming cases.

“The solution is education, education, education. I don’t care if I have to visit rabbi after rabbi to teach them, we have done it in the past we will do it again. We need to make people comfortable [talking about these issues]. Sexual abuse is ever going to be safe to talk about. It is so horrific. It is every person’s greatest nightmare. Parents as well as individuals who suffer it, which means it's every rabbi's greatest nightmare.”

"Some rabbis are scared and overwhelmed. When I get scared and overwhelmed I want to not deal with the situatio either. However, if the rav has four people whom he knows he can call to help him deal with the issue, then he will be far more open to dealing with it.”

That in essence was the point of the Tahel conference. To help good people network, learn and provide a support system for one another.  

“There are abusers everywhere,” said Pill. “But there are also good people everywhere. We have a lot of good people here collaborating. We are talking and working together, and we are providing support for each other. So that the next time a rav gets approached by someone [suffering from sexual abuse in the Orthodox community] he won’t feel afraid and alone.”

Pill pointed at previous successes that the Orthodox community has had in similar fields. “We’ve done it with domestic abuse, and with addiction on some level, and this is the next fight. We are not afraid of the fight. We are gonna do the fight. And that means we have to educate the rabbanim and the community and let people know how to protect themselves.  How to have a voice, and where is a safe place to go.

At this point Genovese chimed back in, and echoed Pill’s sentiment. “When I started medicine, it was shameful to admit that one suffered from depression or addiction. But we are getting over that now. There is hope because treatment is better. There is hope because people are talking about it. And there is hope because people care.”

With the Tahel conference and the work that the individuals there are doing, hopefully soon the same will be said of those who suffer from sexual abuse and trauma.

The goals of the Tahel conference are three fold. Firstly, too provide in-depth multidisciplinary training appropriate to a wide range of professional disciplines, to community leaders and parents in the field of abuse and domestic violence; secondly, to bring professionals and non-professionals from all sectors of the Jewish community together from all over the world to collaborate, learn and discuss ways of combating abuse and violence in the community while sharing their knowledge and expertise. Finally, the conference brings leading experts from Israel and abroad to present the latest research community programs and treatment modalities in the field of abuse and trauma.  

Sierra Tuscon is an international leader in the treatment of addictions, eating disorders, mood disorders, complex pain management, and trauma/PTSD.



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