Row rages over ‘leaking’ of abuse stories

THE same week a leading figure in Chabad NSW claimed “leaking” stories of abuse to the media “hinders the ability of victims to come forward”, an article in The AJN has spurred a victim to come forward more than 50 years after she was abused.

The 74-year-old woman, who asked not to be named, was sexually assaulted by a chazan at a synagogue while she was attending Sunday school more than 50 years ago. She had never talked about it to anyone until she called Rabbi Moshe Gutnick last week, following his plea in The AJN earlier this month for victims to come forward.

“After so many years, I was just pleased to give a comment and to come forward,” the woman told The AJN.

“I think the articles have put ­people on notice and people are talking about what is going on. It has to stop.”

Rabbi Gutnick said that “a burden had been lifted on this woman that she has carried for many, many years”.

“I was humbled and felt deeply sad for her that she has had to bear this burden alone,” Rabbi Gutnick said.

“The most important lesson that she wants to pass on is that she didn’t come forward because back then the reverend had the power, but now she has learnt that she has the power and she doesn’t need to be frightened of being accused of anything or just making up stories.”

Rabbi Gutnick said the articles in the media are not about people trying to put their name up in lights, it’s about people trying to comprehend the extent of a big problem.

However, last week Rebbetzin Pnina Feldman, wife of Chabad NSW’s spiritual leader Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, denounced the impact of stories in the media when asked by The AJN about allegedly calling Manny Waks – who is an advocate for victims of sexual abuse – a masser (police collaborator).

In her response, she avoided the issue, claiming: “I do not intend to publicly explain details of a private conversation that may ­embarrass or cause pain to certain individuals, including some who may have tragically been the victims of child abuse.”

She added, “I unequivocally stand by the halachic rulings that reporting child sexual abuse, and in fact any form of physical violence, to the relevant government authorities is not mesirah [prohibited].

But in what is believed to be a reference to Waks’s public campaign to highlight the history of abuse within Australian Jewry, she then went on to state that “Many in the community, including mental health professionals, firmly believe that constant leaking to the media in the midst of a sensitive police investigation only hinders the ability of victims to come forward with their deep personal pain for fear of publicity.

“In my opinion, such publicity runs the risk of protecting the ­perpetrators more than it does the victims.”

When asked who those mental health professionals are, Feldman didn’t respond.

The claim led to a furious response from Waks through his advocacy and support organisation Tzedek.

“This incident legitimately brings into question all other previous positive statements made by the Sydney Yeshiva Centre, especially those made by her husband and Yeshiva head, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman,” Waks said.

“The fact is, despite what the Rebbetzin says, many victims have come forward as a direct result of the ongoing public campaign by Tzedek and others. There is irrefutable evidence to back this up.”

JOSHUA LEVI

Victim advocate Manny Waks.