Why are we still in de­nial about this dread­ful scourge?

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - FAM­I­LIES NAOMI DICK­SON

‘CON­VINCE ME’’ she says. ‘‘Sorry, con­vince you of what,’’ I re­ply. It’s been a long day. And now, I’m speak­ing to a group of about 20 men and women about do­mes­tic violence in the Jewish com­mu­nity.

And then the pre­dictable ri­poste. ‘‘I just don’t be­lieve that a woman like me could be abused. I live in this area, I have a de­gree, I have two chil­dren in a lo­cal Jewish pri­mary school. We are mid­dle-class and mid­dle-of-the-road Jewish. I am just not con­vinced.’’ And I just don’t be­lieve that the Jewish com­mu­nity is still in de­nial about the ex­tent of abuse within.

Af­ter 10 years at Jewish Women’s Aid, I can tell you that, as 2015 draws to a close, we have sup­ported more than 400 women, and over 110 chil­dren so far this year, and that our ser­vice is busier and more needed than ever be­fore.

It’s in­cred­i­bly frus­trat­ing that many in our com­mu­nity find it so dif­fi­cult to be­lieve do­mes­tic violence is an is­sue. And, when they do, they re­sort to stereo­types: Re­form point a fin­ger at Charedim, who claim it’s most com­mon among the Mod­ern Ortho­dox, who in turn ac­cuse the Re­form.

What makes each group so smug — why are they con­vinced that do­mes­tic violence is not go­ing to af­fect peo­ple ‘‘like us’’? Why do Jews across the spec­trum, in each part of the com­mu­nity, feel pro­tected from this hor­ror even when they have some un­der­stand­ing of how do­mes­tic violence is a preva­lent is­sue in wider so­ci­ety?

I’ve thought a lot about this, and I’ve come to the con­clu­sion that it’s about fear — fear that there is the pos­si­bil­ity that do­mes­tic abuse can and does hap­pen to peo­ple like them­selves. Fear that, if they ac­knowl­edge that women like them are liv­ing through the ter­ri­fy­ing day-to-day night­mare of be­ing abused by the per­son they mar­ried, or by a close fam­ily mem­ber, then it could hap­pen even to them.

How­ever, by ac­knowl­edg­ing that do­mes­tic abuse could hap­pen to some­one like you — some­one in your group of friends, in your shul, in your de­mo­graphic of the com­mu­nity — you are show­ing sup­port, open­ness and ac­knowl­edge­ment to those women who want sup­port but are too scared to seek it. By be­ing open, you may be throw­ing some­one a life­line.

In con­trast, if peo­ple as­sume that women like them­selves are ex­empt from do­mes­tic violence, then they will be less likely to recog­nise it in a peer or a fam­ily mem­ber — or in them­selves.

They will not equip them­selves with the skills to sup­port those close to them who are af­fected and they will not be at­tuned to friends, fam­ily, fel­low con­gre­gants and ac­quain­tances who may be in need of sup­port.

They con­tinue to re­in­force the idea that this is some­thing that hap­pens to oth­ers. They may not even ac­knowl­edge their own abu­sive mar­riage and their own need to reach out for help.

Women of­ten come to Jewish Women’s Aid’s ser­vice hav­ing lived through nu­mer­ous years of es­ca­lat­ing abuse, feel­ing that there was no one who would have be­lieved them, that they had no one to turn to and that their friends, fam­ily and com­mu­nity had not been there for them. They of­ten needed some­one sim­ply to ask if they were OK.

All of this is not to say that there is no sup­port from friends, fam­i­lies and com­mu­nity lead­ers. The Jewish Women Aid train­ing pro­gramme has reached over 1,000 com­mu­nity pro­fes­sion­als in the past year, and gives del­e­gates a tool-kit that helps them to sup­port women liv­ing with do­mes­tic abuse.

JWA reg­u­larly takes calls from con­cerned friends, fam­ily, rab­bis and reb­bet­zens ask­ing for ad­vice and guidance for women offering sup­port to oth­ers. One woman called JWA af­ter a con­cerned friend put our phone num­ber in a named en­ve­lope through her door. She told me that it was then that she re­alised oth­ers un­der­stood some­thing was amiss at home, and more im­por­tantly, that there was some­where she could go for help.

Sara has been a client of JWA for three years and, as she re­called in one of our meet­ings, “you feel alone, some­times as a Jewish woman, like you are the only one, ever, to have had an abu­sive hus­band. And then af­ter com­ing to JWA, you re­alise that an or­gan­i­sa­tion like that wouldn’t ex­ist if you were the only one. And you wouldn’t wish it on any­one else, but there is com­fort in know­ing you are not alone.’’

But as long as sec­tions of the com­mu­nity deny the re­al­ity of do­mes­tic violence, our task be­comes in­sur­mount­able. Women liv­ing with do­mes­tic abuse need the whole com­mu­nity to stand to­gether and ac­knowl­edge that do­mes­tic violence is a prob­lem for women across the breadth of the com­mu­nity.

Don’t be part of the prob­lem — help us to be­come part of the so­lu­tion. Naomi Dick­son is Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of JWA, which next week marks White Rib­bon Day to help elim­i­nate violence against women. For in­for­ma­tion call 0208 445 8060

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