Event draws crowd of 300, hearing from survivors of child sexual abuse and learning ways to prevent it.
Three hundred people from the Jewish community in Pittsburgh gathered in Squirrel Hill’s Jewish Community Center this past Sunday in order to work together to battle child sexual abuse. The event was run by Jewish Community Watch (JCW), an organization dedicated to combating child sexual abuse in the Orthodox community under the tagline “Prevent, Educate, Heal.” Attendees heard from many speakers including survivors, advocates, and law enforcement officials, learning about the prevalence of the issue and the importance of talking about it.
Rivka Joseph, a young mother from Cleveland and active member of JCW, addressed the crowd, disclosing the abuse that she suffered as a child at the hands of her own brother. She informed the crowd about how common incest is and just how painful it is for the victim. “A survivor of incest is sentenced to a lifetime of secrecy,” she said. “And the reward for telling the truth can be losing your family.”
Pittsburgh-native Ruth Gordon, mother of IDF soldier and CSA survivor David Gordon who tragically died last year in Israel, told the crowd how a JCW event she attended helped her finally feel the right to grieve. The event had highlighted the pain that is experienced by the families of the victims as well. “Every single time someone makes a decision not to name an abuser because they want to protect his or her family, exactly what they are trying to take from the abusers family they are putting on victims family,” she said.
She also told a story of taking sixteen year-old David to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting at a church. She watched as he left the car and entered the church to the warm embrace of his new friends. She expressed the irony she felt that he had been abused and shamed by members of the Jewish community, while receiving love and support in a church.
Rabbi Yosef Blau, a spiritual leader at Yeshiva University and a member of JCWs Board of advisors told of the many cases of child sexual abuses that he encounters. He stressed the importance for the community to come to the aid of the victim, yet how often this is not the case. Blau told the story of a family that came to him, afraid to press charges against their child’s abuser out of fear that their children would face expulsion from their school. Instead of punishing the abuser, the community and the school caused extra pain on the victim.
Detective Bryan Sellers, from the Sex Assault Family Crisis Unit, told the crowd about the laws in Pennsylvania with regards to this issue. He explained that the state puts a lifetime registration on the abusers because they understand that victims are also facing a lifetime sentence of suffering as a result of the abuse. Likewise, the statute of limitations in PA lasts until the victim is 50 years old because the nature of crime causes victims to take time before they can talk about what happened.
Survivor of abuse, Eli Nash, talked to the crowd about how important it is to take this issue seriously as a Jew, explaining that lives are at risk and emphasizing the importance that the Torah puts on saving a life. The founder of JCW, Meyer Seewald, also spoke, telling the crowd about the founding of the organization and its importance, while Rachel Hager, RCSWI, explained the organization’s process of handling victims who come to them for help.