The Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) held a unique conference on preventing sexual assault in communities and institutions last week. In the conference – the first of its kind – a virtual treatment model to correct and stymie sexual assault across a variety of institutions was presented. Participating in the conference was a myriad of educators and therapists from all walks of life who work closely with the emotional, legal, and halachic ramifications of sexual violence.

“We tend to see the atrocities we have witnessed as of late as something that only happens on the margins of society and couldn’t possibly happen to us,” Head of JCT’s Beit Midrash, Rabbi Yosef Ziv Rimon, said referring to the heinous alleged gang rape of a 16-year old girl which took place in Eilat.

While the Eilat incident was an extreme outlier, much less offensive instances of sexual violence occur on a regular basis. To that end, Omri Heiman, a therapist associated with the Jerusalem College of Technology counseling department and a clinical social worker who specializes in treating sexual trauma,  added, “For meaningful change to occur, we must examine how the system allows for this violence to take place and look at the circumstances of both the abuser and the victim.”

At the conference, Heiman presented a model for treating sexual abuse in institutions and communities. While he acknowledged it’s virtually impossible to create a model that will address all the cultural and situational complexities associated with acts of sexual violence, creating a mechanism that looks at the big picture as to why these acts occur on a systematic level is critical.

“In cases of sexual violence in a community, you must look at the system as a whole. This way, we can reach more people and enact change in a more comprehensive manner. By working together with the community, educational institutions, and local families, the subject knows that he/she has a circle of support around him/her. This is the only way to ensure long-term protection and treatment,” Heiman added. Through using this model, he outlined how rabbis, teachers, family members, law enforcement and social workers can all form a united front to combat sexual assault.

As such, the model advocates bringing in a trustworthy person of authority from the very moment the crime has been exposed. Then, breaking the news to immediate family members needs to be done with the utmost sensitivity before considering if law enforcement should be involved. Regardless of that decision, reaching out to those who can provide treatment to the abused and abuser needs to be considered at this early stage. Regardless of whether the abuser is punished criminally or not, a case worker’s involvement is instrumental in the rehabilitation process.

Limor Paikin, a clinical criminologist, psychotherapist and expert in the treatment of trauma and sexual abuse, presented a program to treat adolescents with abusive sexual behavior tendencies. Treating adolescents with a history of abuse is necessary to prevent them from repeating such behaviors and invites them to engage in a dialogue that will help them understand the gravity of their actions.”

As for the halachic component in preventing sexual assault, Rabbi Rimon added that the Torah sages taught us to build a morally correct society where the goal isn’t merely to punish offenders but to rehabilitate them in order to correct problematic behaviors. “It is our moral obligation to believe in the capacity for change,” he said.

Tamar Yishmach, a clinical social worker and district supervisor for the treatment of minors who are victims of a crime, noted that exposing sexual assault carries complex legal consequences. “Often, there is a fear that reporting the crime will further harm the minor who has already experienced acute trauma. It’s not unusual for victims or their families to bury the crime under the rug because they are afraid external intervention will only exacerbate matters.” She does add, though, that Israel does enforce the laws which requires sexual offenses to be reported to a welfare officer or to the police.

Prof. Chaim Sukenik, JCT President, concluded, “Prof. Ze’ev Lev, the founder of our institution, believed in building a healthy and robust society through education and leadership. I believe, there is no greater demonstration of leadership than showing sensitivity for the weakest and most threatened members of our community which is what we did during the course of this conference in tackling such an important issue.”

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