Waks Welcomes Religious Abuse Enquiry

J-Wire
April 17, 2012

Manny Waks, himself an alleged victim of sexual abuse as a pupil at the Melbourne Yeshiva, has welcomed a Victorian parliamentary investigation into criminal abuse by all religious entities.

Premier Ted Baillieu told media that "we regard child abuse as abhorrent". The investigation will cover all religions and will be given the power to make the availability of evidence compulsory.

Waks told J-Wire: "As a former victim of sexual abuse within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, I welcome the Baillieu Government's decision to launch a wide-ranging inquiry into how religious organisations in Victoria have handled child abuse allegations.

While over the years, based on a range of reports, the Catholic Church has been the major public culprit in the way they have handled sexual abuse allegations, clearly they are not the only ones within the religious sphere. From my own experience and knowledge I can testify that there has been widespread sexual abuse against many children within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Victoria, which was practically common knowledge to both community members and its leaders.

What has also become abundantly clear is that the mishandling of these cases of abuse by the ultra-Orthodox institutions has been negligent if not criminal. There have been numerous examples where victims and their families have been made to suffer, subsequent to the abuse, by these institutions and their leaders, especially when they have sought to seek justice. There are also a number of cases in which these religious institutions and their leaders irresponsibly removed paedophiles from their institution without ensuring justice for the victims and ignoring the safety of other children, who in some cases were later abused by the same perpetrator.

From my personal experience I hold the Yeshivah Centre directly responsible for the widespread sexual abuse that has gone on there over many years. They knew about it yet failed to act. Through their mixed messages, non-cooperation with the authorities and insensitivity I am deeply concerned that the Yeshivah Centre has not understood the gravity of the situation, nor how they should deal with these serious allegations. They are continuing the victimise the former victims and their families. They are being disingenuous when they claim to be doing all they can for the victims and the police—in fact it is an outright lie.

I am convinced that this wide-ranging inquiry—including the ability to compel witnesses to testify—would uncover more evidence of abuse and cover-ups.

For the sake of justice for past victims and for the future safety of our children, this proposed course of action is imperative—it is indeed long overdue. No institution should be above the law and it is about time these religious institutions are held to account. In our case, many of the former victims of the Yeshivah Centre plan to hold that institution and its leaders to full account in due course."

The Victorian Government announced the enquiry in the following joint statement by the Premier Baillieu and Attorney-General Robert Clark...

The Victorian Coalition Government today announced the establishment of a Parliamentary inquiry into matters relating to the handling of alleged criminal abuse of children by religious and other organisations.

The inquiry will have broad terms of reference to consider the practices, policies and protocols of religious and other non-government organisations for the handling of allegations of criminal abuse of children by personnel within their organisations.

The inquiry will also have the power to assess any measures put in place to respond to alleged abuse and to make any necessary recommendations for changes to the law or to relevant policies and practices.

A focus of the inquiry will be on identifying reforms that can and should be put in place to better protect children and ensure that instances of abuse are responded to properly and effectively. In doing so, the inquiry will have the power to consider evidence of past policies, practices and abuse.

The Government has decided to establish the inquiry after giving careful consideration to the report and recommendations of the Cummins Inquiry and to the material put before it by many individuals and groups.

It is clear that there have been a substantial number of established complaints of sexual abuse of children by those who have taken advantage of positions of authority. This abuse has had traumatic consequences for victims and their families.

While the investigation and prosecution of individual cases of abuse are matters for the police and the courts, the broader and systemic implications of this abuse need to be investigated to ensure that everything possible is done to protect children.

The inquiry will be conducted by the bipartisan Family and Community Development Committee of Parliament. It will have powers to compel witnesses to attend and give evidence and to summons documents necessary for its deliberations.

All evidence and proceedings will be subject to Parliamentary privilege, and the inquiry will be able to take evidence in private hearings where it considers it appropriate in the interests of victims or for other reasons.

The Government has concluded that a Parliamentary inquiry is the most appropriate form for the inquiry to take. A Parliamentary inquiry will be able to proceed in a less formal and legalistic manner than a Royal Commission, and with no expectation that persons giving evidence will be required to have legal representation.

The Government extends its appreciation to the many individuals and organisations who have contacted the Government and provided accounts of their experiences. The Government also welcomes recent commitments by senior church figures to co-operate with an inquiry.

The terms of reference for the inquiry were approved by the Governor in Council earlier today and are set out below.

The Family and Community Development Committee is requested to inquire into, consider and report to the Parliament on the processes by which religious and other non-government organisations respond to the criminal abuse of children by personnel within their organisations, including:

the practices, policies and protocols in such organisations for the handling of allegations of criminal abuse of children, including measures put in place by variousorganisations in response to concerns about such abuse within the organisation or the potential for such abuse to occur;

whether there are systemic practices in such organisations that operate to preclude or discourage the reporting of suspected criminal abuse of children to State authorities;

and whether changes to law or to practices, policies and protocols in such organisations are required to help prevent criminal abuse of children by personnel in such organisations and to deal with allegations of such abuse.

In undertaking the inquiry, the Committee should be mindful of not encroaching upon the responsibilities of investigatory agencies or the courts in relation to particular cases or prejudicing the conduct or outcome of investigations or court proceedings.

A spokesperson for Yeshivah Beth Rivka told J-Wire: "Yeshivah Beth Rivkah welcomes the enquiry. We are committed to providing a safe and nurturing environment for our school community.The school has adopted a leadership role by prioritising child safety, providing training programs and ensuring effective policies to prevent, and procedures to deal with, issues should they arise."

The investigation has been given one year to prepare its report.