Bartholemew grew up in a Jewish family and attended a Jewish school.
When he was a teenager in the 1980s, events within his family meant he had to stay at a Jewish-run residential care facility for a year. One night he woke up to find a rabbi in his bed, sexually assaulting him. He managed to get away from the situation and it didn’t happen again.
Bartholemew told the Commissioner he coped well with the abuse and ‘took it in his stride’.
However, he found out later the same rabbi was accused of abusing other children and that gave him a different perspective on what had happened.
‘I felt bad about it later on, when stuff came to light. I’m thinking about this thing earlier, maybe I would have dealt with it earlier. But I was a young kid and I was here by myself … I didn’t even think. I was like “That doesn’t seem right, okay but he’s gone”. And that was that.’
Bartholemew’s interest lies in how leaders and community members of the Jewish faith can deal with the subject of child sexual abuse, now that more stories are becoming public.
Since he started talking to people about the topic, he has found less support from those around him.
‘I’m the sort of guy who wants to go to synagogue, come in and go out unnoticed. I don’t like people talking about me, I don’t like making big waves. If I do things I do them quietly.’
But this has been very difficult. He said he doesn’t go to his old synagogue anymore and is looking for somewhere to live on the other side of town. There have been differences of opinion within his family too, leading to a breakdown in some relationships.
He would like to see the formation of an organisation, accepted by members of the Jewish faith worldwide, which would oversee the professional conduct of practising rabbis, teachers and communal leaders. Such an organisation would give the community the chance to report inappropriate actions in a safe and supported environment.
‘How a predator operates … it’s not something necessarily that an institution can stop. These guys are trying their best, they’re looking for soft spots. So it’s more how you handle it … I think if the public knew that, and the schools knew that, and the all the institutions knew that, it would be very different.’