‘I pretend to be stronger than I am, which I guess I have to be sometimes, because there are many victims who are in a similar position to I am. I’m putting on a face a bit but I’m coming here to the Royal Commission and I have been getting a lot of support. But I was stunned by the – it’s probably about 100 comments and likes and whatever – just people out there saying, “Thank you for representing us and giving us a voice” … I know some of them are victims and they’re still reluctant to come to the Royal Commission.’
When he was 12, Elisha was abused by a member of his Jewish community at a synagogue. Ruben approached him while he was alone and touched his genitals through his pants, then inside his pants.
‘Ruben then stopped and said something like, “This isn’t for a place of worship, let’s go outside”. I remember that I felt a bit shocked and confused as a result of what he had just done. I didn’t know how to handle it or what to do. So I went with him to the bathroom.’
Ruben then performed oral sex on Elisha. This happened a few times over the next two months until Elisha realised what he was doing was wrong and told him to stop, which he did.
Elisha told a classmate who told other boys, who then bullied Elisha, calling him gay for being in a ‘relationship’ with a man. Elisha said there were often adults present when the bullying went on.
‘I felt that so many people knew about it at the time, including adults. But no one said or did anything about it.’
About a year later, Elisha was also abused by a staff member at his Jewish school. Mr Schumer would pay special attention to him during sport, and touch him inappropriately. He often drove him home from training or the synagogue and would abuse him in the car by feeling him through his clothes. One time Schumer took Elisha to the ritual bathhouse and masturbated him in the water.
‘After the first incident … because of how everyone else responded, or in some cases didn’t respond … when the second perpetrator came along I didn’t tell anyone.’
Elisha started getting into trouble at school, playing up at home and got into alcohol and marijuana. He also became very disillusioned and angry towards his religion.
When Elisha was in his early teens, Schumer was accused of abusing another student and that student’s mother came looking for Elisha to speak out. ‘So it was very clear to me that so many people knew about it. It was certainly students and, you know, parents – either parents or at least some within the institution, teachers, would have had to have known about it.’
After he left school he went to Israel to join the army. He was smoking pot and went AWOL a couple of times. ‘That’s when things started catching up with me because I had never addressed it.’
He was allowed a visit home and at his parents’ house he heard something on the radio about police raising awareness of child sexual abuse.
‘[I had] a lot of anger and I just thought I need to do it … I went to my father’s office … and I told him what had happened. His response was obviously shock but very supportive and he called the police.’
More allegations had come out about Schumer but he was still working within the community so Elisha went to the rabbi to ask what they were doing about it. The rabbi assured him they had arranged counselling for Schumer and were dealing with the issue.
‘That’s when I asked him finally, finally questioned him, you know: “Can you assure me that he’s not re-offending or that he won’t?” He said “No, I can’t”. And that’s when I just walked out.’
The case against Schumer initially didn’t proceed as the police said it was just ‘your word against his’, but more victims later came forward and Schumer has since been jailed for child sex offences.
Elisha had to return to Israel to finish his army service and while there he saw a psychologist for the first time, something that is severely frowned upon by the community. On his return to Australia he went through a victims of crime tribunal where he was awarded compensation, an experience he found very empowering.
‘Just the fact that someone for the first time actually acknowledged what had happened. It was very important to me, for that. It wasn’t even about the money … it was more about the validation of it.’
He said by coming into the open about his abuse, lasting damage has been done to his family, particularly his father, who has supported him through everything.
‘My family [members] have been targets for the … community, in particular for those who don’t like what we’re doing. They’re shunning [him]. I mean, he has been ostracised … they basically weren’t welcome in Australia.’