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Tivon's story

As the father of a child who had been sexually abused, Tivon faced a choice – say nothing, or speak out. Tivon chose to speak out. Living as his family did in a close-knit Jewish community, this meant he risked being ostracised from his entire community and lifestyle.

‘To me, the world divides into people that get it and people that don’t get it. It’s just as simple as that. And once you get it … you can’t sort of hold yourself anymore.’

Tivon said he understands how hard it is for some people to report cases of child sexual abuse to police. He told the Commissioner about the concept of mesirah, in which Jewish people must not disclose wrongdoing to outsiders, or non-Jewish people.

‘That’s something which has some very good sociological reasons and historical reasons that applied for a couple of thousand years, because Jews were minority groups, they were discriminated against … It sort of makes sense between the best of a bad lot, you deal with things internally, but that’s not the case here in western democracies.’

He said that under Jewish law, there is no ‘crime’ of paedophilia, so members of the community might not understand the seriousness of child sexual abuse. However, there is an understanding that society at large finds child sexual abuse to be a terrible thing, so – paradoxically – talking about it could bring the religion into disrepute.

He likened it to the idea of washing your dirty laundry in public, but much worse, because by bringing the religion into disrepute you are then desecrating God’s name.

‘It’s a very big sin … So it might be better, in fact, not to bring it out, let it go on, rather than have this thing that desecrates God’s name happen.’

When it became known that one of the teachers had abused children at Tivon’s child’s school, a group of parents got together to decide what to do.

‘We would all take the decision, so nobody could be blamed, because we had fully anticipated that there would be repercussions to go to the police. We didn’t want to go to the police but this is the only way to force their hand … no one would go to the police on their own, even two people wouldn’t go.’

The teacher was sacked, and the following week he disappeared.

Tivon said there were practical reasons for nobody wanting to speak up, including that members of the community have very large families, and often get a discount on school fees.

‘Almost nobody is paying full school fees – 95 per cent aren’t paying school fees. It doesn’t have to be mentioned, but if there’s trouble, school fees will go up. In my case, I was paying a nominal amount compared with what I would have … It’s understood then if you’re getting a 50 per cent discount, you can’t complain.’

On top of this, there was the fear of mesirah, which Tivon has experienced often since his son reported child sexual abuse to the police many years later.

People he had known for decades stopped talking to him, and froze him out at the synagogue and in public. He was assaulted inside the synagogue, and on one occasion the rabbi gave a sermon vilifying him and detailing the steps of excommunication he would face. He was also denied important spiritual blessings extended to every other member of the synagogue.

Tivon said when his son asked for his support, he gave it.

‘I realised if he’s asking me already like this, it must mean something really strong to him, so I said, “Yes”, even though the first thing I thought about was marriage for the kids.’

The community is very tightly connected, with most marriages being arranged between other members of the community. A good marriage is critical, so if the family name has been ‘besmirched’, an eligible partner will be very hard to find.

‘[My daughter] was the one I was thinking about when he told me he was going to go public … I can’t do anything. You can’t pick between kids and say, “I’m going to protect her and throw him away”, but it’s absolutely terrible. It’s diabolical.’

Tivon said the intimidation has not had the desired effect of shutting him up, but it brings him continual pain as a secondary victim.

‘We don’t have a place in the community at the moment. And you can’t just, we can’t go to a different parish or swap. There’s nowhere else. It’s really problematic.’

He said the real ramifications, the ‘terrible practical effects’ of the intimidation, are that others will keep quiet about offenders who they know are offending today.

The damage for him, however, cannot be undone.

‘Even people that were onside, one of the things that’s raised is, “All right, you’ve done it too much now though. You talk about it too much. You’re obsessed about it”. Well, I am a bit obsessive about it, but you can understand why.

‘I’m putting up with it every day. And it’s not going to change, even if I stop today. That’s when my wife really got on board. Six months ago the switch turned in her head when she realised whatever happens, we’re never going to be okay. It’s never going to be okay.’

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