Yuri was sexually assaulted twice as a boy, both times during camps that he attended with other students from his Jewish high school.
‘There are certain aspects that go around and around in my mind and cause me a great deal of confusion and an ongoing sense of loss’, Yuri said, reading from a statement he had prepared for the Royal Commission. ‘In short, I cannot understand how a person can sexually assault a child. I cannot understand how my perpetrators could act in such a premeditated manner that they’d select their victim and take their victim to a secluded location to sexually assault them for personal gratification.’
Both offenders had sexually assaulted boys before and, Yuri said, much later he discovered that this was known to the leaders of the Jewish community. But they had not taken any action. The assaults were not reported to police, and the perpetrators’ access to children at camps and other activities continued unrestricted and unmonitored. That failure of leadership led directly to Yuri and others becoming victims.
‘The rabbis are God’s representatives. They help and guide me in my service of God. When I discovered that my pain and torment could have been avoided had they acted as God would expect, responsibly and appropriately, I was shattered.’
Yuri didn’t tell anyone about the abuse at the time. But years later, when he was in his late 30s, a positive experience with the police in another context led him to report it to them. Other victims came forward, and eventually both perpetrators were convicted.
Yuri’s role in the prosecutions was seen as a betrayal by the Jewish community. He was seen as breaking the prohibition against mesirah, which forbids a Jew to report on another Jew to a non-Jewish authority. This cultural practice remains strong today, he explained.
‘This whole thing of mesirah, it’s alive in people’s minds and consciousness’, he said. ‘It goes beyond religious law. It’s tradition. It’s a feeling.’
Yuri was labelled a mossur – an informer – and he and his family were punished. They were vilified and ostracised. Family and friends turned against them. As Yuri sees it, there was the impact of the crime itself and then the impacts on him and his family of their treatment by their community. ‘It is these impacts which I have to accept may never be resolved’, he said.
Yuri is scathing about the role of community leaders. ‘I would summarise the responses of the Jewish leadership and institutions to child sexual abuse as cold, callous, vengeful, doublespeak, hypocrisy, lies and self-interest ...
‘In reality all I ever really wanted was an acknowledgement that the sexual assault happened, that the rabbis knew about my perpetrators and their predilection for young boys before the sexual assaults were perpetrated against me, and that the inaction of these rabbis results in my torment …
‘I live every day with the pain and shame of the sexual assaults committed against me … It often takes me to terrible places mentally. These terrible feelings and emotions are compounded by the loneliness and despair of living a community which consistently demonstrates through its religious and lay leaders that it is more intent on protecting itself and its good name than in coming to terms with what it allowed to happen to me on its watch.’