Naomi Dickson, CEO of Jewish Women’s Aid (JWA) writes a reflective report for JLife about the last 12 months and reasserts its important goals for the community.
It’s been an interesting year – a year where #MeToo has continued to loom large and where its fallout has meant that there has been a shakeup across charities and employers, where the Femicide Census tells us that 179 women were murdered by men in the UK, and where domestic abuse agencies continue to support more women than ever before.
In November 2018, Jewish Women’s Aid reported that women they have worked with typically wait 11.5 years before seeking support. This is a shocking figure that Jewish Women’s Aid’s team released to mark UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW), and is at least two years longer than the national average.
How can this be? In a community which prides itself on family values, and where we have more charities per head than perhaps we ought to, we’d hope that any one in need would be able to seek help without hesitation. What is causing this needless delay?
Perhaps our family values, with all the associated expectations, are our downfall. Could it be, in this instance, that the weight of expectation on women experiencing abuse is too much? That’s what women are telling us – the pressure to create and maintain a Jewish family, and the embarrassment and humiliation associated with family and friends finding out that a partner is abusive, are strong factors keeping women from seeking help. Not only that, women often don’t admit to themselves that there is a problem until they are at breaking point.
At Jewish Women’s Aid, we have taken calls from women in dreadful and dangerous situations telling us “I think there’s a problem in my marriage” – on closer questioning, this ‘problem’ is often a pattern of abuse, sustained over several years. This isn’t good enough – we need to create an environment in our community where women can seek support as soon as they need it.
How can we do this? In November, we worked with Liberal, Reform, Spanish, Portuguese, Masorti and United synagogue bodies to ensure that all of their rabbis were sent information telling them about the day, about domestic abuse and about how Jewish Women’s Aid can help. We asked them all to speak out about domestic abuse, the damage it can do to families, and how to get help. We held days of action at shopping centres in London and Manchester, and we held a panel event in Manchester. We have run numerous training courses and awareness-raising sessions.
Was this enough? No – we continue to work towards educating the whole community, where all professionals, friends, rabbis, confidantes and relatives know how to support a woman suffering from abuse and where to tell her to go for help. We’re not there yet, but with your help, we look forward to a time when we can be proud of a community where Jewish women can seek help as soon as they need, and no longer feel they need to wait 11 and a half years before picking up the phone.
JWA helpline: 0808 801 0500
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