Every year at the start of Spring Jewish households across the world mark the holiday of Pesach, we spend hours recounting our ancestors liberation from Egypt, freedom from slavery and essentially the very survival of the Jewish nation.
The level of detail my family and my community stuck to ensuring Pesach was kept to the highest of standards meant preparations started months in advance.
We examined the matza for cracks, dishes were dipped and re-dipped, worktops covered in tin foil, cleaned our homes and cars so no morsel of chametz remained. Everything was analysed to make certain the highest and holiest of standards were set for our ultimate liberation, so that when we sat down on Seder night to tell the story, our story of freedom, we could truly experience what it was like to be liberated like our ancestors.
Yet as a teenager while experiencing sexual abuse by a family friend, I wasn’t free.
I was trapped.
I was trapped in a world of continuous harm and abuse, perpetrated by someone I, and my parents, trusted.
I had no way of liberating myself because I was young, I had no language to explain what was happening to me, I had no trusted adult as a trusted adult was abusing me. While I went to a school that had a safeguarding policy, it was not implemented in a way that actually kept me safe.
Pesach is a triggering time for many victims of sexual abuse, a Yom Tov where extended families come together means many victims are faced with their perpetrators, Pesach preparations become all consuming with emphasis put on halachic stringencies. Over the past eight years at Migdal Emunah we have experienced a peak in self-referrals before and over the Pesach period.
This year has been exceptionally challenging for everyone, for those with PTSD pandemic life has been an additional factor. Many of our clients have been unable to prepare Pesach, mentally, emotionally and financially. Migdal Emunah has distributed Pesach care packages to ensure all our clients are able to celebrate Pesach. Though unprecedented we understand that our clients are spending all their energy on just surviving every day.
Instead of adding insult to injury by reminding victims that theoretical chametz is more important than prioritising safeguarding, take actions and stringencies; safeguarding policies that are understood and enforced, age appropriate relationship and sex education in all our schools and mandatory reporting in all our religious institutions. We as a community can start implementing these before they become government enforced. We can act on setting victims free by checking our own community organisations, schools and shuls to ensure more than the bare minimum of safeguarding is being met. The freedom to live a life safe from sexual abuse should be our priority for every child.