The community must fix the broken culture of sexual violence

Imagine going to a bar and being terrified that you’re going to have drugs injected into your back.

Imagine having to cover your drink to make sure it doesn’t get spiked. Whilst drugging women in order to assault them is not a new phenomenon, it is hard not to be shocked by recent news reports about incidents up and down the country.

The fear this generates hasn’t escaped our community – at Jewish Women’s Aid we’ve been contacted by young women who are now scared to socialise in bars and pubs.

Our latest figures for the six months to October 2021 lay bare the extent to which when it comes to sexual violence the Jewish community is no different. Of the 301 women and girls we supported during this period, 58 had experienced sexual violence.

That’s one in five, the proportion of women nationally who will experience this kind of abuse over the course of their lifetime. Of the 42 young women (aged 14-30) who contacted us, we heard numerous testimonies of assault, rape and violation – usually by someone they already know.

In 18 years at Jewish Women’s Aid I never cease to be in awe of the women and girls who find it within themselves to reach out to us, but I never stop worrying about those who feel too ashamed or embarrassed to come forward – victims who blame themselves, or are afraid of the consequences of reaching out for much-needed help.

Sexual violence wrecks lives and Jewish Women’s Aid is here to offer the support, therapy and advocacy to help each woman who needs it, to get well on the road to healing. But it will take a community to fix the broken culture. Unfortunately, we live in a society where misogynistic attitudes can thrive, where everyday sexism is accepted and where time and again we don’t join the dots between sexist attitudes and abusive behaviours.

The Met Police are just starting to do this in relation to the sexist attitudes in their force which enabled Wayne Couzens’ dangerous mindset and behaviour to go unchecked before he murdered Sarah Everard.

For many years Jewish Women’s Aid has proudly displayed our posters in shuls and on the women’s toilet doors in settings across the whole Jewish community. Seeing those posters has given numerous Jewish women the knowledge that JWA is here to help and support them.

Women have also told me that the simple act of a synagogue displaying a Jewish Women’s Aid poster told her that she was in a place where domestic abuse was recognised, and importantly, where it wasn’t tolerated, and where it was ok to seek help.

We have also offered outreach in shuls, schools and other educational settings to challenge sexism and encourage healthy relationships. But now it’s time to do more. That’s why we have created a Community Toolkit, available to everyone on our website.

These resources, including a video, factsheets, conversation starter cards and more, invite our entire community to explore what constitutes a healthy relationship, to define sexual violence, to think about the impact of gender stereotypes on our relationships and to consider how we can prevent domestic abuse and sexual violence from happening in the first place.

We hope that engagement with the Toolkit will further our goal of making ours a community where domestic abuse and sexual violence are not tolerated, and to create a culture of consent.

In two weeks’ time on 12-13 November, communities across the UK will be marking Jewish Women’s Aid Shabbat and we call upon rabbis and community leaders to seize this opportunity to acknowledge to their communities that domestic abuse and sexual violence is happening, and to be clear that this behaviour is not tolerated.

Likewise, we invite people in all settings – whether at home or with friends – to generate their own conversations on the Shabbat, and in this way we come together to say ‘not on our watch’.

Community Toolkit can be accessed at

Jewish Women’s Aid Shabbat is supported by Office of the Chief Rabbi, United Synagogue, Reform Judaism, Liberal Judaism, Masorti Judaism, S&P Sephardi Community, Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies.

About the Author
Naomi Dickson is Chief Executive of Jewish Women’s Aid
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