The harsh reality of sexual violence mustn’t be hidden

Black and white studio shot
Black and white studio shot

The distressing details of domestic and sexual abuse are not ones we wish to dwell on. But ignoring this harsh reality would fail those who are suffering without a voice. Turning a blind eye gives space for this despicable behaviour to flourish.

Just as news of teenage murders and vicious knife attacks make us uncomfortable, this issue needs to be highlighted, not hidden.

Every day, my team lives through the disturbing details of abuse retold by women who finally raise their voice to ask for help and support.

Indeed, it’s unpleasant. It’s stomach-churning. It takes place every minute of every day in homes in all communities.

Throughout our lifetimes, one in four women will be affected by domestic abuse. One in five will be survivors of sexual violence. Jewish women are no different.

And last weekend we saw newspapers full of comment about the relationship we have with our neighbours.

Jewish Women’s Aid (JWA), along with other domestic abuse charities, endorsed a joint statement explaining: “It’s not for us to judge what happens in anyone’s relationship, but it is for us all to take action if we are concerned about someone’s safety.

“Don’t walk on by if you are worried. Ask if they are okay. Tell someone. Call the police.”

Earlier this month, JWA launched the Dina Service – a new sexual support programme for Jewish women and girls, aged over 16, across the UK.

Thanks to funding from Comic Relief and financial support from the community, we’re planning to provide the service for at least two years. It includes free counselling, a dedicated helpline, and one-to-one independent sexual violence advocacy in north London.

This week, we received a complaint from a mother. She was unhappy about the way a survivor had shared her harrowing story in the Jewish News. She claimed the content was “highly sexually explicit” and accused us of using an “advert” in a family newspaper to grab attention.

“Being so vulgar and descriptive is simply not necessary in this forum,” she wrote.

I’d argue a newspaper is exactly the forum to explore and challenge attitudes towards what is often perceived a taboo issue. Too many women and children have suffered in silence for far too long. The research bears this out – Jewish women wait on average 11.5 years before seeking help.

We’ve also seen an increase in women reporting sexual violence. Just in the past three weeks, the number of people contacting our services has doubled.

It’s not necessarily the result of more women being at risk of abuse, but that perhaps more people are aware and now confident to come forward.

The survivor’s story was not an advert, as the mother claimed. It’s unfortunately real life. It happened to another mother in our community and she courageously shared her suffering with us all to highlight the devastating and degrading nature of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

Jewish News put a clear warning at the top of the story: “Editor’s note: The following article contains discussion of domestic and sexual violence that some readers may find upsetting.”

To dilute the content of the survivor’s story is a betrayal of what she has experienced. We cannot brush challenging issues under the proverbial carpet.

To do so, would not only be a flagrant injustice to all those victims who have suffered, but also enable the perpetrators to continue with impunity.

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