We’re willing to look but prefer not to see

Over the past few years, we have begun to talk about topics we had kept silent about in the past; mental illness, child grooming, cancer, domestic violence. They feature in documentaries, on the radio, on the screen and in social media. But we prefer to see these events as happening in another country, another community. Not in our area, our community, our street. We’re prepared to look, but prefer not to see.

Jewish News recently published an article about sexual abuse within an intimate relationship. It made for uncomfortable reading and many will have found it distressing. Yet sexual abuse in this situation is a fact. It is happening here and now, every day, in every community across the United Kingdom.

We know that more than 16 percent of women and two percent of men suffer sexual assault by their partners, but this is probably massively under reported; people in committed relationships, or marriage, find it difficult to admit that they’re suffering rape, or other forms of sexual violence.

For many women, sexual abuse is taking place at the same time as other forms of domestic abuse, resulting not only in physical damage, but in posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and severe mental health problems.

And because they feel that they have been betrayed by someone who professed to love them and protect them, it can be difficult for them to trust in any future relationships.

We know that perpetrators of domestic abuse will work to isolate their victim from sources of help and support, so that they lose confidence and self-esteem and when this is coupled with shame and guilt over what is happening to them, it takes immense courage for them to look for help and to speak out. If we ignore what may be happening in our midst, we are betraying them again.

This is why those of us on the outside need to be aware of what may be happening within our community and to reach out to those who may be suffering. This is why Jewish News was shining a spotlight on the harsh reality of sexual abuse within domestic violence.

This is why Jewish Women’s Aid have acted robustly by setting up their Dina support service to reach out to survivors.

By providing understanding and counselling, they enable women to regain confidence and self-esteem. We know that formal advocacy has enabled women to find justice for what they have suffered.

This is an area where voluntary sectors with a cultural understanding can offer the long-term, flexible and holistic approach that survivors and their families need, so that they may regain confidence in themselves and the world around them.

However uncomfortable and distressing it may be, we need to break the silence around sexual abuse within intimate relationships. We can’t leave it to somebody else.

Rabbi Hillel the Elder is often misquoted, but the basic truths of his statement are for us to take on board: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

About the Author
Dr Hilary Abrahams works at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, University of Bristol
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