"Fear Not, for Thou Shalt Not be Ashamed" - Ultra-Orthodox Community Outreach
Referencing the Prophet Isaiah's words of comfort, the "Fear Not, for Thou Shalt Not be Ashamed" project approaches Haredi survivors, their family members and communities with compassion, respect and hope. The secrecy surrounding sexual violence is even more formidable among Haredim as this traditional society promotes complete trust in authority figures and censures "telling on" others. Reputation and respectability are prized, so survivors often wrestle with communal condemnation for ‘casting aspersions’ on their abuser as well as the consequences of being “damaged goods” regarding marriage. Reported incidents are lower than in the general population. Tragically, this does not reflect less sexual violence, rather the immense tensions involved and a policy of solving problems internally. While all sexual violence survivors are rendered vulnerable and disadvantaged due to the trauma they suffered, a dearth of culturally sensitive services combined with extreme social pressures makes empowering Haredi survivors all the more crucial. Years of fostering trust and developing innovative programming uniquely suited to holistically address the complex challenges that Haredi survivors face, this project is succeeding in ways that only a short time ago were unimaginable.
Pride Partnership: LGBTQ Community Outreach
LGBTQ rights in Israel have progressed significantly since the Knesset and Supreme Court began the process of setting ant-discrimination laws in place in the late 1980s. However, a history of systematic prejudice as well as a variety of ongoing societal struggles have led the homosexual community to feel distant from the Israeli mainstream. In the past, this distance has caused community members to feel less inclined to turn to mainstream organizations, including the Center, for assistance. In order to ensure that LGBTQ community has expanded access to our services and have the community's distinctive needs met, the Center created a partnership with The Pride Center of Tel Aviv. Geared for LGBTQ activists/Gay-leaders and provided in-depth training regarding sexual assault and abuse, the trainings are specially designed to address the particular issues unique to the LGBTQ community as well as to prepare participants to respond supportively in cases of assault, raise awareness within their community and give them comprehensive knowledge of the Center’s services so that they feel safe to turn to us for assistance. A strong fear of stigmatization due to preexisting societal prejudices has caused many LGBTQ community members to shy away from directly addressing this problem. However, despite this challenge our program graduates have truly begun making inroads within their community. We facilitated trainings for IGY (The Israeli LGBTQ Youth Organization), Yesh Im Mi Ledaber Hotline, Gag Ha'Varod Hostel and Agudah L'zchuyot Ha'LGBTQ rights NGO, which focused on the unique implications of sexual violence in the LGBTQ community.
The Good Night Campaign
The Tel Aviv metropolitan region is known for its thousands of bars, clubs and restaurants that cater to its bustling nightlife scene. Unfortunately, there has been a rise in incidents of sexual assault as this lively subculture has expanded. In reaction to this disturbing trend, a group of community members - including clubbers, bar owners, club proprietors and staff members - approached the Center requesting help in dealing with this growing problem. In turn, the Center together with clubbers and club owners initiated an extensive community outreach and a large-scale public campaign. Through our work we have been able to raise awareness of this issue and take significant steps to establish preventative measures. These measures include trainings for the bar/club staff members on how to address incidents sexual harassment and assault as well as lectures at establishments throughout the area. Community members were so pleased with the results of our programming that they requested that the Center help them to draft a Code of Ethics for owners and operators of Tel Aviv’s bar scene. This code obligates the signatories to make the necessary steps, which includes staff training through the Center, so that their nightclub environment is safe as well as to take the proper measures to deal with incidents of sexual harassment/assault in order to ensure that everyone can drink, dance and socialize freely without fear. Many high profile club, bar and restaurant owners have already signed the code and the Tel Aviv Municipality has come on board as a key project partner.
The Audio-Visual Testimonies Project
A few years ago, an 80-year-old woman contacted the Center. For the first time in her life, she told her story of being sexually assaulted as a child. “I can’t take this story with me to the grave,” she said. She wanted to lift the burden of this secret from her shoulders, and asked only for someone to listen. This incident inspired us to begin the Testimonies Project in order to help silenced survivors of sexual assault liberate themselves from their hidden traumas, and to include their voices in Israel’s collective story. The project is designed to help end the silence around sexual assault and allow victims to raise their voices and share their stories within a safe space. This initiative is important not only in its healing capacity but also has the added dimension of contributing to research and study in the field of sexual assault treatment.
Advocating, Educating, Synergizing: The Bituach Le’umi (National Insurance Institute of Israel) Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Project
Swift intervention and rehabilitative treatment are crucial in preventing the development of complex post-trauma. Tragically, until recently the primary source that survivors should be able to turn to for support, Bituach Le’umi (Israel’s National Insurance Institute), has been woefully unaware of the impact and implications of sexual assault. In order to receive the rights that survivors suffering from post-trauma are legally entitled to, these emotionally fragile women and men, who are already coping with limited functioning regarding the activities of daily living have had to face a daunting, drawn-out bureaucratic process. Due to Bituach Le’umi employees’ lack of information regarding sexual assault, survivors have often been denied their rights during their initial request for aid and the invalidating experiences that they endure (such as being told that they are not really suffering, that they should just get over it, etc.) have left many survivors feeling re-traumatized by the very system that is supposed to help them. This in turn delays or completely prevents survivors from getting the rehabilitative benefits that they need to tide them over as they seek treatment for post-trauma as well as Bituach Le’umi’s wide range of rehabilitative services – making it more likely that they won’t receive treatment and will develop complex post-trauma as a result. Despite challenges and bureaucratic hurdles, the Center has successfully utilized our networking resources to create inroads within this seemingly impenetrable Israeli institution, which serves as such a key stakeholder in the rehabilitative process. As a result of initiating this project, Bituach Le’umi has come to understand that ultimately optimizing the application process and providing a supportive environment for survivors is beneficial not only for survivors but for their institution’s bottom line. The micro aspect of this project offers one-on-one accompaniment services for individual survivors with specially trained volunteers who emotionally support survivors and help them navigate the system. We see it as a major achievement that utilization of this service has risen very significantly since its pilot year. As a result of proven success other key players within Israel’s rehabilitation system, such as the Ministry of Health’s rehabilitation in the community program “Sal Shikum” and other well-established NGOs that subcontract for Bituach Leumi have now partnered with the Center to expand the Center’s training within Israel’s national social welfare safety net.