SYDNEY -- Annus horribilis.That’s what 2013 appears set to become for many in the Australian Jewish community. With at least three alleged perpetrators of child sex abuse expected to face court, alleged victims asked to relive their traumatic pasts, and high-profile Jewish leaders forced to confront allegations of crimes of omission and commission, the coming year is set to be a tough one.
Concomitantly, a royal commission of inquiry into institutional responses to child sex abuse in Australia, announced earlier this month by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, will also be underway in 2013.
Prompted by explosive allegations of cover-ups and obstructions of justice within the Catholic Church, the royal commission, the highest form of investigation in Australia, will focus on all religious institutions.
Until last week, the two known child sex abuse scandals were confined to the ultra-Orthodox community in Melbourne. Chabad’s boys’ school, Yeshivah College, was implicated last year when news first broke of alleged cases of child sexual abuse in the 1980s and early 1990s. And in 2008 the Adass Israel girls’ school was embroiled in a sex abuse scandal when its then principal, Israeli-born Malka Leifer, allegedly fled Australia amid damning accusations. Although she denied any wrongdoing and no charges were pressed, police are investigating claims from alleged victims at Adass.
But last week shocking details of a third scandal emerged, and although the names of the Jewish organization, the defendant and the alleged victims cannot be revealed due to a suppression order by the Australian courts, it can be confirmed that the organization does not belong to the Orthodox community.
The slew of charges, which date back to around 2000, involve similar indecent acts of molestation and child rape against several alleged victims, some of whom are Jewish girls.
The accused, a man from Melbourne who is not believed to be Jewish, has been committed to stand trial next July 15 although his legal team has requested an extension which will be considered in court on December 6, according to a spokesperson.
Two important sub-plots have emerged since news of the scandals first broke in 2008.
First are the damning allegations that people in positions of significant power either did not take measures to protect the children, tried to sweep it under the proverbial carpet, covered it up or helped alleged perpetrators flee Australia.
One of those alleged perpetrators, David Kramer, was extradited to Australia last week and charged with multiple counts of indecent assault and indecent acts with a minor at Yeshivah College between 1989 and 1992. The 52-year-old is due to face a Melbourne court on Monday. Harry Cooper, chairman of the Yeshivah College board at the time, confirmed to The Australian newspaper last year that Kramer was shipped off to Israel without reporting him to police soon after allegations against him emerged. Kramer later went to America, where he was convicted and jailed in 2008 for seven years for sodomizing a 12-year-old boy in a synagogue in St. Louis.
During her press conference on November 12 announcing the royal commission, Julia Gillard made a point of referencing “other adults” who may be “complicit in people being moved around, for example, or by averting their eyes and by acts of omission.”
Although she was most likely referring to the Catholic Church, arguably, among those “other adults” are some of Melbourne’s most senior Orthodoxrabbis who allegedly helped Kramer flee Chabad and Leifer escape Adass.
The second subplot is that while only two of the alleged victims have made their claims public so far, it appears that there are dozens of alleged Jewish victims from various child sex abuse cases in Australia who are suddenly finding they are not alone.
“The reality is, this is all a bit of a shock to the victims as well – no one was really aware of the other,” says Manny Waks, who broke his silence last year on allegations he was molested by two alleged perpetrators as a student at the Yeshivah College two decades ago.“This exposure is new to everyone, including victims.”
Waks, who has since become the de facto spokesperson of the alleged victims, says he has been inundated with claims of other instances of child sex abuse in Sydney and Perth, in addition to the known cases in Melbourne.
One of the allegations apparently involves a Jewish organization in Sydney, which also allegedly sent an offender overseas about a decade ago. Another involves allegations against an individual associated with an Orthodox institution in Melbourne.
Waks – who has been called to appear on December 10 before the Victorian commission of inquiry into child sex abuse, a separate inquiry to the royal commission – told Haaretz this week that plans are afoot to create an advocacy group for Jewish victims of child sex abuse, called Tzedek.
One of the alleged perpetrators, David Cyprys, a former security guard contracted to the college, will face trial next July on 41 charges of child sex abuse against 12 alleged victims, three of whom now live in America.
As a result of going public, the Waks family says they have been victimized and virtually blacklisted bysome members of the Jewish community Melbourne.
“Manny’s problem is that he is perceived as a publicity hound looking for a payout and a path to fame. But he is still a victim and deserves justice,”said one community insider.
In response, Waks said: “There are those who will do and say anything to discredit me and my family. There have been ongoing attempts to intimidate and harass me, my family and supporters.
“I and the many other victims know that the truth is on our side so we will maintain the pressure to ensure that justice is achieved, including holding to account those who enabled the abuse to happen over so many years and those who attempted to cover it up.”
Dr. Danny Lamm, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, stressed in a statement on Tuesday that communal organizations “are obliged to implement proper safeguards against sexual abuse of children under their care and to report allegations of sexual abuse to the relevant authorities immediately and co-operate with their investigations.”
But he said the scandals within Australian Jewry do not prove that child sex abuse is endemic. “There does not appear to be any basis for concluding that these problems are endemic throughout the Jewish community, although it is possible that other organizations might yet come under scrutiny,” he said.
“Once these have been dealt with by the courts and the Royal Commission, we will have a better idea of the extent of the problem in the community.”
One thing is certain, however: this sordid saga will not disappear overnight. Rather, the dirty laundry from the forthcoming court cases and the royal commission will most likely be aired across the globe next year.
And after last week’s damning allegations about another Jewish organization in Australia, the question that haunts many in the 110,000-strong Jewish community is – how many other cases of alleged child sex abuse have yet to emerge?
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