After years of silence and concealment, covering up, and repression of sexual harassment, a new study from Tel Aviv University shows a major shift in the Haredi community’s attitude toward the subject.
According to the study, exposure to the media, social platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, as well as higher education, increases awareness of the consequences of sexual abuse on the victims. They have also understood the need for therapeutic intervention and prevention of preventing potential abuse in the future.
“The study’s findings indicate a trend of significant change in the Haredi society’s attitude toward sexual abuse,” explains the author of the study, Dr. Sara Zalcberg of Tel Aviv University’s Religious Studies Program.
“About a decade ago, many of the victims in this sector were not even aware of the fact that they had been sexually abused; Many parents didn’t know that sexual abuse of children even existed; And Haredi society as a whole was characterized by a three-way culture of silence – involving the victim, his/her family, and the community and leadership.”
“According to our study’s findings,” Dr. Zalcberg added, “this ‘conspiracy of silence’ has gradually weakened in recent years, with evidence for a significant rise in both awareness and discourse regarding sexual abuse and its consequences.”
The study interviewed professionals who work with the Haredi community, including those who work in cases of sexual assault, as well as advocates interested in community safety, parents of children who had been sexually abused, and a woman who herself had been sexually abused as a child.
According to Dr. Zalcberg, the study described a progressive phase that began with the Haredi sector’s exposure to the labor market, education, and the internet, and culminated with the emergence of grassroots activism – from within Haredi society.
These developments have resulted in an increasing transparency in dialogue about sexuality, the body, and intimacy, as well as a rise in the number of Haredi-identified therapeutic and welfare practitioners – eventually resulting in the first cracks in Haredi society’s high walls of refusal to accept and discuss sexual harassment.
According to the report, the changes express themselves in a variety of ways. To begin, there is an exponential growth in using online platforms, such as WhatsApp and Facebook, for discussing and addressing sexual harassment.
One interviewee in the study said: “The Haredi community is now more connected to the internet, and once connected, they are connected to everything. Information is more readily available.”
“Haredi women in counseling professions use the internet to disseminate knowledge about sexual harassment, protection, and therapy,” a social worker in a Haredi city added.
As the study states, despite the substantial changes occurring in Haredi culture, there are still significant gaps in both understanding of the phenomenon and its implications and in addressing them.
Dr. Zalcberg: “Despite the change taking place in Haredi society with regard to discussing and addressing sexual abuse, a great deal more still needs to be changed. Both discourse and awareness should be enhanced, preventive measures must be advanced, and the rates of reporting abuse and asking for professional intervention should be increased. There is urgent need for mapping families and communities who don’t have sufficient access to information and services, and for promoting specifically tailored responses.”
Haredi Orthodox-jews/ Photo Wiki Commons.