I never thought that ‘nice Jewish girls’ suffered abuse. I never knew it happened to boys either, or to anyone, unless they were miles away from my world.
I do remember that one night when I saw a man abusing a woman publicly, I stopped my car with my headlights facing them and shouted loudly at him to leave her alone, which he did. It was a reaction that came deep from within me. To this day, if I witness abuse, my adrenalin surges, my Superman cape appears from nowhere, and I become relentless. My family has warned me that these reactions could be detrimental to me, but I cannot bear to see a person at the mercy of another.
Abuse of any kind is usually kept behind closed doors, especially in the Jewish community. In my ignorance, I thought that abuse happened only to the person in the street, or from a disadvantaged community. Until one day, sitting in my office, a girl of 11 walked in.
I am a remedial and learning support therapist and almost all my work with children revolves around helping them to overcome dyslexia or any learning barrier they may have, be it mental, emotional or cognitive. That day altered the course of my life. Quietly, with her eyes cast downward, she gave me a detailed account of what her paternal grandfather had done to her daily during her school holidays. I hadn’t been trained for this. I had no clue how to respond, but I knew that I would fight with every fibre of my being to seek justice for this fragile little girl. When she left my office, I remember putting my head down on my arms in sheer disbelief. She had told nobody but me. The phone call I made to her mother that day was the most difficult one I have ever made. It was then that I realised that abuse, even sexual abuse, can be perpetrated by somebody you know, love and trust.
The credibility complex emanates from misconceptions about abusers. The survivor often struggles to make sense of how someone for whom they have positive feelings, or even love, could do this. Likewise, the public is often swayed by ‘the exceptional husband or father’, ‘the fantastic CEO’, ‘the philanthropist in our city’, or ‘the marvellous community guy’. Bill Cosby? Never!
For the sake of adhering to word limits, all I can say is that we fought the monster until we got our day in court, with my student present on camera, and me on the witness stand. We won our case. He was incarcerated and from that day on, I knew that I needed and wanted, to delve into this area as well as keeping my teaching practice.
I had read about Koleinu which Wendy Hendler and Rozanne Sack had begun in Johannesburg and it sparked an interest in me. In time we met, and soon I was flying to Johannesburg for training sessions. In 2020, Koleinu Cape Town was born – with me proudly at the helm.
Where does someone go after suffering abuse? Who will know what to do? Who can be trusted? This is how and why Koleinu exists.
I want all Capetonians and beyond to know that Koleinu provides a safe, secure, and confidential place for them, where all will feel heard, supported and ultimately steered in the right direction. A place where you will be held through your journey from disclosure until you have reached a place of catharsis, or until justice has been served.
The most difficult step to take is the first one: to come forward and to disclose. Protecting abusers by keeping silent needs to change. Don’t be a bystander.
If you are, or someone you know is suffering abuse, or needing support, please call or encourage them to call our 24-hour helpline 074 1805687 (except on Shabbat). Koleinu deals with all types of abuse, not only sexual. To date in Cape Town, we have had three cases heard in court with two upcoming cases.
Mensch is a social Justice NGO, committed to capacitating and supporting our Jewish Community’s response towards Social Justice in South Africa. Click HERE to read more about Mensch.
Melanie Uranovsky is a member of The Mensch Network and a graduate of Mensch’s Leadership Programme (LIFT).
To learn more about her work click here