Jewish Women's Aid: Helping abused children

As cases of domestic abuse within the Jewish community rise, Jewish Women’s Aid’s first specialist children’s worker is now dealing with 55 children from the Barnet area.

Nicola Wilson, whose position is funded by Children in Need, has seen more than 100 children since joining JWA two years ago. The youngest are just three, the oldest sixth-form age.

She works only with those “who are no longer living with the perpetrator because it’s too confusing for the child if they then have to go back to that situation. I’ve had situations where the perpetrator knows I’m working with the child and he’ll turn the child against me.”

Meetings are held weekly at the child’s school as “it’s a neutral environment”.

Ms Wilson used to have a caseload in Stamford Hill and Redbridge but said she was now focusing her efforts on Barnet. There was a waiting list for her services.

In her experience, “mothers tend to leave when the perpetrator starts to physically or sexually abuse the child. The sooner they’re out of the situation, the better for the children.”

Within the strictly Orthodox community, she had encountered “naivety about sexuality. One man told his wife to not put their two-year-old in a short skirt because it turned him on. She didn’t know what that meant.”

The long-term effects of growing up amid domestic violence included “suicidal thoughts and actions, a lack of sleep and eating disorders. They often can’t form social relationships — or even play.”

And “if you grow up in an abusive environment, you are likely to be an abuser or end up in an abusive situation”.

JWA Executive Director Emma Bell highlighted the importance of its educational programme at London area Jewish secondary schools, established in 2005.

The charity runs seminars at both Hasmonean girls and boys, JCoSS, JFS, Immanuel College, Yavneh College and King Solomon.

“We run sessions on healthy relationships for boys and girls from year seven to sixth-form. These vary from bullying to putting on sexual pressure in an unacceptable way.

“Abuse in young relationships is a new significant dimension. Young people, because of outside influences, have a sense of acceptance regarding verbal and physical abuse. There are cases where they think being sworn at or slapped is an acceptable part of the relationship.

“We find that young people will disclose their own or family experiences in these sessions.”

Ms Bell said the community needed to understand that domestic abuse was as big a problem within British Jewry as in the general population. “Studies show that this cuts across age, religion and economic background. It’s not a ‘them, not us’ thing.

The JWA is raising awareness in advance of the UN Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Read Aaron, 15, and Laura's, 24, stories on the links below.

Last updated: 6:18pm, December 4 2012