Jewish organisations launch scheme to combat sexual harassment following JC report

JW3, UJIA, World Jewish Relief, Resource and Reform Judaism are the first communal organisations to sign up for the 12 month pilot, which started this week


The UK’s first faith-based scheme to combat sexual harassment in the workplace has launched this week after an investigation by the JC into sexual harassment in Jewish community organisations.

Following a report in 2017, where six Jewish women told this paper about their experience of working for communal organisations, Jewish Women's Aid (JWA) was asked to develop a programme which includes compulsory training courses and reviews of policies, procedures and practices.

After two years, the charity has launched its zero tolerance to sexual harassment scheme designed specifically for Jewish charities and communal groups.

JW3, UJIA, World Jewish Relief, Resource and Reform Judaism are the first to sign up for the 12-month pilot, which started this week.

The organisations have opened themselves up to JWA who will conduct anonymous online surveys with staff and volunteers about the organisations' approach to sexual harassment and ask staff about their experiences with a view to improving policy and making sure staff are adequately supported.

JWA hopes that the project, which has been supported by the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, will be rolled out across all UK-based Jewish organisations after the pilot year.

The organisations will be supported by JWA to develop policy and procedures to ensure any reported incidents are dealt with appropriately.

A JWA representative has been assigned to each organisation and will provide face-to-face training and support to employees, volunteers and lay leaders.

The charity spent a year developing the programme, having carried out an initial assessment of processes a cross-section of large, medium and small Jewish communal organisations.

During this stage JWA found that only one charity it surveyed had a robust policy that addressed sexual harassment.

JWA Chief Executive Naomi Dickson said: “Sadly, sexual harassment is a problem faced in all workplaces.

"It can cause stress and lead to physical and emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance and loss of self-confidence.

"Many victims leave their job rather than carry on suffering. It is essential that we have a cross-communal approach to combatting sexual harassment. It is unacceptable behaviour and should not be tolerated.”

The scheme is funded by RoSA, an independent charity offering free confidential support for anyone who has experienced the trauma of rape, sexual abuse or sexual violence.

Simon Johnson, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said the scheme would “ensure that the Jewish community is confident that their organisations take sexual harassment seriously.

“It is vitally important that we all work in an environment where we feel safe in every regard. We hope that this programme will encourage more organisations to look and review their policies and practices around sexual harassment in the workplace.”

Raymond Simonson, chief executive of JW3, said: he was “ashamed” to read the JC’s report in 2017, which highlighted the level of sexual harassment endured by women working within Jewish organisations.

“When JWA asked if I would consider JW3 participating in this vital pilot programme, I felt a responsibility – especially as a male chief executive in a position of power in an organisation with over 70 per cent female staff – to agree,” he said.

“It is absolutely right that we hold communal institutions to the highest possible standards, and we need all senior leaders across the community to be part of this important conversation.”

Gillian Merron, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, added: “We need to have the correct procedures in place which will not only protect all those involved in communal organisations but also give them the confidence that harassers will be identified and dealt with.

"By taking this proactive step, we are setting an example which we hope others will follow.”

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