MORIAH College principal Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler has told The AJN the school condemns non-consensual sexual behaviour “in the strongest possible terms” after two alleged incidents involving past students came to light this week.
The incidents were among more than 2000 testimonies from young women across Sydney who have detailed their experience with sexual assault as part of an online campaign calling for consent to be included in sex education lessons earlier.
In one testimony, a Moriah graduate from 2016 claimed students from an all-boys, non-Jewish private school in Sydney’s east sexually abused her and her friend at the cinema.
“We went to the movies and they were so disgustingly touchy with us, especially my friend,” she wrote.
Stating the boys touched their legs and breasts, she added, “We were about 13 and the boys were 13/14. We were kind of in shock and didn’t know to say no/thought it was ‘normal’.”
In another incident, a 2013 graduate from an all-girls, non-Jewish private school accused her boyfriend at the time – who reportedly attended Moriah – of touching her body without asking her.
“[He] eventually coerced me to perform oral sex on him and have intercourse,” the girl said.
Claiming, “I was overwhelmed and confused, but surely it must have been fine, because he was my first love,” she added, “He would probably say now that everything we did was consensual. I don’t see how my saying no literally 20 times or more and finally relenting to his wishes counts as consent.
“I wish I had known in school that rape is so much more than violent, forced penetration. I wish I had known that rape can occur in those subtle ways in an otherwise loving relationship.”
Speaking to The AJN this week, Rabbi Smukler stressed that “consent is something that we discuss openly at Moriah”, but also called on families to engage early and often in open, honest conversations about relationships, sex and sexuality.
He said discussions about consent are “on the same continuum as safety behaviour training that we start to teach from a very young age in the preschools and primary school with discussions about body boundaries, right through to all year levels in the high school with age-appropriate education about relationships, healthy intimacy, and healthy sexuality, in line with our ethos”.
Arguing one of the contributing factors to the increase of non-consensual sexual activity in recent years is the “endemic exposure, particularly of teenage boys, to explicit online pornography”, Rabbi Smukler said, “This exposure creates unrealistic expectations and tends to objectify sexual activity, and partners, thus reducing empathy and removing emotional connection from the experience. When this attitude prevails, consent or non-consent becomes less relevant in their eyes.”
He added, “There are still elements of society today that minimise inappropriate, unwanted sexual activity by using phrases such as ‘boys will be boys’, or engaging in victim-blaming, particularly blaming women, by criticising their choice of attire, behaviour, or body language.
“This justification is inexcusable, and important to acknowledge and call out.”
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.