Thursday, January 24, 2008

She Founded Resource for Sex Abuse Victims

By Bryna Zumer
Owings Mills Times
January 24, 2008

Vicki Polin, MA, LCPC, NCC, ATR-BC
Vicki Polin, a counselor specializing in sexual violence, noticed years ago that there seemed to be no Jewish resources for sex abuse victims, and she was uncomfortable referring them to Christian organizations, which she felt might proselytize them or be unable to speak to Jewish issues.

Before relocating to Israel in 2001, she attended Neve Yerushalayim, a women's college in Jerusalem, and saw that people who had been sexually abused had no place to turn.

"All these young women started telling me what happened to them," Polin said. "I started seeing what a problem it was."

A Chicago native, she moved to Baltimore in 2002 and, in 2003, launched the nonprofit International Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault, now known as The Awareness Center.

The organization's goal is to provide resources to victims and educate the general community, but Polin, an incest survivor herself, has also drawn controversy for posting information on alleged offenders, including many prominent rabbis, on the center's Web site.

"Our goal is education. It's not just about, 'Get this guy, get that guy,'" she said, explaining that many in the Orthodox world do not watch TV or read secular news, but have gained information from the center's Web site.

After she, together with a volunteer board of directors, began posting information on offenders, "survivors started saying, 'Why don't you have my story?' The same (victims) were talking about the same (offenders), and we started putting the pieces together."

Although more than 250 rabbis worldwide support The Awareness Center, critics have accused Polin of "lashon ha'ra," derogatory or damaging speech against another person, which Jewish tradition condemns.

"In some places, we're seen as heroes and in some we're seen as crazy or vindictive," she said.

After Polin received allegations against rabbis by a group that turned out to be linked to al-Qaida and was anti-Semitic, she posted resources on abuse for Christians and Muslims as well.

She also works with groups like The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, and, in addition to running the non-profit almost single-handedly, regularly testifies in court on behalf of victims of sexual violence.

The goal is not just to educate and reach out to victims, Polin said, but also to help abusers.

"There's no proven treatment for offenders. We don't know what to do, how to stop them," she said.

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