Comment: Maintaining ignorance will not maintain innocence

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JAT is a national charity, established in 1988 as the Jewish response to the advent of HIV/AIDS and now working around the UK with the whole Jewish community, from the orthodox to the unaffiliated.

We give priority to working with young people under 25, and are the only charity actively working to promote good sexual health and educating to raise awareness of sexual health within the Jewish community.

But while the charity is as old as World AIDS Day, rather than flourishing, it is under threat.

Our statutory funding, 25% of our annual budget, was stopped earlier this year. Individual donations are down 65%.

The need for the work is no less and yet it seems without the authentication of the statutory funding, Jewish schools and other organisations do not feel there is a need.

It is a similar situation to the uproar around the programme to protect women from HPV, the most common cause of cervical cancer – the community says it doesn’t want or need vaccination. The unreasonable belief that everyone is safe if they lead a religiously observant life is, at the least, naive and at worst dangerous and irresponsible.

This current Government has no intention of making Sex and Relationships Education compulsory and it is still unclear what they intend to do with Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education – without it we face a future where young people are driven by myth and confusion and not able to make safe and informed choices about their personal relationships.

Sexual health, especially aspects of sexuality and sexual orientation, is rarely addressed within faith communities and is often seen as taboo. There is a default position of denial and many parents believe that maintaining children’s (and their own) ignorance will preserve innocence.

Organisations like JAT are often the place where clients feel that they can receive additional bespoke support which meets their specific faith/family/spiritual needs – a place of acceptance and absence of discrimination or judgement.

The charity continues to educate on sexual health and relationships across the Jewish community and is now in partnership with other faith charities such as London Ecumenical AIDS Trust and with Naz Project London, sharing good practice and training health and education professionals to respond to faith needs in their work.

JAT’s mission is to ensure that the Jewish community has support to maintain well-being and high quality education about sexual health; thus enabling all members of the community to make safe and informed decisions.

Without JAT and organisations like it, people living with HIV will become more isolated and vulnerable and preventative approaches and education will not be prioritised.

May this World AIDS Day 2011 raise awareness but also galvanise those who care, into action.

Chazak – Be Strong!

Janine Clements is the Director of Jewish Action and Training for sexual heath. She is on the Advisory Group of the Sex Education Forum.