By Zoë Blackler (The Guardian)
May 10, 2012
Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes is under mounting pressure to respond to criticisms over his handling of child sex abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community.
Victims advocates and bloggers lined up on Thursday to demand that Hynes reverse his policy of special treatment for abusers in the largest Orthodox population outside Israel.
The Guardian reported in March that Hynes stands accused of failing to stand up to community leaders to tackle a culture of cover-up and intimidation that has gone on for years.
The DA refuses to release the identities of the "over 90" Orthodox child molesters he claims to have arrested through his controversial Kol Tzedek outreach programme, citing the "unique nature" of the Orthodox community. Hynes's office said it was protecting the identity of the victims.
Requests under New York's freedom of information law submitted by the Jewish Forward newspaper and the Guardian have been turned down by the DA's office.
On Thursday, the New York Times reported on the community intimidation levelled against victims of abuse and the pressures they come under to pull out of prosecutions. Its story adds to the growing media attention on the issue.
Brooklyn assemblyman Dov Hikind, who has campaigned on this issue, said it was time that Hynes responded to his critics. "He needs to answer our questions."
"The DA has done some very good stuff. There is absolutely no reason why he should not be talking to all of us and answering everyone's questions, unless there's something to hide or there's something he feels uncomfortable with. If one has absolutely nothing to hide, you talk, you share."
"I think it's important to talk to the public that elected him."
Hikind said he couldn't understand why Hynes refused to release the names of perpetrators.
"When the DA says he's not releasing names because he wants to protect the victims – that confuses me very, very much. What about future victims? If my next-door neighbour is a perpetrator and I don't know about it, how are my kids being protected?
"If there is legitimate reason in some situation not to release certain information, I think we can live with it. But as a general policy, I don't understand it."
Ben Hirsch, president of Survivors for Justice, a victims advocacy organization, said: "He needs to say to victims: 'I am in charge of the law in Kings County. I'm going to deal with this the way I deal with all crimes. No more special treatment. Bring me your complaints, we'll protect you and we'll prosecute.'"
Hirsch said Hynes's so-called special treatment benefited the perpetrators and community leaders, rather than the victims. "The victims and their families are getting terrible treatment."
"Treat the Orthodox community the same way you treat every other community. Inform the public of the identity of Orthodox child molesters the same way you've always identified non-Orthodox child molesters," Hirsch demanded.
"Stop looking at your votes, stop looking at your next election. Do your job. Don't sell kids' lives for your next term."
Last month, the Guardian reported questions over the veracity of the DA's figures for arrests through Kol Tzedek. At least nine of the alleged 90 arrests took place before the start of the outreach effort in April 2009.
Shmarya Rosenberg, who blogs as Failed Messiah, said the DA was obliged to stand up and explain himself.
"What he's said so far makes no logical sense. The fact he padded the numbers so heavily and misrepresented which cases were Kol Tzedek cases and which weren't to make it seem really successful when it isn't ... You would think he would want to answer that. The fact that he hasn't suggests that there isn't an answer."
Mark Meyer Appel, whose group voice of Justice gives support to victims and their families called for the DA to dismantle Kol Tzedek. The culturally sensitive approach to Orthodox victims was well intentioned, he said, "but it's obviously not working."
Hynes should be taking a tougher stand, Appel said. There should be more community outreach, more education in the community and victims should be given proper support. Advocates claim victims are frequently discouraged from pressing charges.
"The Orthodox Jewish community is like any other community. Fathers and mothers of all religions and races should be treated equally by the law. That's all we want. We want fairness."
Jerry Schmetterer, the DA's spokesperson, declined to comment on the latest demands for information.