Who Speaks for the Children?

New York Times Editorial
May 11, 2012

For decades, Brooklyn prosecutors pursuing child molesters netted few complaints or convictions in the borough's cloistered, politically powerful community of ultra-Orthodox Jews. Rabbinical authorities banned relatives of the abused from reporting the crimes to non-Jewish authorities; those few who spoke out were shunned — expelled from synagogues, their children expelled from schools — or pressured into dropping their cases.

As Sharon Otterman and Ray Rivera reported in The Times this week, this intolerable situation has slowly begun to change, as some community members have dared to speak up for the victims, no matter the personal cost. While some religious leaders now say that molesters should be turned over to the police, too many still insist on covering up these crimes.

Instead of protecting their community, they are doing enormous, shameful damage.

Brooklyn's district attorney, Charles Hynes, who has received considerable political support from ultra-Orthodox rabbis, has been accused by victim advocates of not doing enough to face the problem. His office denies this, noting he roiled the community in 1999 in accusing a prominent rabbi of witness-tampering in a child abuse case and three years ago set up a hot line for child abuse complaints in the community.

He needs to do a lot more to help the victims and demonstrate his independence. Mr. Hynes can start by ending his policy of refusing to announce the names of accused molesters from the ultra-Orthodox community. He does not shield the names of other defendants, and no other city district attorney employs such a selective policy, according to The Times.

Mr. Hynes's insistence that victims might hesitate to come forward if defendants were identified is absurd. The clear message to the victims is that the system is intent on protecting abusers.

Studies find that the problem of child abuse in the Brooklyn community is no greater than elsewhere. What is needed is far more of the candor and initiative displayed last summer by a religious court in Brooklyn's Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic neighborhood. The court ruled the traditional prohibition against mesirah — turning in of a Jew to non-Jewish authorities — did not apply in cases of sexually abused children. "One is forbidden to remain silent in such situations," it declared. Everyone who cares about children should listen.