By Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes (NY Daily News)
May 16, 2012
A person with knowledge of a crime should report that information to law enforcement authorities. There is no alternative. It is a civic duty, and in some cases, it's the law.
In 2009, concerned that sex abuse was going unreported in the Orthodox Jewish community, I started Kol Tzedek (Voice of Justice), a program to address this problem.
From when I took office as district attorney in 1990 until the creation of Kol Tzedek, my prosecutors handled only a few cases a year of sex abuse in that community. Since the inception of Kol Tzedek, we have made 95 arrests; 53 cases have been adjudicated, with a conviction rate of 72%.
I stand by these numbers.
The statistics show how absurd it is to suggest that we cover up, downplay or in any way "give a break" to sex offenders in the Orthodox Jewish community. Like any other defendants, they are often arrested in public by the police, and their court appearances are open and available to the public as part of the public record. I welcome scrutiny of these cases.
The suggestion that I have ever condoned the practice of first seeking a rabbi's advice before an Orthodox Jewish community member reports sexual abuse is a distortion of my record. I have never suggested that someone seeking the advice of a rabbi is then relieved of the obligation of reporting sexual abuse to the appropriate authorities.
Although I would not interfere with anyone's decision to speak to their religious leader, I also expect allegations of criminal conduct to be reported to the appropriate law enforcement authorities. My concern that some rabbis might advise those with knowledge of sexual abuse to withhold information from law enforcement is another reason why, with the assistance of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, Ohel and the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services, I created Kol Tzedek in the first place.
The Orthodox Jewish community, including Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive director of Agudath Israel, understands that if anyone attempts to obstruct a criminal inquiry about sexual abuse in the community, I will not hesitate to prosecute.
The media have requested that my office release a list of all the Orthodox Jewish defendants that Kol Tzedek has generated. My position is that releasing the names of Orthodox Jewish defendants charged with sexual abuse would inevitably reveal the identity of the victims. This is an insular, tight-knit community; in the majority of sexual abuse cases, the predator knows the victim. Often, the predator is a family member, a religious leader or a worker in the victim's school.
New York law prohibits the direct disclosure of the names of victims of sexual assault or any information that tends to identify them.
I am also opposed to releasing a list of names of defendants based upon their particular ethnic, racial or religious affiliation. It is not the policy of this office to keep a list of defendants categorized in this manner.
Kol Tzedek was formed in response to the fact that victims of sexual assault within the Orthodox Jewish community were afraid to come forward.
They and their families often were, and still are shunned, intimidated and humiliated by their friends, neighbors, strangers — and even their synagogues and loved ones — pressuring them to drop the charges.
Without the program we have instituted, it would be virtually impossible to get victims to cooperate for the duration of the case. Without the ongoing cooperation of the victim, the viability of the case is destroyed and our ability to get sex offenders off the streets is virtually impossible.
Hynes is Brooklyn district attorney.