By Ray Rivera (NY Times)
May 16, 2012
The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, on Wednesday defended his record in the face of criticism over his handling of accusations of child sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
In an op-ed article in The Daily News, Mr. Hynes wrote that it was absurd "to suggest that we cover up, downplay or in any way 'give a break' to sex offenders in the Orthodox Jewish community."
Mr. Hynes also had a pointed e-mail exchange with former Mayor Edward I. Koch, who questioned the district attorney's policies in a blog post in The Huffington Post.
Both men were reacting to an article in The New York Times last week that examined Mr. Hynes's record in these cases and his relationships with influential rabbis in Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.
The article described how in 2009, Mr. Hynes created a program, Kol Tzedek (Voice of Justice in Hebrew), to combat sexual abuse among ultra-Orthodox Jews, while adopting the highly unusual policy of not publicizing the names of defendants in these cases.
Mr. Hynes said he was protecting the identities of victims, explaining that in insular ultra-Orthodox communities, intimidation of victims and witnesses often occurred.
But legal experts said the policy deepened the secrecy surrounding these cases, making it harder to fight sexual abuse.
The article also said Mr. Hynes had not publicly objected to the position of an ultra-Orthodox advocacy group regarding sexual abuse. The group instructed adherent Jews last year that they must inform a rabbi before reporting such accusations to district attorneys or the police.
In The Daily News, Mr. Hynes said the idea that he "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."
He added, "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."
Mr. Hynes also sent e-mails to Mr. Koch, a fellow Democrat, in response to his article in The Huffington Post. Following are excerpts from their exchange, which Mr. Koch provided to The Times:
Mr. Hynes: "Mayor, I am really disappointed that you didn't ask me to explain my decision to withhold the names of Orthodox Jewish men I have prosecuted over the last three years. The decision was a change of policy and was directly related to our investigations and arrests of many Orthodox Jewish men in Brooklyn over several years. In virtually every case, after the name of the defendant was made public, it was followed by a relentless pursuit by members of the Orthodox Jewish Community for the name of the victim."
Mr. Koch: "Others, myself included, take issue with your position, believing that public disclosure of the identity of the alleged predators, especially those convicted, applies to all similarly situated regardless of their religion. Your fear of disclosure of victim identities would apply to Catholic clergy and the many altar boys who were victims of sexual abuse. Yet you disclosed, as do all district attorneys, the names of the alleged predators in the Catholic clergy. There must be one standard before the law. It is public disclosure of the names of the predators."
Mr. Hynes: "I don't know what else to say, Mayor. Before Kol Tzedek, when we published the names of the defendants, our victims were regularly harassed, and most of our cases fell apart. Since Kol Tzedek and the policy of nondisclosure of defendants' names, dozen of victims have come forward" and "were confident that we were protecting their identity. That is the paramount reason how we have successfully prosecuted most of the 95 Orthodox Jewish cases we've brought over the last three years. With reference to the Catholic priest cases, until recently I was the only D.A. in the state who negotiated a memorandum of understanding with my bishop."
Mr. Hynes added: "I have had no problem identifying an indicted priest because there is no evidence that victims are intimidated. I have made it plain to all members of the clergy that any attempt to obstruct an investigation of sexual abuse will result in prosecution and punishment."
Mr. Koch: "The answer to the problem is, you have to go after those in the Hasidic community who are engaging in the obstruction of justice and intimidating the victims and their families. I believe bringing a single, successful case with a prison term will end the problem."
Sam Roberts contributed reporting.