by Sandy Eller (Vos Iz Neias News)
May 18, 2012
Brooklyn, NY - Responding to criticism of his handling of sexual abuse within the Orthodox Jewish community, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes had strong words for anyone who intimidates victims and prevents them from seeking justice.
Speaking on NY1's Inside City Hall program yesterday, both Hynes and Rhonnie Jaus, head of the Brooklyn Sex Crimes and Special Victims unit, defended the Kol Tzedek program initiated in 2009, which does not publicize the names of defendants in such cases in the Jewish community, in an effort to get more victims to come forward.
According to Hynes, Kol Tzedek has been incredibly successful, with a total of ninety seven cases of sexual abuse being reported since its inception, while prior to its establishment, there were virtually no reported cases in the Orthodox community.
A visibly angry Hynes had strong words for those who accused him of favoring abusers over their victims.
"There is no concern for the victim in these communities," said Hynes. "Everything is for the abusers and that is the horrible thing that we have to deal with. The only way to deal with it is by annoying some people, like Ed Koch, by seemingly giving preferential treatment by not naming defendants. We had no choice. The only way we can encourage victims to come forward is to have this protective shield that we will make every effort to make damn sure you are not gonna be identified and harassed ."
Noting that intimidating witness is a punishable offense, Hynes said that he has every intention of prosecuting anyone found guilty of intimidation adding, "one of these days I am gonna get lucky...that's what you have to do. You have to be as relentless as they are."
Hynes commented on the almost mafia-like pressure that can be exerted on victims not to come forward saying, "the level of intimidation is not found nearly as much in organized crime. It is extraordinary just how relentless these people can be."
A new program being initiated next week in conjunction with the NYPD will investigate incidences of intimidation in an effort to break down what Hynes termed a "wall of intimidation."
Jaus pointed to the much publicized Weberman case in Williamsburg as a shining example of the pressure that can be placed on victims within the Orthodox community, calling it "horrible."
Hynes made it clear that anyone who attempts to pressure sexual abuse victims not to come forward will be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law.
"I am dealing with a community, some of whom are absolutely hell bent on never allowing a victim to get the kind of justice we have available for them, and I won't tolerate it," said Hynes.
The district attorney was also firm in his position that statements made by the Agudah saying that teachers had to report suspected cases of sexual abuse to a rabbi, before going to the police, were incorrect. Mentioning Agudah executive vice president Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel by name Hynes said, "he said wrong," adding, "once they are told that there is sexual abuse they have an absolute obligation to come to me."