NY Post Op-Ed
May 20, 2012
Brooklyn DA Charles "Joe" Hynes is under fire for his handling of child sexual-abuse cases in the borough's ultra-Orthodox community — with critics suggesting a double standard in how such crimes are prosecuted.
Former Mayor Ed Koch has even suggested that Gov. Cuomo supersede Hynes and appoint a special prosecutor to handle such cases.
It's an idea worth considering.
The Post and other news outlets — notably the Jewish Week, the Forward, several online blogs and, lately, The New York Times — have been reporting on this subject for years.
Perhaps most egregiously, Hynes refuses to make public the names of those formally charged with sexually abusing youngsters in the ultra-Orthodox community — even after they've been convicted.
He says that's to protect the victims, who could easily be identified in the close-knit, insular community. But that's a policy neither he nor any other prosecutor allows for any other group.
Experts say it has the opposite effect — reinforcing a culture of secrecy that sweeps such allegations under the rug.
He has also never publicly opposed a widely held policy in the ultra-Orthodox community requiring suspicions of child sexual abuse to be submitted to a rabbi, who decides whether to notify police.
Community groups stress that this doesn't apply to clear-cut evidence of abuse — only to those cases where the evidence is not undeniably conclusive.
Problem is, that's the overwhelming majority of child sex-abuse cases — and there are laws mandating that law enforcement be notified, without any pre-screening.
Which is why Hynes in 2002 signed a memo of understanding with then-Bishop Thomas Daily, mandating that the Catholic Church report all abuse allegations.
There have also been cases when convicted ultra-Orthodox child molesters have received extremely lenient sentences, several involving no jail time.
Hynes says that in many cases this is because the victims' parents don't want their children to testify. But some of those same parents have told reporters they felt pressured by the DA's office into approving a plea bargain.
Then there's the matter of widespread witness intimidation — socially ostracizing pressure from within the community on victims' families not to prosecute, especially when those accused are prominent rabbis or lay leaders.
Sad to say, the community itself too often seems more inclined to protect abusers, rather than their victims.
Just last week, in fact, more than 1,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered at a sold-out event to raise money for a therapist accused of molesting a girl during four years of counseling, starting when she was 12.
As The Post's Sue Edelman reports today, Hynes has accepted Koch's suggestion to form a committee of law-enforcement experts to figure out how to handle the problem of witness intimidation.
Alas, that's far too little, far too late.
Indeed, as Koch suggested in an e-mail exchange with Hynes, "bringing a single, successful [witness-intimidation] case with a prison term will end the problem."
Maybe, maybe not. But it'd sure send a message.
A quarter-century ago, another Gov. Cuomo named Joe Hynes a special prosecutor after complaints that the then-Queens DA was refusing to aggressively investigate the racially charged Howard Beach case.
That move allayed any suspicions of preferential or lenient treatment and ensured the full prosecution of all those involved.
It may be time for history to repeat itself. Joe Hynes should understand that better than most.