Orthodox Advocates for Child Abuse Victims Break with Brooklyn DA

By Sholom Schreiber (The Jewish Voice)
September 12, 2012

After the beginning of what was expected to be a close and productive relationship, a group of Orthodox advocates for child abuse victims from their community has seemingly broken ranks with Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes. The separation came to light when the group cancelled a meeting they had scheduled with the DA to discuss recommended reforms in his office’s methods of addressing the issue.

The key points of contention between the two sides are the District Attorney’s continued reluctance to do three things - publicize the identities of alleged child abusers from the Orthodox community, commit to educational outreach on the controversial issue to yeshivot, and take legal action against rabbis who engage in intimidation to prevent young victims from testifying against their abusers.

“This is the same game. Since he has to appease the rabbis in Brooklyn he should send all the Jewish cases to Staten Island,” said Mark Meyer Appel, the founder of Voice of Justice, a child advocacy group. In response, the DA’s chief spokesman claimed the meeting had simply been postponed due to scheduling issues. “It’s an ongoing process,” Jerry Schmetterer said. “We are all happy on this end to continue.”

Nevertheless, Appel and fellow activist Asher Lipner have stated that – based on the status quo – they will not attend any future meetings. “There’s no point in going,” Appel insisted.

Hynes defends his policy of keeping the names of Orthodox molesters private by arguing that such revelations would cause the identities of their youthful victims to be known as well, a result that could have difficult personal consequences for them within the close-knit religious community. “My policy is succeeding. Anyone who expresses outrage is not being practical,” Hynes said at a communal symposium on the topic this past June.

According to the advocates, experience has demonstrated that the children’s names become revealed in any case, while the identities of their abusers remain anonymous. The Brooklyn District Attorney releases the names of molesters in all other ethnic communities.

On June 9, Hynes held a meeting with the child advocates and declared he would hold similar get-togethers on a monthly basis. Joel Engelman, 26, who acts as the group’s leader, admitted that some of the activists were offended by Hynes’ lack of action, but he said he was still committed to the relationship. “We intend to continue these meetings,” he said.

One of the group’s members suggested that the meetings with the District Attorney include leading Chassidic rabbis who are said to have taken the side of alleged abusers while harassing young victims by orchestrating their removal from yeshivot and banishing their families from neighborhood shuls. Hynes rejected that idea out of hand.

In May, the DA formed a task force to combat witness intimidation, which he says has been a common tactic in the Orthodox community for a long time.