By Simon Rocker and Anna Sheinman (The Jewish Chronicle)
October 25, 2012
A trial opened this week to allegations of rape inside the strictly Orthodox Jewish community.
Menachem Mendel Levy, 40, denies eight counts of rape or sexual assault of a young Orthodox woman, including three of indecent assault when she was a minor.
The woman suffered a “course of sexual abuse” between the ages of 14 and 21, “beginning when she was a child in the eyes of the law”, prosecutor David Markham told Wood Green Crown Court. After Mr Levy had first touched her sexually when she was 14, the abuse had escalated over years as he “forced himself on her for sexual intercourse”.
The woman — who cannot legally be identified — “did not complain during that period, because in essence she thought she was to blame,” Mr Markham said.
“This was a belief and conviction rooted in her upbringing in north London and the Orthodox Jewish community.”
Mr Levy had exploited her naivety and fears, he said, by telling the woman that she would be the one in trouble if she raised the alarm.
Mr Markham said that it would be suggested on Mr Levy’s behalf that, after the woman had turned 16, and following his marriage to someone else, “he had consensual sexual intercourse with her on a number of occasions. He will deny any sexual contact with her before she was 16, but will say that he and she had an affair after she turned 16.”
The woman, the barrister said, had resisted his sexual overtures on some occasions and on others had submitted “with a sense of powerlessness” but in neither situation had she consented.
It was only later when she was abroad and saw a TV programme about sexual abuse that she grasped the magnitude of what had happened to her, he said. When she returned home, in 2006, she told her parents and later spoke to rabbis in her community.
Two years ago, she sent a letter to Mr Levy, detailing the pain his actions had caused her. It said: “You smouldered and suffocated my soul… stole my education… and virginity. You now question what you can do to make it go away… It will never go away. I cannot buy the things you stole from me.”
The letter went on to suggest that he should apologise to her and reimburse her parents for the counselling and therapy she had undergone.
“If an apology had been forthcoming and resolution possible within the community, she would not have gone to the police,” Mr Markham said.
In a video interview with police played to the jury, the woman said she had felt she had been used “like a utensil” by Mr Levy and had hated what went on.
At one stage, she had taken to cutting herself with a razor — “the only way I could get rid of the pain building up inside me”.
Explaining why she taken time to go to police, she said that “in the religious Jewish world, you don’t call the police for anything unless someone is murdering someone or stealing”.
When she had consulted rabbis, “they basically told me there was nothing they could do; they didn’t know what to do. They all started coming up with their bull**** excuses.”
Repeatedly questioned by the defence barrister as to why she had not told someone, the woman described herself as having been “very naive” and said: “In hindsight if I had known how wrong what he was doing really was, I would have said something.”
During cross-examination, she was repeatedly accused of lying, of destroying evidence and of fabricating the story. To this the woman’s most frequent response was “No.”
The trial continues.