By Stewart Ain (The Jewish Week)
January 22, 2013
The 103-year prison sentence for sexual abuse imposed Tuesday on an unlicensed therapist from the fervently Orthodox Satmar community in Williamsburg was hailed this week as proof that justice will prevail in such cases.
“This verdict is an important tribute to the jury system and a testimony to the incredible courage of a young woman and her family who bravely stood up to this abuser despite enormous pressure from their religious community,” said Assemblywoman Margaret Markey of Queens. “The outcome demonstrates that when victims of child sexual abuse get their day in court they can see justice is done.”
The case involved Nechemya Weberman, 54, who was convicted of sexually abusing a young woman over the course of three years beginning when she was 12. The victim, now 18, cried as she implored Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice John Ingram to impose the maximum sentence.
As he read a sentence that was close to the maximum permitted by law, Ingram said he hoped it would send a message “to all victims of sexual abuse that your cries will be heard and justice will be done.”
And to the victim, he said she deserved a lot of credit for having the “courage and bravery in coming forward.”
Weberman’s lawyer, George Farkas, said before the sentencing that his client is “innocent of the crimes charged” and that he planned to appeal.
Many members of the Satmar community had stood behind Weberman — the driver for the late Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum — even going so far as smearing the victim.
One of the rabbi’s two sons, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, was quoted as telling followers on a public address system: “A Jewish daughter has descended so low, terrible! Is our sister to be like a whore?”
Other members of the Satmar community said that if what she said was true, she should have complained to rabbinic authorities rather than law enforcement. She claimed that after going to Hynes, she received both bribes and threats in an attempt to convince her not to testify.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, who brought the case, has come under intense criticism in recent years for allegedly helping to cover up cases of child sexual abuse in fervently Orthodox communities. Jewish Week reporter Hella Winston wrote of the community’s own justice system that — with Hynes’ apparent knowledge — kept cases out of the hands of the district attorney’s office.
But after the sentencing of Weberman, Hynes issued a statement welcoming the sentence.
“If there is one message to take away from this case, it is that this office will pursue the evil of sexual abuse of a child no matter where it occurs in this county,” he said. “We must protect our children from sexual predators. The abuse of a child cannot be swept under the rug or dealt with by insular groups believing only they know what is best for their community.
“In this case, it took the courage of a young woman to drive home the point that justice can only be achieved through the involvement of civil authorities charged with protecting all the people.”
Rhonnie Jaus, chief of the Brooklyn DA’s Sex Crimes and Crimes Against Children Division, told reporters after the Dec. 10 verdict that the victim was an “extraordinary witness.” She had spent 15 hours on the witness stand recalling through tears how she had been repeatedly raped and forced to perform oral sex in Weberman’s counseling office.
He was paid $150 an hour to counsel the young woman because of her alleged immodest dress and rebellious behavior, which included reading secular magazines.
Although there was no physical evidence to tie Weberman to the crimes he was accused of, Jaus told reporters that the jury of six men and six women found the victim’s grueling testimony “extremely believable.”
“She testified with so much emotion,” she said. “It was so heartfelt. They saw her struggle and they saw what she was up against coming forward.”
Assemblywoman Margaret Markey is the sponsor of legislation that seeks to reform New York State’s statute of limitations for child sex abuse crimes, which prevents many victims from pressing charges against their abusers and protects organizations and institutions that hide them.