By David Freedlander (Capitol Confidential)
November 23, 2011
An op-ed in the Jewish Week out yesterday tackles a taboo subject: sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community.
And in it, the author Ben Hirsch, an advocate for victims of sexual abuse, singles out for condemnation longtime Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes and the politically powerful orthodox group Agudath Israel:
Agudath Israel of America, a national ultra-Orthodox lobbying organization, recently reasserted its policy — at a law conference it sponsored in New York for which attendees were granted Continuing Legal Education credits — that allegations of abuse must be reported first to rabbis, and only to the civil authorities if and after a dispensation is granted. That this in many cases violates New York State's mandatory reporting statute has not been addressed by Agudath Israel, nor by the Brooklyn District Attorney, Charles Hynes, who has a history of going "easy" on Orthodox sex criminals. Given that the Brooklyn Orthodox community members tend to vote in blocs, it is clear why Hynes might prefer to remain silent. Indeed, Agudath Israel's vice president, David Zwiebel, has openly cautioned the DA not to "be seen as making a power grab from rabbinic authority."
Hynes has taken heed. He employs an Orthodox Jewish "liaison" whose role is justified by an ostensible need for "cultural sensitivity." But in practice, the liaison is said to pressure victims into not pressing charges. And when victims have done so anyway, the DA has often offered pleas that do not require jail time or even sex-offender registration. Those who have intimidated witnesses have not been charged.
The piece goes on to note that most ultra-Orthodox to deal with the issue of sexual abuse in their community internally.