Ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn Jews Covering Up Child Abuse

by Paul Canning (Care2.com)
April 3, 2012

Victim advocates are claiming that the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York, and the district attorney are blocking justice for child abuse victims.

The Guardian reports that a cultural tradition of non-cooperation with secular justice is keeping child sex offenders out of the courts. The district attorney and religious leaders point to some convictions and claim that the problem is 'in hand,' but advocates for victims say convictions are of "nobodies" and the prominent are being protected.

Brooklyn's Jewish communities maintain their own shadow justice system based on religious halachic law. Like Catholic leaders, Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders are charged with systematically covering up crimes and intimidating witnesses.

Victims' advocate Rabbi Yosef Blau says the leaders are concerned with protecting the community's image and "the battle is over the cover-up. That's what we're fighting now."

Blau says those who have been prosecuted are "nobodies."

"They won't get somebody prominent because then the community won't co-operate. But if it's some weird guy, OK, let the police handle it," he said.

Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes has stepped up prosecutions and launched Kol Tzedek, a community outreach effort. But advocates say this is uncovering a fraction of the abuse cases they hear about.

Says Ben Hirsch of victim's advocate group Survivors for Justice:

"The DA has been very reluctant to prosecute these cases. Recently he's become a little more aggressive in response to pressure from advocates and critical stories in the press. But he's still not behaving in a way that's consistent with the way he treats non-Orthodox cases."

There have been a series of controversial plea deals, such as that of Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, who was indicted for molesting two boys. Kolko was convicted on child endangerment charges and given a three year probationary sentence with no requirement to join the sex offender registry.

The Guardian found that only eight Orthodox Jews prosecuted in Brooklyn have been required to join the sex offender registry, established in 1996. Of those eight, only four received custodial sentences, four were given probation.

Rabbi Mark Dratch, a modern-Orthodox rabbi who founded The Jewish Institute Supporting an Abuse-Free Environment, believes that the DA is being influenced by religious leaders: "[it] is an elected position, and the orthodox have a large voting bloc and I'm sure Mr Hynes will deny it but I think that is the nature of the situation. I know there is a lot of pressure on his office from the organised rabbinic community in Brooklyn either not to deal with the cases or to minimise them."

Zvi Gluck, a community mediator, says that he knows of at least three abused children who have committed suicide in recent months.

"As Frum Yidden [observant Jews] we have an obligation to protect our community and our children. We are making progress but they are small steps and we are nowhere near where we need to be," he said.