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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Brooklyn DA Plays Sex-Abuse Politics

Brooklyn DA plays sex-abuse politics
The New York Post by Michael Lesher  -  April 29, 2012

If anyone had dared to suggest that Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’ office has an official policy giving preferential treatment to Orthodox Jewish sex criminals, the critic would probably be knee-deep in editorials charging him with anti-Semitism. Alas, what’s an Orthodox Jewish lawyer like me to say when the DA’s lieutenants themselves announce just such a policy? I’ll say this: Hynes’ refusal to disclose almost any information about the arrest or prosecution of alleged sex offenders from the politically powerful Orthodox community is not only discriminatory; it’s also a cynical insult to the victims his office is pledged to support. Mind you, the discrimination is no mere allegation; it’s a matter of record. In letters this month to reporters Paul Berger, of Forward, and Hella Winston, of The Jewish Week, Assistant DA Morgan Dennehy explicitly affirmed that his boss’ policy for suppressing information about sex abuse is “unique” to the “Hasidic” community. Yes, the letter gave a “reason” for singling out Orthodox Jews — but the reason made no sense. According to Dennehy, if the DA were to release any information about alleged perpetrators from the “tight-knit and insular” (his words) Orthodox community, there would be “a significant danger that the disclosure . . . would lead members of that community to discern the identities of the victims,” which could violate state law. Hmm. When the DA’s office announced the sentencing of child abuser Gerald Hatcher last December, it gave enough information about his 11-year-old victim to lead those familiar with the assailant to guess her name. Surely many other Brooklyn communities are as “tight-knit” as the Orthodox Jews — yet Hynes is evidently willing to name perpetrators among them. 

This double standard doesn’t just discriminate against non-Orthodox defendants. From my own work on behalf of abuse survivors, I know that Hynes’ secrecy-first approach also discriminates against Orthodox Jewish victims. For instance, my legal efforts to uncover the record of the official failure to extradite (from Israel) one notorious indicted child abuser, Rabbi Avrohom Mondrowitz, enjoy the support of Survivors for Justice, a prominent advocacy group for Orthodox abuse victims. Yet in that case, too, the DA’s spokesman insists he’s protecting “the identity of [the] victims and their families from harassment” — even though I’ve told three courts that I don’t want any information that identifies the victims. The split between victims’ real desires and Hynes’ ostensible concern for them is all too typical. The Orthodox sex-abuse survivors I know want their attackers identified publicly, both for their own vindication and because an open criminal process is less likely to be manipulated by community power politics. Along that line, it’s no surprise that the only unqualified endorsement I’ve seen of the DA’s information lockdown has come from Ami Magazine, a weekly with close ties to ultra-Orthodox leadership. That’s really the point. The preferential treatment for Orthodox abusers isn’t about the victims; it’s about the extent to which Orthodox leadership controls the way the DA treats these cases. Hynes yoked himself to that leadership when he announced a special program for handling sex-abuse complaints from the Orthodox community, called “Kol Tzedek,” in April 2009. Orthodox influence on Hynes’ office is nothing new. Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services — the whip hand of the Kol Tzedek partnership — has had its own problems in the secrecy-about-abuse department. A chapter I co-wrote with Amy Neustein for a new online book, “Sexual Abuse — Breaking the Silence” (based on extensive reporting by The Jewish Week and other publications) details Ohel’s shabby history of dodging mandatory-reporting statutes and federal privacy regulations in child-abuse cases. The only new thing here, I’m afraid, is the spectacle of the DA’s office serving as PR agency for institutions that have done much more to obscure crimes in the Orthodox community than to fight them. In presenting the all-too-familiar “under the carpet” policy as a form of victims’ rights, Hynes has showed his true priorities. Equal justice for sex-abuse victims isn’t one of them. Michael Lesher, a lawyer, is writing a book on sex abuse in Orthodox Jewish communities. 

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