Brooklyn DA plays sex-abuse politics

NY POST: Brooklyn DA plays sex-abuse politics
By MICHAEL LESHER

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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3 Responses to Brooklyn DA plays sex-abuse politics

  1. I’m not sure it’s ALL about religion… check out how many abusers, offenders and repeaters have taken children away from their mothers… I think it is more gender specific than religious, but, there could be “pockets” of specific reasons for the actions of the criminal mind, but I do believe that WOMEN are the targets, but I could be wrong… I would love to see that apsect investigated,and Mr. Attorney, if you are still practicing and would like some new clients, I have about 300 for you in your vicinity who have had their children stolen by cps or given to their abusers by the court… see, it is just “how can we keep the money moving” because every time it moves, some of it goes into someone’s pocket… no longer unnotices, but, it’s still going…

    sorry if I’m missing the point of this, in my experience, the BIGGEST CRIME is stealing and trafficking children and leaving their mothers and their grandmothers crying with no recourse against the criminals that kidnapped our children…

    I have a really good friend in NY whose son was taken when he was four years old, he is sixteen now and she hasn’t seen him in 12 years, and she has gone through hell… now, she says, she does not have a little boy as a son, she has a man… how will she ever get over missing her little boy? SHE WILL NOT, OUR MOTHERHOODS, GRANDMOTHERHOODS and our children childhoods with their mothers, and famiies, have been STOLEN, and that can never be replaced…

    So, if you want help documenting the religious aspect, I probably have friends experiencing that as well, but in this life i’m living, I’m trying to reuinte mothers with their kidnapped children, worldwide…

    thank you for all you do, God bless you and yours… keep up the GOOD work.

  2. michaellesher says:

    Thank you, irevolutiontree, for your thoughtful post. For what it’s worth, the greater part of my legal work has been on behalf of protective mothers who have been victimized, or are being victimized, by the family court system. So I know what you’re talking about.

    If you’d like to see my own reactions to the system, you can get a look at my legal work and prior writing (with co-author Amy Neustein, I published From Madness to Mutiny: Why Mothers Are Running from the Family Courts — and What Can Be Done about It under the Northeastern imprint in 2005), on my web site, http://www.MichaelLesher.com.

    By the way, anyone interested in contacting me will find contact info there, too. Please note, though, that I don’t make appearances or do courtroom work these days; I draft motion papers and appeals, etc., generally for use by other counsel or pro se clients. And I’m afraid I can’t take on any more pro bono work; much as I wish I could help everyone who needs it, I have to support myself — and my writing — and I just can’t.

  3. michaellesher says:

    Thank you, irevolutiontree, for your thoughtful post. For what it’s worth, the greater part of my legal work has been on behalf of protective mothers who have been victimized, or are being victimized by, the family court system. So I have no trouble identifying with what you say.

    If you’d like to know my own reactions to the system, you can tour my legal work and prior writing on my web site, http://www.MichaelLesher.com. For one thing, I co-authored (with Amy Neustein) the book From Madness to Mutiny: Why Mothers Are Running from the Family Courts — and What Can Be Done about It with the Northeastern imprint in 2005. That book says most of what I can say about the damage family courts do to abused children.

    By the way, anyone wanting to contact me can find contact info there, too. Regarding legal work, though, please note that I simply can’t take up any more pro bono . . . also, I don’t make appearances or do courtroom work these days; I draft motion papers and appeals, etc., generally for use by other counsel or pro se clients.

    Thanks again.

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