Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes claims to have arrested an unprecedented 89 men on child sex-abuse charges in the ultra-Orthodox communities in Brooklyn over the past two years — but declines to provide any details backing up the numbers or to give the status of any of the cases.
Sexual abuse survivors and their advocates have long harried Hynes for allegedly overlooking molesters in the borough’s tight-knit, ultra-Orthodox communities. They charge that Hynes fears political retaliation from the borough’s powerful rabbinic leaders and their bloc-voting Orthodox voters.
Hynes heatedly denies this. And the data he offered the Forward seems to suggest a breakthrough. But his office’s refusal to provide even basic details on any of these cases makes it impossible to evaluate and confirm the true nature and extent of Hynes’ claim.
Initially, when the Forward requested data in mid-October on child sex abuse arrests in the Orthodox community, Jerry Schmetterer, the D.A.’s spokesman, said his office does not compile statistics based on the “race or religion” of people it arrests.
When the Forward brought to his attention that the D.A.’s office released a similar statistic in 2009 — of 26 Orthodox men who had been arrested for sexual abuse over the previous two years — Schmetterer said he would consult the D.A.’s sex crimes bureau.
In late October, Schmetterer said that 89 Orthodox men had been arrested and charged with sex abuse since October 2009.
He repeated the claim twice, in two separate conversations. But when the Forward asked for written confirmation and posed a number of follow-up questions, Schmetterer declined to respond.
“We are not prepared to discuss this at this time,” Schmetterer said in an October 27 e-mail. “Perhaps towards the end of November.”
Just why the D.A.’s office would be unwilling to respond is unclear, particularly because the staggering figure appears to bolster the D.A.’s claim that he is getting tough on Orthodox abuse.
In October 2009, the figure of 26 arrests was seen as a landmark following decades during which the D.A. rarely prosecuted sex abuse cases against Orthodox men despite advocates’ claims that the problem was rampant. The New York Times ran a Page One story trumpeting the change.
But the latest number — much like the 2009 figure — has proved impossible to verify.
The Forward combed through news reports and interviewed people who specialize in sex abuse cases.
Since October 2009, the Forward was able to find nine arrests and three convictions of Orthodox men, including that of Boro Park rabbi Baruch Lebovits, currently out on bail and under house arrest pending an appeal.
Asher Lipner, a clinical psychologist who is also an advocate for survivors of abuse, said he was not aware of anything near 89 arrests during the past two years. “If that’s the case,” Lipner said, “how come there haven’t been too many convictions?”
Ben Hirsch, president of Survivors for Justice, said the D.A.’s figures raised a “very troubling question.”