Child Sex Arrests Spike. Or Do They?

Brooklyn Prosecutor Says 89 Charged But Withholds Details

By Paul Berger

Published November 11, 2011, issue of November 18, 2011.
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“At least some of these 100-plus cases [over the past four years] must have been resolved by now,” Hirsch said.

Hirsch, who said he regularly monitored new registrations of convicted sex abusers for heavily Orthodox Brooklyn neighborhoods asked, “Why haven’t we seen a marked increase in Orthodox perpetrators registered as sex offenders? Without public notice identifying dangerous predators, parents are unable to protect their children.”

He added, “We deserve public notice of the arrest and conviction of Orthodox sex offenders, not culturally sensitive policies that keep these cases from the public, thereby placing children in danger.”

The difficulties the Forward has had verifying the D.A.’s claims are reminiscent of issues that arose two years ago, when the D.A. claimed 26 child sexual abuse arrests in the Orthodox community between 2007 and 2009.

In October 2009, the Forward requested those arrest details from the D.A.’s office. It received a list of 26 cases, including charges, but without names and with a note that said, “There are a few cases which involve adult female victims.”

Last year, the Forward submitted a Freedom of Information Law request to see the names of the 26 men.

The Forward’s request was denied, as was a subsequent appeal. One of the reasons the D.A.’s office gave, in March 2010, was that the list had been compiled so long ago, without names or indictment numbers, that it would be “impossible to discern” the cases that were listed.

If the latest figure of 89 arrests during the past two years is correct, it would appear to suggest that the ultra-Orthodox community’s wall of silence has been breached once and for all.

Survivors and their advocates cautiously welcomed the figure. But they suggested that an increase in arrests may have as much — if not more — to do with grassroots pressure from within the community than from the D.A.’s work.

Luzer Twersky, who claims he was abused by a rabbi from the age of 9 until he was 12, said the D.A. has little influence within the Orthodox world.

“Everything is done in a Hasidic way,” Twersky said, referring to what he described as the community’s preference to handle matters internally and, occasionally, to pay victims for their silence.

In Twersky’s case, he said a threatening telephone call to his father from a prominent rabbi was enough to keep him quiet.

Today, claims abound that communities close ranks and that rabbis stifle abuse allegations.

Agudath Israel of America, the ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization, advised Jews in a recent statement to consult a rabbi before taking their allegations to police.

But in the predominantly Chabad-Lubavitch community of Crown Heights, attitudes appear to be changing.

In July, a Lubavitch religious court issued a ruling that stated unequivocally that families who suspect abuse should inform the police.

“The Beis Din [religious court] has become increasingly aware of severe incidents of child abuse that have occurred recently,” stated the ruling, which was reposted on Crown Heights Watch, an advocacy website.

The Crown Heights religious court said that because many victims had remained silent out of a “fear of stigma” or a fear of violating Jewish law, they had perpetuated “an environment of abuse.” The rabbis insisted that the prohibitions against Jews using secular courts “do not apply in cases where there is evidence of abuse.”

Eli Cohen, executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, said the rabbis issued their ruling after they were “consulted by victims in a small number of incidents.”

Cohen said the rabbis “saw the need to go public with their ruling in case there were other victims that they did not know about who were still unsure about reporting abuse to authorities.”

Lani Santo, executive director of Footsteps, a not-for-profit organization that helps people who leave the ultra-Orthodox world, said her organization had noticed that its clients talk about abuse much more openly these days.

Santo said that last year, one-fifth of new Footsteps clients told of an episode of sexual abuse during their first interview with the group.

“People talk about it as a commonplace practice,” Santo said.

But in many cases, by the time a person reaches Footsteps, his or her abuse claim is too old to be prosecuted, Santo said.

Such was the case for Twersky, who is now 26. The statute of limitations has run out for pressing charges against the man he alleges abused him 14 years ago. But in December 2009 the same rabbi was arrested by the Brooklyn DA on charges of molesting another boy.

“He went on doing what he did for 15 years, with no one getting in his way, because he is the son of a very, very powerful man,” Twersky said.

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger


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