Law enforcement officials, legal experts, advocates and politicians have questioned why Brooklyn’s District Attorney arrested 85 Orthodox adults on child sex abuse charges but refuses to release their names.
In just three years, District Attorney Charles Hynes has arrested 83 Orthodox men and two women on charges including sexual abuse, attempted kidnapping and sodomy.
But when asked to reveal names — even of the 14 abusers who were convicted of sex crimes — Hynes refuses.
“Under the Civil Rights Law of New York State, we cannot release the names of any victim of sexual assault or any information that would tend to identify them,” said a spokesman for Hynes’s office. Yet, on December 14, Hynes issued a press release announcing the sentencing of Gerald Hatcher, 47, to 72 years in prison for raping his girlfriend’s 11-year-old daughter. Hatcher “was living with his girlfriend and her daughter in their Bedford-Stuyvesant home,” the D.A.’s statement said. The neighborhood is largely non-Jewish.
Sex abuse specialists say prosecutors often withhold names because crimes involve family members, and naming the abuser may inadvertently reveal the identity of victims.
But Jeff Anderson, a lawyer who specializes in sex abuse cases, said the D.A. has arrested too many people for that to be the sole reason to maintain the Orthodox abusers’ anonymity.
“Something else is going on here that I don’t understand and I can’t quite explain,” said Anderson, who has worked on numerous clergy abuse cases and who recently filed a civil lawsuit in the Penn State University sex abuse case.
The Forward has pressed Hynes for weeks to confirm the stunning number of arrests of members of Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox communities, first reported in the Forward on November 11. But the D.A.’s spokesman has not returned phone calls or e-mails requesting comment.
Instead, Rhonnie Jaus, the head of the sex crimes division in the District Attorney’s office, confirmed a figure of 85 arrests to the New York Post on December 11.
The arrests are a sharp contrast to a decade ago, when it was noteworthy if Hynes prosecuted any Orthodox sex abuse cases. In October 2009, Hynes made headlines after announcing the arrest of 26 Orthodox abusers over two years.
Hynes attributed the recent dramatic increase in arrests to Kol Tzedek, a hotline for Orthodox survivors to anonymously report abuse that he launched in January 2009.
Observers within and outside Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox communities agree that the religious culture of its residents confronts law enforcement authorities with special challenges in bringing sex abuse cases to justice. Leading rabbis may invoke Judaic religious laws such as mesirah — a prohibition against informing on a fellow Jew to secular authorities — and the prohibition against lashon harah, evil gossip, as justification for not reporting abuse to law enforcement officials. Community members often feel religiously obligated to heed their rabbis, or face communal ostracism if they don’t.
Ocean County prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford, whose jurisdiction includes the heavily Orthodox enclave of Lakewood, N.J., said she was impressed that Hynes had persuaded so many victims to come forward. “I think it’s a very positive thing,” she said.
But she added that it was unusual to withhold the names of accused molesters. Once a person is arrested, Ford said her office treats each case as a public matter.
“While we would not release names of people merely being investigated for any criminal charge,” Ford said, “once somebody has been charged it’s certainly something that is a matter of public interest.”