This is an updated version of a story that first appeared on forward.com earlier this week.
Orthodox Jews convicted of or charged with child sex abuse in Brooklyn should have their identities protected because of the community’s “tight-knit and insular” nature, prosecutors claim in a response to The Forward’s request for information about the cases.
Rejecting the request under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office stated that Orthodox Jews deserve a blanket exemption from the usual public disclosure rules.
Brooklyn prosecutors, working in the office of District Attorney Charles Hynes, claimed that Orthodox Jews are “unique” in that releasing the names of suspects would allow others in the community to identify their victims.
“The circumstances here are unique,” Assistant District Attorney Morgan Dennehy wrote in an April 16 letter to the Forward. “Because all of the requested defendant names relate to Hasidic men who are alleged to have committed sex crimes against Hasidic victims within a very tight-knit and insular Brooklyn community, there is a significant danger that the disclosure of the defendants’ names would lead members of that community to discern the identities of the victims.”
The policy quickly came under fire from community groups, children’s advocates and legal experts.
Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox umbrella group that usually supports Hynes’s approach to combating abuse in the community, came out against the decision to claim a blanket exemption.
Rabbi David Zwiebel, who is Agudath’s executive vice president and a legal expert, said that a policy of withholding names of perpetrators should not be “across the board” in any community, according to Agudath spokesman Rabbi Avi Shafran.
Instead, Zwiebel believes that the release of defendants’ names should be evaluated on “a case-by-case basis,” Shafran said.
Although Brooklyn District Attorney Hynes has long resisted requests to identify Orthodox sex suspects, the letter is believed to represent the first time his office spelled out why it specifically singled them out for preferential treatment.
Dennehy cited the state’s civil rights laws in denying the Forward’s request for the names of 85 Orthodox Jews arrested on sex charges during the past three years. The Forward made its request in December 2011 after prosecutors announced that scores of Orthodox Jews had been charged under a special program designed to encourage the community to come forward with information.
He did not explain whether prosecutors had concluded that there was anything specific about each of the 85 suspects that might make it possible for others to determine the identity of the victim from the identity of the suspect.
He also did not explain whether such a blanket exemption might be granted to other similarly “tight-knit” communities in the borough. And there were no details about what criteria prosecutors would use to determine whether a particular group should be granted such preferential status.’