Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes may be virtually alone in setting up a special program to prosecute child sex abusers in the Orthodox community — and then refusing to disclose their names. But a Forward survey of several other jurisdictions with large concentrations of Orthodox Jews suggests Hynes’s record of indictments and convictions of such predators far outstrips that of prosecutors with less focused, if ostensibly more transparent, policies.
The survey, conducted after Hynes’s office formally acknowledged its policy of non-disclosure in a recent letter to the Forward, did not cover every Orthodox community. And the issue is further complicated by evidence that Hynes’s claim to have charged 85 Orthodox adults with sexual abuse in three years may be inflated.
But in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, Leah Klein, liaison to the Jewish community, recalled just one Orthodox abuse case during the past five years. A spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said she, too, remembered only one Orthodox abuse case in recent years. Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Ford, whose office covers Lakewood, N.J., said she could recall only three abuse cases against an Orthodox adult since she took up the post five years ago.
Ford was one of several prosecutors who said it was unusual that Hynes refused to release the names of Orthodox abuse suspects he has compiled via Kol Tzedek, a special outreach program to Orthodox victims of sexual abuse. But several other prosecutors also declined to release such names.
Patricia Gunning, chief of the sex crimes unit in Rockland County, N.Y., said her office keeps no formal list like the one Hynes has compiled but she is currently handling about half a dozen Orthodox felonies plus multiple misdemeanors. Asked to disclose the names of these defendants, she refused.
The rarity of indictments or convictions of Orthodox sexual predators in other jurisdictions, compared with Hynes’s Brooklyn, suggests the complexity of evaluating the Brooklyn D.A.’s claim that pursuing sexual abuse in Orthodox communities requires a special approach.
His policy of not publicly disclosing alleged or even convicted Orthodox sexual predators was highlighted formally and in writing for the first time in Hynes’s response to a Freedom of Information Law request from the Forward and other media outlets. The Forward requested the names of the 85 alleged or convicted child sex abusers Hynes has publicly claimed to have charged in the last three years under the Kol Tzedek program.
“The circumstances here are unique,” Assistant District Attorney Morgan Dennehy wrote in his April 16 denial of the Forward’s request. “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.”
Hynes has been criticized for years by abuse victims and their advocates — and in editorials in media outlets such as the Forward — for his handling of sex crimes in the Orthodox community. The prosecutor not only refuses to name Orthodox individuals who have been charged with abuse, he is withholding the names of 14 people who were convicted of abuse-related crimes and 24 Orthodox adults who were released on probation after pleading guilty to lesser charges. They include at least 13 people who have registered or who will have to register as sex offenders.
Advocates for full disclosure argue that releasing names would enable members of these tight-knit communities to better protect their families. Institutions such as schools could also more easily ensure they don’t hire child sex abusers — who sometimes move from one Orthodox community to another — for positions that involve contact with children, advocates say.