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Agudath Israel’s officials believe they made progress last year when they announced mesirah does not always apply in cases of suspected child abuse.
That declaration came with the major caveat that ultra-Orthodox Jews should consult a rabbi who can assess whether their suspicions are reasonable before they may contact authorities.
The only exception is in cases where a person is a victim of abuse or has witnessed abuse. Under such conditions, a parent whose child claims to have been abused would have to seek advice from a rabbi before contacting police. So too would an ultra-Orthodox teacher or social worker, who are mandated to report suspected abuse to authorities under New York State law.
Hynes, who was flanked in the interview by the chief of his sex crimes unit, Rhonnie Jaus, also forcefully defended his policy of not releasing the names of adults charged in sex abuse cases involving members of the ultra-Orthodox.
The majority of those cases involve ultra-Orthodox adults charged with sex crimes, though in some cases the defendants are members of the non-Jewish community who targeted ultra-Orthodox children.
Hynes’s office refuses to release even the names of people who have pled guilty to or been convicted of sex abuse charges, including 18 people who have registered or who will have to register as sex offenders.
Hynes claims that because of the “tight-knit and insular nature” of the ultra-Orthodox community, revealing the identity of the defendant in each case will almost certainly reveal the identity of victims. He says that if ultra-Orthodox victims believe there is a risk that they will be named, his entire Kol Tzedek program will break down.
The policy has been criticized by victims’ advocates and by legal specialists. Even Agudath Israel has objected to a blanket ban on releasing names of ultra-Orthodox defendants. But Hynes was defiant.
“I will not put victims at risk,” Hynes said.
Hynes admitted that he had been “completely unsuccessful” at combating abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community for his first 18 years in office. He said that the key aspect of reversing that record was guaranteeing the anonymity of victims by also keeping the names of suspected and convicted molesters secret.
“When we stopped identifying the defendant our production of cases… skyrocketed,” Hynes said.
He credited the Forward with recognizing his success in an article that revealed he has brought cases against far more Orthodox sex suspects than other prosecutors nationwide.