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The age-old system of allowing religious authorities a chance to deal with complaints first may allow those without power to have the problems addressed without the fear of overly harsh sentences meted out onto those who have harmed them. While we might wish to question the efficacy of that system, Hynes has certainly reinforced this insularity with his theatrics.
So when Hynes or others use Nechemya Weberman as a bully pulpit, they are in effect further isolating the community, and more importantly, its victims. It certainly seems unlikely that the Weberman case will help break down the so-called ‘wall of silence’ in the ultra-Orthodox community. Telling someone they are worse than the Mafia is not likely to encourage them to change their ways.
The pieties written by Hynes in his Daily News article and echoed by the judge’s sentence of 103 years are not actually designed to protect victims. They are aimed at promoting his own political future and selling papers to a public anxious for their prejudices against the Hasidic community to be given back to them in verdict form.
“This sentence is a mockery,” Nathan Dershowitz said when I spoke to him on the phone. He is representing Baruch Lebovits, another accused sex abuser whose conviction was recently overturned on appeal. “This isn’t justice, but playing to an audience.”
Justice must of course be served whether there is one victim or a hundred. But the D.A.’s office, with the help of the media transformed a case with one accuser into a cause célèbre similar to the case of Jerry Sandusky at Penn State or the rampant abuse involving Catholic priests worldwide. What was lacking in numbers was made up for with gory details.
Nathan Dershowitz predicts that Weberman will appeal, based on “major issues,” including the media coverage and what he called issues of the victim’s credibility. Dershowitz also pointed to several issues regarding the judge’s ruling in the case. Perhaps one of these disturbing issues is the claim that prosecutors bullied two of the defense’s potential key witnesses into not testifying. Weberman’s wife, Chaya, and the victim’s ex-boyfriend, Jeremy Solomon, were both warned to get their own lawyers if they decided to appear on the stand, a veiled threat that they could face charges themselves, George Farkas, said. Solomon was also threatened with arrest, according to George Farkas. For Nathan Dershowitz, this represents a clear violation of Nechemya Weberman’s right to a fair trial.
No one can defend a person who sexually abuses a child. But the appropriateness of 103 years in prison must be questioned, especially if it is designed to send a message not to that defendant but to an entire community.
Batya Ungar-Sargon is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer who teaches at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.