This might seem like a local story of interest and concern primarily to the residents of Brooklyn, yet at a time when numerous state legislatures across America have occupied themselves with countering an imaginary threat from the implementation of Sharia law, little to no mention is made of its Jewish equivalent, Halakha.
The Guardian reports: A systemic cover-up of child sexual abuse in Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish enclaves continues to obstruct justice for young victims, despite claims by religious leaders and the Brooklyn district attorney that the problem is in hand.
A long-standing culture of non-cooperation with secular justice by Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jews keeps many child sex offenders out of the courts and at large in their communities.
Victim advocates say Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes has failed to wrest control from rabbinic leaders, who continue to hamper efforts to uncover abuse. Hynes’ recent claim to have radically increased prosecution rates for these crimes has drawn scorn from critics.
Brooklyn’s Jewish communities, home to the largest number of ultra-Orthodox Jews outside Israel, are insular and close-knit. They maintain their own shadow justice system based on religious halachic law, enforced by religious courts known as the beit din. In recent years, they have also established their own community police force, the Shomrim.
Like the Catholic bishops before them, the ultra-Orthodox rabbis who lead these communities are charged with the concealment of crimes stretching back decades, and of fostering a culture where witnesses are silenced through intimidation.
“The rabbis are still, to an unfortunate degree, protecting the system,” said victims’ advocate Rabbi Yosef Blau, a more moderate Orthodox rabbi than his Brooklyn counterparts and spiritual advisor at Yeshiva University. Blau said the community feels it has to protect its image. “The battle is over the cover-up. That’s what we’re fighting now.”
Until the late 2000s, only a handful of ultra-Orthodox child sex crimes made their way into the criminal courts. But in April 2009 – as pressure from victims’ advocates, whistle-blower blogs and parts of the secular Jewish press intensified – District Attorney Hynes launched Kol Tzedek, a community outreach effort to encourage community leaders to report child sexual abuse. The DA’s Orthodox community liaison Henna White plays a key role in Kol Tzedek, which features a reporting hotline staffed by a culturally sensitive social worker.
Hynes’ office says that between April 2009 and November 2011, there were 85 arrests with 47 of those cases pending. Of the 38 closed cases, it said, six had gone to trial, 23 had ended in plea deals and nine with acquittals or dismissals. These figures contrast sharply with the negligible prosecutions in the years between Hynes taking office in 1990 and the start of Kol Tzedek.
But they also represent a mere fraction of the incidents of abuse that advocates say they hear about. Because of scant reporting, there are no statistics for child sexual abuse in these communities. Most, however, believe the numbers are at least consistent with broader society if not higher.