One father, in a recent case of ours, was told by a member of his synagogue that if his daughter testified in the criminal case, male community members would fill the courtroom on the day of her testimony in order to place even more pressure her.
I will not tolerate this type of intimidation of victims and their families. I have set up a law enforcement panel comprised of highly experienced law enforcement professionals whose mission it will be to root out and prosecute cases of intimidation. I am the chair of this committee and will do everything in my power to ensure its success.
The media requested that my office release a list of all the Orthodox Jewish defendants the Kol Tzedek program has generated. My position is that releasing the names of defendants involved in Kol Tzedek cases would inevitably reveal the identity of the victims and subject them to intimidation and retribution within the community. The New York Civil Rights Law prohibits the direct disclosure of the names of victims of sexual assault or any information that might identify them. Records of arrests and court appearances are, however, available to the public.
Our experience has shown that once a member of the ultra-Orthodox community has been arrested, the victim’s identity is relentlessly sought. When a victim’s identity is obtained, various levels of pressure and intimidation are exerted upon the victim to make his or her life unbearable. Concern over this exposure is the number one reason victims are reluctant to prosecute.
Another argument that has been raised to support the release of this list is that the people need to know if a sex offender is living in their neighborhood. That is precisely why the New York State Sex Offender Registry was created in 1996. One need only enter a zip code into the Registry and all the registered level-two and -three convicted sex offenders from the neighborhood will be revealed.
The suggestion that I condoned the practice of first seeking a rabbi’s advice before an Orthodox Jewish community member reports sexual abuse is an unfortunate distortion of my record. I have never suggested that someone seeking the advice of a rabbi about sexual abuse allegations is then relieved of the obligation of reporting sexual abuse to the appropriate authorities. I am well aware of the mandated reporting laws of this state, which require certain frontline professionals to report allegations of child abuse in custodial settings to the State Central Register. I would never condone the violation of these important laws.
Although I would not interfere with anyone’s decision to speak to his or her religious leader, these allegations of criminal conduct must be reported to the appropriate law enforcement authorities. In fact, my concern that some rabbis might advise those with knowledge of sexual abuse to withhold that information from law enforcement is precisely why, with the assistance of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, Ohel and the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, I created Project Kol Tzedek.
Kol Tzedek has been a very effective crime-fighting tool and will continue to be so.
Charles J. Hynes is district attorney of Kings County (Brooklyn), a position he has held since 1990.