Late last year, Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes announced that over the past three years, his department had arrested 85 Orthodox Jewish men and women for sex-related crimes, including crimes against children, but refused to release the suspects’ names. He would not even name the 14 people who had been found guilty of crimes and sentenced.
After continued press inquiry, including a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Jewish Daily Forward, Hynes’s office released a statement today to the Forward to explain his continued withholding of information.
“The circumstances here are unique,” Assistant District Attorney Morgan Dennehy wrote in an April 16 letter to the Forward. “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.”
In fact, the insularity of these communities has been one of the challenges for law enforcement in prosecuting sex crimes within them, which is why, three years ago, the Kol Tzedek or “Voice of Justice” program was created. The goal of Kol Tzedek was to provide a way for victims of sex crimes to come forward without being ostracized by their communities, and to create networks between rabbis and law enforcement in a culturally-sensitive way. Hynes credits Kol Tzedek with the high number of arrests over the last there years, and cites concerns about compromising the program as another reason not to disclose suspect names:
Dennehy also claimed that revealing the names of abuse suspects could harm the operation of the DA’s special hotline, Kol Tzedek, or Voice of Justice, which was set up to three years ago to encourage Orthodox abuse victims to come forward. Disclosing suspects’ names could cause victims to lose faith in the hotline, which in turn would “interfere with law enforcement investigations or judicial proceedings,” he claimed.
Not everyone is buying that explanation, however:
Marci Hamilton, a law professor at Yeshiva University, said that prosecutors’ refusal to release the suspects’ names or other information about their alleged crimes amounts to “enabling” abusers.
“I think they are complicit in what enables these kinds of perpetrators in these kinds of communities if they are going… to refuse to publish names of any child sex predators,” Hamilton said. “When names of perpetrators are made public, their other victims are empowered to come forward and the whole community is given the power to identify and stop them and other predators.”
Trying to do what is best for survivors of sexual abuse is an incredibly complex and difficult thing, even in situations that don’t involve close-knit communities that are often reluctant, for cultural reasons, to speak to the police. The tension between bringing an abuser to justice and creating an environment where a survivor can try to heal and move forward is often impossible to navigate, particularly when children are being asked to testify in court.
I’m sure D.A. Hynes thinks he is doing the right thing but, as Paul Berger at the Forward points out, it is interesting to see the ways in which the Orthodox community is treated differently:
He cited the need to protect the identity of victims. Yet that same week, Hynes issued a press release publicizing the name of a non-Jewish man convicted of raping his girlfriend’s daughter. Hynes released the man’s name, the neighborhood where he lived and the victim’s age, enough information for any neighbor to identify the girl.
Hmm. So what exactly is going on here?