Community Pressure: Posters in Brooklyn denounce the accusers of Rabbi Nechamya Weberman. Although most attention has focused on child sex abuse claims against rabbis and teachers, the majority of the cases involve relatives or family friends.
But a list of child sexual abuse cases in that community suggests that another source of pressure, even closer to home, may be at least as important.
The list, released by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes earlier this year, describes 97 abuse cases that Hynes says he prosecuted over the last three years. According to the data, 20% of these cases involved family members — usually fathers, brothers or uncles — and another 37% involved a perpetrator who was a friend or acquaintance.
The information from Hynes’s list must be treated with caution for a number of reasons. Some cases — Hynes’s office won’t say which — include adult victims while others involved non-Jewish perpetrators or victims. But according to Rhonnie Jaus, the head of Hynes’s sex crimes division, the “vast majority” of cases described are those of Orthodox children.
Hynes has also refused to release the names of the perpetrators, making an assessment of their professional positions impossible. Also, rabbis and other authority figures may make up a larger proportion of offenders than the list indicates, but not be present on it simply because people are too scared to report them.
Nevertheless, according to specialists in the field of child abuse, the data are consistent with what is known about such abuse more broadly. Cases involving ultra-Orthodox authority figures dominate headlines, as do those involving clergy members, football coaches and schoolteachers, because they often tend to have large numbers of victims. In terms of victims per perpetrator, such figures constitute concentrated sources of threat to children. But Hynes’s chart indicates that the general threat from family members cannot be ignored.
“You tend to expect that the majority of offenders are not people in a high-profile position,” said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. “They are brothers and uncles, fathers and neighbors.”
Just as secular victims often struggle to bring charges against people close to them, ultra-Orthodox families also grapple with the implications of accusing friends and relatives, these experts say.
“The family doesn’t want the breadwinner to be jailed and the income cut off,” Finkelhor said of secular victims’ families. “They don’t want the rest of the family turning against them because the kid’s fingered the grandparent.”
While the incidence of child sexual abuse within the circle of family and close acquaintances may be no greater than in secular society, ultra-Orthodox families do face special issues when wrestling with the challenge of reporting such people to the police.
Hannah Rubin contributed reporting for this story.