We have previously discussed the often hostile treatment of victims of sexual abuse in some Orthodox Jewish communities. On Monday, one such case reached verdict with the conviction of Nechemya Weberman, a religious counselor in Brooklyn’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community. Weberman was convicted of 59 counts for the sustained sexual abuse of a girl who was sent to him after she began to question her faith and dress immodestly. The case highlighted the harsh treatment of those who reveal such crimes in the Orthodox community. During the trial, three men were charged with criminal contempt for snapping images of the victim on the witness stand with cellphone cameras and then posting them online. Previously, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes charged four men with trying to bribe the accuser to drop the charges. The case also raised troubling questions of special treatment given to the accused in this politically powerful community by Hynes in withholding their names from the public.
Weberman is a member of the large Orthodox community in Brooklyn. The 59 counts include sustained sex abuse of a child, endangering the welfare of a child and other counts. The abuse started when the girl was just 12 and continued until she was 15. Her parents were concerned that she was expressing interest in boys and dressing immodestly. She was also questioning their rigid faith practices of the Satmar Hasidic sect. He response, according to the jury, was sexually abusing her. The family paid him $12,800 in counseling fees.
Weberman, 54, is looking at a possible 25 years in prison.
Defense attorney Stacey Richman insisted that the girl was just vengeful and made up the entire story.
What is most disturbing are accounts from the girl and her family of how they were shunned and mistreated by the community for accusing a prominent Orthodox person. The father lost his business and the girl’s nieces were kicked out of their school.
The recent charges against the men show not just the continued hostility toward victims but the disregard of legal authority over the actions of some members of this community. The grotesque distortion of moral and ethical principles is shocking but hardly unique in today’s world of religious extremism. Rather than view the accused as a threat to this religious sect, it was the victim and her family that were blindly persecuted and harassed. The continued contempt shown by these individuals only magnifies the earlier concerns over the troubling special treatment shown by Hynes. There is clearly an absence of responsibility in parts of this community for such crimes. That leaves it to the government to reinforce the values clearly missing among these self-described moral men.