In recent months there has been much reporting in the Jewish and mainstream media on the Brooklyn district attorney’s claims of success in bringing charges against and prosecuting Orthodox sex offenders.
Charles Hynes has touted his confidential Kol Tzedek hotline as a major reason for the dramatic increase in prosecutions of these crimes. The hotline seeks to offer “culturally sensitive support, assistance and advocacy for victims on criminal justice issues,” according to its website, focusing on sexual abuse in the Orthodox community. But the DA’s recent disclosures make it clear that many of his Orthodox cases did not come to his office via the hotline, or even through outreach efforts by his staff, but rather as a result of the diligence of grassroots activists who have supported and guided courageous victims through the criminal justice system. In fact, many abuse survivors have told us that they are wary of the DA’s “special treatment,” which, they fear, will result more often than not in the protection of perpetrators and powerful communal institutions at the expense of justice for victims.
Some observers have looked at Hynes’ record and compared it favorably to that of DAs in other areas with large ultra-Orthodox communities, like Lakewood, N.J., Baltimore or Rockland County. But to make this comparison without taking into account the factors that make Brooklyn different from these communities distorts the picture.
None of these other communities has the concentration of advocacy groups, bloggers and media coverage that can be found in, or focused on, Orthodox Brooklyn. And, while most of these other communities are dominated by one ultra-Orthodox group — often in control of a powerful communal institution — Brooklyn plays host to a wide variety of factions. As a result, DAs in these other jurisdictions tend to be subject to far less public scrutiny, while victims have less organized support and face greater potential for retribution for coming forward.
To be sure, Hynes has had successes, most recently a guilty plea of 20 years to life from a man who admitted to molesting two children over several years — a case that was also facilitated by activists and highlighted by the media.
Even so, too many Brooklyn victims complain of shoddy treatment by the DA’s office and are unhappy with plea deals offered their abusers. And, although The Jewish Week is aware of cases of actual and attempted witness tampering, none appears to have been prosecuted by the Brooklyn DA.
Charles Hynes should be commended for the good he has done. However, we will reserve our praise for the DA until he lifts the veil of secrecy with which he has shrouded these cases and ends his “special treatment” of the Orthodox community — treatment he justifies by appealing to the need to protect victims but that, in reality, appears to do more to shield powerful interests, including his own, from public scrutiny and accountability.