NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Finding sexual abusers of children and prosecuting their cases is one of law enforcement’s top priorities.
But in Brooklyn, District Attorney Charles Hynes’ office has come under fire what not vigorously pursuing cases in the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities, a charge Hynes vehemently denies.
On Friday afternoons in Williamsburg families prepare for the Sabbath. It is a sheltered community known for its devotion to old world values, but some say its a community with a secret made worse by decades of cover-up and law enforcement that looks the other way.
“We have a wonderful community, a beautiful community, but we have some of the same of the problems the rest of the world have,” Assemblyman Dov Hikind recently told CBS 2’s Chris Wragge.
The problem is the sexual abuse of children and the failure to report it to authorities. In the insular world of Hasidic and Orthodox Jews, it is the accuser who is believed to bring shame on the community, while the abuser is often pitied.
“It’s an environment that protects offenders,” said Ben Hirsch of advocacy group Survivors For Justice. “There are a lot of known perpetrators in the community and they’re not being reported.”
In 2009, the Brooklyn district attorney set up a special unit to deal with the abuse cases in the Orthodox community. Since then, there have been 85 arrests, but the cases are shrouded in secrecy. Hynes won’t release names of the alleged abusers, saying it could identify victims.
“It’s a civil rights statute that precludes us from identifying the people,” Hynes said.
But not all district attorneys agree with that interpretation of the civil rights law. Assemblyman Hikind said he finds Hynes’ position inexplicable.
“Why he will not release information that other district attorneys release readily to the public because it is in the public interest, I just don’t get that,” Hikind said.
Hirsch said Hynes is bowing to pressure from politically powerful rabbis.
“I do believe that Charles Hynes is playing politics with children’s lives,” Hirsch said.
A charge Hynes dismisses.
“There is no more forceful partner with advocates whether it’s sex abuse or domestic violence than I have been in the 21 years I have been district attorney in this town,” Hynes said.
Of the 85 arrests, 14 have resulted in prison terms and some are critical of Hynes’ commitment to prosecute cases.
“Justice, that’s all we wanted,” said one abuse victim’s father.
“I wanted something to be done about it,” another added.
Those fathers, who didn’t want to be identified by CBS 2, said their sons were abused by Rabbi Joel Kolko. They said both boys were willing to testify against him at trial, but they were stunned when the district attorney let Kolko plead to lesser charges of endangering the welfare of a child, and given three years probation.
“He basically walked free and that’s what they wanted,” one of the fathers said.
“It was just shocking … shocking. It was a shock. We waiting for justice and it’s not being done,” the other added.
But some say cases fall apart because families back out because they are afraid of being ostracized.
“I think they throw the towel in. They might notify the DA after they’ve been to the DA that we’re not pressing the case,” Hikind said.
However, the victims’ fathers and their children were willing to go forward and they said they will never forget the justice denied them by the district attorney.
“They should do what’s right for the families that has been a victim of this guy, and not what’s right for the other side,” one of the fathers said.
Rabbi Kolko was arrested for violating his probation. A spokesman for the district attorney said there will no plea this time. His lawyer said evidence needs to come out at trial before anyone makes conclusions.
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