Abuse Cases in Brooklyn

A recent article in The New York Times cast a much-needed light on the handling of child-abuse allegations within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Brooklyn and within the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes. The report contained several disturbing revelations, including evidence that the families of some victims have been shunned within their community for having reported allegations to law-enforcement officials.

The report also found that Mr. Hynes has refused to publicize the names of defendants from the ultra-Orthodox community because of privacy concerns. And yet he has been aggressive in publicizing the names of others accused of child abuse and related crimes. The double standard also is deeply troubling.

Allegations of child abuse have shaken many communities in recent years, from the Catholic Church around the world to the campus of Penn State University to the insular ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Wherever people in authority failed to do the right thing, victims were doubly victimized, and perpetrators were allowed to either walk free or, worse, commit more crimes against children.

Child abuse is a criminal offense that requires the intervention of secular law-enforcement officials. Quite simply, recent history has shown that bishops, rabbis and legendary football coaches are not prepared to deal with these horrific crimes. Their instinct is to cover up, to protect institutions rather than expose wrongdoing.
Families who have been violated require support, not scorn. The Times report indicates, however, that within Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox communities, parents who reported allegations of child abuse to the district attorney rather than a rabbinical authority were treated as outcasts. The Times report noted that Mr. Hynes has never “publicly opposed” the community’s position that allegations of abuse must be brought to a rabbi first, leaving it to the rabbi to decide whether or not to bring them to Mr. Hynes’ attention.

There is no question that Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox communities are the very definition of insular, and that members of those communities worry about the ramifications of going to authorities with evidence of shocking crimes. What will outsiders think?

Discretion, then, is important. But discretion cannot mean a cover-up. It cannot mean a double standard. And it cannot mean placing the image of an institution or a community ahead of simple justice.

Mr. Hynes’s office established a special outreach effort to the ultra-Orthodox community several years ago, as the office came under criticism for its handling (or non-handling) of abuse cases. That was a step in the right direction. But Mr. Hynes and community leaders must make a greater effort to ensure that families do not fear going to authorities with evidence of crimes. And Mr. Hynes ought to treat defendants with a single standard, one that is central to the American justice system: Suspects are innocent until proven guilty.
The discretion that Mr. Hynes shows to ultra-Orthodox suspects should govern his treatment of all suspects. If he wishes to take bows, he should do so after convictions. Not before.