NYC ultra-orthodox Jewish community ostracized molestation victim, calling her a ‘slut’ and spitting on the girl and her family
NEW YORK (AP) — The abuse went on for nearly three years before the schoolgirl told anyone that her spiritual adviser was molesting her while he was supposed to be mentoring her about her religion, authorities said.
But in Brooklyn’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community, 53-year-old Nechemya Weberman has been embraced and defended as wrongly accused. The girl has been called a slut and a troublemaker, her family threatened and spat at on the street.
The rallying around Weberman, who goes on trial this month, and ostracizing of his accuser and her family reflects long-held beliefs in this insular community that problems should be dealt with from within and that elders have far more authority than the young. It also brought to light allegations that the district attorney was too cozy with powerful rabbis, a charge he vehemently denies.
“There are other people that claim misconduct and they can’t come out because they’re going to be re-victimized and ostracized by the community,” said Judy Genut, a friend of the accuser’s family who counsels troubled girls.
Brooklyn is home to about 250,000 ultra-orthodox Jews, the largest community outside of Israel. Step onto a Williamsburg street and tall guys in skinny jeans and tattoos are mingling with a flush of men in dark coats and hats carrying prayer books and speaking Yiddish. The Hasidic Jews appear to outsiders as though they come from another time; embracing centuries-old traditions, they wear black clothes, tall hats, long beards and earlocks. Women wear long skirts and cover their heads after they marry.
They have their own ambulances and schools, called yeshivas, their own civilian police and rabbinical courts. Members are encouraged to first speak to a rabbi before going to secular authorities — and as a result, cases rarely make it to outside law enforcement.
The topic has been studied and reported in the Jewish media for years and has recently made headlines in New York papers.
“They think that anyone who turns over anyone to the outside authorities is committing a transgression to the community at large,” said Samuel Heilman, a professor of Jewish studies at Queens College.
The girl, now 17, was sent to Weberman at age 12 because she’d been asking theological questions and he had a reputation for helping people back on the spiritual path. He often counseled people, though he had no formal training. But during sessions, authorities say, he forced the girl to perform sex acts.
The girl started dressing immodestly, was deemed a troublemaker and removed from her school — one Weberman was affiliated with — and sent to another, family friends said. The allegations surfaced in 2011 when she told a guidance counselor there she’d been molested.
The Associated Press typically doesn’t identify people who say they are the victims of sexual assault.
Weberman has pleaded not guilty, and articles in Hasidic newspapers have proclaimed his innocence and begged the community for support. More than 1,000 men showed up for a fundraiser aiming to raise $500,000 for his legal fees and, if he’s convicted and jailed, money for his family.
“It’s very hard for the town to believe the things that he’s being accused of because he has a reputation of doing good and being good,” Genut said.
George Farkas, Weberman’s lawyer, said his client isn’t guilty but is damned regardless because the allegations will taint his reputation.
The family has said they would’ve preferred to handle the allegations within the community. But when accusations are managed from the inside, victims are rarely believed and abusers aren’t punished — in part because the word of an elder is respected over the word of a child, victims and advocates say.
This should not stand, especially in a liberal democracy, where Secular Law is absolute. Those that knew about the sexual molestation but nothing should be charged and those that actively covered it up should be charged with same crimes as the pedophile.