A week after a blistering series in the New York Times detailing his apparent complicity in an effort by Brooklyn’s Ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic leaders to cover up sex abuse in their communities, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes is in damage-control mode.
We noted earlier this week that some journalists in the Jewish press felt the Times was remiss in failing to credit the work of reporters who had come before. But even those critics acknowledge that the ability of the Times to command public attention was a tremendous boon to those seeking reform.
It looks like they’re right: in the week since the series ran, Hynes has been on the defensive. Sunday, he gave an interview to WCBS, attempting to re-frame his position. “I didn’t object to someone going to see a rabbi..but I certainly expected that they would report promptly any allegations of sexual abuse,” he said.
He also defended his special policy of not releasing the names of Orthodox Jews charged with sex crimes, arguing that to do so would lead to retaliation against the victims.
But the hits kept coming. On Tuesday, former Mayor Ed Koch weighed in with a column on the Huffington Post, concluding,
“At this point, unless District Attorney Hynes announces that he will release the names of all defendants, including those of ultra orthodox Jews charged with child abuse, sexual or otherwise, and will pursue criminally anyone who engages in obstruction of justice, advising someone not to assist the police in their investigation of a child abuse incident, the governor should supersede him in these cases and appoint a special prosecutor to handle them.”
Hynes fired off an email to Koch, reiterating his argument that by protecting sex criminals he is actually protecting victims. This kicked an exchange that Koch later released to the Times and the Jewish Week.
Koch wrote back, pointing out Hynes’s double standard: ” Your fear of disclosure of victim identities would apply to Catholic clergy and the many altar boys who were victims of sexual abuse. Yet you disclosed, as do all district attorneys, the names of the alleged predators in the Catholic clergy.”
Hynes countered that Catholic clergy sex abuse cases don’t lead produce victim intimidation the way Orthodox sex abuse cases do, to which Koch responded by stating the obvious: “The answer to the problem is, you have to go after those in the Hasidic community who are engaging in the obstruction of justice and intimidating the victims and their families.”
Today, the Jewish Week reports that Hynes may finally be looking into doing just that, assembling an expert committee to examine how to address issues of witness intimidation in Ultra-Orthodox sex abuse cases.
What that commission might look like, and whether its recommendations will lead to action once the glare of the media spotlight dies down, remain open questions. But activists and longtime observers say the long fight to make Hynes take the issue seriously may finally have turned an important corner.