Is Brooklyn's D.A. Really Better Than All The Rest?

By Failed Messiah Blog
May 9, 2012

In an attempt to see how Charles Hynes, the ethically challenged Brooklyn D.A., stacks up in terms of child sex abuse prosecutions to other D.A.s in other cities with large haredi populations, the Forward's Paul Berger decided to compare them, finding that "a Forward survey of several other jurisdictions with large concentrations of Orthodox Jews suggests Hynes's record of indictments and convictions of such predators far outstrips that of prosecutors with less focused, if ostensibly more transparent, policies"

To do this comparison and reach this conclusion, one would think it necessary to compare the size and cultural make-up of Brooklyn's haredi community – which is really more than a dozen smaller religious communities that often compete with and fight one another – with the size and make-up of the haredi communities in these other cities.

One would also think that it would be necessary to compare other issues, like differences in mandatory reporting law between the locations.

But Berger doesn't bother with trivial details like this. He simply compares the huge, heterogeneous Brooklyn haredi community with the largely homogeneous (and much smaller) communities elsewhere as if they were all of similar size and composition: Florida's Miami-Dade County, Leah Klein, liaison to the Jewish community, recalled just one Orthodox abuse case during the past five years. A spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said she, too, remembered only one Orthodox abuse case in recent years.

Miami-Dade's Orthodox population is much smaller than Brooklyn's. Miami-Dade's is mostly non-haredi, and many of those who would be counted as haredi are non-haredi Jews who pray at Chabad Houses (which themselves bear little similarity to anything haredi).

Los Angeles's Orthodox community is largely Modern Orthodox. What isn't is almost exclusively Chabad, and Chabad in the L.A. area is made up primarily by ba'alei teshuva. Brooklyn's Chabad community is much different in composition and in religious practice.

These differences matter.

It also matters that Lakewood is essentially a one party company town controlled by Lakewood Yeshiva rabbis, a place where victims and their families face swift, draconian retribution for speaking out or calling police. Overnight, victim's families have found that their children have been banned from the community's schools, the family is no longer welcome in the synagogue they've prayed in for decades, and the parent's sources of income are in peril. The local D.A. is prosecuting one witness tampering case similar to this and would like to prosecute the case of an arson fire that destroyed a victim's family's home – if there was a suspect to prosecute, but there isn't. There are also other intimidated families and more cases of witness tampering and related crimes, but these families capitulated and did not report the intimidation and threats to the D.A.

Berger reports some of this Lakewood material. But what he does not report is that these types of threats are less viable in Brooklyn, where there are dozens of competing schools and haredi groups with no clear, overarching hierearchy. Consequently more victims and their families are more able to come forward. But not in Lakewood. Berger also fails to note that one of main complaints against Brooklyn's Hynes by victim's advocates is that Hynes has not prosecuted witness tampering and intimidation carried out against victims and their families. If Hynes had prosecuted, perhaps many more haredi child sex abuse victims would have come forward.

There is a large concentration of advocates, victims groups, blogs like this one, newspapers and other media which closely follow Brooklyn's haredi community and these crimes. That cannot be said about any other community Berger compared Brooklyn to, but Berger does not note this, either.

Berger knows little about the communities he covers, and his journalist's skills are raw at best.

One would have hoped that the Forward's editors would have noted the gaps in Berger's article and the fallacy those gaps created.

But they didn't.

However, other editors outside the Forward did notice. In the paper's editorial this week, The Jewish Week's editors write:

...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....

The truth, however, can't unring the bell the Forward sloppily rang. But the Forward can try to do it by amending the article and noting the gaps in it. And that is what it should do.