By Sharon Otterman (New York Times)
November 27, 2012
The young Orthodox Jewish woman who took the stand to testify in her sexual abuse case in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn on Tuesday faced an inscrutable jury but also a crowd of sympathetic observers.
Her extended family, friends, victims’ advocates, and some who said they were sexually abused within the Orthodox Jewish community filled the three rows of seats. More supporters waited outside.
At the same time, the prominent ultra-Orthodox Jewish man from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Nechemya Weberman, who stands accused of molesting the young woman, had only a few family members and supporters present in the courtroom.
Abe Rubenstein, an audience member whose son had testified as a victim in a high-profile Orthodox Jewish sexual abuse case in Borough Park, Brooklyn, two years ago, remembered how that courtroom had been packed with supporters of the defendant. That experience, prosecutors said, was typical of a community that had tried for years to intimidate sexual abuse victims into silence.
“Only I was there,” Mr. Rubenstein remembered. “When my son testified, he said he felt alone in the jungle.”
This time, people said that they came because they had read on victims’ advocacy blogs that the victim needed support or heard about her case through publicity surrounding a fund-raiser for Mr. Weberman in May.
Though the young woman’s parents had asked her to drop the case as recently as this spring, the victim testified, about 20 members of her family came to show their support in court.
“The anger has reached a level where people have decided to put an end to making the victim into the villain,” said Judy Genut, an advocate for abuse victims in Williamsburg.
The testimony of the young woman, who turns 18 next week, lasted for hours.
She recalled in detail her first meeting with Mr. Weberman, now 54, at an apartment he used as an office. Her father, she testified, had brought her there for counseling at age 12 because he falsely believed she was having a physical relationship with a 16-year-old neighbor named Shimmy.
Mr. Weberman, she testified, locked the door to his office as the session started, spoke to her, and, later, asked her to stand up.
“He asked me, ‘Did Shimmy kiss you like that?’ ” she said. Then, she testified, he kissed her. “He asked me, ‘Did he touch you on the breast?’ And he did that. And then, he kept going down.”
“I just froze,” she said. “I didn’t know how to fight back.”
She said nothing to her father when he came to pick her up, she testified under cross-examination. Nor did she tell her family she wanted to stop going to sessions, though she said the abuse went on for years, in four-hour sessions that sometimes were held several times a week. In 2011, she reported being abused to a licensed therapist, who brought her to the police.
George Farkas, a defense lawyer, argued Monday that the young woman, who often got into trouble for flouting strict Satmar dress codes and other rules, was making up the abuse story because she wanted revenge against Mr. Weberman, who she believed had told her parents about a boyfriend she had when she was 15. The boy, then 18, was subsequently arrested, though the charges were later dropped.
Michael Farkas, another defense lawyer, asked the young woman if she sometimes felt a deep anger at her religious community and those who enforced its strict rules. She said she did.
But when prosecutors asked her whom she blamed for the boyfriend’s arrest, she did not say Mr. Weberman.
“I blamed my father,” she said.