Suffering in Silence: A News 12 Special Report

August 31, 2010

KIRYAS JOEL - Shlomo Weiss grew up in Kiryas Joel, a rural Orthodox-Jewish town, and says that he was sexually abused starting at the age of 7, adding that the abuse was regularly covered up by others in the close-knit community.

Now 36 years old and living in Brooklyn, Weiss says that in a horrifying twist, his abuser was the one man who should've been protecting him -- his father.

It would be nine long years before Weiss would seek help, revealing his secret to his school teachers and to the head rabbi at the Nitra Yeshiva in Mount Kisco, where he was studying.

Instead of calling police, however, Weiss says he was sent to study in Europe and then pressured into an arranged marriage at the age of 19. Meanwhile, Weiss' father remained free, working as a school bus driver.

Weiss recently visited the Westchester campus of his yeshiva to demand answers. His former teacher admitted to remembering his story, but said their community is resistant to outside involvement when handling sex abuse cases.

"For them, it's easier not to acknowledge a problem exists," Weiss says.

Advocates say Weiss' story is much more common than people might think.

"I don't think there's any community on Earth that has this percentage of people victimized," says Ben Hirsch, of Survivors for Justice.

Hirsch's Manhattan-based group is dedicated to helping ultra-Orthodox Jewish victims of sexual abuse. Hirsch believes there are thousands of them, yet their cases seldom end up in court because a rabbi's permission is needed to call police.

Over the past 30 years, there has been only one Hassidic man from Kiryas Joel who was convicted of a sex crime. Most pedophiles, however, are simply expelled out of the community, Hirsch says.

However, Ari Felberman, the public relations director for Kiryas Joel, denies all allegations of covering up sexual abuse cases.

Following his interview with News 12, Weiss confronted his father about the alleged abuse, to which Joseph Weiss responded with silence and stormed away. Still, Shlomo Weiss says the experience has left him a changed man. He hopes it will encourage other victims to speak up.