CBS News New York
March 28, 2012
The issue of child sexual abuse cuts across all ethnic and religious lines.
But some say in the Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish communities of Brooklyn, the problem is compounded by religious taboos that make reporting abusers to police very rare.
They say it is a secret and that children continue to suffer.
Mordechai Jungreis said he was victimized twice — once when his son was sexually abused by a member of the community and again when he was shunned trying to get him help.
"I told my wife right away this child is getting molested," Jungreis told CBS 2′s Chris Wragge. "The perpetrator always got support from the community."
In the insular, tight-knit world of Hasidic and Orthodox Jews, problems are taken care of internally. In all matters, including sex abuse, a rabbi is consulted.
Jungreis said he called many rabbis, but none helped, even though he said they knew about the alleged abuser.
"They knew how dangerous this guy is," he said. "They never did anything to get him off the street."
What made matters so difficult is that Jewish law forbids informing on another Jew.
But two rabbis told Jungreis he could get around that by bringing the boy to a therapist, who would legally have to report the abuse.
But when that happened, Jungreis was blamed.
"You get revenge, hell, torture, ostracized — you name it. What a family and victim is going through if you are reporting a Jew," Jungreis said.
Ben Hirsch, who runs Survivors For Justice, an advocacy group for sex abuse victims in the Orthodox community, said that scenario keeps many abusers protected.
"This is a mindset among very many parents of victims they know — that if they step forward to protect one of their children that the entire family is going to suffer serious consequences," Hirsch told Wragge.
Hirsch said rabbis shouldn't investigate sex crimes, but rather, the police should. However, Agudath Israel, an Orthodox policy organization, said getting the rabbi's OK makes it easier to report cases to authorities.
Hirsch said he doesn't buy it.
"I know of many instances of coverup. I know of many instances where rabbis are stopping people from coming forward," he said.
In Jungreis' case, the alleged abuser admitted that as a child he had been molested and, Jungreis said, the cycle of abuse continued with his own son.
"Not only did he victimize him, he learned him how to be a perpetrator," Jungreis said.
Assemblyman Dov Hikind has been a leader in bringing the problem out in the open.
"People's lives have been destroyed and we don't want the next generation to face the same thing that our generation has faced," Hikind said.
Worst of all, Hirsh said, is the message from community leaders to its children.
"The children who are victims and are perceived to be collateral damage. Their focus is their power base, their focus is the community at large, the greater good, in their view," Hirsh said.
Jungreis said, despite the cost, he is determined to help break the devastating cycle of abuse.
"You have a right to have a voice, you will have a voice. There's no such thing as we cannot have a voice," Jungreis said.
There have been 85 arrests in the community in recent years.
Thursday night, CBS 2 will take a look at why the Brooklyn district attorney is under fire for how some of those cases have been handled.