Orthodox Suspects' Names Held Back by Brooklyn DA

By Associated Press
April 24, 2012

The hotline for sex-crime victims to call was announced with a press release heralding how it would help Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish Community.

But since its creation in 2009, information on who, exactly, has been arrested or convicted has been hard to come by. The office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes says that's because in such a small insular community, revealing the names of defendants could lead to identifying their victims.

That stance has been met with criticism by those who say it doesn't make sense, and doesn't help victims.

"It's not that small, it's not that close-knit," said Michael Lesher, an Orthodox writer and attorney who has been involved in cases dealing with sex abuse issues. "I can't believe the Orthodox community is so unique in that respect that it deserves this preferential treatment for the perpetrators."

Various media outlets had filed Freedom of Information requests to get the names, after the Brooklyn DA said late last year that 85 people had been arrested since the hotline had opened in 2009. In a letter to staff writer Paul Berger at The Jewish Daily Forward last week, the office said there was a "significant danger" that revealing the defendants would disclose the victims in such a tight-knit and insular community. Most of the city's Orthodox Jews live in Brooklyn.

"Once identified, the sex crime victims will face challenges unique to this community which, in this Office's experience, likely will cause the victims to withdraw and cease their cooperation, making the prosecution of the defendants extremely difficult, if not impossible," the letter said.

Speaking to The Associated Press on Tuesday, spokesman Jerry Schmetterer said the "anonymity of the victims is crucial to the success of our program."

He added that there are other ways to find defendants' names in public records, such as in police arrest reports and when their names are announced in court appearances.

State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents a part of Brooklyn that has neighborhoods with strong Orthodox presence, said Hynes needed to come out and explain the office policy to the community.

"If you feel you're doing something that is correct and righteous, explain it to us," he said.

He said the main concern was how to best ensure children's safety. "How do we protect our children if we have no clue who the people are who have been convicted and might be living next door to us?" he said.

There was some support for the DA's position. Rabbi David Zwiebel of Agudath Israel of America, a policy and leadership organization for the Orthodox community, said the DA had the right to determine if a victim's identity could be determined by the perpetrator's. But he also said it shouldn't be a blanket policy, but one that's evaluated for each case.