The Orthodox Sex Abuse Crackdown That Wasn’t

The Orthodox Sex Abuse Crackdown That Wasn’t

By Emily Shire

October 7, 2014

Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson ran on the promise that he’d clean up the office’s problems with prosecuting ultra-Orthodox sex offenders who preyed on children—but so far he appears just as lax as his predecessor.

After initially facing up to 32 years in prison for eight counts of child sexual abuse, Baruch Lebovits walked out of Riker's Island last week a free man. He had served just under 16 months of total prison time.

That Lebovits, a cantor from the ultra-Orthodox Borough Park section of Brooklyn, was even convicted is seen as a victory considering the difficulty of prosecuting abuse in that community. However, his release is disappointing, if not surprising, for those who hoped Brooklyn district attorney Kenneth Thompson would be the man to end decades of ultra-Orthodox sex abuse cover-ups.

Thompson beat out Charles Hynes for Brooklyn DA, ending a reign that last more than 23 years. Towards the end of his time as DA, Hynes was scrutinized for his perceived unwillingness to prosecute crimes against the ultra-Orthodox, especially in regards to sexual abuse. At best, his administration appeared exceptionally lax, and at worst, it willfully obstructed justice. He was famously reluctant to release the names of convicted sex abusers in the Orthodox community. His office letRabbi Yehuda Kolko get away without jail time or registering as a sex offender. Instead, Kolko received a plea deal that allowed him to plea guilty to child endangerment. The DA claimed the alleged victims—first graders in Kolko’s class—were unwilling to testify, but chief of the Kings County sex crimes division, Rhonnie Jaus, publicly said that their parents had been willing to put the kids on the stand. It was one of many cases that raised questions about Hynes' willingness to prosecute ultra-Orthodox sex abuse.

Many critics of abuse and corruption in the ultra-Orthodox community hoped and believed Thompson would bring justice to Brooklyn. For his part, Thompson openly criticized Hynes’ record on crimes committed by the ultra-Orthodox. “Every community in Brooklyn has to be treated the same,” he said during a 2013 interview. “When I become Brooklyn DA, I’ll make sure there’s equal justice for everyone, under the law.”

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