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Editorial: The Reluctant D.A.

The Jewish Week
November 19, 2008

The spectacle of young yeshiva students being sexually abused by their rabbis is a horrifying reality. So is the fact that some yeshiva administrators have allowed this to happen, whether through inattention, reflexive dismissal of complaints brought to their notice or fear of their institutions being exposed to shame.

It is equally disturbing to learn that victims who consider reporting such cases to law enforcement authorities are sometimes subject to communal pressure and intimidation. Advocates for these victims, too, speak of suffering fearsome communal pressures. State Assembly member Dov Hikind has spoken out lately on the fears of the victims who have confided in him. Psychologist Benzion Twerski recently resigned under communal pressure from his role seeking to expose this problem. And now we learn of vicious verbal attacks by rabbinic leaders against Nachum Rosenberg, a longtime advocate on this issue. Apparently a month ago there was also an attempt to harm him physically.

Sadly, it seems an institution whose role in part is to stand up for crime victims also continues to abdicate its responsibility. For several years Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has been treating the issue of child sexual abuse in certain Jewish communities with a stance ranging from passive to weak-willed. Victims brave enough to contemplate going to the authorities - with its attendant social costs - are left wondering if their information will be acted on seriously if they come forward.

Hynes' curious passivity has been on display most recently as Hikind has amassed what he describes as "hundreds" of files with testimony from individuals who say yeshiva teachers molested them when they were children.

By now Hynes should have bestirred his own investigators to act on Hikind's files and to seek out information of their own, before another child is harmed.

Hynes' statements to The Jewish Week and The New York Times suggest a passivity that belies his office.

"If someone has information about a sex crime, he or she should bring that information to our sex crimes unit and we will investigate what needs to be investigated," his spokesman told The Times.

This contrasts strikingly with the action taken by the sex crimes detective who originally brought in Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, the teacher at Torah Temimah who allegedly molested scores of children over decades.

Given some leads on the situation, she obtained Kolko's class lists over many years and went from door to door until she found families willing to come forward and even have their children testify in court.

In contrast again, Hynes, after originally charging Rabbi Kolko with felony sex offenses, reduced the charges at the last minute to a misdemeanor charge of endangering a child's welfare, to which the rabbi pleaded guilty. The plea bargain included no jail time and no registration of Rabbi Kolko as a sex offender, leaving him free, in principle, to teach again.

Hynes told the press he took this step because the families in question were unwilling to allow their children to testify in court - a claim one of the families publicly refuted.

And though he has acted now, what took Hynes so long to seek the extradition from Israel of alleged sex offender and child counselor Avrohom Mondrowitz, who fled upon being indicted in 1984 on four counts of sodomy and eight counts of sexual abuse?

We do not know the reasons for Hynes' lack of aggressiveness in seeking to protect his borough's most vulnerable residents. But as Yeshiva University legal expert Marci Hamilton has noted, these victims and their families have a right to expect much more.

The broader Jewish community - not to mention the borough of Brooklyn - does too.