Nechemya Weberman, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish counselor in Brooklyn, N.Y., has been sentenced to 103 years for child sex abuse. Weberman is an unlicensed therapist and had been abusing the victim since she was 12.
Weberman is a member of the Satmar Hasidim, an insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, in Williamsburg and worked as an unlicensed counselor. Weberman was found guilty of sexually abusing one of his patients, a girl who started seeing him when she was 12, for three years, reports The New York Times. The victim, now 18, read a statement at the sentencing, condemning Weberman and asking the judge to impose the harshest sentence possible.
The young woman described herself as “a sad girl who wished so badly she could live a normal teenage life but instead was victimized by a 54-year-old man who forced her to perform sickening acts, again and again, for his sadistic pleasure,” reports the New York Post. Weberman was convicted of all 59 counts of sexual abuse in December.
The girl was sent to Weberman as punishment for not following the strict dress code of the Satmar and the case was of great interest to the public thanks to the very insular, and private, nature of Brooklyn Hasidic communities. The case highlighted their tendency to not report crimes that occur within their ranks.
Justice John G. Ingram of State Supreme Court, who presided over the case, said in his ruling, “The message should go out to all victims of sexual abuse that your cries will be heard and justice will be done,” reports the Times.
The victim also discussed the secrecy surrounding the Hasidic community, saying, “I can finally look at myself and feel happy that God gave me the strength to go through with this trial,” reports the Post. Testimony indicated the victim was on trial within her own community, according to the various media reports. Assistant Brooklyn District Attorney Kevin O’Donnell said the victim, “was treated like dirt while the defendant was like a god in the community,” reports the Post.
Weberman’s case was brought to trial by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, who has been heavily criticized for going easy on the ultra-Orthodox, and could set a precedent for more sex abuse charges among the Hasidim. The Times described the Samtar community of Williamsburg as “politically well-connected” and when Hynes was questioned about the lack of sex abuse cases, the Times paraphrased his response, noting “the lack of prosecutions on the intimidation to stay silent that ultra-Orthodox sex-abuse victims and their families often face from their own community leaders.”
Hynes made a public effort to eliminate this secrecy. In a press release of the Weberman sentencing, Hynes said, “If there is one message to take away from this case it is that this office will pursue the evil of sexual abuse of a child no matter where it occurs in this county. We must protect our children from sexual predators. The abuse of a child cannot be swept under the rug or dealt with by insular groups believing only they know what is best for their community. In this case it took the courage of a young woman to drive home the point that justice can only be achieved through the involvement of civil authorities charged with protecting all the people.”
Hynes also wrote an op-ed that was published in the New York Daily News Tuesday in regards to the Weberman sentencing and the Hasidic communities. The D.A. said, “The victim in this case showed extraordinary courage during her four days of testimony. … She was speaking for all who have suffered abuse but have been intimidated and forced into silence by scare tactics that support the abuser and discard the victim.”
Hynes even likened the tactics of the Hasidic communities to those of the Mafia. He also emphasized a change in how his office handles the Hasidic community saying, “I hope the verdict and sentence sends a very clear and unmistakable message to people in certain parts of the Orthodox community — it is time to start protecting victims rather than defendants.”
Hynes had already made inroads with Lubavitch community in Crown Heights, stating that all sexual abuse reports would be sent directly to authorities instead of an internal review within the community. Hynes hopes the Satmar community will follow suit in the future.