Prosecutorial Discretion And Child Sexual Abuse

The Times has been doing a really disturbing series on the sexual abuse of children among ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn. Friday's piece focuses on District Attorney Charles Hynes:

An influential rabbi came last summer to the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, with a message: his ultra-Orthodox advocacy group was instructing adherent Jews that they could report allegations of child sexual abuse to district attorneys or the police only if a rabbi first determined that the suspicions were credible. The pronouncement was a blunt challenge to Mr. Hynes's authority. 

But the district attorney "expressed no opposition or objection," the rabbi, Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, recalled. In fact, when Mr. Hynes held a Hanukkah party at his office in December, he invited many ultra-Orthodox rabbis affiliated with the advocacy group, Agudath Israel of America. He even chose Rabbi Zwiebel, the group's executive vice president, as keynote speaker at the party....

In 2009, as criticism of his record mounted, Mr. Hynes set up a program to reach out to ultra-Orthodox victims of child sexual abuse. Called Kol Tzedek (Voice of Justice in Hebrew), the program is intended to "ensure safety in the community and to fully support those affected by abuse," his office said. In recent months, Mr. Hynes and his aides have said the program has contributed to an effective crackdown on child sexual abuse among ultra-Orthodox Jews, saying it had led to 95 arrests involving more than 120 victims. 

But Mr. Hynes has taken the highly unusual step of declining to publicize the names of defendants prosecuted under the program -- even those convicted. At the same time, he continues to publicize allegations of child sexual abuse against defendants who are not ultra-Orthodox Jews. 

This policy of shielding defendants' names because of their religious status is not followed by the other four district attorneys in New York City, and has rarely, if ever, been adopted by prosecutors around the country.
Hynes actually argues, bizarrely, that he is protecting the names of offenders--alleged and convicted--to protect the victims.

The whole series is worth checking out. The rate of actual abuse doesn't appear to be higher, but the rate of reporting is significantly lower. The notion that an organization would bar its members from from reporting the abuse of children, without the consent of its authority figures, is rather amazing. That a prosecutor would knowingly consent to it, is strikes me as malpractice and amoral. You are effectively aiding the cover-up, and thus becoming part of the chain of abuse.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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