Funds to combat Orthodox community sex abuse

By Paul Berger, March 18, 2010

A New York state agency is to finance a new $1 million programme to combat sexual abuse in the Orthodox community.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents a Brooklyn district with a large Orthodox community, said the scheme, called Shomrei yeladim ("Protectors of children"), will concentrate on educating children and parents about the dangers of abuse. It will also train professionals to deal with abuse in the Orthodox community.

The programme will be announced in coming weeks and would be financed by New York State Office of Children and Family Services.

However, critics allege that the money has been available since April 2009 and has been left unused while the programme was being worked out.

Until recently, sexual abuse was a taboo subject. Orthodox victims were deterred from calling the authorities. Allegations were met by community leaders with denial and disbelief.

But Mr Hikind said that progress had been made. "It's not the same world today that it was a year-and-a-half ago. This conviction now reiterates that this could be your next door neighbour."

The Brooklyn District Attorney has shown increased interest in sexual abuse in the Orthodox community during the past couple of years. Last year, about 25 men were arrested on related charges.

Two weeks ago, travel agent Baruch Lebovitz, 59, was found guilty of eight counts of abusing a 16-year-old boy and faces up to 32 years in prison.

Last month, a Chabad rabbi was sentenced to 60 days in jail after pleading guilty to endangering the welfare of a child. Yaakov Weiss, who founded the Chabad Hebrew School in Colonie, NY, admitted having inappropriate physical contact with two 13-year-old boys in a mikveh.

Last updated: 4:40pm, March 18 2010