Covering Up Sex Abuse


“Extreme distrust” of government authorities among members of New York's Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community—a legacy of the Holocaust in Europe—has kept the extent of sexual abuse, including crimes against children, out of the reach of authorities, says a New York Police Department (NYPD) captain.

“When this issue popped up in the (New York) Jewish community, it became pretty obvious that there were many in the community who were not only not interested in seeing justice, but in fact were undermining it by trying to cover up these issues for other reasons,” says Capt. Daniel Sosnowik, himself an orthodox Jew who is involved in Survivors for Justice, a city group helping abuse victims.

Sosnowik, a 30-year police veteran who serves as a commanding officer in the leadership training section of the NYPD, made his remarks on this month's “Criminal Justice Matters” program, produced at John Jay College of Criminal Justice for CUNY-TV and hosted by The Crime Report Executive Editor Stephen Handelman.

Sosnowik said it was impossible to know whether sex abuse among Hasidic Jews in New York—one of the world's largest orthodox Jewish communities—was a growing problem, despite some recent high-profile cases.

“Because of the sense of shame involved in such matters, we don't know…it may be more prevalent than people would like to believe,” he said, noting that the problem has been compounded by a tendency to rely on the community itself to investigate such accusations, rather than going to the police.

Sosnowik said the message needs to get out that police who are trained to conduct such investigations should be the primary sources of help: “we're not your enemies; we are your friends and allies.”

The second guest on the program, crime reporter Julia Dahl, said similar examples of distrust and coverup could be found in many “insular” communities around the U.S.—whether they are identified by religious beliefs or are attached to institutions like universities or the Boy Scouts.

“The idea of protecting the institution over the individual is not limited to religious communities,” said Dahl, a former staffer for The Crime Report and author of “Invisible City,” a recently published detective novel about abuse and coverup in the ultra-orthodox community of Brooklyn, NY.

“No one (initially) reported on (former Penn State assistant football coach) Jerry Sandusky—people didn't want to make Penn State look bad.”

Dahl said journalists play an important role in bringing such cases to light.

“If we don't talk about it, if we don't look at it, it will not change,” she said.

EDITORS NOTE: Julia Dahl discussed in more detail the issues raised by her book in a Q&A on The Crime Report last month with managing editor Cara Tabachnick. Read the story Here.

To watch the full Criminal Justice Matters program, please click HERE.

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