Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Reflections on a Watershed Event - The Weberman Trial

by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz 

Nechemya Weberman
The following words need no introduction. They are reproduced from Rabbi Horowitz's website and speak for themselves. I would only add that they echo much of what I have said on the subject in the past. - HM

With Nechemya Weberman convicted and awaiting sentencing, here are some reflections upon the trial and why Project YES supported his victim in a very public manner.

We got involved in the spring when it became clear that a young victim still within the statute of limitations was actually committed to pressing charges and testifying against her molester. In the process of doing due diligence, I personally heard from four additional victims of Weberman, all of whom were terrified to come forward and press charges because of community intimidation. They didn't know each other, but they all told the same stories, described similar forms of physical abuse - some of which became public knowledge during the trial.

Just one horrific example: Those of us close to the case heard from the victims that Weberman was burning many of them on their abdomens with cigarette lighters and candles as part of his warped fantasies. However, this was only discussed at a side bar during his trial and did not become public knowledge until this New York Post Article ran a few days after the verdict.

Two chassidish men, both in their thirties and well integrated into the community told me that Weberman burned their wives on their abdomens while violating them. One of the fellows said that he first discovered the abuse when his wife screamed and nearly fainted when he inadvertently passed a (havdala) candle close to her midsection. It was only then, that she told him the story of what she had gone through in her "counseling sessions" with Weberman.    

Weberman's other victims revealed details that matched those of the plaintiff in this case, which in the aggregate indicated that he was conducting an evil, calculated, and highly successful Grooming Process. This included humiliating his victims, and telling them that no one will ever believe messed-up kids like them. He deliberately turned the parents against their children, telling them, among other things, that their son or daughter was a pathological liar, in order to have his defense in place should the kids ever reveal his abuse.   
Weberman even told some of the girls he was abusing, that they were reincarnated separately, but they had been married to him in a previousgilgul (lifetime), and that the intimate acts he was performing were intended as a form of te'shuva (repentance) for sins committed in their previous lifetimes. Keep in mind that many of his victims were innocent, pre-teen girls who were raised in a very sheltered environment, and that Weberman was presented to them by their school as a distinguished rabbi - lending credence to whatever story he spun to them.

Weberman carefully selected his victims from a pool of families who had marital issues or an elder child who was on drugs or no longer observant, correctly assuming that those parents would lack the self-confidence to do battle with him should they suspect anything wrong.

He was also very cautious not to abuse the children of well-connected families. None of his victims who have come to our attention are very wealthy or named Teitelbaum or Twersky (dynastic rabbinic families) - only from what Leona Helmsley famously called the "little people."
Once it became clear that Weberman appeared to be a serial pedophile, we recognized that this was a unique opportunity to break the wall of silence about abuse in the Charedi world. The "Establishment" responded to the accusations by holding a huge fundraiser  to raise a half million dollars for Weberman's defense.

Shortly thereafter, we were notified from those close to the case that thevictim's family was under unbearable pressure from the community after the fundraiser. The DA was concerned that she would do what so many others before her had done - buckle under to the pressure and refuse to testify. Indeed, four men were subsequently arrested for attempting to bribe the victim to the tune of $500,000 to drop the charges.

Keep in mind that this brave young victim, not yet eighteen, had been repeatedly molested by Weberman from the young age of twelve until she was fifteen. (For all those asking what defense attorney Mr. Farkas kept raising during the trial -why didn't she come forward earlier - take a careful look at the size and maturity level of the precious 12-year-old kinderlach in your neighborhood. That ought to answer your question.) Knowing she would need help, we went public and urged our readers to Stand With the Victim and offer her emotional support in a post on our website two weeks after the fundraiser (May 30, 2012). We asked our readers to post comments of encouragement and to contact the Brooklyn DA requesting police protection for her family as needed.

Sadly, in the Williamsburg community there seemed to be almost universal support for Weberman (which is not at all unusual in child abuse cases - the abusers frequently get away with it for so long since they are otherwise well-respected, upstanding, charismatic members of the community) flinging slings and arrows at the victim attempting to ruin her reputation and totally undermine her credibility.

We then decided to embark on a campaign to educate the public about Weberman's wildly inappropriate methods of counseling the young girls in his care with this post What Went Terribly Wrong. We pointedly highlighted hisflagrant violations of Hilchos Yichud (if these young girls had been in a locked apartment containing a bedroom with an "outsider" for counseling  sessions for four hours a day, three times a week instead of with Rabbi Weberman, the community would have been in an uproar). Hearing about hiseleven hour car trip alone with her to the Catskills caused many to rethink their position on what was really going on.

In the lead-up to and during the trial, we posted Clear and Present Dangerexplaining the halachic reasons that predators need to be reported to the police, and The Halo Effect explaining how predators get away with their abuse.

Most people simply do not want to know about child abuse, as the entire subject makes them feel ill. Therefore, if just makes it harder to educate parents about abuse overall and how the grooming process works (here is a fantastic piece by Malcom Gladwell, In Plain View on grooming. A must read for parents.) Additionally, the cultural norms that have not allowed the Charedi press to cover the Weberman trial just adds to the disconnect and Cognitive Dissonance which is causing such harm to our kids.

Weberman's supporters are running a $1,000,000 campaign for his appeal, and they are going all out in a public relations effort, including this past week's Amimagazine where George Farkas, Weberman's attorney, graced the front cover and asserted Weberman's innocence.   

It is heartening that many of Weberman's other victims are now finding their voices - albeit only whispering to friends and family members. But the deadly wall of silence is showing growing cracks. Mr. Heinz, the Brooklyn DA went on record in several interviews  that there is "at least one more victim," (who has come forward but is afraid to testify), and his ADA's have previously stated that they are in conversations with six of Weberman's victims.   

In the charedi community, respected people are stepping forward. Ezra Friedlander, just released a column where he mentions a second Weberman victim and we will probably hear much more of this in the near future. There are simply too many survivors of his to keep this quiet forever. If or when they decide to go to the DA, the press, or to join in a class action law suit, the lid will probably come completely off.

Weberman is a monster who had incredible access to young girls and boys and married women for many, many years. What is so frightening is that those who are coming forward now are the married women, as the single girls are afraid of ruining their shidduch prospects. We shudder to think of how many single victims of his are out there continuing to suffer in silence.

Research shows that the average pedophile molests 50-200 children in his lifetime. With the level of access that Weberman had, and the naiveté' of the kids he worked with, ... may Hashem have mercy.     

The ongoing publicity proclaiming Weberman an innocent man is a dagger in the already broken hearts of his survivors. According to firsthand reports I received from professional therapists, even those survivors of Weberman's abuse who are grown and married are traumatized by these fundraisersto the extent that they are exhibiting signs of PTSD. It is for this reason alone that I feel it is a matter of pikuach nefesh (a matter of life and death) to give voice to his voiceless victims and publicize the true story of what transpired.

Standing with the victim and speaking truth to power the way we did was not a pleasant task, nor is it one that is risk-free, but we are determined to see this through.

My family spent this past Rosh Hashana with 200 Jewish recovering drug and alcohol addicts - the vast majority of whom ended up that way after being molested in their formative years. After listening to their horror stories and seeing the hell each and every one of them is undergoing, I promised myself that during the coming year I will redouble my efforts and do whatever it takes to keep today's kids safe. 

May it be Hashem's will that we finally succeed.

Yakov Horowitz