Jan 222013
 

Hasidic Therapist Sentenced to 103 Years in Sexual Abuse Case

The New York Times
by Sharon Otterman
January 22, 2013

Robert Stolarik for The New York TimesNechemya Weberman and his lawyer, Michael Farkas, right, at Mr. Weberman's sentencing in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Robert Stolarik for The New York Times
Nechemya Weberman and his lawyer, Michael Farkas, right, at Mr. Weberman’s sentencing in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Tuesday.

An unlicensed therapist who was a prominent member of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn was sentenced on Tuesday to 103 years in prison for repeatedly sexually abusing a young woman, beginning the attacks when she was 12.

The therapist, Nechemya Weberman, 54, a member of the Satmar Hasidic community of Williamsburg, did not react as the judge sentenced him. The victim, now 18, who delivered an impassioned statement asking for the maximum sentence to be imposed, dabbed away tears.

“The message should go out to all victims of sexual abuse that your cries will be heard and justice will be done,” Justice John G. Ingram of State Supreme Court said before imposing the sentence, which was close to the longest the law allows. Justice Ingram praised the young victim’s “courage and bravery in coming forward.”

The proceedings were closely watched, as this was the first high-profile case against child sexual abuse that the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, had brought against a member of the politically powerful Satmar ultra-Orthodox community during his more than two decades in office. This sentence is the longest a Brooklyn court has imposed on a member of the ultra-Orthodox community for sexual abuse of a child.

As Mr. Weberman was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, he turned to his wife and gave her a nod and a small smile.

On Dec. 9, Mr. Weberman was found guilty of 59 counts of sexual abuse, charges that carried a maximum combined sentence of 117 years. He was found guilty of engaging in various sexual acts, including oral sex, groping and acting out pornographic videos, during therapy sessions that were meant to help the girl become more religious. The abuse lasted three years.

In her statement, the victim said that for years during and after the abuse, she would look in the mirror and see “a girl who didn’t want to live in her own skin.”

“I would cry until the tears ran dry,” she said. But now, she said, she can see someone “who finally stood up and spoke out,” on behalf of both herself and “the other silent victims.”

“You played around with and destroyed lives as if they were your toys,” she told Mr. Weberman, “without the slightest bit of mercy.”

Mr. Weberman, who wore his traditional black suit and head covering, did not speak before the sentencing, but his lawyer, George Farkas, said he was “innocent of the crimes charged.” An appeal is planned.

Critics have charged Mr. Hynes with not being aggressive enough in going after molesters in the politically well-connected community. But Mr. Hynes has attributed 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.

Support for Mr. Weberman was strong in powerful circles of the Satmar community after his arrest in 2011, with hundreds turning out for a fund-raiser for his defense. But the courtroom on Tuesday was about equally divided between supporters for him and for his victim.

Mr. Hynes has said he believes the case may be a turning point for ultra-Orthodox victims of sexual abuse. In addition to convicting Mr. Weberman, his office also charged seven Hasidic men with bribery and intimidation of Mr. Weberman’s victim, who testified over four days. Prosecutors say they know of more victims who were too afraid to testify.

“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,” Mr. Hynes said in a statement. “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.”

The victim, who has since married and enrolled in college, no longer lives in Williamsburg but continues to face harassment and intimidation by some who still support Mr. Weberman, according to her husband.

“She definitely feels relieved, and she will be able to sleep better at night,” the husband said Tuesday. “He definitely won’t be able to hurt anyone else.”