The victim was 12 when child sex offender Nechemya Weberman first assaulted her. Last January, at age 18, she dabbed at tears in her eyes as she spoke in a Brooklyn courtroom.
For years during and after the abuse, the woman said she would look in the mirror and see “a girl who didn’t want to live in her own skin,” the New York Timesreported. “I would cry until the tears ran dry,” she told the court. 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.”
Weberman, an unlicensed therapist, was found guilty in December 2012 of 59 counts of sexual abuse, which carry a maximum combined sentence of 117 years. He was convicted of engaging in sexual misdeeds that included oral sex, groping and acting out pornographic videos, all during the therapy sessions that were meant to help the girl become more religious. The abuse lasted three years.
But as painful as the appearance was at Weberman’s sentencing hearing, so too was the harsh cultural ostracism that the victim and her family suffered for her testimony. As members of the Orthodox Jewish Satmar Hasidic community, the victim told the court, she and her family were harassed and shunned for reporting Weberman, also a member of the Hasidic community. And, according to trial testimony, her parents’ business was threatened, leading to fears that the family would no longer be able to support itself.
The Weberman case is symptomatic of the difficulties that government prosecutors face in bringing sexual assault charges against a member of an insular religious community. As with many communities, the majority of sexual abuse crimes against children go unreported. But in religious communities, the fear of ostracism carries additional weight.