Monday, December 03, 2012
The mother of a girl who says she was abused by a powerful and respected spiritual counselor in a New York community of ultra-Orthodox Jews testified Monday that she never suspected the accused man, given their sect's radical restrictions on sexual behavior.
In a dramatic moment, Rachel Krausz took the stand in the trial that has upended the normally closed Satmar branch of Hasidic Jews and pointed across the Brooklyn courtroom at Nechemya Weberman.
Weberman, a heavyset 54-year-old with a traditional Hasidic beard and dark clothing, is alleged to have repeatedly abused Krausz's daughter for three years starting in 2007, when she was 12.
Krausz said she could never have known what would happen when she sent her daughter to Weberman for counseling sessions, given his standing and the community's strict separation of the sexes.
"Did you expect they would be behind closed doors alone?" the prosecutor asked in Brooklyn Supreme Court.
"No," the mother replied.
"Did you expect there would be locks on the doors?"
Krausz explained that among Satmars, sex outside of marriage is a taboo subject. Asked if sex education was discussed at school or at home, she said: "Never."
The alleged victim was sent to Weberman at the orders of her school, which said she had behavioral problems.
According to Krausz, those were just the results of girlish frustration with heavy modesty rules.
"It was hard on her. They were busy with pointless things like very thick tights. They had to go touch the tights to see what quality it was," she said.
The girl got in trouble for having an open top button on her shirt.
"The principal called her an epikorus," Krausz said, using a word meaning heretic.
According to the allegations, Weberman used these counseling sessions to sexually molest the youngster, who for a long time was too scared to tell anyone.
The defense says the girl made up the accusations to take revenge against Weberman for informing her parents that she'd revealed to him she was romantically involved with a boy -- something banned in their community.
There has been a steady drip of child abuse allegations from the closed Orthodox communities in Brooklyn. But few end up at trial, in part, officials say, because anyone trying to go public with a complaint faces serious intimidation.
Last week, four apparent Weberman supporters were questioned after being caught taking pictures inside the courtroom, including one of the young woman.
Judge John Ingram issued a rare order barring anyone at the trial from having a cellphone, a measure more likely at a mob proceeding than anything involving religious figures.
"I would remind everyone that it is against the law in the state of New York to take photos in court," Ingram said Monday. "Truly this is a very serious violation."
Krausz told the court that her family had come under pressure because they were seen as having broken Satmar rules on keeping problems within the community. "In the Satmar, it's a bad thing. They don't allow it," she said.
"When my husband went to the synagogue to pray, they would scream at him," she said. Even her granddaughter, aged five, has not been allowed back to school and her husband's business is suffering.
In the public seating of the courtroom, every spot was filled with bearded men in traditional clothes or Hasidic women, several of them wearing wigs.
Even under the careful eye of the court officers, tensions spilled over. "Go away! You don't belong here. Nobody wants you here!" one woman said to another trying to join her bench.
Another woman approached and whispered: "It's very important we remain united."
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