Violence and Abuse in Insular Communities

Thursday, December 13, 2012

On Tuesday, December 11, a State Supreme Court jury in Brooklyn convicted 54-year-old Nechemya Weberman on 59 counts of sexual abuse. As an unlicensed therapist in the insular Satmar Hasidic community, Weberman worked with young, Orthodox women whose behavior was considered immodest or outside the Hasidic norm. One of the women in his care accused him of sexual abuse, claiming he abused her for three years, starting at the age of 12.

Sharon Otterman, reporter for Takeaway partner The New York Times, has covered the case and its impact. Though the rate of sexual abuse in the Hasidic community is estimated to be the same as that in the general population, Otterman writes, "for generations, most ultra-Orthodox abuse victims kept silent, fearful of being stigmatized in a culture where the genders are strictly separated and discussion of sex is taboo."

Author Deborah Feldman was raised in the Satmar Hasidic community. In her recent memoir, "Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots," Feldman describes her childhood in the insular Hasidic world.

According to Feldman and Otterman, the Weberman case stands out because it bucks a trend of silence for victims in the Orthodox community which has made these cases very difficult to prosecute. "I had never recalled a case in which someone came forward about abuse in the community, and those claims were listened to, those claims made it to court," Feldman says. "Every victim I had ever heard about was effectively silenced."

Feldman could hardly believe the case went to to trial; when the jury read its verdict, she describes her shock. "When that conviction came down, it was like my life changed. It felt like world changed. I felt like there was hope."


Deborah Feldman and Sharon Otterman

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger

Comments [2]


A short comment unorthedox is full of lies
The proof evrey one likes to read it

Dec. 16 2012 07:36 AM
joel from williamsburg ny

I heard your show and had to comment. I know very few factual details of the Weberman case but I need to clarify the following: I work as an unlicensed Therapist/ Educator in the ultra-orthodox community. I help boys only, ages 8-14. I have no formal training although i have gone through many courses online and in college level classes. According to the Torah two unrelated males (of well repute)are trusted to be secluded together and we don't suspect any impropriety. This is not true regarding unrelated members of the opposite sex. No matter how holy and respected, a man is categorically prohibited from being secluded with a woman, aside from an immediate family member (mother, daughter,sister). Only through blatant disregard of this basic orthodox law could such a meeting have ever occurred. When i meet clients, to guarantee that there is no suspicions of any misconduct whatsoever, i do the following; The meetings take place in their home. We talk by the dining room table. The parents are encouraged to listen in on the meetings but are asked to not make any comments or get involved during the meeting. All the more so in instances where the child criticizes them. Typically the clients siblings will walk in on the conversation and when this occurs we stop talking and wait. Since i'm paid by the hour the parents are careful to make sure we are not disturbed. In the Weberman case, although it is not my role to determine his innocence or guilt. What i can critique is the circumstances which led up to his conviction. Simply put,he was wrong and forbidden by his own laws to meet with this girl, or any girl, in seclusion. Breaking this law is in itself a cardinal sin in the Satmer and ultra orthodox communities. Additionally, repeated meetings (which can allow an intimate relationship to develop)between this man and this girl are not and were not permissible. According to Torah law, breaking these rules places one into the category of a "suspected individual" who is not to be trusted and is under suspicion of sexual misconduct. (The expression we use for such an individual(doesn't translate well) is 'honor (flatter)him while you suspect him'.) Weberman is guilty of violating so many of these safety guidelines, restrictions and laws. There were so many warning signs that in my opinion the girls parents are also guilty of gross negligence and child endangerment (but probably just the more severe since of naivety and ignorance). They had absolutely no excuse whatsoever to send her to him. Had anyone followed the Torah law to begin with this never could happen. In fact so many rules were broken i don't understand how this all managed to happen. In addition the community has an ample supply of female experts who deal with the girls.
Feel free to contact with any questions or for clarification.

Dec. 14 2012 12:08 AM

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