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Monday, December 17, 2012

A Sober Analysis of the Weberman Verdict

Weberman and an attorney at trial
The following is an article in the Forward. It does cast somewhat of a shadow on the verdict as the author suggests. I agree with her that it would be helpful if more victims came forward and make their experiences public. 

I have been assured by my contacts in that community that there are more victims who have indeed come forward privately but fear retribution if they were to go public. I hope that some of them do summon the courage to come forward so that there can be no mistake about Weberman's guilt. The article follows in its entirety. 

On December 10, Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed youth and marriage counselor in the Satmar community of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, was convicted of 59 counts of sexual misconduct against a minor.

As in any trial, the judge reminded the jurors that the defendant’s guilt must be proved “beyond reasonable doubt.” But with Weberman now facing a possible prison sentence of 25 years or more, it is worth asking what exactly has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and whether it was Weberman’s community as much as his actions — deplorable if true — being judged in the docket with him.

The Brooklyn district attorney’s case hinged exclusively on the credibility of the team’s single witness — the young woman accusing Weberman of sexually abusing her during each of their counseling sessions, which often took place multiple times a week, beginning when she was 12 and ending when she was 15. Though there have been reports of other victims, both from religious support groups for victims as well as from the DA, none have come forward. Weberman has flatly denied the allegations. When asked if he had ever touched his accuser inappropriately, he said, “Never, ever.” Absent DNA evidence, the case is a he said, she said. The verdict hung ultimately on whose testimony the jury found more credible.

Related Hasidic Sex Abuse Victims Advocate Hit With Bleach Nechemya Weberman Convicted in Sex Case Most Brooklyn Abuse Cases Involve Kin Weberman’s defense team questioned the accuser’s credibility by arguing that she had two very strong motives for wanting to harm Weberman. First, the accuser’s sister owed the defendant $35,000, the first $10,000 of which was due six days before she went to the police to report Weberman. And second, Weberman had assisted the accuser’s father in taping her having sex with her 18-year-old boyfriend when she was 15, leading to the boyfriend’s arrest. On the stand, Weberman’s accuser denied that she knew of his involvement in the arrest, stating that she learned of it only this past summer, though Weberman’s name was explicitly stated as an accomplice during her original complaint to the New York City Police Department, two years ago.

The defense team also pointed to discrepancies noted when comparing the accuser’s testimony in court with her conversation with the arresting detective, to whom she made the original complaint. Furthermore, the top two counts for which Weberman was standing trial were on dates of alleged abuse that didn’t match the victim’s statement to the NYPD. For these reasons, Weberman’s attorney argued, none of the evidence against his client is provable beyond reasonable doubt, and the case should be dismissed.

On the other side of the aisle, the DA’s office painted Weberman as a sexual predator with a harem of young girls to satisfy his every sexual need. But their main attempts to discredit him came not from testimonies of other victims, of which there were none, but rather from his shady business dealings and his position in the male-dominated Satmar world. They said he used a credit card belonging to his charity organization to pay tuition for one of his children, and later used the same credit card to purchase lingerie (his wife maintains that the charge was hers; she purchased clothing for a young woman who was the recipient of Weberman’s charity). They mentioned the fact that Weberman allows people to call him “Rebbe” despite not being ordained. They mentioned the fact that he charged a whopping $150 a session for “counseling” despite being unlicensed.

But beyond the connotations and stereotypes suggested by this evidence and certainly reiterated in the media, the DA’s case focused on the rules of the Satmar world; the stringency of the dress code; the suppression of free thought; the laws of yihud, or seclusion, governing women and men’s conduct; the regime of terror that the Va’ad Hatznius, the modesty council, allegedly metes out upon young women; the beit din, or private courts, and most of all, the injunction to maintain an absolute separation of the sexes. An expert was brought in to go over the details of this community’s lifestyle, all of which were portrayed as draconian, misogynistic and enabling of sexual abuse. The clear implication was that the accuser was victimized not only by Weberman, but also by his form of religion.

In this context, the accuser was portrayed as a hero in her attempts to escape from this repressive and alienating environment. Her process toward secularization was represented as emancipation from the world of the defendent toward the world of the jurors. She stood up for herself in school — questioning God and the necessity of modesty laws — becoming an outcast; now she stands up to the accused, who is backed by the Satmar establishment “like a god in Williamsburg,” the accuser said.

But one of the main signs of this secularization was hidden from the jury. The judge didn’t allow the tape showing the accuser having sex with her older boyfriend to be admitted into evidence — an expected but monumental decision, as it turns out. One alternate juror who I spoke with while observing the trial, a Brooklyn resident in his mid-30s, said he was “split down the middle” as to whether he would have convicted. The alternate juror said that seeing a sex tape would definitely have made him question the credibility of the witness. While it would be deeply problematic for a young woman’s testimony to be discounted simply on the grounds of her not being a virgin, or even on the grounds that she might be the only victim, it would be equally problematic for a man to be accused of a crime he might not have committed because a jury had been alienated by his religious choices.

Based on the evidence actually presented in court, only the accuser and accused, and not the jury, can be said to know what happened between them during those sessions, beyond reasonable doubt. The testimonies of those who have heretofore refused to come forward would be required to tip the scales. While the value of using reasonable doubt as a standard for judging criminal acts, especially rape, may be debated, as might the Satmar community’s business dealings and handling of teenage behavior, Weberman was not on trial for his community or his business dealings, though at times this seemed like the DA’s central and more damning argument against him.

Batya Ungar-Sargon is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer who teaches at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. 

40 comments:

  1. This is an absolutely atrocious article, and reads as if it were written by a Satmar PR flack. She left out various crucial details of the case, misrepresented others, and additionally, her credentials as one who teaches at a school of criminal justice are totally misleading, as she teaches English composition which lends zero credence to her analysis.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I disagree. Not including the 'sex tape' which would have possibly led to a different verdict is not insignificant. Who knows... a different judge may have allowed it.

      Delete
    2. I wasn't talking about that issue. I was referring to her leaving out the most salient fact of all - that the victim didn't report the abuse herself, it was her school therapist who teased it out of her and encouraged her to go to the police. Don't you realize that this undercuts Weberman's entire defense? His whole defense was that she made this up to get back at him for the tape. But her behavior clearly demonstrates that she was not acting out of revenge. A person out for revenge would go to the police right away, or shortly after, they wouldn't wait such a long time. A person seeking revenge wouldn't keep it to herself, and have to be pushed by a therapist to report it. And most of all, a person seeking revenge wouldn't be willing to go through and put her family through the hell she has gone through since she started these proceedings.

      Whether the jury had known about the sex tape or not would have had no bearing on the issue (other than to just make them look less favorably on her) since the entire revenge theory was proven false by her behavior.

      Delete
    3. I don't think any judge would have allowed viewing a video of an underage teen having sex. And what would it prove re: Weberman's guilt or innocence? The revenge motive was discussed. There is no purpose served by viewing the tape, but I think the defense was not allowed to discuss its existence, which might have influenced the jury.

      At any rate, the article here seems to be suggesting that knowing she was not a virgin could have led the jury to question her credibility, and I doubt that justice would have been served that way. It's pretty standard in rape cases not to allow the defense to discuss the victim's other sexual activity.

      Delete
    4. No Judge would have allowed it.

      Other sexual activity by an alleged rape victim is not admissible. You don't get to argue "well, she had sex, so she isn't credible", as a matter of law.

      Delete
    5. Hedyot, I don't recall it being the case that the therapist teased it out of her. But I'll take your word for it. If that's the case, than that was indeed an important fact left out of the author's analysis.

      Delete
    6. The school counselor herself testified to this, and it was reported in a few places. Here's one I found after some quick searching: http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2012/12/how-do-we-know-weberman-is-guilty-as.html

      "In this case the victim was never questioned. She went to a licensed therapist as a requirement in her current school and eventually took a standardized test that showed she had suffered from extreme trauma. She then eventually shared that she was molested. It took about three more months until she disclosed the name of the abuser to her therapist. Her parents at that point still had no idea of what had occurred. The therapist who is a mandated reporter went with the head of their clinics' guidance and reported the crime to the police. She then helped Mrs A to get the strength to go to the police station and formally file a complaint."

      Does that sound like the behavior of someone seeking revenge?

      Delete
  2. "While the value of using reasonable doubt as a standard for judging criminal acts, especially rape, may be debated"...

    Is she suggesting that our current criminal justice system is up for debate? "Reasonable doubt" has been the standard for hundreds of years, and there is nothing in the law to prevent a jury from believing one person's testimony "beyond a reasonable doubt". By whose standards does the jury need to hear testimony from more than one eye witness? She seems to be making arbitrary objections to the jury's decision here.

    The article is interesting for discussing some of the testimony that received little attention in the news reports, but that's about it.

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  3. I don't know... I think she made some interesting points. I have little doubt that he's guilty. But I would be happier if his other victims would come out of the closet.

    ReplyDelete
  4. JWB says:

    Rabbi Maryles, it is unfortunate that The Forward allowed Ms. Ungar-Sargon to write an article about sexual misconduct and an unlicensed professional practicing in the Orthodox community when she and her family have a bias in that they have a prejudice against survivors of abuse, their supporters and community anti-abuse activists. The patriarch of Ms. Ungar-Sargon's family was outed several years back for his financial support of the Orthodox Rabbi he followed.
    The Orthodox Rabbi followed was outed in the September 21, 2008 edition of The Age (Australia) in an article By Liz Porter titled Sex and the synagogue.

    The Age article confirmed that the main character in the The Torn Messiah novel by Yvonne Fein was "a thinly disguised account of the effects of the maverick rabbi's sexual escapades".

    This same Rabbi had been outed by anti-abuse activists a few years earlier for, among other things, running a OBDSM (Orthodox Bondage, Domination, Sadism, Masochism) website and other serious allegations that were set out in part in an artcle by Ronda Kaysen that was published in the The Villager and Downtown Express newspapers (Volume 75, Number 8 | June 13- 20, 2005) titled "Newspaper publisher becomes the story before debate, Yori Yanover, publisher of the Grand Street News".

    The patriarch of Ms. Ungar-Sargon family was
    exposed as a financial suporter and follower of this Rabbi. The patriarch of Ms. Ungar-Sargon family was also exposed as to his discipline record as a physician which is available on the NY physician discipline website which includes the 1994 surrender of his license to practice. In 2003, the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation issued an order to the patriarch "to cease and desist the unlicensed practice of medicine". The patriarch's son produced an anti-circumcision documentary (he is an anti-circumcision activist) a few years back that included an interview with this same Rabbi.

    Basically, Ms. Ungar-Sargon' immediate family was negatively impacted by these disclosures. There was a bankruptcy involving the patriarch. Ms. Ungar-Sargon and the rest of her family keep a close contact with the family of the Rabbi in question and are close to another family that has been known for its tactics against anti-abuse activists.

    So basically, it is improper for Ms. Ungar-Sargon to write any article about sexual misconduct in the Orthodox community or of an unlicensed professional providing professional services without disclosing this bias. And that is without discussing how poorly researched this article is and how the facts are wrong. Rabbi Blau points out one significant factual error in the comments to the Forward article. Rabbi Blau certainly remembers the Rabbi I haven't named but referred to here as Rabbi Blau was a target of that Rabbi's supporters several years back when he supported the activists that exposed this Rabbi. Just ask Rabbi Blau.

    Given the aforementioned it is unfortunate that both you and VIN have latched on to this article and reproduced it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had no idea about any of this. Nor do I know how much of this complex tale is true. If it is, you're right.

      The Forward has had some decent coverage of the trial.

      At the same time I think the makes a valid point about other victims coming forward. It surely would have cemented his guilt in the minds of even those who may have given him the benefit of the doubt.

      That said, based on the testimony at the trial,The behavior of his community WRT trying to bribe the victim, intimidating her family,Weberman's rather quick conviction, and other victims that my contacts there have spoken to, I'm pretty sure he's guilty.

      Delete
    2. In regard to your earlier question, here is the news article describing how the social worker gradually got her to talk about the abuse: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/brooklyn/orthodox_leadership_principal_allegedly_U37wLA9KLm7Q94ezs0JjRI

      There were other articles that said the SW testified that she recognized signs of trauma in the victim, even before she revealed the abuse.

      As for other victims coming forward, yes, it would give us all closure and tie up all the ends nicely if we had a parade of victims like in the Sandusky case. But life doesn't always work out so neatly. The jury was entitled to believe her over him, and they did. If she were indeed the only victim, there should still be a way to convict her abuser, shouldn't there? Should rapists get a free pass on their first offense?

      Delete
    3. Nope. He was convicted. The jury believed the victim... and so do I. I'm sure he will end up in prison.

      Delete
  5. I almost sputter in rage at this article because it is so bad in so many different ways. But time is finite and so is the patience of your readership soI will confine myself to a few salient points.

    1. The girl admitted on the stand that she engaged in consensual sexual activity at the age of 16. So that fact was known to the jury. In addition, Weberman was given wide leeway to present his revenge hypothesis as his main defense. The jury, knowing fully well about the sexual episode and the fact that it was recorded just didn't buy the revenge thesis. What possible difference could it have made to Weberman's defense to show the sexual acts on the tape? It was never relevant to his legal defense. It was a maneuver designed to further intimidate the witness.

    2. Contrary to Weberman's assertion, the case was never brought to the criminal justice system by the victim. Months before it came to the police, her now modern orthodox school discerned what looked like PTSD and then confirmed it through diagnostic tests. She was started on a course of real therapy. A skilled therapist eventually elicited the fact of a long history of sexual abuse but could not report the abuse, which was no longer ongoing because she would not name of the offender. Finally, one day, the reluctant victim, probably not realizing the legal implications of her act, disclosed the name. The licensed therapist was a mandated reporter and immediately did the right thing and reported the abuse. The police followed up, interviewed the victim and, by the end of that day, arrested Weberman. Weberman was not a victim of revenge. He was a casualty of mandated reporting doing what it is supposed to do, protect children. Does anyone really believe that she fabricated PTSD and an account of abuse months before she said Weberman’s name.

    3. The revenge thesis was nonsense but it did serve two purposes for Weberman. A. It gave him an excuse to introduce embarrassing facts about the victim which he hoped would work to intimidate her into dropping the charges. B. It allowed him latitude for an exceptionally extended cross-examination which he hoped would either break her down or, even better, provoke her into an angry outburst consistent with Weberman's revenge thesis. She spent 3 days on the stand, most of it being cross-examined by Weberman's defense attorney. The experienced Daily News court house reporter, Oren Yaniv, said that this was longer than he had ever seen for any other sex abuse accuser.

    4. Weberman's ploy backfired because it gave the jury a much better chance to take the measure of the witness and find her credible. An attorney who specializes in sex abuse cases sat in on all her testimony and told me that this was the most credible witness he had seen in years.

    5. I do not like ad hominem attacks. But I feel it is fair to point out pattern of hostility to claims of abuse by the Forward's writer, Batya Ungar-Sargon. She displayed this attitude in her review of Hush by Judy Brown (published under the nom de plume, Eishes Chayil). She dresses up her critique with literary pretentiousness about the quality of character development, etc, etc. But at it's core she is saying the girl who is witnessing her friend violated is not credible and is making too much of a fuss. The book is not perfect but is a widely recognized powerful story. It helped many better appreciate how and why abuse is covered up in the orthodox world. My major criticism of the book is that it was too optimistic in its ending about the possibilities of change. Don't take my word about her bias. Look up her review on Ungar-Sargon 's blog (http://batyareads.wordpress.com/2011/04/28/hush-by-eishes-chayil-pseudonym-2011/). Also read the comments.

    In sum, I believe, that Ungar-Sargon is either callous and uses a contrarian stance to attract publicity or ignorant of the nature or abuse and thus excessively skeptical. The only other plausible explanation is that she is herself a victim of abuse still under the spell of the Stockholm Syndrome.

    ReplyDelete
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