CROWN HEIGHTS — Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes went on the offensive in Central Brooklyn Sunday, touting scores of successful convictions while fiercely defending the county's policy of withholding names of the accused to critics who say he's done too little to protect victims of child sex abuse in Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish communities.
"For 19 years when the names of the defendants were revealed, within days or less, [accusers] would be found out, intimidated, and then the threats would start," Hynes told the packed house at Crown Heights' Ohel Nosson Shul Sunday evening. "[The policy of withholding names before trial] has helped me give aid and counsel and justice to 130 victims in this county, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to change that."
The seasoned prosecutor, who made headlines last month when he called the Orthodox communities' widespread policy of victim intimidation "worse than the Mafia," made his case before a 100-strong crowd in Crown Heights Sunday. He was joined by victims' advocates and legal specialists in decrying the tactics that have helped derail the prosecution of child predators across the county.
"If the same kind of threats and intimidation were in the Irish community or the African-American community or Italian community, I’d give the same protection to that community," Hynes said.
But despite a mostly supportive crowd — unlike many other Orthodox authorities, the Crown Heights Beis Din, or religious court, ruled last summer that child sex abuse must be reported directly to the secular authorities — the DA also sparred with critics who called his appearance at the round-table a piece of political theater.
"It shows a lot of progress in the community that an event like this can happen," said victims' rights activist Joel Engelman. "It's a huge step forward — but I don't think Charles Hynes came here in good faith. His policy failed."
Engleman and others traded barbs with Hynes during the event, calling on the DA to release the names of known abusers.
In tight-knight communities like the one in Williamsburg where he was raised, Engleman said, abuse is often an open secret, and withholding the names of accused and convicted pedophiles merely shields their identity from potential future victims.
Panelist Norman Siegel, former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, also pushed for the release of names.
But other advocates threw their staunch support behind Hynes' policy.
Rabbi Zvi Gluck, who moderated Sunday's panel and helps run Our Place, a crisis center for Jewish teens in Flatbush, said years of working with victims of child sexual abuse and their families in the Orthodox community has convinced him the DA is doing the right thing.
"It's a fact — when a defendant's name is released, almost always it's easy to find out the accuser. Kids get thrown out of schools. Parents can't pray in shul," Gluck said. "At the end of the day, the cases disappear."