A young girl with questions about her ultra-Orthodox Jewish religion was sent to a respected counselor to help her back on a path of faith. Prosecutors say the girl was instead molested by the man for years behind a locked office door starting when she was just 12. Defense attorneys say the counselor is the victim of a vindictive child, angry that he had betrayed her trust.
The ongoing sex abuse trial of Nechemya Weberman in Brooklyn court has rocked the insular, tight-knit group of ultra-Orthodox Jews, not only because of the shocking charges, but also because the case is being played out in a public court. The guarded society strongly discourages going to outside authorities.
The girl, now 17, testified that she and her family were harassed and shunned for doing so, saying her father lost his business and her nieces were kicked out of school.
During the trial that began last week, four men were charged with criminal contempt for snapping images of the accuser on the witness stand, and posting them online. And before the trial began, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes charged other men with trying to bribe the girl to drop the charges.
The teen testified for three days about the abuse, detailing that the 54-year-old Weberman, who was not a licensed counselor, forced her to perform oral sex and act out porn films. She said the abuse lasted from 2007 to 2010. Her family paid him $12,800 in counseling fees during that time, the girl's mother testified Monday.
"I wanted to die rather than live with myself," she said. "I didn't know how to fight. I was numb." The case has also been a crash course for jurors about the customs and rules of the ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn, home to about 250,000, the largest such community outside Israel.
The girl's mother testified Monday that the school had forced the family into sending the girl to Weberman. Otherwise, she said, her daughter would have been expelled, because she had questioned her teachers on their religion and worn clothing that wasn't modest enough.
Weberman has pleaded not guilty to 88 charges of sexual abuse and misconduct. His attorneys said the teen fabricated stories as an act of revenge. She revealed to Weberman that she had a boyfriend at age 15 -- forbidden in her community -- and believed he told her parents.
"There was only one answer," said defense attorney George Farkas. "Vengeance and revenge against Nechemya Weberman, and through this, to bring down the entire community."