The ongoing case against 54-year-old Nechemya Weberman, a beloved pillar of Brooklyn's Satmar Hasidic community who is accused of repeatedly raping a now 17-year-old girl during years of one-on-one "counseling sessions," is illustrative of how sexual molestation is covered up within close-knit communities, but also of how all cultures seem to believe that certain girls are raped and certain girls are not.
According to both her own testimony and the defense's attempt to invalidate her, Weberman's accuser is a longtime rebel: she said she started questioning the Satmar community in 6th grade and repeatedly got in trouble for wondering whether God really existed and what life was like outside the confines of Williamsburg.
That's when Weberman stepped in, who once worked with the girl's father and was known around town as a standup guy who had done a lot of favors for the community. He wasn't a licensed therapist, but he seemed a "natural choice" to mentor the girl, according to The Daily Beast's Allison Yarrow.
"He was a God" within the community, the teen said of Weberman in court last week, who is pleading not guilty to a whopping 88 counts of sexual assault. She, on the other hand, felt like "a piece of dirt." She also said that he watched her as a child "and said he knew I was going to come to him and he couldn't wait for the day." Her account of what transpired during their counseling sessions is horrifying:
The teen-as an alleged victim of sexual assault, she has not been publicly identified-accuses Weberman of sexually abusing her in a spare room with a triple-locked door, one lock only accessible from the inside. He kissed and groped her body, she says on the stand, forced her to perform oral sex on him, showed her pornographic films, and made her copy the acts. Sometimes, she says, his children played on the other side of the door, or Weberman's wife might call before entering to use the very computer on which she said the community pillar forced her to watch and mimic sex. She recounts skipping sessions after Passover in 2009, but said Weberman visited her family home and entered her room while she was in bed and abused her there.
Shockingly, Weberman's "counseling" didn't help her fit in at school; she said her teachers called her the Yiddish word for "heretic" for wearing skirts that were too short, tights that were too sheer, and sweaters that weren't buttoned up to her throat. In 2009, she started secretly dating Jeremy Solomon, a boy a few years older than she who worked at a neighborhood store. Hasidic women aren't even supposed to know what sex is until they marry, so she had few people she could tell about her burgeoning relationship. Ultimately, she confided in Weberman.
One day, she sent Solomon a Facebook message and received a response from his attorney; he had been arrested for statutory rape. The teenager said she thought it was because her father hid a camera in her bedroom and taped her having sex with him — which definitely happened because prosecutors said they had seen the video — but the defense alleges that the girl realized Weberman must have had something to do with it. The next year, Weberman helped her enroll in an alternative school for girls, which is where she finally mustered up the courage to tell a teacher that he had molested her for years.
Consider how terribly sad it is that the teenager confided in her alleged rapist as a last resort, how he was apparently the only person she could talk to and help her transfer schools. Even sadder is how Weberman's defense attorneys are using those details to paint the teen as a devious and depressed (by no fault of Weberman's) minx, "a recalcitrant, unhappy girl with a fallible character and a taste for revenge," who wanted to get back at Weberman for helping her boyfriend get arrested:
In his opening statement, [defense attorney] George Farkas painted the teen as a "free spirit" who read forbidden magazines, like Cosmo, and after finding a confidante in Weberman felt betrayed by his role in having her boyfriend arrested. She wanted "to bring down the entire community," he said, with "great vengeance and furious anger ... [for] vengeance and revenge against Nechemya Weberman, and through this, to bring down the entire community that either supported him, or of which he was a part."
Ooh, she read Cosmo which obviously means she can't be trusted. (Didn't you see last month's piece on "10 Sexy Ways to Accuse Totally Innocent Dudes of Rape"?) Moreover, she expressed doubts about her community from a very young age, which really means she can't be trusted.
The Orthodox community has been criticized for covering up sex crimes and intimidating those who try and come forward — often, those accusers are called "mosers," which means "informer" or "snitch." Yarrow reports that Weberman's accuser has many supporters in court, but they're mostly observant Jews from other communities. Weberman, on the other hand, has so many supporters that four men were arrested and charged with witness intimidation for trying to bribe the teen and her now-husband with $500,000 to drop the case and leave the country. Four men were arrested during her trial for taking photos of her, one of which was tweeted and emailed around. In court, the teen said she had gone forth with the charges despite "intimidation," "intimidation of my parents," "loss of business," and "having my nieces kicked out of school."
Now, at only 17, she's finally fitting into her community: she's married, covers her hair in a wig as married Orthodox women do, and is planning on starting a college seminary program after everything settles down. "I wanted to die rather than live with myself," she told the court. "I didn't know how to fight. I was numb." Will the jury believe her testimony, or will they decide she's just another conniving Lolita?