A respected religious counselor in New York City’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community was sentenced Tuesday to 103 years in prison for molesting a girl who came to him with questions about her faith.
Nechemya Weberman was convicted in December of 59 counts, including sustained sexual abuse of a child, endangering the welfare of a child and sexual abuse.
The trial put a spotlight on the ultra-orthodox community in Brooklyn and its strict rules that govern clothing, social customs and interaction with the outside world. Both Weberman, 54, and the accuser belonged to the Satmar Hasidic sect.
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The teen and her family have been harassed and ostracized, reflecting long-held beliefs that any conflict must be dealt with from within. During the trial, men were arrested on charges they tried to bribe the accuser and her now-husband to drop the case. Others were accused of snapping photos of her on the witness stand and posting them online.
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“I clearly remember how I would look in the mirror. I saw a girl who didn’t want to live in her own skin, a girl whose innocence was shattered, a girl who couldn’t sleep at night because of the gruesome invasion that had been done to her body,” the accuser told the court during the sentencing.
She said she was “a sad girl who wanted to live a normal life but instead was being victimized by a 50-year-old man who forced her to perform sickening acts again and again.”
She expressed hope that by coming forward, she could give strength to other victims of sexual abuse. The Associated Press typically doesn’t identify people who say they are the victims of sexual assault.
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The accuser, now 18, had testified that Weberman abused her repeatedly behind his locked office door from the time she was 12 until she was 15.
Her school had ordered her to see Weberman because she had been asking questions about her religion and was dressing immodestly in violation of the sect’s customs, and it was believed she needed to be helped back on the right path. Weberman wasn’t a licensed counselor but spent decades working with couples and families in his community.
There was no physical evidence of abuse.
The court received dozens of letters from supporters of the defendant who described his life in the community as a counselor and a father.
What A Shame!