A rabbi charged with molesting his daughter is being allowed to represent himself in court. Rabbi Israel Weingarten was permitted to subject his daughter to hours worth of cross-examination yesterday in Brooklyn Federal Court. The daughter wept as she shared accounts of a life of horrific abuse from age 9 to 16.
“His questions meandered,” reports Newsday, “and he often interrupted his daughter’s answers by scolding her.” The rabbi also accused his daughter of falling in love with a married male neighbor, and asked leading and accusatory questions such as “Didn’t you feel that was wrong?”
When Weingarten asked the woman why she had not come forward as a teenager with the allegations, she responded “My feeling from your molesting me was utmost fear and blackmail and years of torture because you hit me, because I told my mother. Didn’t I get hit enough?”
After Rabbi Weingarten had many allegations against his daughter, the judge finally cut him off, saying:
Mr. Weingarten, if anybody is going to admonish the witness it’s going to be me…You have created a fairly untenable, horrific situation by deciding to represent yourself. Now, I’m not sure where this crossexamination is going, but I know you are not going to lecture this witness.
This case is disturbing for so many reasons. It is ridiculous that someone who is accused of putting his daughter through years of abuse should be allowed to further terrorize the woman in court. The defendant should have never been allowed to represent himself in the first place. Going through the court system is traumatic enough for women, especially rape and sexual-assault survivors, without further increasing the trauma by allowing the accused perpetrator to further subject the woman to abuse and intimidation.
Some of the general public’s responses to the case are also disgusting. On The New York Daily News’ website, “BeReasonable” wrote:
It is extremely difficult to prove a negative. The judge should not put the rabbi’s self-defense in a bad light for the jury. He apparently lost his temper (“thundered” makes it sounds righteous, as if it were God) at the Rabbi, berating him for his decision to represent himself. From another newspaper I learned that the rabbi does so not alone but along with two lawyers. If it’s an “untenable, horrific situation,” why doesn’t the judge forbid it? Doesn’t [that] suggest bias against the defendant and sympathy for the plaintiff? The trustworthiness of the daughter’s emotional testimony must be considered. She could be accusing him falsely out of hatred and resentment for being cruel, which is wrong but not criminal. Perhaps she is desperately trying to hide her own sin. In another article, she admitted to being in love (and possibly having an affair) with a married man in Belgium.
Comments such as this perpetuate survivor-blaming and a culture in which the survivor is not believed. The young woman’s sexual or love life has nothing to do with the allegations. Attempting to draw in information about the woman’s love life in order to discredit her is absurd and irrelevant. In one way, the comment is correct. “If it’s an ‘untenable, horrific situation,’ why doesn’t the judge forbid it?” I agree. It is ridiculous that the man was even allowed to represent himself in the first place. By once again putting the accused perpetrator in a position of power over the survivor, the decision to allow Weingarten to represent himself is traumatic for the survivor. But, from the other angle, allowing him to represent himself (especially given his strange behavior) also creates bias against the defendant.
Another thing bothers me about the judge’s reprimanding of Rabbi Weingarten. He said “If anybody is going to admonish the witness it’s going to be me.” How about nobody admonishes the witness? Why should the woman be scolded at all? The case has not been decided yet, but the woman should not be scolded unless she somehow acts in an inappropriate manner in court. Weingarten was in fact the one acting inappropriately. The judge was justified in scolding Weingarten because his cross-examination was accusatory and intimidating. However, these circumstances might have been foreseen given the situation, and Weingarten should not have been allowed to represent himself in the first place.
Weingarten used irrelevant information about his daughter’s love life in an attempt to discredit her allegations. He also attempted to discredit her by implying that she would have come forward with the allegations earlier had the abuse really occurred. It is extremely difficult, dangerous, and emotionally devastating to come forward and accuse one’s perpetrator. Most survivors never come forward and report abuse or sexual assault. The woman is extremely brave to come forward with her allegations at all, and the timing of her report is irrelevant. If women are treated this horribly by the court system, why would anyone want to subject themselves to further abuse by coming forward and testifying?
Rabbi Weingarten was arrested last year on charges of leaving the country in order to have sex with a minor. The court papers accused Weingarten of attempting to kidnap the girl and assaulting a rabbi and his wife who were trying to protect the victim.
Weingarten has testified that his daughter is falsely accusing him in retaliation for a strict upbringing. He has suggested that a neighbor was the actual abuser. The cross-examination continues today.