A religious counselor in Brooklyn's ultra-orthodox Jewish community was sentenced Tuesday to 103 years in prison following his conviction in the sex abuse case of a girl who came to him with questions about her faith.
Nechemya Weberman was convicted in December of sustained sexual abuse of a child and other charges. His trial put a spotlight on the insular Satmar Hasidic sect in Brooklyn and its strict rules governing clothing, social customs and interaction with the outside world.
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.
"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."
Calling Weberman a "monster," she said she hoped that by coming forward about the abuse she endured, she hoped to "prevent further evil, protect the innocent and, most of all, to heal."
Weberman was not a licensed counselor but spent decades working with couples and families in his community. The girl, now 18, had testified for days about the abuse. She said it started when she was 12 and lasted until she was 15. She had been questioning her faith and her teachers felt she was straying from the right path, so they sent her to Weberman for guidance. Instead, she said, he molested her.
But there was no physical evidence. The defense argued that the girl was angry that Weberman had told her parents she had a boyfriend at age 15, forbidden in her community. They said the girl was a liar and the case was a simple he said, she said.
Weberman also testified, saying he "never, ever" abused the girl.
The jury was not convinced and took just hours to convict Weberman on all counts.
Brooklyn is home to the largest community of ultra-orthodox Jews outside Israel, more than 250,000, and the Satmar sect is one faction clustered mostly in the Williamsburg neighborhood.