The family of a Brooklyn man being treated for drug addiction in California traces his problems back to sexual abuse by a yeshiva teacher, when he was just 9 years old. "I do recall the rabbi being over here, trying to hush up my dad," Yosef Werner--the abuse survivor's brother--told PIX 11 Friday.
20 years ago, Daniel "Benji" Werner came home from the Yeshiva of Brooklyn one day and started confiding in his mother at theirMidwood home. "He told me the rabbi was touching him," Yehudis Werner told PIX. "And I said, 'What??!!"
Benji Werner told his mother the teacher would call him up to the front of the class, take the boy behind the desk, place Benji on his lap, and then put his hands in the boy's pants and molest him.
Mrs. Werner said she called her husband, Aaron, and he started contacting other parents from Benji's class. She told PIX several parents had heard the same thing from their children. Soon after, she said the family received calls from religious leaders. "They called up my husband and said 'if you continue to call parents, we'll make your name mud.'"
Yehudis Werner told PIX that because the family with eight children had recently emigrated to Brooklyn from Israel, they didn't want to rock the boat back then by going to police.
The Werner family decided to talk to PIX 11 now, because of recent publicity surrounding the District Attorney's office and how it's handled sexual abuse cases in the Orthodox Jewish community. The Kings Country District Attorney, Charles Hynes, told reporters this week he's ready to put handcuffs on any religious leader who threatens witnesses in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.
Back in 1992, Benji Werner's parents took him out of the yeshiva and transferred him to a school on the lower East Side of Manhattan. But within a couple of years, Yosef Werner recalls his kid brother was getting into trouble, at the age of 11. "I know he was popping Ecstasy pills at a very early stage," Yosef Werner told PIX.
From rehab in California, Benji Werner told PIX 11 by phone Friday, "I basically isolated myself. I was depressed. After two years in my new school, one of the kids introduced me to marijuana. I smoked it and it would deaden my feelings." Werner acknowledged he later took Ecstasy and acid.
Through tears, Benji Werner's mother told PIX, "My only regret? I wish I got him counseling at the time." She told PIX her son tells her not to feel so badly. "He said, 'At least you did better than other parents. You put me in a new school.'" Yehudis Werner said she recently told her son, "Benji, thank you for confiding in me."
When PIX 11 contacted Yeshiva of Brooklyn Friday, a man who answered the phone said he was the principal. When I identified myself and asked if Benji's rabbi was still working at the yeshiva, the man told me, "No, he is no longer here." When I asked why, he responded, "None of your business. This is a private school."
Six years ago, Benji Werner and his brother paid a visit to the Kings County District Attorney's office. But Benji Werner was already 24 years old, so too much time had passed; under state law, there could be no prosecution, because of the statute of limitations.
Yosef Werner, a teacher, said he was working with a liason in the Orthodox Jewish community to get an apology from Benji's old teacher. But it never happened. "I did get a bottle of Chivas Regal from this individual who was trying to bribe me to shut my mouth up," Werner said.
Werner's father, Aaron, is dead now, and Yosef Werner said Friday, "I want people to see this story, because my father wanted this to come out in the 1990's."
When PIX 11 asked Benji Werner if he will get over his trauma, he replied, "Yes, I will, because I'm talking about it now. For years, I didn't talk."
Benji Werner expects to be in rehab for at least another, three months.