TOMS RIVER, N.J. — A New Jersey boy whose family was shunned by their Orthodox Jewish community after he went to authorities to report being sexually abused by a teacher urged other victims of sex abuse to speak out and get help from prosecutors.
Testimony from the 16-year-old boy, who was 12 when the abuse occurred, helped put his abuser in prison. Yosef Kolko, 39, was sentenced late Thursday to nearly 13 years after a judge refused to let him take back a guilty plea to aggravated sexual assault he had made in May.
The Associated Press generally does not identify the victims of sexual abuse. Speaking just before Kolko was sentenced, the boy urged others who are being sexually abused to come forward and speak out.
“I strongly urge you to go to the authorities and share your story,” he said. “I can’t say it will be easy.”
But, he added, “Victims are getting stronger every day.”
Prosecutors said the family of the boy was ostracized by the community for pursuing the case in state court instead of letting religious leaders deal with it. The boy’s father, a prominent rabbi, lost his job and the family moved to Michigan.
The victim’s father had initially wanted the case handled within the Orthodox community, asking a senior rabbi to help ensure Kolko stay away from children and go to therapy. In mid-2009, the father decided to take the case to authorities because he felt it was not being handled appropriately — Kolko was still teaching and planning to work at the summer camp where he had met the boy.
“My message to those monsters out there who are abusing: You will be exposed, you will be put behind bars, and you will go through hell on Earth,” the boy said. “Molesting may seem harmless to you, but the reality is that it kills people with every touch.”
Then he addressed Kolko directly.
“How can you ignore the tears and open wounds when you knew how much you hurt me?” he asked. “It’s ego and stubbornness that got you here, not me.”
On Friday, the Rabbinical Council of America issued a statement supporting the boy’s courage and urging others in his situation to report the abuse to authorities as he did.
“There is an unequivocal halakhic (Jewish legal) and moral obligation for everyone, victim and community member alike, to report all reasonable suspicions of child abuse to the civil authorities,” said Rabbi Leonard Matanky, the group’s president.
He also cited “piku’ach nefesh,” a principle in Jewish law that the preservation of human life overrides virtually any other religious consideration.
Rabbi Shalom Baum, the council’s vice president, added, “The moral and religious integrity of our community is shattered when communal leaders discourage and prevent others from responding to the cries of the victims of abuse.”
Kolko tried to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming in court papers that members of the Lakewood community carried out an unrelenting campaign to get him to plead guilty and avoid bringing negative publicity on the community. He claims they showed him YouTube videos “of how inmates kill people in jail for being molesters in order to pressure me into taking a plea and avoiding trial.”
“If not for the extreme pressure by members of my community, I would not have pled guilty as charged,” he wrote. “I reject plea bargains offered by the state because I am innocent of the crimes alleged.”
Shabsi Kolko testified Thursday that his brother Yosef signed a piece of paper moments before pleading guilty that read, “All that I plead to is under duress, and to save my life.”
But the prosecutor ridiculed the fact that Kolko’s family apparently held onto the letter for months instead of bringing it immediately into court to try to prevent his plea from being accepted.
When he pleaded guilty, Kolko admitted performing oral sex on the boy and attempting to have anal intercourse with him.
Kolko, who had repeatedly called out during the nearly 10-hour court session when he disagreed with something that was said, declined to speak on his own behalf before being sentenced.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC
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