Nine arrested for suspected abuse in polygamous sect

The Jerusalem Post/August 2, 2011

Three men, six wives, 15 children made up sect; police say cult has been in existence for 10 years; total control over womens' lives.

In what police and social workers are calling the worst case of domestic violence in decades, three men and six women from a polygamous Breslov Hasidic cult, well-known for dancing in the streets behind the Rabbi Nahman van in Jerusalem, were arrested in Tiberias over a week ago. Three men were detained, and six women, along with the cult’s fifteen children, were placed in different shelters across the country, police announced on Tuesday morning.

Police would not identify the family. The arrest was carried out in cooperation with the Social Services Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality. The cult had been in existence for more than ten years, though only in the past two years the attacks had increased in frequency and severity.

Police and social workers familiar with the case described severe physical, emotional, and sexual violence, that landed several of the children in the hospital, some multiple times. The family moved often and children were taken to different hospitals to prevent raising questions of abuse. The leader of the cult was not legally married to the six women, but had sexual relations with all of them. The additional two men arrested were the leader’s assistant and another man ostensibly chosen to continue the cult.

"It was very clear that they were in a framework that controlled every aspect of their lives, including their thoughts," said Menahem Vagshel, deputy director of the Social Services Ministry. He said that every day each woman would have a "confession" or "judgment" sessions with the head of the cult, where they would be required to share all of their thoughts, including towards the family and towards him. If they had any negative thoughts, they were forced to undergo cruel sexual or physical punishments.

The leader of the cult was under investigation a year and a half ago, when one of the daughters complained to social services about sexual abuse. When she refused to testify, the state attorney was forced to close the case for lack of evidence.

The breakthrough came after the cult head’s seventh wife broke away from the family, after a year and a half of living with them. Six months later, she urged social services to investigate abuse in the family. An undercover investigation began on July 4.

When police arrived at the apartment to arrest the leaders, they found stun guns, electric cables, and wooden rods, in addition to the personal journals of many of the women, which will be used to build a case against the leaders of the cult. The three men are expected to be indicted on Wednesday on multiple counts of sexual abuse and child abuse.

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