US: Gay Jewish activist wins $3.5M lawsuit against cousin for ‘brutal’ childhood abuse

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The Brooklyn Supreme Court has awarded $3.5 million (£2.2 million) to a gay Jewish activist who accused his cousin of carrying out “brutal” sexual abuse against him as a child – but he says it was “never about the money”.

Chaim Levin, a 24-year-old who previously campaigned against a ‘gay cure’ therapy scheme, won a lawsuit against his male cousin, Sholom Eichler. He claimed Eichler abused him sexually on several occasions between 1996 and 1999, starting when he was 6 years old.

“It was pretty brutal. It was killing me, but I was too afraid to tell anyone,” said Mr Levin.

Miriam Sunshine, a referee appointed by judge David Vaughn, fined Eichler $1 million (£638,000) for pain and suffering after Mr Levin claimed he was forced to perform oral sex on him, and was on one occasion sodomised with a pen. Eichler was also fined $2.5 million (£1.6 million) for future pain and suffering caused by the abuse.

It is unclear whether Mr Levin will see the compensation money, as Eichler relocated to Israel shortly after the lawsuit was filed. He did not dispute the charges.

A spokesperson for Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said the statute of limitations prevented a civil court case being pursued overseas.

Nevertheless, Mr Levin was satisfied with the result of the lawsuit, and said he hoped it would benefit victims of abuse within the Jewish community.

He told “I really believe that, if this will encourage even one more victim to come forward, I can find some solace in the pain that those four years caused me. If people can see that it’s possible to pursue justice despite a community that would prefer to ignore it, just as my community did for so long, then maybe one day it will be easier for victims to come forward and pursue what they deserve.

“This was never about money, no amount of money will ever makeup for what Eichler did to me, and either way, I doubt I’ll see any of it,” he added. “The amount of money in this case is just indicative of the fact that the tides are turning and victims are growing stronger and we will no longer remain silent.”

The abuse, which took place primarily at his synagogue in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Eichler’s home, was brought to light in 2004 after Mr Levin told a friend about it. The allegations were then made known to the dean of his yeshiva.

“The rabbi said he’d tell my parents, but that he would not disclose who the perpetrator was,” said Mr Levin.

The New York Daily News reports that Israeli prosecutors are looking into allegations that Eichler abused Mr Levin on a family trip to Jerusalem in 1999.

Mr Levin previously wrote for about his experiences of ‘gay cure’ therapy after he enrolled on a scheme that offered to turn him straight.

He was one of four gay men to file a lawsuit in November 2012 against New Jersey-based group Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing (JONAH), accusing them of falsely offering conversion therapy to reverse their homosexuality.