NEW YORK -- The alleged abuse started when the victim was 12. The girl, a member of the Satmar Hasidic community, had been sent to the office of Nechemya Weberman because she had questioned the existence of God in school and rebelled against her ultra-Orthodox Jewish community's strict modesty codes.
Weberman, an unlicensed counselor in their Williamsburg, Brooklyn, neighborhood, had a reputation for helping people get "back on the spiritual path," according to the Associated Press. Prosecutors contend that Weberman abused his young client for the next three years, forcing her to perform oral sex and touching her breasts and vagina, according to The New York Times.
On Tuesday, the newly married girl, now almost 18, testified against Weberman in New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn. Her former counselor is charged with 88 counts of sexual abuse of a minor, according to the Times.
"I wanted to die rather than live with myself," the alleged victim told the courtroom, according to the New York Daily News. "I didn't know how to fight. I was numb."
The young woman testified that Weberman would triple lock his door before the abuse, which allegedly took place twice a week for three years, CBS reports. The teen said that at one point she became so depressed she stopped eating and couldn't even talk to Weberman.
In 2011, the teen told another guidance counselor that she had been abused, the AP reports.
Weberman has pleaded not guilty, and some in the tight-knit Hasidic community have rallied around him.
This summer, articles in Hasidic newspapers proclaimed his innocence and men raised money for his legal fees. "It's very hard for the town to believe the things that he's being accused of because he has a reputation of doing good and being good," Judy Genut, a friend of the accuser's family who also counsels troubled girls, told the AP.
Taking abuse claims to outside authorities has long been taboo in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, and those who come forward have been targeted and intimidated, The New York Times reports. Abuse victims and their families have even been kicked out of schools and synagogues.
Lawyers for Weberman argue that the teen is lying to punish her former counselor for telling her father about a onetime boyfriend, according to the Times.
On Tuesday, the alleged victim testified that her accusations, too, had led to a backlash: Her father lost his job and her nieces were kicked out of school, the Daily News reports. But the young woman maintained she had no regrets.
"Have you gained anything?" prosecutor Kevin O'Donnell asked.
"Peace," she said.