This Moment is About the Victims | From the Mailbag

Someone asked me the following question, and I wanted to share it and the response I gave. I think it’s relevant to this moment in history.

“What’s your opinion on distinguishing between sexual assault and sexual harassment? Do you think there is such a distinction, and that there should be different penalties for these potentially two different things? Or do you think think it’s all rape, and should be treated the same each time? Thanks in advance for any insights.”

My response:

I’m not sure that really is up to opinion. They are in fact different things. Sexual harassment isn’t necessarily sexual assault, and sexual assault isn’t necessarily rape. In order to have a functioning justice system we necessarily assign different penalties to each. The thing that makes sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape different than most other crimes is the fact that our society doesn’t really consider them to be as unjustifiable as they do other crimes, which is odd considering that as far as crime goes these three are in fact among the most unjustifiable.

For example, murder is most harshly treated by our justice system, however there are all sorts of justifiable reasons for murder. It’s perfectly justifiable, if perhaps not legal, to murder someone who’s trying to hurt you or someone else, if murder seems like the only way to prevent harm. If someone walks in on someone being raped, murder, if not legal, could be justifiable.

Theft can be justifiable, if not legal. If someone is poor and faced with a choice between starvation and theft, theft, if not legal, can be justifiable.

Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, however, have no inherently justifiable circumstances. There’s never an instance in which one must sexually harass, sexually assault, or rape in self defense, to stave off starvation, or to make a living. And yet, it’s a the one category of crime that mostly goes unreported by its victims, and tends not to be taken seriously by our society.

It also happens to be one of the most traumatic categories of crime for its victims, particularly because it is completely unjustifiable and therefore particularly violative. The only reason anyone ever sexually harasses, sexually assaults, or rapes, is precisely because they feel that they have an entitlement to violate another person’s boundaries, body, and soul, and treat them as if they were a thing, rather than a human being.

So yes, we necessarily assign different weight to each crime in this category, and we subdivide based on the precise violations committed in each case, but that’s really beside the point in this national discussion we’re having. This country fundamentally doesn’t care about the victims of this category of crime. It doesn’t care about its prevalence or the effects on its victims, and it really doesn’t care to do anything about it.

To listen to victims of this category of crime is to hear the same story over and over again. “I didn’t speak up because I didn’t think anyone would believe me,” punctuated by responses of “I did speak up (to my boss, my family, to HR, to clergy, to community leaders, or law enforcement) and no one believed me. They blamed me. Asked me what I did to deserve it. Asked what, if anything, I had done to prevent it, as if such a thing were possible.” These experience exist by the million, and for some reason nobody seems to particularly care, despite the fact that the prevalence of this category of crime is of epidemic proportion, and its effects on its victims are often devastating.

So yes, as I said now three times, there necessarily has to be a difference in the way we treat the crimes in this category, but then there’s how we as a society, outside of the legal system, have to reckon with it, because our attitudes toward sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape determine how they will be treated by our justice system. Our police, prosecutors, lawyers, and juries don’t exist in a vacuum. They are all products of our society and our societal attitudes toward this category of crime. If people fundamentally believe that sexual harassment is the fault of the victim, that sexual assault can be “asked for” by the way a victim dresses, that rape can be “asked for” by what the victim drank, then it in fact is impossible for a victim to get justice.

This is what this country is reckoning with in this moment. Whether we will start taking sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape seriously, whether we will choose to believe that it happens, that it’s serious, that it’s devastating and prevalent, or whether we’ll continue to justify the inherently unjustifiable.

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A Survivor Shares Her Experience of Being Raped as a Modern Orthodox Teen | #WhyIDidntReport

Author’s note: Aside from the first 4 introductory paragraphs preceding the survivor’s account, no changes have been made to the original account. 

Last week, in response to Trump’s ignorant assertion that in order for a sexual assault claim to be true it must have been reported immediately to law enforcement, we saw an outpouring of stories from survivors about #WhyIDidntReport. I shared my own detailing how I was silenced within the Charedi community.

Yesterday, I was contacted by a frum survivor on the Modern Orthodox community who wanted to share her story, but is still, years after the abuse happened, afraid of the backlash. She asked me to share her story anonymously on my Facebook wall, and I’m going to copy it below.

Before I do, a little framing for this post. Before any of you ask “well, what about negiah, what about yichud?” save yourself the typing. The fact is that regardless of whatever stated values a community claims to believe in, there’s always, in every community, every society, and every value system, a difference between the communal ideal and communal practice. This is a reality that doesn’t go away just because we claim that it clashes with our stated values.

Premarital sex happens plenty in the Orthodox community, in all Orthodox communities, and while our value system may compel us to wish that it didn’t, the fact is that it does. Our stated values don’t absolve us of our responsibility to therefore ensure that when it happens it’s consensual, and when sexual assault happens the perpetrators are held responsible. We don’t get to use our stated values to sweep sexual assault under the rug, or blame the victims. So I don’t want to hear about yichud and negiah. That’s not at all relevant to this survivor’s experience. What’s relevant is the realities of our community, and the realities of her experience.

With that in mind, here’s the survivor’s story:

“I grew up in a somewhat liberal Modern Orthodox community and attended co-ed schools and camps. Although the rabbis talked about tznius and being shomer negia, the community at large didn’t really emphasize those things so much. There was still an expectation of no premarital sex, but it was not uncommon for high schoolers to have boyfriends/girlfriends.

I had a boyfriend in 10th grade, he went to a different school but we knew each other from camp and NCSY. As per the context described above, our parents were ok with it as long as we didn’t do more than make out and rabbis and teachers frowned on it and extolled the virtues of being shomer negia. So when the boyfriend started pressuring me to go farther than kissing, I didn’t want to, I knew by all standards I shouldn’t. He kept up the pressure and manipulation and I eventually gave in on everything except actual sex. That was my red line. He knew it. And one day, he held me down and did it anyway. I was initially in too much shock to protest, and then I was afraid, because he was a lot bigger than me. There was no point in struggling against him, so it was just “lay back and think of England” as they say, until he was done.

Now here comes the crux of why I didn’t tell anyone. First of all, that was not the last time he raped me. He did it several more times in the following months until we finally broke up. I know, stupid me. Why didn’t I dump him after the first time? And why did I ever allow myself to be alone with him again, several times? I don’t really know, even now, and that’s why even now I still blame myself. It took me a long time to even think of it as rape because I let it happen repeatedly. Then there was the fact that I had consented to “fooling around” before the first time he did it. Under pressure and manipulation, but at the end of the day, I still consented. So maybe it was my fault he took things to their “logical” conclusion.

Another reason I didn’t tell anyone is that we had in the past been caught making out by teachers/counselors and been yelled at for it. So I knew those people would blame me for not being shomer negia. I knew some friends would be supportive, but others would take his side. I’d seen other girls in my class endure serious slut shaming, so I wasn’t about to open up that can of worms. I also didn’t want my parents to know, because they would be devastated and feel horribly guilty. I didn’t want to burden them with that. They still don’t know, even now.

I did tell a couple of friends about a year after it happened and they were very supportive, but agreed that I was smart to keep quiet. I told my husband back when we were dating and he has always been amazing. I’m so fortunate to have him. We also told our Rav shortly before our wedding in order to clarify a few halachik matters (silver lining: my wedding night did not make me niddah) and he was very kind as well. I am fortunate and it has, thank God, not hindered me much in life. It never does leave, and ever since that time I have struggled on and off with depression, but I was able to marry only a few years after it happened, it has not affected much in the bedroom, and I’m enjoying raising my kids and working at a job I like, and am happily frum.

The thing is, the Modern Orthodox community is small. As my rapist and I are both still in MO circles, even though we haven’t run into each other in years, we have tons of mutual acqauintances, so I do know a bit about what he’s up to these days. And that’s another reason why I have not, and will not, report. There is nothing to gain and everything to lose. He’s not in some powerful position and he’s not super well-known or majorly respected. He’s an average Joe, going to shul, going to work, raising his family. I’m sure most people who know him think he’s just a nice guy in the neighborhood. As most people think I’m this nice, bubbly young mom in the neighborhood with no idea of the darkness I’ve endured. There’s no reason to bring up what happened well over a decade ago. I know what happens to women who speak up, especially if it’s years later. No thank you, I’m not opening myself and my family up to that.

Unfortunately, these problems are not specific to any one community. The Modern Orthodox world does not really have a better handle on this than the Ultra Orthodox world, nor anywhere else. MO institutions still often have the first instinct to protect themselves when allegations first arise and while I think there’s a bit less victim shaming, there is still a lot of skepticism directed at victims because it’s hard to accept that the nice guy who sits next to you in shul, and who has done business with you, and whose kids play with yours, could be a rapist. There’s definitely a lot of reckoning left to do.”

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Prager: Ignore Sexual Assault – For Moral Reasons

So Dennis Prager decided, on erev Yom Kippur, to bastardize and distort my religion for the purpose of sexual abuse apologism. I’m going to address it because I think it speaks precisely to the widespread misconceptions we have about teshuva. He starts off with this:

“It is almost impossible to overstate the damage done to America’s moral compass by taking the charges leveled against Judge Brett Kavanaugh seriously.

It undermines foundational moral principles of any decent society.”

With no due respect, Dennis, what undermines the moral principles of any decent society is the blase attitude with which we respond to sexual assault, and the lengths to which we regularly go to shame victims into silence. There’s a reason it takes decades for survivors to disclose, and it’s not because they just haven’t gotten around to it. It’s because they know full well that regardless of when they come forward, people like you will be there to call them liars, to impugn their character, to minimize the way they were violated, and to protect the violator.

They hope and pray that the pain, the memory of it fades, and that they can just get on with their life and move past it, but it never really goes away. Most of the time we can forget about it, Dennis, but not so much when your abuser is on every television screen, every newspaper, every other Facebook post, and about to be appointed to a lifetime term on the nation’s most powerful court.

“Those who claim the charges against Judge Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford are important and worth investigating, and that they ultimately, if believed, invalidate his candidacy for the U.S. Supreme Court are stating that:

  1. a) What a middle-aged adult did in high school is all we need to need to know to evaluate an individual’s character — even when his entire adult life has been impeccable.
  2. b) No matter how good and moral a life one has led for 10, 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years, it is nullified by a sin committed as teenager.

No decent — or rational — society has ever believed such nihilistic nonsense.”

No otherwise decent seeming society has ever really given too much of a crap about sexual assault, because women, who make up the majority of sexual assault victims, are never really seen as important enough to matter compared to the men who violate them. What a middle-aged adult did in high-school is usually not sexual assault, and if your assertion is that sexual assault is, in fact, normal behaviour, then we are not, in fact, a decent society.

Not all sins are created equal, and not all sins can be mitigated by time. Some sins take a lot more to forgive, and sexual assault is one of them. States across the nation are moving to eliminate or extend their statutes of limitations on rape and sexual assault because we no recognize the damage – sometimes lifelong- caused by these crimes. The fact that you’re so willing to forgive simply because time past is very generous of you, but it’s not your place here to be generous. The victim of this sin is still living, still in pain, and still aggrieved, while the abuser has never faced a single consequence for his actions. The fact that you’re upset that he’s finally facing one which is simply depriving him of something to which he is not fundamentally entitled (unlike the bodily sovereignty to which his victim was, in fact, entitled when he violated her) perhaps merits a solo on the world’s tiniest violin.

“This is another example of the moral chaos sown by secularism and the left. In any society rooted in Judeo-Christian values, it is understood that people should be morally assessed based on how they behave over the course of their lifetime — early behavior being the least important period in making such an assessment.”

Again, he did not cheat on an exam, or rob a candy store of a box of Junior Mints. He violated another person. And don’t bring “Judeo-Christian” values into this (as if the two deserve to be linked), when Judaism actually has a prescription for atonement for such crimes, and not one of the criteria involves the passage of time. It does, however, include monetary restitution (a lot of it), appeasement of the victim, sincerely asking and sincerely receiving forgiveness, abandonment of the sin, regret of the sin and its effect on its victim (not fear of consequence), verbal confession, and a concrete resolution for the future to never sin in such a way again. Even if we assume that he hasn’t committed this sin since, we know for a fact that he has never attempted to make restitution to, appease, or sincerely seek the forgiveness of his victim.

“These religious values taught us that all of us are sinners and, therefore, with the exception of those who have engaged in true evil, we need to be very careful in making moral evaluations of human beings.”

Is there a truer evil than sexual assault, a crime for which there are no conceivable internal or external justifications?

“And, of course, we were taught to extend forgiveness when people demonstrate through their actions that they have changed. As a well-known ancient Jewish adage put it: “Where the penitent stands, the most righteous cannot stand.” In other words, the highest moral achievement is moral improvement.”

Nothing in Kavanaugh’s history indicates that he was ever penitent for this crime. We have no reason to assume, (and in fact every reason to assume that he didn’t) that he ever sought to make restitution to, appease, and seek the forgiveness of his victim. He is not a penitent, he’s an unrepentant sexual predator.

“Perhaps the most important principle violated by taking this 36-year-old high school-era charge seriously is the principle of the moral bank account.

Every one of us has a moral bank account. Our good deeds are deposits, and our bad deeds are withdrawals. We therefore assess a person the same way we assess our bank account. If our good actions outweigh our bad actions, we are morally in the black; if our bad actions greatly outweigh our good actions, we are morally in the red.

By all accounts — literally all — Brett Kavanaugh’s moral bank account is way in the black. He has led a life of decency, integrity, commitment to family and commitment to community few Americans can match. On these grounds alone, the charges against him as a teenager should be ignored.”

God isn’t a vending machine, and sexual assault isn’t the kind of sin you can simply drown in things that aren’t sexual assault. It leaves a victim – a real, living, breathing, suffering victim – who isn’t helped by any of the other actions that their abusers take. And it’s funny you should use the word ‘violated.’ There’s no way that was a coincidence, which makes this piece all the more despicable.

He has not led a life of decency, integrity, commitment to family, and commitment to community, he has lead a farce to cover for the fact that he is an unrepentant violator of another human being whom you are trying to dehumanize by asking us not to care about her and what Kavanaugh did to her.

“So, why is this charge taken seriously?

One reason is, as I recently wrote, the greatest fear in America is fear of the left — the fear of what the left will do to you if you cross it. Not fear of God. Not fear of doing wrong. Fear of the left. Offend the left and you will lose your reputation and, quite often, your job or your business.”

Nice of you to just come right out and say that part of being a God-fearing member of the Right is condoning, enabling, and arguably celebrating sexual assault.

“Another reason is pure, amoral, demagogic politics. No honest American of any political persuasion believes that if a woman were to charge a Democrat-appointed judge such as Merrick Garland with doing to her 36 years ago in high school what Brett Kavanaugh is charged with having done 36 years ago in high school, the Democratic Party and the media would be demanding the confirmation vote be delayed or the candidate withdraw.”

Objection, calls for speculation.

And yet, we sent Franken packing for much less, and thank God for it. We will not tolerate sexual harassment or assault any longer. No amount of it.

“A third reason is feminism’s weakening of the American female (and male, but that is another story). A generation ago, a drunk teenager at a party trying groping a teenage girl over her clothing while trying to remove as much of her clothing as possible would not have been defended or countenanced. But it would not have been deemed as inducing post-traumatic stress disorder either.”

Well goddamn those feminazis for ruining the good ole’ fun we used to have groping women whenever we wanted, holding them down and trying to rape them, and actually raping them when they’re not conscious enough to fight back or scream. A few generations it was ok to lynch a black person. 75 years ago, it was ok to throw a Jew into an oven. 80 years before that it was perfectly acceptable to enslave people. Find other ways to have good, clean, God-fearing fun, you monster.

This weakening of the female is perfectly illustrated by the statement released by Susanna Jones, head of Holton-Arms School, the private preparatory school for girls in Bethesda, Maryland, that the accuser attended. “As a school that empowers women to use their voices, we are proud of this alumna for using hers,” Jones said.

“Empowers women”? Please.”

Yes, women, if you want to truly be empowered you must submit to the kind of behaviour Dennis describes above as perfectly acceptable. Because true empowerment is silently accepting the fact that you’re a sexual object to which men are entitled for any sort of sexual exploitation or violation they’d like to engagement. God forbid yous eek any agency in decisions made about your body, the Right might think you unempowered. They’d be more than happy, though, to forcefully, non-consensually show you how empowered you could be under them if you only submit.

“Nearly every woman over puberty has experienced a man trying to grope her (the groping of a pre-pubescent is sexual molestation of a child and an act of evil). My mother was groped by a physician. She told my father about it. My father told the physician that if he were to do it again, he would break his hands. And it remained a family folk tale. If you had told my mother she was a “survivor,” she would have wondered what you were talking about. The term was reserved for people who survived Nazi concentration camps, Japanese prisoner of war camps and cancer survivors, not women groped by a man.”

Listen if you want us to break every bone in Kavanaugh’s body instead of blocking his nomination to the Supreme court, we might be able to work something out.

And nice work trotting out a semantic argument. As a basis for a moral code in responding to sexual assault, it seems as good as or better than whatever you currently base your moral code on.

“When my wife was a waitress in her midteens, the manager of her restaurant grabbed her breasts and squeezed them on numerous occasions. She told him to buzz off, figured out how to avoid being in places where they were alone and continued going about her job. That’s empowerment.”

Again, because empowerment is not wanting to insist on just consequences and accountability for people who violate you, an. True empowerment is clearly submitting to it and at most verbalizing a desire to not be so violated once it’s already happened, if you’re feeling really cheeky.

“In sum, I am not interested in whether Mrs. Ford, an anti-Drumpf activist, is telling the truth. Because even if true, it tells us nothing about Brett Kavanaugh. But for the record, I don’t believe her story. Aside from too many missing details — most women remember virtually everything about the circumstances of a sexual assault no matter how long ago — few men do what she charges Kavanaugh with having done only one time. And no other woman has ever charged him with any sexual misconduct.”

So what you just got done describing as normal behaviour women should be tolerating is now something that only some men commit but only serially, which you’re finally calling sexual assault, and you don’t believe her because he hasn’t committed enough of it. Also, we know you don’t believe her, you jackass, the problem with what you did here was that you advocated for tolerance, acceptance of ,and even, arguably, the embracing of such behaviour as a society, and all in the name of female empowerment.

On the day before Yom Kippur, Dennis. For shame.

“Do not be surprised if a future Republican candidate for office or judicial nominee — no matter how exemplary a life he has led — is accused of sexual misconduct … from when he was in elementary school.”

To sum up all of what I just wrote: YOU HAVE NOT LIVED AN EXEMPLARY LIFE IF YOU ARE AN UNREPENTANT SEXUAL PREDATOR, DENNIS.

But hey, what do I know, I’m just a left wing Feminazi cuck who doesn’t believe in True Women’s Empowerment™.

 

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Some Facts About the Child Victims Act

What is the Child Victims Act?

The Child Victims Act is a bill that’s been pending in the New York State legislature for 12 years, which would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, extend the civil statute of limitations, and open a one-year retroactive window during which civil cases whose statutes of limitation have already expired could be brought in court.

Why This Matters & Why We Need The Window

Currently, under New York State law, the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse is 5 years after the victim turns 18 – age 23. Many survivors of child sexual abuse never report their abuse. Of those who do, many don’t even report until decades after the abuse. Many factors contribute to this delay in reporting including shame the victim feels, threats made by abusers, fear of not being believed, pressure by community members to keep silent, and often a desire to try and forget the trauma happened.

Once a survivor turns 23, their abuser can walk into a police station, give a full confession, shake the desk sergeant’s hand, and leave scot free.

Because of New York State’s abysmal statute of limitations, thousands of sexual abusers walk free every year, unidentified, unprosecuted, free – given that statistically abusers are likely to have more than one victim – to keep abusing.

It’s About Protecting Children

Once the statute of limitations runs out, survivors have little recourse against their abusers. They can out them publicly, but because they have no way of proving their allegation in court, they run the risk of being sued by their abuser for libel. The Child Victims Act would change this by opening up a one-year lookback window, allowing survivors to identify, and sue their abusers in court. Once a survivor wins a suit against their abuser, that abuser can be publicized as a predator whom parents should keep their kids away from.

It’s About Justice for Survivors

Survivors of sexual abuse often suffer from a host of issues resulting from the trauma they’ve experienced: PTSD, suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addiction, and self-harm, among others.

On average, it costs survivors between $300,000 – $1,000,000 to treat these effects of child sexual abuse. Most survivors are either forced to pay for their treatment out of their own pockets, or do without it if it’s beyond their means. The Child Victims Act would allow survivors to hold their abusers financially response for the abuse they’ve committed, and they damage they’ve caused.

So Why Isn’t the Child Victims Act Law Yet?

For the past 12 years, New York State senate Republicans have, at the behest of several powerful special interests, been blocking every attempt to bring the Child Victims Act to the floor for a vote. Among these special interests are the New York Catholic ConferenceAgudath Israel of AmericaBoy Scouts of America, the United Federation of Teachers, and various insurance companies, including the American Insurance Association, Liberty Mutual, and Zurich Insurance. State senate majority leader John Flanagan in particular has for the last few years been actively preventing the Child Victims Act from leaving committee and coming to the floor for the vote.

What You Can Do to Help

Call your state senator. Seriously, it’s the most effective way to interact with your representatives. To find your New York State senator, Click Here to head over to the senate directory. You’ll be asked to enter your address, and after you hit Find My Senator, you’ll be brought to your senator’s contact page. Make sure to let your senator know that as a constituent you support the Child Victims Act with the lookback window and that if they’d like your continued support they’ll support it too.

Schedule a meeting with your senator. After all, they’re your representatives. Give their district office a call and say that as a constituent you’d like to schedule a meeting in person to discuss the Child Victims Act.

Follow ZA’AKAH’s efforts on Facebook. We post regular updates on the fight to pass the Child Victims Act, along with volunteer opportunities, and action alerts.

Come to our actions. ZA’AKAH regularly goes up to Albany to lobby legislators for the Child Victims Act, and demonstrate in the New York State Capitol. We also occasionally schedule demonstrations around New York City to protest institutional opposition to the Child Victims Act, and institutional coverup of sexual abuse.

Get involved on social media. Read about the Child Victims Act. Share articles. Start discussions. Be a part of the conversation. Find your elected officials online and Tweet at them, send their pages Facebook messages, and comment on their posts asking them about the Child Victims Act.

Got Any Questions?

We’d love to hear from you, and we’re happy to answer any questions you might have about the Child Victims Act. Send me an email and we’ll get right back to you with an answer.

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Jeff Sessions receives award from Orthodox Union

Righteousness Has Been Murdered, Not Pursued

I’ve never felt the need to pack up and flee the United States. I’ve never felt the need to cross a border illegally. I’ve only once ever been to Canada, but otherwise never been out of the United States, and I’m pretty ok with that. When I fled from my abusive house, all I had to do was move 3 miles away to build a life that made me happy, a life of relative prosperity (I had what I needed), safety, and contentment. That’s really all anyone is looking for.

People who illegally cross our southern border aren’t doing it as a day trip. They aren’t packing a bag and making the long and dangerous trip across our border because they needed something to do on a Sunday. They’re leaving their countries, their homes, for a chance at something better, something their own country can’t give them. For many it’s economic opportunity. For many others it’s their only chance for safety and security.

Those who are fleeing natural disasters, abusive relationships, gang violence, and political unrest are not coming here to hurt us, they’re not coming here to kill us, they’re coming here to just live a life in peace and provide for their families. Their wives, husbands, and children.

When Jeff Sessions tells people who have survived natural disasters and have come here under a refugee program that took them in and gave them a life when the only life they’d known had been destroyed by an act of God, that they have to get out of our country and go back to where they came from regardless of whether or not where they came from has recovered from that disaster, that’s not righteousness. That’s not צדק.

When Jeff Sessions decides to exclude from consideration what sort of abusive relation ship, or threats on their lives he’d be sending people back to if they were deported, he’s not exercising righteousness. Not exercising צדקות.

When he tears families apart, imprisons children, without any mercy, consideration of circumstance, or any care for treating those families with the dignity, and respect due every human being; when he knowingly sends men, women, and children back to certain death, certain abuse; when he sends people back to abject poverty and desolation after they’ve lived and built a life here, become integrated into a community, committed no crimes, and want nothing but to take care of their family and be Americans; when Jeff Sessions started seeing people as talking points rather than human beings he became a murderer. A רודף.

Perhaps the OU meant its award as a sick joke. צדק צדק תרדוף, usually translated as “righteousness, righteousness you shall pursue,” in the hands of Jeff Sessions becomes “righteousness, righteousness you shall murder.” It’s rather apt then that such an award is given by the flagship modern orthodox institution to a man who has taken the very idea of righteousness, charity, justice, and mercy, and murdered it בפרהסיה.

The OU, however, issued that award with no sense of irony, and for an organization that claims to speak for the entire modern orthodox community, they truly bring shame upon themselves and upon those of us who have supported them.

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Senator Catharine Young Protecting Child Abusers

No, Sen. Young, New Yorkers Won’t Be Fooled By Your Coverup Bill

After 12 years of Republican stonewalling on the Child Victims Act, Senator Catherine Young seems to have introduced a bill that the Republicans can get behind. This is not the first time that Republicans or their allies have introduced an alternative to the Child Victims Act. Two notable alternatives have been introduced in the past, one by Republican Senator Andrew Lanza, and the other by IDC leader Senator Jeff Klein. The central point of contention between Republicans and Democrats on this issue seems to be the “lookback window,” a provision survivors and advocates have been pushing for which would open a one-year window during which civil child sexual abuse cases whose statutes of limitation have expired could nonetheless be brought in court against both abusive individuals, and any institutions that enabled or protected them.

For the past 12 years, powerful interests in New York State, such as the New York Catholic Conference, Agudath Israel of America, Boy Scouts of America, the American Insurance Association, Zurich Insurance, and Liberty Mutual, have been spending millions of lobbying dollars in opposition to any version of the Child Victims Act containing a lookback window provision. While the Child Victims Act has been passed several times in recent years by the state assembly, it has, year after year, been stalled in committee in the senate by majority leader John Flanagan and has yet to even reach the floor for a vote in the senate.

Which brings us to senator Young’s proposal. Her alternative would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse entirely, leave the civil statute of limitations as is, and establish a $300 million fund, to be replenished every year with another $50 million, to reimburse survivors for any claims against individuals or institutions that have passed the statute of limitations. What’s particularly striking about her proposal is the fact that it’s not just a one-time event, but will continue to exist after the first year, paying expired claims well into the future. This fund would be paid for by civil asset forfeiture money currently held by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

The bill came as a surprise to survivors and advocates for the Child Victims Act, especially since senator Young consulted only one survivor before introducing the bill despite being aware of two large coalitions of survivors and advocates who for years have been advocating for the Child Victims Act, and a vast majority of whom oppose her alternative.

On its face, her proposal seems like an attempt to establish a bail-out for institutions that for decades have hidden behind New York State’s abysmal laws to avoid responsibility for enabling child sexual abuse and protecting abusers. For no other civil or criminal matter does there exist a fund like this which, on behalf of the parties responsible, and with no intention of seeking reimbursement from the responsible parties. For no other civil matter does the state bar access to court for claimants. While some might claim that since the statute of limitations has expired on these cases the claimants, in fact, don’t have any right to claim that they’re being barred from court, the existence of one injustice—the abysmal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse currently on the books in New York—doesn’t excuse another injustice—the barring of survivors from accessing the courts once we’re finally righting that terrible wrong.

Furthermore, in failing to eliminate the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, senator Young makes it clear that her proposal is not just a one-time reparative measure to atone for past wrongs while ensuring justice in the future; rather it is a perpetual bailout of abusers and institutions paid for by the citizens of New York. The message this proposal sends to institutions who, through their negligence, indifference, self-interest, and disregard for the safety of their charges, were responsible for the sexual violation of children is that not only will there be no consequences for their negligence in the past, there will never be any consequences in the future. Given no incentive to reform, institutions will continue doing what they’ve always done: protecting abusers, silencing victims, and endangering children.

Senator Young claims that her proposal serves a population that will be underserved by the Child Victims Act—survivors who were abused by individuals who do not have enough assets for a lawyer to be interest in taking a case against them on contingency basis. That, at least, is true. For such survivors, particularly if they don’t have the necessary money to pay a lawyer’s hourly rate, the likelihood of them getting justice in court is slim. While it may be true that fund like the one proposed by senator Young would take care of survivors in that situation, it seems disingenuous to require survivors as a whole to choose between holding institutions accountable and disincentivizing future institutional negligence, and giving victims of private abusers access to the funds they need to pay for treatment. If senator Young is serious about helping those survivors who will be underserved by the Child Victims Act, she should propose this fund as an amendment to the Child Victims Act, rather than trying to divide the survivor community with an impossible, and wildly unjust choice.

Even if this were added to the Child Victims Act, as it stands there are glaring process with this proposal. No actual process is detailed in the bill for filing a claim with the commission it would establish. No evidentiary standard is specified, and no criteria are defined for acceptance or rejection of a claim. All of that is left to the discretion of a chief administrator who

In its original version, this proposal made no mention of whether or not the results of these hearings could be publicized by survivors who might wish to publicly name their abuser. One of the primary motivations behind the lookback window is the ability, once a civil trial is won, to publicly identify abusers thus warning people who may be oblivious to the threat living in their neighborhood, teaching in their school, or babysitting their kids, that they should keep their children away from these heretofore hidden predators. The bill was amended to include a provision establishing a website with a list of people who have been found by these hearings to be abusers, but there’s no indication whether or not such a list would hold up to a court challenge by someone named on it, and it doesn’t require the listing of institutions found responsible for enabling or covering up abuse. This reinforces the clear fact that this bill is intended to do nothing but shield institutions from monetary and reputational responsibility.

New York has for too long denied justice to survivors of child sexual abuse, and in doing so has endangered the lives of every child in New York State. On average it takes survivors of sexual abuse between 20-40 years to disclose their abuse. A statute of limitations of only 5 years for child sexual abuse is nothing but a cruel affront to justice. Abusers in New York know that they are less likely to be prosecuted for their crimes in New York than in the vast majority of this country. Shielded by New York State law, they abuse with impunity. Institutions, similarly aware of the improbability of being brought to court for covering up sexual abuse, continue to silence victims and shield abusers in their employ thus endangering the lives of every child under their care.

The only way to get serious about ensuring justice for survivors and protecting New York’s children is by extending or eliminating the civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse, eliminating the 90 day notice of claim for claims against public institutions, and opening a retroactive window during which all survivors whose claims against individual abusers and institutions that protected abusers and silenced their victims can be brought in civil court, all of which is covered by the Child Victims Act that the Republicans have been refusing to even allow to the floor of the senate for a vote.

So why are senator Young and the other 18 sponsors of this bill pushing a bill that so plainly bails out institutions at the expense of survivors?

Recent polls have shown that 90% of New Yorkers support the Child Victims Act. The Republicans are well aware, given how many senators are up for reelection this year, that New Yorkers are fed up with their obstruction of the Child Victims Act, and are attempting to use this poison pill proposal as smokescreen for their inaction. They’re hoping that New York voters will see senator Young’s proposal as a step toward reasonable compromise, instead of the state sponsored bailout for abusive institutions it actually is.

Sorry, senator, New York won’t be that easily fooled.

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Busting Some Myths About The Child Victims Act

Agudath Yisrael of America, the Catholic Church, and Boy Scouts of America have been fighting fiercely against efforts to eliminate the criminal and civil statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse, and open a one year retroactive window for civil cases that have exceeded their statute of limitation, because they each know full well that for decades they’ve been responsible for the abuse of countless children, and the coverup of those crimes. It should be noted that an institution is only civilly liable for abuse that happens within the institution if they were complicit in covering it up, or were alerted to abuse and failed to act appropriately.

That means, contrary to what Agudath Israel of America, the Catholic Church, and Boy Scouts of America want you to believe, that if abuse happened in an institution, and the teacher was suspended or fired pending a police investigation following an immediate report to authorities, the institution is not at all liable. Institutions are only liable if they were complicit in covering it up.

When Agudah, the Church, or the Boy Scouts tell you that they’re worried about going bankrupt if the Child Victims Act passes, what they’re effectively doing is acknowledging that they’re so sure they’yre liable for so much abuse, that if even a fraction of victims of the victims of the abuse they covered up come forward, they’re facing the threat of bankruptcy.

They’re essentially admitting guilt, and asking us not to care.

Here’s the problem:

1) How can you expect parents to trust your institutions if you’re admitting to them that abuse was covered up in the past, and you refuse to do anything to make reparation for that?

2) How can you expect parents to trust your institutions if you make it so devastatingly clear that you will always put your institutions’ interests before justice and their children’s safety?

3) To the institutions, the administrations, and the groups lobbying for their interests child sexual abuse might be “something that happened 40 years ago,” but to the survivors of the abuse they enabled and covered up, it’s their everyday reality. Abuse doesn’t cease to matter just because some time passed, certainly not to the victim. Especially when –

4) On average, it takes victims of child sexual abuse between 10-30 years to disclose. Having a statute of limitations on child sexual abuse, therefore, certainly one that closes on a survivor’s 23rd birthday, is nothing short of a categorical denial of justice. Consider this: One a survivor’s birthday, their abuser can literally walk into a police station, make a full confession in front of the entire police force, and then turn around and walk out a free man.

5) Statistically speaking, child sexual abusers are repeat offenders. It’s rarely just once. A statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, therefore, limits law enforcement’s ability to prosecute, because they have to wait until a young enough victim who’s not only willing to disclose, but also willing to file an official complaint, comes forward. In the meantime, before such a victim comes forward, that abuser is free to keep abusing.

5) Having a statute of limitations on child sexual abuse incentivises cover up, because it gives an end date, a goal, so to speak, to those who would cover child sexual abuse up. Keep the victims quiet and intimidated until they’re 23, and your institution is free of any responsibility. Passing the Child Victims Act would disincentivize cover up, because while institutional administrators and community leader may think they can easily keep survivors quiet until they’re 23, they’d be hard pressed to keep them quiet for their entire lives. At that point it’s easier to just address the problem than try to cover up for that long. The truth always comes out eventually.

6) Think about what the argument “We shouldn’t pass the Child Victims Act because it will bankrupt institutions for something that happened 40 years ago” means. It means that by all rights, that institution should have made restitution for its crimes 40 years ago. And for 40 years, instead of making restitution, it has been able to use that money instead to keep itself open, with the same administration that was responsible for covering up abuse in the first place. The argument is essentially, “We’ve gotten away with covering up sexual abuse for this long, we shouldn’t be held accountable anymore.” On the contrary. The fact that liable institutions have stayed open for as long as they have is compounding disgrace on disgrace, and should never be justification for denying justice to survivors of child sexual abuse.

7) The focus on institutions vis a vis the Child Victims Act deflects attention from the real problem. Most abuse is not committed in an institutional setting. Most abuse happens in the home, by a friend, a family friend, an acquaintance, or even a close relative. Those survivors should not be denied the justice they deserve just because institutions are scared of justice finally catching up to them, forcing them to reckon for crimes they thought they’d gotten away with. Particularly because –

8) Over lifetime, it costs, on average, between $300,000 and $1,000,000 to treat the effects of child sexual abuse related trauma. That’s money most survivors don’t have. For many, if not most survivors, the only hope they have of getting the treatment they need is by suing their abusers and the people and institutions responsible for enabling it for the money they need to cover the costs of treatment.

9) But it’s not just about money. It is unconstitutional to open a retroactive criminal statute of limitations window. That means, that barring civil action, there is no way to make an official record that someone is a child sexual abuser. That matters because, as noted earlier, most abusers have many more than one victim. Without the ability to sue these abusers after their criminal statutes of limitations have expired, there is no other way, legally, to identify and expose these abusers, and warn the community away from them. Without a retroactive civil statute of limitations window, countless abusers will continue to walk free, unidentified, anonymous to their future victims until it’s too late.

Early on in my work around sexual abuse, I was taught a very important lesson by a very great man: The second an institution becomes more important than the people it serves, it no longer deserves to exist.
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