Our Institutions Owe Us Their Teshuva For Child Sexual Abuse

As we arrive in shul tonight and rise for the Kol Nidre prayer that marks the beginning of our Day of Atonement, the 56th day since the opening of the New York State Child Victims Act Lookback Window will be drawing to a close. Already hundreds of lawsuits have been filed across the religious and secular communities in New York State demanding justice for child sexual abuse that was enabled and covered up by their institutions. In less than two months the lawsuits filed by just a relative handful of survivors represent the prospect of justice for tens of thousands of people who were sexually abused as children and for decades denied their day in court.

Our communities are not exempt from this reckoning. Already several lawsuits have been filed against major Orthodox Jewish institutions, with many more on the way. Because of this outstanding liability many Orthodox Jewish organizations, most notably Agudath Israel of America, lobbied hard against the Child Victims Act. They joined with the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts of America in opposing justice for survivors of child sexual abuse, and in so doing ignored not only the cries of the children abused by their negligence, but their responsibility to do meaningful teshuva for the lives they’ve destroyed.

In the immediate aftermath of the opening of the Lookback Window these institutions, rather than reaching out to survivors and advocates to find out how they could help the survivors in their communities, instead began compiling and distributing lists of defense attorneys willing to take their cases. Their justification for their opposition and response to the Child Victims Act was that these crimes were far in the past, that they’d cleaned up their acts. Evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, never once did they consider their collective obligation to repent for their crimes.

As we head into Yom Kippur and we turn our souls toward repenting for the sins of the previous year, we must insist that the institutions that serve our communities and children do the same. Maimonides, in outlining the laws of repentance, doesn’t merely characterize it as a commitment for the future, but also as an acknowledgement of the sins committed, and an open confession of those sins. Whereas in the case of sins between people and God abandonment of sin, regret, confession, and commitment for the future are sufficient for repentance, that’s not true of sins between fellow people.

For sins that injure another person repentance requires making restitution for the injury, obtaining verbal forgiveness from the injured party, and appeasement of the injured party. While lawyering up and fighting against claims made by survivors of abusive institutions might suffice for the civil process, it does not suffice for the halachic or moral process of how someone responsible for the sexual violation of a child is required to repent for that damage.

In the Haftarah reading for Yom Kippur we read from Isaiah where God rebukes our piety that comes at the expense of others. On the holiest day of the year, on a day when we are commanded to afflict our bodies with fasting to atone for our sins, we read the words of God telling us that the ‘fast’ God actually desires of us is “To unlock fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke; to let the oppressed go free, to break off every yoke. To share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin.” This on a day when we—under penalty of kares—are commanded to fast. God instead entreats us to be just and kind, to support society’s victims, and refuse to abide injustice.

It’s no coincidence that on this holiest day of the year we are reminded that our external pieties are secondary to and can never come at the expense of justice for those who are least able to get it themselves. Our prayers, our fasting, our speeches, our crying, and our repentance mean nothing if we continue to deny survivors of child sexual abuse the justice they for decades have been denied, and if we continue rationalizing why the institutions responsible for violating them deserve not to be held accountable.

Our concern as a community must always be centered around the people these institutions were meant to serve and protect, and when those institutions fail, when they are responsible for the sexual abuse of children, we must demand that they make restitution for those crimes. We must support the survivors of those crimes, and we must stand with them in demanding justice.

The second an institution becomes more important than the people it serves it no longer deserves to exist.

If we are to grow as a community and move forward together into a safer era for our children we must first atone for the sins of our past. We must stand with the people violated by those sins. We must learn from our sins, we must listen to and learn from the survivors’ stories and experiences, and we must use them to grow in the future.

Otherwise our pieties, our fasts, our prayers, and our institutions are nothing more than empty mockeries of what God actually wants from us on Yom Kippur.

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Dr. David Pelcovitz’s Troubling Track Record on Child Sexual Abuse

In May of 2012, Evan Zauder, then a rabbinical student at Yeshiva University and 6th grade teacher at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, NJ, was arrested for receipt, possession, and distribution of child pornography, and for using the Internet to entice a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity. He pled guilty in January of 2013 and was scheduled for sentencing in April of 2014. Prior to his sentencing, there was an outpouring of support by many leaders in the Orthodox Jewish community.

Notable among those who wrote positive sentencing recommendation letters requesting leniency were Rabbi Kenneth Brander, who at the time was the vice-president of Yeshiva University and now serves as president and rosh yeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky,  former vice president and Executive Committee member of the Rabbinical Council of America and rabbi of Congregation B’nei Yeshurun in Teaneck, Rabbi Ezra Schwartz, rosh yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), Rabbi Reuven Taragin, dean of overseas students at Yeshivat Hakotel, Rabbi Baruch Taub, founding rabbi and rabbi emeritus of Beth Avraham Yosef of Toronto (BAYT), the largest Orthodox Jewish congregation in Canada, and Dr. David Pelcovitz, Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus Chair in Psychology and Jewish Education at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration at Yeshiva University.

Dr. Pelcovitz is something of a standout in that group because of his renown as an advocate for survivors of child sexual abuse. Dr. Pelcovitz has spoken at countless conferences and seminars on the topic of child protection and abuse prevention education and is considered by many to be a leader in the field of abuse within the Orthodox Jewish community. He currently sits as the chair of the board of advisors for Amudim, the largest Orthodox Jewish victim services organization in the United States.

In his sentencing recommendation letter for Zauder, Dr. Pelcovitz stood on his extensive credentials and experience when he wrote, “…I spent most of my career treating the victims of child sexual abuse in the specialized clinical and research program that we has at the North Shore University Hospital, which was then part of the NYU School of Medicine. In light of this expertise and the qualities I saw in Evan when he was my student, I hope that this letter can provide a perspective that can help justice be tempered with mercy when Evan is sentenced.”

He then went on to imply without saying it that he had seen Zauder clinically following his arrest, which was not the case:

“In my interactions with Evan during and after class, what came through most, was his warmth, empathy, concern for others and genuine commitment to serve the community. In my meeting with him after his arrest he wasn’t in the least bit defensive about his actions. He expressed sincere regret and remorse, wishing that he has the strength to get professional help for his problem before they reached the disastrous proportions that brought him to your courtroom.”

In other words, Dr. Pelcovitz had no knowledge whatsoever of Zauder’s crimes while he was his student, and never treated him clinically.

Dr Pelcovitz continued, having never seen Zauder clinically, “In over thirty years of practice, I have had the opportunity to treat many individuals with issues in the area of controlling their sexuality. As you know, the prognosis for sustained change is often guarded. In the case of Evan, however, I believe that he possesses many of the ingredients that I have come to associate with sustained change and potential to be a valuable member of society…”

He then proceeded to ask the judge to give Evan Zauder the minimum possible sentence.

Setting aside the fact that this level of concern is rarely shown for victims of sexual abuse within the Orthodox Jewish community, Dr. Pelcovitz’s letter was particularly disgusting to the survivor and advocacy communities because most people would agree that someone who claims to be an advocate on behalf of survivors should not be writing sentencing recommendation letters on behalf of abusers, especially when that advocate deliberately attempts to mislead the court into believing that the basis for his opinion on the abuser is clinical rather than personal.

But what’s even more concerning about Dr. Pelcovitz is that this is far from his first questionable decision with regard to sexual abuse.

In 2011 after Agudath Israel published its halachic ruling requiring survivors of child sexual abuse to ask permission of a rabbi before reporting to the authorities, they rolled out a companion plan to implement abuse prevention measures in yeshivas. This included mandating windows in all classroom doors, advocating for cameras in classrooms, instituting basic child safety protocols, and organizing abuse prevention events for parents and teachers around the community.

One of the speakers on Agudath Israel’s circuit for this campaign was Dr David Pelcovitz. In May 2012, Dr Pelcovitz was speaking at such an event alongside Debbie Fox of Magen Yeladim, and David Mandel, CEO of Ohel. Following the event, a parent approached Dr. Pelcovitz and asked him what to do if he becomes aware of a molester. Dr Pelcovitz then admits that the panel purposely didn’t touch on the issue of reporting child sexual abusers to the authorities because they were told not to by the organizers of the event.

In a 2017 presentation for an abuse prevention event for CHANA, a Baltimore-based Orthodox Jewish community helpline for survivors of abuse, Dr Pelcovitz spoke about the importance of having frank conversations with children about their right to assert themselves in unsafe situations. He added the caveat that it should be done in a way that isn’t “chutzpahdik,” or disrespectful:

“…letting them know that there are times that if adults do things that make you a little bit uncomfortable you have a right to tell them in a way that’s not chutzpadik, but you have a right to tell them. “

This is something that flies in the face of any recognized best practice where abuse prevention education is concerned. Children, when asserting themselves in an abusive or unsafe situations, should not be burdened with the responsibility of being concerned with the feelings of the adult who is making them feel unsafe.

Last Wednesday, following the arrest of SAR associate principal Rabbi Jonathan Skolnick for production of child pornography, Dr Pelcovitz was brought in by the administration to address parents’ concerns in the wake of the arrest. Information had surfaced the day before Dr Pelcovitz’s presentation that a number of students had been contacted by Rabbi Skolnick through several of his aliases. Within the first ten minutes of his address, Dr Pelcovitz was asked about his letter of recommendation for Evan Zauder.

His response to the inquiry was defensive, dismissive of the severity of his actions, and annoyed at being asked the question at all.

He began by characterizing his plea to the court on behalf of Zauder not as an appeal for a shorter sentence, but as an appeal to the judge to “temper justice with mercy.” He describes being asked by Zauder’s attorney and therapist, whom Pelcovitz admitted to having relationships with in the past, to write the letter. Dr. Pelcovitz then went on to explain that his “working supposition, based on what I was told and based on what was released to the public at the time,” was that Zauder had been in possession of child pornography, but not that he had “actually abused.” “Had I known that Evan had actually abused,” Dr Pelcovitz said, “which is something I didn’t find out until much later, I never, ever, would have written the letter.”

It should be noted that the information was public at the time, and had not only been in the release by the Department of Justice, but had also been in several news outlets at the time, and that Dr Pelcovitz had specifically requested the minimum legal sentence in his letter, despite claiming otherwise in his presentation.

Dr Pelcovitz then finished with an aggrieved challenge to the attendees:

“There are other background reasons that go behind my writing that letter that’s extremely frustrating to me that I can’t share—and I don’t want to sound at all defensive—but basically it was a mistake, it was a big mistake, and I apologize for that mistake. Ok? We hear it? Anybody wanna yell at me or push back on me? Ok? We’re good?”

Following the presentation, several parents complained to the SAR administration about the tone-deaf irony of having someone who wrote a sentencing recommendation on behalf of a child sexual abuser convicted for luring a 14 year old to have sex with them and possession and distribution of child pornography speak to parents in the aftermath of such a similar case.

But the issue isn’t necessarily that SAR reached out to Dr. Pelcovitz as a trusted and well-known expert in the dizzying aftermath of their associate principal’s arrest. It’s the fact that he remains a trusted expert despite his very questionable history of collaborating with Agudath Israel following their psak, deliberately failing to instruct parents of their responsibility to report sexual abuse to authorities, writing a sentencing recommendation letter for a convicted pedophile, and advising parents that they should instruct their kids to not be chutzpahdik when asserting themselves in unsafe or abusive situations.

While there can be no doubt that Dr. Pelcovitz’s credentials are impressive on paper, in practice his record gives cause for concern. He is by far not the only recognized expert in the Orthodox Jewish community on child sexual abuse. However, he is one of several recognized experts who seem to have other priorities where child sexual abuse and prevention and institutional and communal concerns intersect.

Advocates on behalf of survivors of child sexual abuse must have only one concern, one priority when addressing the needs of survivors: The best interests of children and survivors. How to secure justice for them in the wake of abuse, how best to support them when they come forward, and how best to prevent them from being abused in the first place. Concerns about chutzpah, or institutional finances, or communal image have no place in an advocate’s priorities. Dr Pelcovitz’s record on this should be of great concern to any school administrator or community leader looking for a recognized expert to address parents or teachers about child sexual abuse and prevention.

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Child Victims Act Passes NY Legislature, Agudah Still Opposed

This past Monday, the New York State Senate voted unanimously to pass the Child Victims Act, and the assembly voted 130-3. Governor Cuomo is expected to sign it into law within the coming days. The votes themselves were powerful and emotional to experience. Many senators rose to speak about why they support the legislation, and one senator and several assembly members talked about their own personal experiences as survivors of sexual abuse.

Senator Alessandra Biaggi spoke about being sexually abused when she was younger, and described how her “silence lasted for over 25 years.” Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou broke down in tears as she described in vivid detail being abused by a teacher at the age of 13. “I can still smell him,” she said. Assembly member Rodneyse Bichotte revealed that she was abused by a pastor when she was 10 years old, and Assembly member Catalina Cruz disclosed being abused by a family member.

When the results in each house were announced, everyone in the chambers erupted into applause. Many of the survivors who fought for the Child Victims Act were in attendance, and there were many teary eyes as they embraced each other, overcome by the emotions if finally seeing New York State almost unanimously acknowledge their suffering and finally bring them an opportunity for justice.

The Child Victims Act includes the following provisions:

1) Raises the criminal statute of limitations for sexual abuse to age 25 for misdemeanors, and age 28 for felonies.

2) Raises the civil statute of limitations for sexual abuse to age 55.

3) Eliminates the 90 day notice of claim requirement for civil actions related to child sexual abuse against public institutions.

4) Opens a one-year lookback window, effective 6 months after the bill is signed into law, during which any cases previously barred by the statute of limitations could be brought to civil court.

While the Catholic Church had retracted its opposition to the Child Victims Act by the time it went to the floor for a vote, Agudath Israel had not. In a statement released shortly following the passage of the bill in the senate and assembly, Agudath Israel released a statement condemning the lookback window for its potentially devastating effects on liable institutions. The statement also included a commitment by Agudath Israel to fighting the “terrible scourge” of abuse going forward. It’s worth noting that despite this statement, Agudath Israel’s official policy is still to require rabbinic permission before sexual abuse is reported to police.

While there undoubtedly may be parties who are inconvenienced by any school or institutional closures that result from lawsuits allowed under the Child Victims Act retroactive window, our primary concern must always be for the survivors of sexual abuse who were abused because of the negligence or intentional malice of these institutions. Those survivors haven’t forgotten what was done to them. The pain hasn’t faded. They not only live with the violation of their bodies and souls every day, they also live with the betrayal they experienced at the hands of people, institutions, and community leaders in whom they had placed their trust. 

That harm doesn’t go away, and neither does the liability to make reparations. In the same way institutions, despite changes in leadership or location, stand on their legacies and reputations of previous administrations for the purposes of fundraising or promotion, they must also accept responsibility for the actions of previous administrations when those actions so fundamentally damaged other people. In the same way institutional debts and bills aren’t wiped clean when administrations change, neither are institutional liabilities for enabling and covering up sexual abuse. 

These institutions owe a debt that must be paid to the parties who were made to suffer by that institution’s actions. Abuse is a particularly insidious crime in the way it not only affects individuals, but their families and communities. Not only do the victims suffer, but so do their families, as the pain of the abuse, the aftermath, the backlash, and the community ostracism radiates outward. Generations afterward feel it as parents who were abused and still suffering pass the trauma on to their children who have to witness the pain of their parents. Communities feel the pain when they are split apart in the wake of a report to authorities that pits rabbis and community leaders against survivors and their friends and families. And on the other side, the families of the abusers are also harmed by the actions of the abuser. 

And yet, the suffering of the victim demands justice, because a crime was committed, a child was violated, and for that there’s a price that neither time nor outside considerations can mitigate. So the families of the abuser suffer along with them as their loved one is charged, imprisoned, and registered as a sex offender. Constituents of institutions suffer when their institutions are forced to downsize or close. Ultimately, however, the responsibility for all of that harm, both the direct harm to the victims and the collateral damage caused to all of the otherwise innocent bystanders, lies squarely with the abusers and the people who enabled and covered up for them. 

Survivors are owed these reparations the same way the power company is owed its fees for electricity, and the water company is owed its fees for running water. Even more so because one has no moral obligation to have power or running water, but one does have a moral obligation to protect children from sexual abuse, and immediately report the abuser to authorities if, God forbid, someone does abuse a child. 

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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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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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Activists & Survivors to Protest Agudath Israel President’s Abuse Enabling Policies 1644 48th st 7/23 3 PM

For Immediate Release
Contact Asher Lovy
347-369-4016
Asher@ZAAKAH.org

 

Advocates against child sexual abuse protest President of Agudath Israel of America for protecting secrets, not children

 

(New York, NY): ZAAKAH, an organization that advocates reforms that will end child sexual abuse in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, is protesting outside the President of  Agudath Israel on Sunday. The protest will be at the Novominsker Yeshiva – 1644 48th street in Boro Park – on  Sunday,July 23rd at 3 PM. The protest is against Agudath Israel’s opposition to the Child Victims Act and their policy that victims must ask a rabbi for permission before reporting sexual assault to the authorities.  

 

These two policies, coupled, are responsible for the coverups of thousands of cases of child sexual abuse. These policies, enacted and promoted by Yaakov Perlow, are in large part responsible for the continued sexual abuse of children in Charedi communities, and the continued apathy and indifference toward victims of child sexual abuse on the part of Charedi communities.Together, these two policies actually incentivise the coverup of abuse and coercion of victims by setting a goal for rabbis and community members who want to cover up abuse: Since the victim has to go to a rabbi, make sure the rabbi keeps the victim quiet until he turns 23, and it will no longer be an issue.” says Asher Lovy, organizer of the event.

 

“According to many studies, it takes, on average, between 10 and 30 years for victims to come forward about being abused sexually. Yaakov Perlow, President of Agudath Israel,  knows this. He knows the harmful effects of sexual abuse its victims – suicide, PTSD, eating disorders, addiction, problems with relationships, emotional trauma, physical trauma, to name a few – and despite being fully aware of the high costs of treating the effects of child sexual abuse, Yaakov Perlow, and the rest of the Moetzes, continue to set policies for Agudah that not only deny existing victims justice, but put our children’s futures and lives in danger by enabling the continuation of child sexual abuse. Yet they continue to oppose legislation to  eliminate the Statute of Limitations for child sexual abuse, and open a 1 year retroactive window for old cases, allowing survivors of child sexual abuse to get justice from their abusers and the institutions that protect them.” said Lovy.

 

The Child Victims Act (A5885A) will lengthen New York’s statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, which currently keeps most victims over the age of 23 from seeking any justice in criminal or civil courts. The bill will also allow victims over the age of 23 one year to sue their abuser retroactively.

 

“In New York, the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse prevents victims from pressing charges after their 23rd birthday. This means there are lots of dangerous sexual predators who are above the law and are working with children. This is a disgraceful thing for New York to do to its children and to abuse survivors”, said Andrew Willis, founder of the Stop Abuse Campaign.

 

ZAAKAH is dedicated to ending child sexual abuse within the Charedi communities. For more information email Asher@zaakah.org.

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