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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Protesting Agudah's Child Sexual Abuse Enabling Policies

Why We Protested In Midwood Last Sunday – ZAAKAH

Photo credit: Anya Shpilkovskaya

This past Sunday, ZA’AKAH took the issue of child sexual abuse and Agudah’s horrendous record on it to the heart of the Jewish community in Midwood, Brooklyn. We started outside the home of Chaim David Zweibel, and after an hour moved to Landau’s Shul, a block down. A lot happened during that protest, and I want to try and break it down, answer some of the more common questions we got, and talk about my experiences as the organizer.

First I want to talk about why we did this in the first place.

For over 20 years of my life, I was abused. It varied between emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, and it happened unchecked. My family did nothing to help me, in part because my abuser was my mother and they were more concerned with what would happen to her if they threw her out of the house, and in part because they were worried what would happen to our family reputation. I can’t even remember how many times I had ACS, CPS, or the NYPD in my house asking me if I wanted to make a statement, and every time my family pressured me to keep quiet. They said it would ruin my chances at a shidduch. They said I’d be taken away to a foster home to be raised by goyim and mistreated. They said I’d ruin my cousins’ chances at shidduchim. They told me that the neighbors would talk about me.

Never once did they consider me. Never once did they look beyond their reputations, their concerns over their shidduchim, their concerns over what the neighbors would say, and really see how much I was suffering. It was always about them and what they thought was best for them, best for my abusive mother. They didn’t understand what was happening to me. They didn’t understand that I was dropping out of school because I just couldn’t bring myself to care about math and science when I had to worry every night whether I could go to sleep safely, or whether my door would be broken down in the middle of the night. They didn’t understand that those bottles of booze they found in my drawer were my only way of hanging on to life in a world that with each passing day became crueler, less worth staying alive in. They didn’t understand why I stopped going to shul even though to me it seemed that God clearly didn’t seem to care.

Instead they blamed me. They accused me of making up the abuse to justify my aveiros. Relatives of mine who had seen the abuse firsthand, who had been in my house every day to see what was happening to me, suddenly seemed to have forgotten what they’d seen. I attempted suicide twice while living there, and neither time did they know. I didn’t bother telling them because I knew they wouldn’t care. I knew they wouldn’t understand. Suicide doesn’t happen to frum people. It’s assur. So I didn’t even bother telling them.

And that’s the thing. There’s such a pervasive ignorance in the frum world about abuse and its consequences, that the people who do know firsthand what abuse is and how devastating the damage it causes is don’t even bother speaking up. They know that their pleas will fall on deafened, ignorant ears. They suffer in silence. They lose their children in silence. They become addicted, cut themselves, develop eating disorders, attempt suicide, suffer PTSD, anxiety, flashbacks, trauma, relationship problems—they die in silence. Muffled by this stifling ignorance.

This ignorance is not accidental. It’s not incidental. It’s deliberate. It’s caused by rabbis and institutions who fully understand the nature of the problem, yet care more about their power, positions, money, and institutions to do anything about it. It’s caused by rabbis who tell their congregants that the people who talk about sexual abuse are anti-Semites, stirring up blood libels to make them look bad, mentally ill people with axes to grind. It’s caused by the terror people feel in the frum community at the very thought of shidduchim or yeshiva acceptance. It’s caused by a reluctance to accept that someone who ostensibly seems religious—yarmulka wearing, Torah learning, beard sporting B’nei Torah dressed in white and black—could ever do such a thing. It’s caused by an insistence on the infallibility of gedolim regardless of their obvious mistakes and misdeeds, under the guise of Emunas Chachamim.

It’s exacerbated by policies put forth by these gedolim—like Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe, President of Agudath Israel of America, and head of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah—that require victims of child sexual abuse and their families to ask rabbis permission before going to the police. It’s entrenched by their lobbying efforts against legislation like the Child Victims Act, which would eliminate the civil and criminal statutes of limitations—which are currently 5 years—for child sexual abuse, and open a one-year window during which people whose cases have already passed the statute of limitations could still file suit against their abusers, and the institutions that covered up for them.

And while the community as a whole may be able to claim ignorance, Agudah cannot. Many survivors and activists have sat with them. Negotiated with them. Poured their hearts out to them. Appealed to the consciences they hoped Agudah had. Nothing worked. They’ve protested outside their offices, outside their annual dinners. It’s gotten us nowhere. Agudah remains stubborn in its policies.

In fact, they do what they can to pretend they actually care. They sent David Pelcovitz around to hold seminars for teachers and educators on preventing abuse. Not once did he mention reporting to the police. When asked why not, he responded that he was told not to address that. They implemented preventative measures in schools, like putting cameras in classrooms, windows in doors, and instituting policies forbidding teachers from being alone with students. They even had some abusive teachers fired.

But it was all a diversion from the real issue: the fact that underneath all of that fog, the truth is that most abuse happens outside of yeshivos. It happens in the home, in shul, in relatives’ homes, in friends’ homes. It happens mainly outside of the institutional setting, and while Agudah is making a big show of implementing preventative measures in yeshiva, they’re doing nothing to protect children where abuse really happens. They’re doing nothing to raise awareness in the community, and when they allow other organizations to try, they make it clear that reporting to police is not to be mentioned at all.

All this means is that they’re more concerned with avoiding civil liability than they are with actually preventing abuse, supporting victims, prosecuting abusers, and giving survivors the resources they need to recover from the abuse they’ve suffered. We’ve tried so long for so hard to make them change their policies, and we’ve finally had enough. We’ve gotten fed up with their indifference. We’re sick of buying their empty promises.

That’s why we protested this past Sunday outside the house of Chaim David Zweibel, and outside of Landau’s, the former because he’s the Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel, and the public face of these policies and lobbying efforts, and the latter because it is a place where we knew our message could reach the people who needed to hear it: The members of the community whose children are put at risk every day because of Agudah’s abuse-enabling policies.

Almost immediately when we lined up outside of Landau’s we were challenged by two men who wanted to know why we were there. When I told them about our cause, they asked me if it happened to have anything to do with Landau’s. I made it clear that the protest was not about Landau’s, and that we were just there because it’s a place we knew our message would be heard. In fact, I mentioned that to anyone who asked me, and several times loudly to the assembled protestors and spectators. Nevertheless, they attempted to shout us down.

When they realized that we weren’t going away, one of them went off to the side to call 911. When the police showed up a few minutes later, they took a look at us, saw that we were simply exercising our right to protest, reminded us to keep part of the sidewalk clear, and left.

Over the course of the protest, we were approached by some other belligerent people who wanted to disrupt us, one of whom yelled at the assembled protestors—which included a couple and their months-old baby—that we were all going to die within this year for what we were doing. He then proceeded to light one of our fliers on fire and throw it on the floor, all the while insulting me for my weight, and yelling about how we were all going to die.

But they’re not what’s important about the protest, and they’re not why we were there.

So many people gave us thumbs up as they drove by that corner, saw our signs, and heard our chants. People came over to us, offering us water. One man even gave us a donation right there on the spot, and thanked us for what we were doing. A former coworker of mine came over to me on his way into Mincha and told me “Tizku L’mitzvos.” Survivors came over to us, told us their stories, thanked us for being there, and said they wished people had been doing this when they were kids so maybe they could have been spared from being sexually abused. Parents of survivors thanked us for raising awareness about child sexual abuse.

The sense I got on Sunday was that there are, in fact, a lot of people who know firsthand how insidious, pervasive, and deadly child sexual abuse is, but have been suffering silently, waiting silently for someone to give them a voice, an opportunity to make their voices heard.

And that’s why we protested on Sunday. For them. For the victims of child sexual abuse, both the ones still alive, the ones hanging on by a thread, and the ones for whom all help is too late. That’s why we’re going to continue protesting, and making our voices heard, making it clear to Agudah that we’re not going away, that we will not tolerate their abuse-enabling policies, that the community will not stand idly by while they allow our children to suffer and die in silence.

That’s why we’ll be back next month, July 23rd, in front of the Novominsker Rebbe’s shul in Boro Park at 3 PM, protesting the policies he’s responsible for imposing, letting the community know that while he may not be there for them, we will always be, and giving them a voice so that they can finally be heard.

To join us at next month’s protest, please RSVP at the event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/261681534310970/

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