Children Should Matter More Than Institutions

Today, a day before the New York City 44th City Council District election, Yeshiva World News posted this video accusing candidate Yoni Hikind of wanting to bankrupt yeshivos. It’s a common tactic used against people who support legislative reforms against child sexual abuse, but I figured I’d take the time – again – to rebut the arguments made in this video. Because every argument against the Child Victims Act is essentially the same, feel free to bookmark this post for future reference.

This is a prime example of community scaremongering and deflecting when it comes to abuse at the expense of victims whose abuse they covered up.

To get the pedantry out of the way Margaret Markey is no longer in the assembly. She was ousted in the last election by a challenger supported by the Catholic Church, after she publicly disclosed that Bishop DiMarzio had attempted to bribe her with $5000 to stop endorsing the Child Victims Act, then colloquially referred to as the Markey bill, which would have eliminated the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse prospectively, and opened a retroactive window during which civil cases whose statutes of limitations had already passed could be reopened.

Agudath Yisrael of America, the Catholic Church, and Boy Scouts of America have been fighting fiercely against these efforts 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 Agudah, the Church, and the Boy Scouts 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 liable for so much abuse, that they’re sure 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 anyway.

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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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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