By: Yosef Lemel | Opinions  | 

For the Sake of Our Children

It is impossible to properly describe the horrors unleashed on the victims of child sexual abuse. Those horrors will likely haunt the victims for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, some sectors of the Jewish community have turned a blind eye to these victims. This attitude is seemingly apparent in a statement issued by the Agudath Israel of America, which noted the organization’s disapproval of the recent passage of the Child Victims Act in the New York State Legislature.

Signed into law by Gov. Cuomo on Feb. 14, the Child Victims Act raised the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse crimes from age 23 to 55 in civil cases. The statute of limitations for bringing a suit against a public or private institution that hired an abuser will also be moved from age 23 to 55. In addition, under the new law, criminal charges may be brought against an abuser until the victim reaches the age of 28.

The Agudah’s primary concern with the Child Victims Act is that “the unprecedented ability to revive decades-old claims in civil suits could jeopardize the ongoing viability of schools, houses of worship that sponsor youth programs, summer camps and other institutions that are the very lifeblood of communities like ours.”

The new law may turn out to be a dilemma for Yeshiva University. In 2013, a lawsuit of $680 million was brought against the university for its alleged enabling of multiple child abusers in Yeshiva University High School for Boys over the course of several decades. The suit was struck down by a federal judge because “the statutes of limitations have expired.” The enactment of the Child Victims Act would potentially allow the victims to revivify their suit against the university.

The Agudah’s statement misses a crucial point. The jeopardization of institutions that have enabled abusers will be beneficial for the Jewish people in the long-run. With the enactment of the Child Victims Act into law, these institutions will be more introspective with regard to their employment policies. They will be more reluctant to hire an individual with a spotty record out of concern for future civil lawsuits against them. In addition, if some institutions are sued out of existence, other institutions will surely fill their place and fulfill their functions for the Jewish community, this time without enabling sexual abusers.

The defenders of the Agudah’s statement may counter my argument with the following question: “What about an institution that changed its leadership over the course of several decades? Did the abuse not occur under different management? How can one be enabled to sue the current management of an institution for the misconduct of their predecessors?”

I sympathize with this argument. Children should not be punished for the sins of their fathers. However, why don’t we ask the converse of the Agudah’s argument: What about an institution that has not substantially changed its leadership over the past few decades? Why should a childhood victim of sexual abuse — who for whatever reason, be it trauma or fear, waited to report the abuse — be restricted from bringing a suit against the enablers of his abuser?

For this reason, the law is restricted to the introduction of a lawsuit to court, and not of the adjudication thereof. Adjudication is fully up to the judges’ or juries’ discretions. This requires a certain level of confidence among the masses that the judicial system will recognize the difference between an institution that is currently comprised of enablers versus one that is not. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, what is the alternative? Are we meant to stand aside and watch while the institutions that have enabled abusers are allowed to remain as they are without suffering the appropriate repercussions for their malfeasance? It is, therefore, absolutely necessary for us to enthusiastically support the passage of the Child Victims Act, for the sake of the Jewish people, for the sake of our children.

Photo Caption: The Child Victims Act was signed into law by Gov. Cuomo on Feb. 14.

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