By: Izzy Hadar | Opinions  | 

YU is No Exception: The Child Victims Act is an Important Vehicle for Justice - Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

On March 31, The Commentator ran an editorial by Benjamin Koslowe titled “Does the Child Victims Act Over- Punish Yeshiva University?” which asserted that Yeshiva University might face too harsh a punishment for its role in crimes of sexual abuse as early as the 1960’s and as recently as 2001. I would like to respond to his claims, provide additional information and context and address my criticisms of The Commentator this year.

It is important to first address what the Child Victims Act (CVA) is. I spoke with Asher Lovy, the Director of Community Organizing for ZA'AKAH and an advocate and political activist for the CVA and survivors of childhood sexual assault. Mr. Lovy explained that, in general, a statute of limitation exists for damages and crimes because as time goes on, crimes become harder to report. Additionally, there is value in timely reporting.

There is a unique challenge in litigation involving sexual assault because survivors tend to report abuse later in life. One study found that the average age of disclosure to be 52.2 years old. The purpose of the CVA is to allow survivors to come forward when they are ready and pursue justice and compensation. Survivors face an uphill battle to get any form of justice, and the CVA provides them a greater opportunity to seek it. The CVA will not facilitate criminal proceedings for most cases that have already passed the previous statute of limitations. However, now, thanks to the new CVA, perhaps some measure of comfort, closure and justice can be given to survivors, even if the case is limited to a civil proceeding. It is important to note that the same court procedures and standards of proof still apply in civil proceedings. The only difference is that cases will no longer be tossed due to an unjustly restrictive statute of limitations.

In his editorial, Mr. Koslowe questions whether the “ideal means by which the system of law will …  right past wrongs” can be achieved by the “sought-after restitution — specifically, legally forcing Yeshiva University to pay victims millions in compensation.” I do not think that this question is specific to the CVA, but is rather a more general point about whether the form of justice pursued by the legal system is ideal. This also does not mitigate the claim against Yeshiva University. Mr. Koslowe also claims that the moral quandary is an “unresolved issue” as “ evident by the years-long struggle over the attempted lawsuit.” The reason the first lawsuit took many years and was unsuccessful is not a testament to the difficulty of the moral quandary but to the limitations of the previous incarnation of the law and to the desire of Yeshiva University to avoid punishment. Yeshiva University facilitated abuse and now it must answer for that.

Mr. Koslowe correctly points out that, as a result of the proceedings, Yeshiva University might have to pay a large sum of money at a time when Yeshiva University’s financial standings are unstable. I fail to see why paying reparations to the survivors constitutes over-punishment. The damage done to survivors should not be measured by the balance sheet of Yeshiva University. The fairness of the punishment should be measured by the severity of the crime and the extent of the damage.

Mr. Koslowe also has misgivings on the matter of punishing an institution for the behavior of its former employees. I think that this claim is incompatible with the nature of an institution. An institution is made up of its staff and legacy. Yeshiva University still employs people that were employed during the scandal, including people who were prominent then and are prominent now. Furthermore, Yeshiva University lays claim to all of its positive legacies from the past. When walking on Amsterdam Avenue, one can see quotes from various figures from times long past praising Yeshiva University. There is no disclaimer saying that the past is not reflective of where the institution stands now. School gear claims an establishment date that predates the birth of any current faculty. The crimes Yeshiva University enabled are unfortunately part of its legacy. Reparations have been paid by countries whose governments have long been changed. The call of justice is ever present, as justice has no expiration date.

If Yeshiva University truly wants to show it has progressed past its past then it should be willing to pay restitution. Having teachers watch videos and take classes is only as meaningful as the justice Yeshiva University is willing to accept. The survivors were hurt by the abuse and the indifference of the institution. They will bear the scars forever. The least they deserve is financial compensation.

Mr. Koslowe also wonders about whether it would be fair for Yeshiva University to be punished for having an internal investigation. I believe it would be fair and in the best interest of justice and truth. Even assuming that the investigation was not a mere cynical attempt to avoid future liability, attempting to find a problem after the fact should not absolve an institution from the damage it facilitated. If Mr. Koslowe is worried that this will prevent future institutions from carrying out investigations, then I would be remiss to point out that had the CVA been in effect earlier there would be no need for an internal investigation to begin with! The police would have investigated Yeshiva University.

Mr. Koslowe points out that payments to victims of sexual abuse will hurt the financial stability of Yeshiva University, and claims that “This type of punishment is ethically questionable.” Later Mr. Koslowe objects on the grounds that it will hurt education and extracurricular programming, Yeshiva University’s ability to hire, and the ability of the university to increase salaries; thus making the primary sufferers of the suit current YU students and employees, rather than the abusers. Mr. Koslowe also contends that the survivors should “consider pursuing individual alleged abusers rather than … Yeshiva University.” In response to the first point, the pain and health of survivors is more pertinent.

Towards the end of his piece, Mr. Koslowe wonders if a lawsuit by way of the CVA would achieve its goal “if the goal is deterrence” in the case of Yeshiva University. I would like to argue that deterrence is not as important as justice. I also think that on the matter of deterrence, nothing deters as well as punishment. Yeshiva University being absolved because of its “openness to working together with victims to brainstorm how to prevent sexual abuse going forward” is not a deterrent to Yeshiva University or other institutions watching. Paying lip-service to the fight against sexual abuse is not the same as making reparations to survivors who continue to suffer.

Overall, I think the article is lacking on many fronts. I certainly disagree with the reasoning, but my main issue is with what I perceive to be a lack of care taken in the process and formulation of the article. I believe that The Commentator staff should have urged the author to speak to survivors and advocates for the bill.

I have often been asked why it is that, on several occasions this year, I have been a harsh critic of The Commentator. My answer is that I have only criticized The Commentator because I thought it was necessary. At times it seems as if The Commentator is focused on maximizing readership. Although running controversial articles has, at times, yielded important criticism and pushback on powerful figures, garnering clicks should not be an objective unto itself.

Readership and controversy are merely means; the goal of journalism should be to encourage open and informed discussion in ways that challenge existing power structures and encourage accountability. Engagement is important, but it must be done in a way that respects the intelligence of the student body. I cannot imagine the difficulties the student papers face — their work is vital — but holding them accountable is just as important as student journalism itself. When The Commentator undertakes this endeavor, we all benefit from a more intelligent discourse.

Izzy Hadar (SSSB ‘19)