I am encouraged by current efforts to amend the laws of New York State regarding extending or eliminating the statute of limitations for survivors of child abuse. Currently, victims have until age twenty-three to come forward to the authorities and/or to file a civil suit against their alleged abusers. This is a blatant miscarriage of justice in light of the fact that it often takes decades for abuse survivors to gain the strength and courage to go public.

The immoral nature of statute of limitation laws for the heinous crime of victimizing children was in full view just this past week at the sentencing of Dennis Hastert. Mr. Hastert, the former Speaker of the House, was convicted for violating banking laws in paying hush money to his victims, but was immune to prosecution for the actual abuse due to the statute of limitations. “The defendant is a serial child molester,” said Judge Thomas M. Durkin of Federal District Court, who expressed his frustration that Hastert cannot be prosecuted for the actual crimes he committed against innocent children.

There are two proposed bills that will eliminate statutes of limitation in New York State:

  • 1) Assembly Bill #A08567 will eliminate the statute of limitations for the criminal prosecution of those who have committed sex offenses against children less than eighteen years of age.

Granted, it will only affect crimes committed after the bill is signed into law, but it will be an enormous step forward in efforts to keep our children safe. It will send a clear message that abusers of children will be treated in the same manner as those who commit homicides, which similarly have no statute of limitations. Hopefully, it will also put additional serial molesters behind bars and keep them away from our kids.

This bill has my full support and I hope it will be endorsed by all members of our community. In fact, Agudath Israel has already expressed their willingness to support legislation of this nature in their 2009 position paper regarding the original “Markey Bill,” and in a 2013 memo to Assemblywoman Markey.

  • 2) Assembly Bill #A02872A is an amended version of the “Markey Bill” that was introduced previously and not passed. This bill would open a one-year window for abuse survivors to bring civil lawsuits regardless of how long ago they took place.

Many leaders in our community opposed the original bill proposed by Assemblywoman Markey when it was introduced, myself included, believing it to be deeply flawed. At that time, we developed our own recommendations for a bill that I would have been proud to support; one that would have incentivized schools to limit their exposure to lawsuits by implementing child safety education and protocols, and corrected the imbalance of the initial draft of that bill by applying it to all institutions (the bill inexplicably targeted only private and parochial schools). Regretfully, our offer of assistance to amend the bill to one that would have had broader support was not accepted.

This time around, a concerted effort is being made to improve the legislation as evidenced by the wise and pragmatic decision to draft separate bills for the criminal and civil statutes, and by the fact that the proposed civil bill will apply to individuals from both the public and private sector and the institutions where they were employed.

I accepted an invitation from Manny Waks, founder and CEO of Kol v’Oz, to contribute my perhaps unique perspective as a passionate advocate for children and abuse survivors as well as an educator in the Yeshiva system for thirty-five years, in the hope that we can together offer suggested changes that will make the civil legislation acceptable to the leadership of private and parochial schools across the board.

Manny is a driving force behind recent efforts to amend the NY State statutes of limitation, and over the past two years, I have come to deeply respect and admire his ability to approach this very sensitive and often volatile subject in a collaborative manner with a blend of passion, determination and tact.

An indication of Manny’s openness to feedback is evidenced in his most recent essay, New York’s Statute of Limitations Must Be Eliminated where he noted his consultations with others in the field, and included my recommendation, To protect institutions to some degree from possible financial ruin, and to encourage best practice in the running of today’s institutions, those institutions who meet certain standards for child abuse prevention ought to be protected to some extent by a financial cap on each claim.[1]

Among the changes I am recommending are: capping judgements on civil suits beyond the current statute for institutions who meet certain child safety standards (as noted above, that has the full support of Manny Waks) and treating institutions whose board members and staff were not involved when the alleged incident occurred less severely than those who are still under the same leadership. There is also a need to recognize that our understanding of child abuse and the need to establish appropriate boundaries has dramatically evolved in the past decades, and that should be factored in when evaluating what actions should fall under the waiver of the statute of limitations.

Manny and I are cautiously optimistic that we can work together to amend the civil bill to one that will have much broader support in the public and parochial school movements, and we most certainly share the strong feeling that the current status of NY State’s statutes of limitation is archaic and immoral and must be completely overhauled.

Earlier this week, I got an email from an accomplished, educated, articulate friend of mine who made a beautiful and stable life for himself and his family after surviving childhood abuse. This fellow, who is in my age range, was sharing with me that he had just suffered a PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) attack after viewing a news video just recently made public of a child being abused. I immediately called to see how he was doing, and did my best to do what good friends do for each other; realizing once again that great, noble people like him never, ever really get over it – even forty years later. The searing pain abuse victims feel is quite literally a life sentence, trapped forever in the tortured segment of their memory chips that can never be deleted.

In closing, I reiterate my full support for Assembly Bill #A08567, the proposed criminal legislation and my deep commitment to help Assembly Bill #A02872A, the proposed civil legislation, gain the broad-based acceptance that will help it pass in both branches of NY State government this time around.

The current system of slamming shut all doors of justice to abuse survivors at age 23, as they struggle to regain their footing and rebuild their lives, simply cannot be permitted to continue.

 

[1] For the record, Manny proposed the “cap,” and I added the “best practices” component; a lower cap for those schools.