Vicki Polin
Social Justice Activist

Attention: Jewish Maryland – Child Sexual Abuse and the Statue of Limitations

According to Jewish law, we are all mandated reporters
According to Halacha (Jewish Law) we are all mandated reporters

After twenty years of trying to get a bill past, on April 12, 2023 Maryland’s Governor Wes Moore signed the Child Victim Act 2023 into law, making it possible for adult survivors of child sexual abuse to file civil suits against their sex offenders, institutions and individuals who helped to cover up the crimes — even if the Statute Of Limitations (SOL) expired. The new law also eliminates the concept of a SOL for all future cases regarding civil suits.

So what does this new law mean for Jewish survivors of child sexual abuse who were victimized in the state of Maryland?  Jewish survivors now have a legal remedy to compel their offender(s) to pay for their therapy, be compensated for the pain and suffering the survivor endured and sustained.  The law also gives a way for those who were victimized an opportunity to share their story, and assure their offenders name is known, limiting the chance of the offender revictimizing another child. The potential financial compensation also offers Maryland survivors a new chance at life.

If an individual’s offender had a connection to a yeshiva/school, synagogue, camp or any other type of business or institution — the survivor may also be able to include the institution in the civil suit.  The same is true if individuals, mental health providers, medical professionals, institution, including the Vaad Harabanim (Rabbinic Council) and or or a Beit Din (Jewish religious court) throughout the state that helped to cover up the crime(s), and or failed to make hotline reports when they suspected a child was at risk of harm.  We all must be aware not one rabbi in Maryland is trained to conduct forensic interviews and or collect evidence in cases of child rape.  If your home was on fire, you would NOT call your rabbi for permission to call the fire department.  No one should be required to ask permission to contact the secular authorities when a child has been assaulted. 

The downside of this new law is the fact that the vast majority of survivors who were sexually abused as children were abused within their home.  Incest survivors may have a difficult time finding an attorney to represent them, since their cases may not be worth as much financially, as a case involving an institution. Keep in mind that incest represents 42% of all cases of child sexual abuse, where clergy abuse only represents 2% of cases of child molestation.

For fifteen years I was the CEO and founder of  The Awareness Center, which was the first international non-profit organization that addressed sex crimes in Jewish communities (no matter what affiliation, movement or non-movement the survivor came from).  In around 2006-2007, The Awareness Center connected with SNAP (Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests).  It was at that time the Jewish community started to get involved in the movement to eliminate the SOL in states all around the country — including Maryland.  At the time many orthodox survivors were afraid to get involved in the movement for fear they and their family members would be ostracized for doing so.

Sadly, all to often when Jewish children disclosed they have been abused to family members, and their parents disclosed the allegations to their rabbi, no hotline reports were made.  Instead rabbis would tell parents the religious community would deal with the assault, yet nothing was done.  The blame of the assault would be put on the child, instead of the assailant.

Like other orthodox communities, parents were told that if the assaults were made public, the child and their siblings would be seen as tainted goods, and would never get into good schools and or find a good marriage partner.  Survivors and their family members who protested were often shamed into silence, or forced to move out of the community after being harassed and excommunicated.  With the new law in place, means families now have a legal remedy since these types of behaviors could be construed as a form of witness tampering.

David Clohessy, who is the former National Director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priest stated, “Maryland’s new child sex abuse law will enable more deeply wounded survivors to expose more molesters and protect more kids. When those who were sexually assaulted file lawsuits, those who are vulnerable are safer..

The deterrence impact of this civil ‘window’ is hard to overstate.  Now, more Maryland employers will pause before dismissing, ignoring or concealing reports and rumors of child sex crimes.

Kids are most secure when child predators are imprisoned. But when that can’t happen, civil litigation which exposes child predators is the next best option. Parents, police, prosecutors and the public can best safeguard youngsters when they know who and where child molesters are, and when those who hide or disregard abuse reports are punished.”

If you or anyone you know was sexually abused as a child, remember it was not your fault. You are good and always have been.  The blame solely belongs to the offender and those who covered up the crime(s). 

To find a qualified attorney to represent cases,  you might want to contact the Maryland State Bar Association or the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA) for leads. It is best to find a legal representative who is not affiliated with the community you reside to avoid any conflicts of interest.

About the Author
Vicki Polin is a feminist who has been a Social Justice Activist since her childhood. Vicki is also an award winning, retired psychotherapist who worked in the anti-rape field for just under forty years. For fun Vicki is an artist and nature photographer.
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