Sunday, February 10, 2019

‘Real Fears’ Over Child Victims Act, Say Charedim!msg/child-protect-18/m2UjiV2FqFE/l-0kkOy7DgAJ

Real Fears’ Over Child Victims Act, Say Charedim

Survivors and advocates say continued Orthodox opposition is meant as signal of intimidation.

By Hannah Dreyfus February 6, 2019, 9:43 am ET

In the wake of the passage [] last week in Albany of the Child Victims Act, Orthodox leaders are cautioning that “fears” of a barrage of potentially crippling lawsuits from alleged victims of child sexual abuse against yeshivas and camps “are real.”

“The fact that law firms are actively seeking child victims is reason enough for our concern,” Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel, the large charedi umbrella group, told The Jewish Week in an email.

Agudath Israel issued a statement shortly after the bill passed on Jan. 28 that its “look-back window” — a provision that allows victims of any age to pursue claims during a one-year window that begins six months after the law takes effect, even if the statute of limitations has run out — “could literally destroy schools, houses of worship that sponsor youth programs, summer camps and other institutions that are the very lifeblood of our community.”

Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the largest group of Orthodox rabbis in North America, expressed the same concern.

“We share the concern about the potential impact on institutions that the one-year window may have on schools and institutions but recognize and support the children who are the victims in these cases,” he wrote to The Jewish Week in an email.

In terms of what kind of settlements victims might receive, a recent case offers one example. That year Brooklyn Yeshiva Torah Temimah agreed to pay out $2.1 million to two former students, who said they were molested by their teacher, Rabbi Joel Kolko, when they were 6 years old.

While the RCA and other centrist Orthodox groups have been largely mum on the issue, the ultra-Orthodox community, alongside the Catholic Church, has consistently opposed the bill’s passage, for fear of the act’s possible financial impact. A divided state legislature in Albany allowed the bill to languish for years. But now, with the Democratic takeover of both houses of the legislature in November, the majority party moved quickly to pass the bill, which had long been a Democratic priority.

In addition to the one-year look-back window, the bill allows child victims of sexual abuse to file claims against abusers until the victims reach the age of 55 in civil cases, a significant increase from the previous age limit of 23. For criminal cases, victims can seek prosecution until they are 28.

And while groups that once opposed the bill, such as the Catholic Church, laid down arms and unequivocally praised the bill’s passage on Jan. 28, Orthodox groups stood alone in continuing to express objections — in formal statements and in a slew of articles across Orthodox media platforms.

Marci Hamilton, founder and CEO of Child USA, a nonprofit that works to prevent child abuse, said the conspicuous response of Orthodox institutions is “very telling.”

“The fact is that only the yeshivas are still complaining,” said Hamilton, who sees the “alarmist rhetoric” as an “attempt to claim they [the yeshivas] are the victims.”

“The bishops tried this years ago and failed,” said Hamilton. “The Orthodox community is proving itself to be behind the curve. These organizations are incapable of seeing beyond their own immediate needs to the needs of the victims they created.”

Still, while expressing serious concerns about the bill’s potential repercussions no longer has sway in Albany, charedi and Orthodox institutions may well be targeting another audience, said Hamilton: their own constituents.

“The statements and op-eds and hand-wringing about yeshivas going bankrupt is really a coded message about religious beliefs,” said Hamilton, a legal scholar, who pointed out that no bankruptcies have been linked to similar look-back provisions implemented in other states.


  1. For years Rav Avi Shafran has written that the problem of child abuse either does not exist in Chareidi communities or that its rate of occurrence is so small as to be nugatory. At times he's attacked the accusers quite vociferously.
    Suddenly he's worried that there will be so many victims that paying them all compensation will bankrupt the Chareidi educational system. Well if it's almost no one, surely compensation would be affordable? If it's it not, will he eat crow in public and admit he's been running cover for abusers all these decades?
    The Agudah itself has never budged from its "You must consult with a Rav before going to the police" position. They insist they follow halacha. Tell me, is there such a thing as a statute of limitations in halacha?
    When did loshon horo become about protecting abuser? When did justice mean denying victims their right to it?

  2. You made me search for the definition of "nugatory", Garnel. Thanks for building my vocabulary!

    I think the concern here is that schools without a budget to hire a law firm to defend them from lawsuits may feel compelled to settle even if they really hold themselves innocent under the new law.

    So, just as schools have the capacity to do wrong by kids, kids and former kids have the capacity to destroy schools by bringing frivolous lawsuits.


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