Heightened media exposure of child sexual abuse in Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox communities may breathe new life into a stymied proposal to extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases in New York State, the proposal’s proponents say.
Sex abuse victims and their advocates hope that a flurry of high-profile news stories in The New York Times and beyond, highlighting community intimidation and a code of silence around sex crimes in the Orthodox world, will pressure the governor to revive a bill that has languished for years in New York State’s legislature.
The bill, proposed by Democratic New York Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, would extend the statute of limitations for an additional five years, allowing childhood victims to file complaints until age 28. The proposed legislation would also eliminate the restriction completely for one year after its passage, allowing victims to file suit who were harmed decades ago but who are blocked by the current statute of limitations.
The recent media storm has focused on the refusal by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes to disclose the names of Orthodox individuals charged with sex abuse, as reported by the Forward earlier in May. Advocates say a change in the D.A.’s policies is essential. But on the civil law front, they say, passage of the Markey bill could forever change the dynamic that they say now prevents victims of abuse from coming forward with their complaints.
“If the Markey bill passes, then the victims would be able to stand up to the incredible pressure and intimidation of the entire leadership,” said Ben Hirsch, president of Survivors for Justice, an organization that advocates on behalf of child sex abuse victims in the ultra-Orthodox community.
The recent media exposure has helped to “move this issue forward,” said Hirsch. “The question we have is why the deafening silence from the governor’s office? It is time for the governor’s office, the attorney general and the legislators to put children’s lives ahead of political exigency.”
Markey first introduced the bill in 2005. Since then, it has passed through the state assembly on four different occasions, only to languish in the Senate each time. Over the years, the bill has faced fierce opposition from Catholic and Orthodox Jewish groups that adamantly oppose its one-year window to revisit expired sex crimes. This stipulation, they say, would result in a flood of lawsuits that could bankrupt religious schools and houses of worship.
In an interview, Markey said that religious opposition to the bill has deterred lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Senate from co-sponsoring it. Rather than seek out a co-sponsor this session, she is now appealing to the governor directly. Two weeks ago, she met with the governor’s legal counsel, and she has requested an appointment with Andrew Cuomo’s secretary to plead her case.
“I would like to see the governor step up to the plate and make this one of his program bills,” she said.