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Arkansas eliminated the criminal statute of limitations for sexual abuse in February. Meanwhile, bills are pending in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and California, among other states, that would extend or eliminate the statute of limitations in criminal or civil cases. Some of these include so-called window legislation. A bill that would eliminate the civil statute of limitations is expected to be introduced in the New Jersey legislature soon.
“This is the most activity ever,” said Marci Hamilton, chair of public law at Y.U.’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and one of the nation’s leading advocates for ending the statute of limitations on abuse crimes. Hamilton said that increased publicity about child abuse and about the legal hurdles that victims face as adults when they try to file complaints has garnered enormous support. “So many victims never get justice,” Hamilton said, noting that it “really moved legislators to consider enacting these kinds of laws.”
Hamilton is among more than a dozen specialists who will testify at a public hearing being held by the New York State Assembly’s Codes Committee, in Manhattan, on March 8. Prosecutors, lawyers and advocates who have experience in child sexual abuse cases are also expected to appear. They include individuals who were involved with recent abuse scandals in institutions such as New York’s Poly Prep Country Day School and the Horace Mann School.
Hamilton is one of two Y.U. employees who will appear at the hearing. Since December of last year, more than 20 former students who attended the university’s Manhattan high school for boys have told the Forward that they were abused by two of the school’s staff members over a period ranging from the late 1970s to the early ’90s. Several said that they or their families alerted Y.U. officials but got no response. Y.U. has commissioned a prominent law firm to conduct an investigation into the allegations.
Neither Hamilton nor Rabbi Yosef Blau, the other Y.U. staff member who will speak at the public hearing, said they would deliver testimony directly related to — or defending — Y.U. Nevertheless, Hamilton, the author of a recent book calling for the abolition of the statute of limitations, said she had made her position clear to her employers.
“The cover-up of child sex abuse in any institution is a cancer,” Hamilton said. “And unless you cut it out and get the authorities involved, and make good for all that you did wrong, it will haunt you. And so it’s better for my institution that they be made accountable and they are accountable than to let it fester.” Blau said he intended to testify about his personal experiences dealing with abuse that occurred decades ago.
Blau was one of three rabbis who served on a religious court that, during the late 1980s, largely absolved an Orthodox Union youth leader, Baruch Lanner, of abuse allegations. Blau said the rabbis set a limit of 10 years from any incident for victims to testify against Lanner, which prevented many people from coming forward. Lanner was allowed to continue working with children and was convicted, in 2002, of sexually abusing two girls.