Two Yeshiva University staffers Friday urged passage of a bill that could potentially harm their own school, which is currently under scrutiny because of allegations it failed to address child sexual abuse over several decades at its high school affiliate.
Professor Marci Hamilton and Rabbi Yosef Blau testified at a New York Assembly hearing in support of the Child Victims Act, which would make it easier for adults who were abused as children to file suits against institutions that they believe were negligent in protecting them.
Currently, any victim of child sexual abuse who fails to file such a suit by his or her 23rd birthday is barred from doing so by New York State’s statute of limitations on such crimes. The Child Victims Act would abolish those limits for cases going forward and open up a limited, one-year window during which those abused in the past could file civil law suits against their abusers, and against institutions that knew or should have known about such abuse committed by members of their staffs.
The bill, versions of which have been offered four times in previous years, is expected to pass the state assembly easily but faces a tough test in the state senate.
Both the Catholic Church and the ultra-Orthodox umbrella group, Agudath Israel of America, have publicly opposed the bill in the past. Many experts on child sexual abuse say it can take far longer than the current statute allows for victims of abuse to understand and confront what was done to them as children, and then go to court for redress, which can exacerbate already existing trauma.
In a series of stories starting last December, the Forward found more than 20 former students at Yeshiva University High School for Boys’ Manhattan campus who said they had been abused by two senior staff members over a period ranging from the late 1970’s to the early 1990’s. Several of the former students say they or their families alerted Y.U. officials to what was going on at the time but got no response. One of the senior staff members, high school principal George Finkelstein, left Y.U. for a school in Miami, Fla., where a student has told the Forward he, too, was abused by this administrator.
At the Friday hearing, held in Manhattan, Blau told members of the Assembly’s Codes Committee, “I know that there are members in my own community…fighting this bill. I think that’s a mistake.”