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The plaintiffs in the suit against Y.U. charge that as students they were abused on repeated occasions by Rabbi George Finkelstein, the school’s former principal; by Rabbi Macy Gordon, who was a senior Talmud instructor there, or by Richard Andron, an outsider who frequently visited the Y.U. dormitory in which they lived with no interference from Y.U. authorities. The plaintiffs are asking $380 million in compensation and damages.
“It’s impossible to know whether the plaintiffs can survive this motion until we see what [their] answer [to the motion to dismiss] is,” Burstein said. “I’d be very loath to allow 30 years to pass before you brought an action.”
Marci Hamilton, who is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Yeshiva University’s Bejamin N. Cardozo School of Law and has spent years studying child sexual abuse, disagreed.
“This is another example of how the New York statutes of limitations for child sex abuse victims block justice and hinder the education of the public about the institutions that create the conditions for abuse and the individuals who abuse children,” she wrote in an email.
Asked to expand her answer, Hamilton replied that as an employee of Y.U. she could not comment on the situation. But in the past, Hamilton has cited research that shows it often takes child victims of sexual abuse many years, and even decades into adulthood, to confront what happened to them.
Even Burstein acknowledged that in some cases, the current statute was too restrictive.
“It seems to me that given a society that at least acknowledges that sexual abuse is not uncommon, and [in which] there’s a lot of pressure not to say anything, that maybe you need to give kids a little longer,” she said. “But I don’t think you give them forever.”
New York Assemblywoman Margaret Markey has been pushing for reform of the statute of limitations for the past several years. The N.Y. Child Victims Act, which she sponsors, would, in its current version, abolish the time limits for such cases in the future and address past abuse by opening a one-year window for victims to file civil law suits against their abusers and against institutions that either knew or should have known about such inappropriate conduct by their staff members.
The Catholic Church and Agudath Israel of America, an ultra-Orthodox umbrella group, have been adamant opponents of the bill.
Regarding Koeltl’s ruling, Markey wrote in a statement to the Forward that “what is particularly noteworthy in this Yeshiva University case is the apparent pattern of cover-up to protect the institution and its leaders.
“It appears to mirror other prominent cases we have seen in the past few years where religious, educational and youth organizations and institutions have protected pedophiles and abusers by preventing law enforcement from acting in a timely way to bring child molesters to justice.”