Yeshiva University’s resident legal expert on child sexual abuse is condemning her employer’s recent report on the alleged sexual abuse committed by YU staff against high school students under their care.
Marci Hamilton, Paul R. Verkuil Chair of Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and a nationally recognized legal expert on child sexual abuse, said the report, released August 26, failed to deliver.
“In my view,” she wrote in a detailed critique of the report, “they did not do the right thing.”
“It [the YU Report] provides a four-paragraph (that is not a misprint) summary of ‘Findings,’” she noted in her September 5th article, posted on the website of Verdict, a website of commentary and opinions on legal issues. “Readers are told that ‘multiple incidents of varying types of sexual and physical abuse took place’” at Yeshiva University High School for Boys and at other schools comprising the University, she noted. The report finds that the abuse took place “in some instances, after members of the administration had been made aware of such conduct” but failed to act.
Yet, the report, she observed, offers no information on any of these incidents. “This is little more than a continuation of the cover-up that apparently already occurred,” Hamilton wrote.
Last January, Hamilton dismissed skeptics who worried that the expected report would take just such an approach. “No institution can study this issue with any credibility and fail to report to the public what they’ve found,” Hamilton told the Forward then.
Y.U.’s explanation for the lack of additional details is the $380 million lawsuit currently pending against the Modern Orthodox institution by alleged victims of abuse at its high school for boys. According to Hamilton, that reasoning is faulty. “As YU has argued in court, the claims that are pending, are pending in New York, where the statutes of limitations for sex abuse are among the shortest in the country, which puts virtually all, if not all, of the claims beyond the statute of limitations,” she wrote. “So, what the heck do they have to hide?”
The report, commissioned by Y.U. and based on findings by Sullivan & Cromwell, the New York-based law leading the investigation, was released in August. Richard Joel, president of Y.U., issued a statement shortly after, expressing his deep regret and shame at the findings. Joel’s statement also pledged Y.U.’s commitment to a series of programs designed to prepare ordination candidates and rabbis in the field to properly identify and prevent child sex abuse.
In her rebuttal, Hamilton addressed the list of programs and prevention measures described in the report itself. The most obvious flaw in these measures, she noted, is protocol addressing mandatory reporting of sexual abuse.
New York State law only mandates that abuse perpetrated by a parent, guardian or other legally responsible person be reported to the State Hotline. As Hamilton points out in her writings, this leaves many people outside the obligatory requirements, a stance she compares with that of the bishops of the Catholic Church.
Rather than pointing out the failings in the law and pushing for solutions, Y.U. described a complicated bureaucratic system for reported suspected abuse, which Hamilton calls “so convoluted, it is almost funny. But not quite.”
“This hard-to-follow path,” she adds, “is guaranteed to have employees throwing up their hands in confusion, or worse, it is likely to result in reports that get lost in the cracks of the bureaucracy. There are just too many variables here.”
In her conclusion, Hamilton, who enjoys tenured status on the faculty, voiced dismay at the lack of consideration her employer showed to victims.
“I have never read a document of this genre with less verbiage speaking directly to the survivors,” she wrote. “It is, in a word, cold.”
Anne Cohen is the Forward’s deputy digital media editor. When she’s not looking for the secret Jewish history of Voodoo in New Orleans, or making lists about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she writes for The Assimilator. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism with an M.S. magazine concentration in 2012.