Jewish leaders and rabbis from a range of denominations have come out in support of legislation that would give New York State child sex abuse victims more time to sue those they hold responsible for their abuse.
Over the last few days, more than 50 leaders and activists, including some 30 rabbis, signed a letter in support of the Child Victims Act. The measure, first introduced years ago by Margaret Markey, a New York State Assembly Democrat, would extend the statute of limitations for civil suits against alleged sexual abusers of children and against institutions that fail to act against such abuse under their roofs.
The bill would also provide a one-year window during which past victims could go to court whose chance to sue their alleged abusers has already expired.
A companion bill sponsored by Markey would eliminate the current statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions of alleged child sex abusers.
Currently, child sex abuse victims must file suit against those they hold accountable for their abuse by the time they are 23. But many experts say that it can take decades—well into adulthood—for someone who has been abused as a child to understand what has been done to them, come to terms with it and act on their understanding.
In past years, Agudath Israel of America, an ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization, and the Roman Catholic Church have successfully lobbied against the act. But the current version addresses one of their key objections, by allowing suits against public schools, which were previously exempted from such suits.
“Many of us rabbis and Jewish leaders have seen in our communities the wounds caused by sexual predators,” the Jewish leadership letter read supporting the legislation. “We also painfully acknowledge that rather than being a source of healing for victims of child sexual abuse, religious institutions have too often been a part of the problem.”
Signatories include rabbis from all major denominations, including Rabbi Yosef Blau of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat, Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, and Rabbi Gil Student, an Orthodox leader.
The group letter was organized by an umbrella organization for Jewish groups dealing with child sexual abuse called Kol v’Oz, helmed by activist Manny Waks of Australia. His abuse as a child while attending Chabad institutions in Melbourne, led to a burgeoning scandal involving others, a government commission investigation that is ongoing, and the resignation of several senior Chabad rabbis.
The Child Victims Act has been adopted in the Assembly four times in various forms since 2006, a statement from Markey’s office said, but has never made it to the floor of the State Senate.
“Unfortunately religious leaders have blocked efforts like this,” said Rabbi Ari Hart, an Orthodox rabbi and signatory to the letter, “but I believe that many religious leaders support this.”