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New York Child Sex Abuse Reform Bill Is Blocked — Again

Barring an eleventh hour deal, New York’s legislature prepared to end its session without passing a bill that will make it easier for child sex abuse survivors to seek justice as adults — legislation that advocates have been pushing for a decade.

By June 17, the bill’s backers were still pushing for a vote in the State Assembly on a modified version of the bill. But the Senate hadn’t scheduled a vote, leaving little chance that Governor Andrew Cuomo would be signing a bill into law.

This comes after months of campaigning to reform New York’s sexual abuse statute of limitations, which is among the shortest in the nation. A coalition of activists and survivors, many from Jewish communities who say they were molested at yeshivas and Jewish day schools, support a bill to give child sex abuse survivors more time to file charges. The governor had publicly announced his support for reform in broad terms, but did not back a specific bill.

“The bill is dead,” said Gary Greenberg, a New York investor and sex abuse survivor who had been supported the legislation.

Under New York law, someone who is abused as a child has until the age of 23 to bring a civil lawsuit to court. The Child Victims Act, as this legislation is known, seeks to both lift time limits for victims to file civil suits and provide a one-year “look back” window during which past victims who have already exceeded the statute of limitations could go to court. Assemblywoman Margaret Markey introduced the Child Victims Act a decade ago.

In past years, Agudath Israel of America, an ultra-Orthodox umbrella group, and the Roman Catholic Church, have lobbied against reforming bill, saying they would face a flood of old claims and go bankrupt as a result.

Some activists had already begun planning for next year, noting that many senators who opposed the legislation would be up for reelection.

“Taking them to task when it comes to reelection will be important,” said Chaim Levin, a survivor and community actives from Brooklyn. “Their constituents are counting on them to keep their kids safe. And they’re not doing that.”

Greenberg has even pledged $100,000 of his own money against incumbent senators who refuse to support legislation.

“We’re going to go after Republican senators and we’re going to let their constituents in their districts know that they did not support victims,” said Greenberg.

Agudath did not reply to request for comment, but their spokesperson Rabbi Avi Shafran told JTA last month that the group is concerned with “protecting the economic viability of Jewish schools. Yeshivas operate on shoestring budgets.”

“I do not think you should eliminate the statute of limitations going forward for every single case or allow people to sue someone for forever for something that happened years ago,” said Republican John A. Defrancisco, Deputy majority leader of the Senate, in May.

“For the first time over 160 Jewish leaders and rabbis joined over a dozen Jewish organizations to publicly support these urgently needed reforms to the law,” Manny Waks CEO of Kol V’Oz, an umbrella group for Jewish organizations dealing with sex abuse, said.

“It’s disappointing that this matter has still not been resolved and that despite our efforts, victims and survivors of past abuse, as well as our current children, are no better off today than they have been in the past.”

Email Sam Kestenbaum at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum

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