Latest update: May 12th, 2013
If you were to attend a convention of mental health professionals who specialize in treating abuse victims, and if you were to ask the attendees what steps or initiatives they would like to see implemented to protect children from predators and to assist those who have already been victimized, you would probably get responses like:
- A broad-based awareness campaign informing parents about the dangers of abuse and the warning signs that might indicate their child had been victimized.
- Dramatically increased prison sentences for monsters who abuse children; perhaps even to the level of one who commits murder.
- The dissemination of child-friendly pamphlets designed to assist parents in the delicate task of speaking to their children about personal space, good-touching-bad-touching, and other basic themes that research has proven to be highly effective in keeping children safe.
- Enhanced enforcement of mandated reporting laws that require educators and healthcare professionals to report telltale signs of abuse to the authorities.
- Sliding-scale professional counseling for abuse victims to assure that all children who have been traumatized by the ravages of abuse have access to mental-health services regardless of their ability to pay.
With that in mind, even a cursory examination of the Child Victims Act of New York State Assemblywoman Margaret Markey raises the question of why not one of the items listed above is included in a bill ostensibly designed with the noble goal of helping to protect children.
The Markey legislation would extend the statute of limitations in New York State on both criminal and civil cases involving the sexual abuse of children. It would also open a one-year “window” during which time victims of abuse could bring claims for events that occurred even decades ago, not only against the perpetrators but also against the institutions that employed them.
The bill has been the subject of intense debate in our community, as many abuse victims and individuals who are advocating for child-abuse prevention have passionately supported the bill. The recent joint statement released by Agudath Israel and Torah Umesorah opposing the legislation has generated a great deal of discussion – much of it critical – from outside the Agudah constituency and even from members of our own kehila.
There are other significant questions that come to mind when reflecting upon the Markey Bill. Currently, students have only 90 days after they turn 18 to file a claim for abuse that allegedly occurred while they attended public school. The Markey Bill would not change that in any way. Why would secular legislators in Albany be more interested in protecting kids attending parochial schools than those in the broader population?
Imagine the (appropriate) public outrage that would ensue if the state were to offer free flu shots to private school kids and not to those attending public schools. (It is perfectly fair to note that public schools have far more safety measures for screening, training and oversight than do private schools. But to suggest that there is little or no abuse in public schools and, by extension, that public school kids are not in need of legislation to protect them is flat-out ridiculous.)
Additionally, what is being done to prevent the cycle from repeating itself, as we all know that untreated victims are far more likely to abuse others? Shouldn’t we turn over every stone to help fund the treatment of abuse victims – for their own mental health and for the safety of our community at large?
Due to the fact that for years now I have been, and will always continue to be, a staunch and vocal advocate for victims of abuse and molestation worldwide – writing and lecturing about the horrors of abuse in our community long before any of the ugly media reports and lawsuits began and long before it became socially acceptable to do so – I was approached by many dedicated individuals and asked to throw my support behind the bill.
I fended off the requests and stayed on the sidelines, as my antenna kept tingling each time I read and re-read the content of the bill, mostly because I was troubled by the dichotomy between the treatment of abuse in private and public schools, and by the exclusion of far more immediate and effective measures that would help today’s children directly. Something just didn’t add up.
The term “walking the dog backwards” was coined to explain a common technique employed by those who work in the complicated galaxy of counterintelligence and who are constantly playing a three-dimensional game of chess as they sift through a mishmash of information and disinformation in a world where a spy might be a double or triple agent. Therefore, when faced with a perplexing set of circumstances, they are trained to evaluate who stands to gain or lose from the final result of any particular chain of events and, working backwards, think about the real cause-and-effect of things.
We all know the world of politics is similarly filled with plots and sub-plots, so I decided to approach things from that end and examine the Markey Bill through the prism of the entire public school/private school debate.
It is a debate that consistently spills over into battles across the nation over school vouchers, tax credits for private school tuition, taxpayer support for private school services such as remedial and counseling services, and…the list goes on and on, with public school advocates vigorously opposing any funding for private schools – even for such things as the aforementioned remedial and counseling services that specifically help children rather than schools – claiming they undermine the public schools.
And it is a debate that will have enormous ramifications for members of our community moving forward – especially as we look to states and school districts for relief from staggering tuition payments in this tanking economy.
OK, let’s do some dog walking. Question: Who or what is the most vocal advocate for public school rights? Answer: The very powerful teachers unions that have opposed every initiative to offer even public school parents choices to educate their kids with school vouchers. That would certainly explain why the Markey Bill doesn’t include public school children who were victims of abuse in the legislation – as the teachers unions vigorously oppose such legislation. And who or what is the most powerful voice advocating for private schools? The Catholic Church, of course.
Here is another angle that might be playing a part in this. One of the main sponsors of the bill in its current form is State Senator Tom Duane, who was also a chief sponsor of the Gay Marriage Bill. Here, too, there is a great deal of tension between advocates for gay marriage and the Church. Thus any action taken to embarrass, undermine and de-legitimize the Church in the eyes of the public directly and profoundly pushes the gay marriage agenda forward as it weakens its supporters’ most powerful opponent. After all, what better way to undermine the moral authority of the Church than to encourage civil lawsuits against it that will drag on for years, drain its coffers and fill the headlines of the tabloids with tawdry details day after day?
I suggest that if you step back a bit and survey the Markey Bill in its entirety, you will come to the conclusion I have – that while it promotes the safety of children, it is also being used to undermine the private school movement and religious community overall far beyond the abuse issue. At a minimum, it should be recognized that this matter needs to be understood in a much broader context and is not the one-dimensional issue it is portrayed to be.
Does all this mean I am pleased with the status quo? Does it mean I am in favor of quashing efforts to protect our children? Does it mean we do not need to do everything in our power and leave no stone unturned in educating our parents and educators about the ravages of abuse? Do I think the amazing, dedicated frum activists for child safety, many of whom are close friends of mine (a few of them actually “met” on my website), have any part in the negative aspects of what I wrote about? No, No, No and No!
To sum things up, I most certainly feel change and improvement in our understanding and treatment of abuse and abusers is desperately needed – it is something I have loudly and passionately advocated for many years now. The Markey Bill, however, is a crude tool to accomplish that task, one that is, in my opinion, driven by a host of agendas diametrically opposed to ours and one that, to loosely quote from the carefully written and nuanced statement by our gedolim, shlita, has the ability to cause material damage to the mosdos haTorah our parents and grandparents built over the past hundred years with their sweat and tears. It is therefore my recommendation that members of our community oppose this particular bill as it is currently written.
Due to the nature and sensitivity of this topic, The Jewish Press graciously accorded me twice the regular op-ed column size. There is, however, much more I could have said in this essay. Readers who wish to better understand my thinking on these matters can, by visiting my website (www.rabbihorowitz.com), review the many columns I have written over the years on abuse and abuse prevention.
Over the next few weeks, I will lay out a vision for what I think needs to be done, internally and legislatively, to finally – after all these years, after all the drug overdoses and suicides, after all the shattered lives – make our community a safer place for our children and grandchildren.
About the Author: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam and founder and director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S.
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