The planets are not typically aligned. The Modern/Centrist Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America is for Markey, as is the haredi Igud HaRabbonim (Rabbinical Alliance of America). Meanwhile, the equally haredi Agudath Israel of America and Torah Umesorah are against Markey.
Who is Markey and why should we support her bill, the Child Victims’ Act, in the New York State Legislature?
Markey is Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, and her bill will extend the civil statute of limitations (SOL) for child sex abuse claims against abusers and their employing institutions, including schools. The bill was amended last week and now has these major features:
● Victims may file civil claims up to age 28.
● During a one-year “window” only, victims up to age 53 may file civil claims.
● Victims may bring claims against their abusers, and both private and public schools.
● At the time of filing the civil claim, a doctor must certify, in writing, to the merit of the claim.
Child sex abuse is a heinous crime, severely condemned and punished by all Western societies and world religions. The results, both short and long term, are devastating. Post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression, substance abuse, brain impairment, shortened life spans and, finally, suicide are among the consequences. Child sex abuse victims almost always require extensive therapy, and somebody has to pay their bills.
One of the universally recognized problems in fighting child sex abuse is that children often do not report the crimes done to their bodies. There are many reasons for this: fear of the predator, helplessness, humiliation, confusion, and misplaced feelings of guilt and shame.
Meanwhile, unprosecuted child abusers continue to stalk additional prey. Many abusers specifically seek venues where they will have easy access to children, and that includes religious schools, which often are not as legally regulated as public schools.
Recognizing the difficulty in hunting down child sex offenders, some state legislatures are now addressing SOL reform. However, under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, criminal statutes of limitations may not be extended retroactively – but civil statutes of limitations can.
There is precedent. Markey-type “window” laws in California and Delaware have resulted in about 360 child sex offenders being publicly identified. Tens of thousands of children were made instantly safer. Victims were empowered and validated. There were no religious school closures and no bankruptcies. Insurance paid for most claims. In almost all cases, judges, lawyers and victims achieved fair settlements and justice was done. The hysteria being generated by anti-Markey forces here in New York is grossly unfair in light of this past experience with window laws.
Given the horror of child sex abuse, there is precedent for SOL reform. Other heinous crimes – homicide, kidnapping, treason, and even Holocaust reparations – are not encumbered by SOLs. Through its laws, society registers its revulsion at these crimes. Child sex abuse deserves to be in the same category.
And then there is deterrence, a central goal of tort law. Negligent actors are compelled to respond in damages not only to compensate tort victims, but also to encourage remedial measures and thereby avoid future torts. The Catholic priest sex abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002, and only lawsuits there and throughout the country forced the Church to respond with a national plan to eradicate abuse within its institutions, i.e., systematic employee background checks, mandatory reporting to law enforcement, and abuse prevention and detection plans.
The Church installed a blue ribbon panel and hired the highest ranking woman in the FBI, Kathleen McChesney, to head up its new Office of Child and Youth Protection.
Meanwhile, our own yeshiva community has failed to learn the Catholic Church’s lesson. The two major yeshiva organizations, Agudath Israel and Torah Umesorah, have not only failed to initiate any child protection legislation for religious school children, they usually take the opposite approach. They typically oppose child protection legislation, such as designating clergy as mandated reporters, alongside doctors, nurses, and other professionals. In doing so, Agudah and TU are acting more like rabbinic trade associations seeking to avoid government regulation rather than the child advocates we hope they would be.
Even more oddly, in opposing SOL reform, Agudah and TU are contradicting halacha. SOLs are non-existent in Jewish law.