Child Abuse Takes Center Stage In Albany
A particularly frustrating and gut-wrenching issue dominating the final days of the legislative session concerns a push to remove the statute of limitations for prosecuting sex abusers of children.
The law currently states that after a victim or survivor of abuse reaches the age of 23 he or she cannot prosecute the perpetrator either criminally or civilly.
Since abuse victims are often very slow to come to grips with what happened to them – some not until middle age or even later in life – the bill sponsors, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth, Queens) and Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Greenwich Village, Manhattan), contend the statute of limitations needs to be eliminated.
Earlier this month more than 150 Jewish organizations held a two-day rally at the Capitol lobbying lawmakers to support the legislation.
Even though he is not a New Yorker, one case in point involves 40-year-old Manny Waks, an Australian who was sexually abused twice, once at age 11 and again at age 14. Waks is chief executive officer of Kol v’Oz, a nonprofit focused to prevent child abuse in the global Jewish community.
“I was sexually abused at the age of 11,” Waks said on “The Jewish View,” a television program taped in Albany. “I grew up in a [frum] community in Melbourne, Australia. I’ve got 16 brothers and sisters. There were two perpetrators in my case. Both were in their 20s at the time. One of the perpetrators is currently sitting in jail in Australia and the other one is free in New York…. shielded by the statute of limitations.”
These incidents had a major impact on Waks and his family.
“Between the ages of 11 and 14 I was rebelling against religion. For example, at my bar mitzvah I was completely disinterested in the religious component of it. I forced myself to eat non-kosher even though I was very uncomfortable doing it. I forced myself to turn the light off on Shabbat,” Waks said.
One day Waks said he heard about Operation Paradox, which encouraged people to report abuse to the authorities.
“Until that moment, for some reason, I had never even considered going to the authorities. By the time I reported my abuse I was totally secular. I had no interest in religion or going to a bet din, where there is no statute of limitations, so that was never an option. I disclosed my abuse at the age of 20. At that point I went straight to my father, told him what happened and to his credit, he contacted the police. I told my father because I couldn’t tell my mother. This is still a topic we rarely discuss,” noted Waks.
Now Waks is married and a father of three children.
In a compassionate explanation of their opposition to the legislation, Agudath Israel of America and Torah Umesorah wrote to Markey “fully acknowledging the horror of child sexual abuse and the devastating long-term scars it all too often creates. Our rabbinic and lay leadership is acutely aware of the emotional trauma and damage caused by the perpetrators of such abuse. We are committed as a community to do whatever we can to institute preventative measures designed to prevent child abuse, to root out perpetrators of child abuse from our schools and other communal institutions, and to help victims on the road to healing and recovery.”
As the measure relates to eliminating the statute of limitations and allows for civil penalties against a private religious institution in perpetuity, Agudath Israel parts company with the sponsors of the legislation.
“This legislation could literally destroy schools, houses of worship that sponsor youth programs, summer camps and other institutions that are the very lifeblood of communities like ours…” wrote Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel. “This bill would allow lawsuits only against private organizations but not against public schools and other public institutions. There is something very wrong with that dichotomy. Simply stated, as currently worded, this bill could subject schools and other vital institutional in communities like ours to ancient claims and litigation and place their very existence in severe jeopardy.”
Waks, however, said the groups are “putting their interest and the interest of their institutions above the interests of the victims and that’s what I said earlier and its time that we put the interests and well-being of victims and survivors and their families ahead of the interests and the well-being of the perpetrators and their enablers.”
Despite the opposition, the 74-year-old Markey vows not to leave office without the bill being passed by both houses and signed into law. The bill is currently being held in Assembly and Senate Codes committees.
Corruption Update: Calls For Pension Forfeiture
Three former top lawmakers were sentenced this month after being convicted on federal corruption charges. It seems good government groups are more upset about this rash of misdeeds than the public, even though since 2000 there have been 17 senators and 27 assembly members who have left office after facing a judge and being convicted on a raft of charges including conspiracy, extortion, solicitation of bribes, embezzlement, obstruction of justice, making false statements, bribery, fraud, lying to federal agents during a corruption investigation, felony tax evasion, money laundering, election irregularities, per diem travel voucher scam, using campaign funds for personal expenses, sexual harassment of legislative employees, groping, intimidating, and manipulating young female staffers.
Good government groups such as the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), Common Cause, Reinvent Albany, Citizens Action and the League of Women Voters want lawmakers to pass an ethics reform package with preventative measures discouraging legislative corruption, such as loss of pensions for convicted former officeholders.
“We agree that the judges should have the power to yank the pensions [for state lawmakers],” declared Blair Horner, executive director of NYPIRG. “I would think perfecting my hedge clipping skills wearing an orange jumpsuit would be a far more scary prospect than losing my pension. Going to prison, hanging out in the slammer, being in the pokey, however you want to put it, should be the deterrent as compared to losing the pension. Given the historic nature of the incredible levels of corruption and scandal that engulfed the state Capitol, for the only response to be taking away someone’s pension, that’s not good enough.”Marc Gronich