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.