NY Child Victim Act Amended to Include Public InstitutionsPosted by
Thursday, June 04, 2009 9:53 AM EST
In a surprising move, NY state Rep. Margaret Markey has announced that she'll offer an amendment to her Child Victim Act bill to include public institutions as well.
The Child Victim Act is designed to give a voice to those who've suffered childhood sexual abuse but had no legal recourse due to the statute of limitations. The amendment will remove the sole objection the Catholic Church and other private institutions have had regarding the bill.
Now that the amendment has been offered, there should be no excuse whatsoever to oppose the legislation. Even NY Catholic Church officials were taken off guard by the announcement. A spokesperson for the NY State Catholic Conference told the NY Times, "This is not what we expected; this is something new.”
Sex Abuse Bill to Include Public Institutions, Too
Addressing complaints from Roman Catholic officials and others, the state assemblywoman sponsoring a bill to temporarily lift the statute of limitations on lawsuits alleging the sexual abuse of children said on Wednesday that she would amend her proposal to apply to public as well as private entities.
The change would give people who say they were abused in public schools, for example, the same opportunities to sue as those claiming abuse in religious or private schools.
The assemblywoman, Margaret M. Markey, a Queens Democrat, said fellow lawmakers supporting the bill, known as the Child Victim Act, had told her that their constituents’ most persistent reservations about it were based “on the idea that this was somehow unfair.”
“I think the vigorous debate we’ve had this year has made this a better bill,” she said in a statement.
The move seemed to surprise both advocates and opponents of the legislation, which has been the focus of a lobbying battle for months pitting advocates for protection against sex abuse of children, and their lawyers, against a coalition of religious organizations facing huge potential civil liabilities and some civil rights lawyers chary of compromising statutes of limitations.
Spokesmen for the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn, which have sent priests, youth groups and official delegates to Albany repeatedly in recent months to argue against Ms. Markey’s bill, said they had not seen the proposed amendment nor had an inkling it was coming.
Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm for the state’s Catholic prelates, echoed reaction from many on both sides, saying, “This is not what we expected; this is something new.”
Ms. Markey has championed the legislation for the past three sessions, but this is the first time it has stood a chance of passing.
While the bill itself did not create the inequity, it gave opponents a strong argument because it did not address a built-in protection that public agencies enjoy. The protection, which many states provide under the British common law tradition of “crown immunity,” limits the liability of public agencies by requiring anyone alleging harm to file notice of claim within 90 days.
Thus, a child abused by a teacher in a public school would have 90 days after turning 18 to file a claim. By contrast, under current law, a victim of abuse at a private or religious school can file a civil claim within five years after turning 18.
The Child Victim Act would extend that time limit to 10 years. More importantly, it would suspend the statute of limitations altogether for one year. A man of 50 who claimed he was sexually abused at age 10, for instance, would be able to file a civil suit during the one-year window.
But until Ms. Markey recast her bill on Wednesday, it did not apply to public institutions.
A competing bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez of Brooklyn and supported by Catholic officials, includes both the longer time limit for filing suit (to age 28) and a provision giving the same rights to victims in public settings, abolishing the 90-day rule where sex abuse is alleged. But it omits the one-year window for both classes of victims.
Advocates for sex abuse victims applauded the change in Ms. Markey’s bill. Although he had not seen the new language, Bob Kristan, spokesman for the New York Coalition to Protect Children, said the revision “sounds like it will help finding more predators, provide justice for more victims, and protect more children — and so we support it.”
Ron Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers in New York City schools, said the union “supports any reasonable measures that seek to protect children, so we are not opposed to this modification.”
Fresh opposition to the bill, however, may yet emerge. On Wednesday, few municipal officials had heard of the new version. But Robert N. Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, which represents about 700 superintendents, said that his group would now oppose the bill. The superintendents had previously taken no position on it.
“Statutes of limitations exist for a reason,” Mr. Lowry said. “We would have a concern about litigation arising that would be hard to respond to because witnesses could have disappeared or even died in years past.”
Religious institutions opposing the Child Victim Act, which is sponsored in the Senate by Thomas K. Duane of Manhattan, have argued that they would be bankrupted by a deluge of new lawsuits, and that the bill is inherently discriminatory.
When he introduced his competing measure, Assemblyman Lopez said he was motivated partly by a sense of its arbitrary unfairness — “where you can only get justice if you are abused in this building, but if you got hurt across the street, too bad.”
Mr. Lopez said on Wednesday that although he had not seen the revised version of the Markey bill, he was pleased it now included equity for sex abuse victims in public institutions.
But he will not drop his own bill, he said. “I’m still opposed to any legislation that lets you sue somebody for something that happened 40 years ago,” he said. “That’s crazy.”David W. Chen and Javier C. Hernandez contributed reporting.
Sex abuse victims lobby in ALBANY - Beth McCabe is a smiling 12-year-old with wavy dark hair in the photograph on display in the Legislative Office Building.
Albany for limitations bill
The former Lindenhurst resident is one of 18 adults who contributed childhood snaps to an exhibit aimed at winning support for temporarily lifting the
McCabe, now 60, said a visiting Catholic priest abused her between 1960 and 1963. "I'm here as proof that these things happen," she said. "And I support this bill because it provides a window where victims can come forward to expose predators who continue to abuse."
She and other participants in the photo exhibit spent much of Tuesday lobbying on behalf of the bill from Assemb. Margaret M. Markey (D-Maspeth).
The measure seeks to give abuse victims a one-year window to file suit in civil court regardless of how long ago the assault occurred. It also adds several years onto the current statute of limitations, which is five years after an accuser turns 18.
The bill previously was passed by the Assembly, only to die in the then-Republican-controlled State Senate.
A rival bill from Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) also extends the statute of limitations but doesn't provide for the one-year window on old cases.
The Diocese of
Margaret M. Markey
30th Assembly District Assemblywoman Markey Urges Support for “Child Victims Act of New York”
March 20, 2008
Assemblywoman Margaret Markey was featured speaker at the 2008 Legislative Breakfast of the New York State Coalition against Sexual Assault in
Speaking on a program with the coalition’s executive director, Jane McEwen, and board member Varrone Munger, Assemblywoman Markey told the audience that research shows that one in five children in
She described how her Assembly bill (A.4560-B) will provide greater justice for victims of childhood sexual abuse and help identify and stop sexual predators from continuing their abuse. With passage of her Assembly bill assured in 2008, she told Coalition members that to ensure that this legislation becomes law they need to reach out to their State Senators to urge that they support the companion bill in the Senate (S.4614-A).
Following are remarks by Assemblywoman Markey at the event:
Thank you for this opportunity to speak about my legislation. As all of you here this morning know sex crimes are among the most heinous and deeply disturbing in our society. This is particularly true when they are committed against children. At present, New York State law enables sexual predators to avoid the consequences of their crimes by unreasonably shielding them from criminal prosecution and civil action.
Our present law also enables abusers to continue their predatory actions and assault new victims. We in the Legislature recognized how important it is for victims of sexual assault to get justice for the heinous crimes committed against them.
My bill – A.4560B, the Child Victims Act of New York – will provide the opportunity for victims who were shut off from justice to receive their day in court. And – equally important – it will help identify and expose predators who will otherwise roam freely to repeat their abuse again and again.
My bill extends the
One other important provision of my bill – just like the ones that became law in
My legislation has been adopted by the Assembly three times and will be voted on again shortly.
Senator Stephen M. Saland is sponsor of the companion bill in the State Senate, 4614-A. Last year, his bill did not even come out of the Senate Codes Committee. To help ensure it is enacted in this session, we need the help of everybody in this room. We need you to reach out to your local Senator and urge him or her to support Senator Saland’s bill.
Assemblywoman Contact Information
Margaret M. Markey
30th Assembly District
DISTRICT OFFICE55-19 69th Street
Maspeth, NY 11378
Albany, NY 12248
Orthodox Video Silent on Reporting Sexual Abuse to Police
By Rebecca Dube
A government-funded video made by one of New York’s largest Orthodox social service agencies — touted as its guide for dealing with
Critics say the video raises questions about Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, which is heavily supported by taxpayers and deeply involved in the Brooklyn district attorney’s efforts surrounding child sexual abuse in ultra-traditional Orthodox Jewish communities. Some Orthodox leaders, those critics say, including those at Ohel, have tried wrongly to handle sexual abuse within the community, excluding secular law enforcement authorities — leading to abuse being covered up and cases of pedophiles remaining free to molest more children.
“The only way to begin dealing with this issue is to begin reporting any incidents of sexual abuse directly to the authorities,” said Lonnie Soury, spokesman for Survivors for Justice, a group of Orthodox sexual abuse survivors. “Any organization that advocates anything but that is doing so at the expense of children’s health.”
The Ohel DVD calls the phenomenon of child sexual abuse in the Jewish community a shande, meaning a scandal or shame, and urges victims and their families to seek counseling. It warns schools that they are responsible “to do everything, by all means,” about the abuse. And it instructs parents to “do whatever you can to make sure that your child is never put into that position again.”
“What we want to do is evoke action,” declares Ohel CEO David Mandel at the video’s conclusion.
But the word “police” is not spoken once during the 10-minute video, titled “Ignorance Is Not Bliss.” Nor is sexual abuse ever described as a criminal act. None of the speakers suggests calling 911, city or state
The Brooklyn-based Ohel, a leading
“This specific video, ‘Ignorance Is Not Bliss,’ which was produced some eight years ago, is not about the logistics of how to report, or who to report to,” said Ohel spokesman Derek Saker, who responded to questions from the Forward in an e-mail. “Rather it was developed as an educational and informational tool for the community, to raise awareness of such shocking abuse, communicate an understanding of what such abuse is, how it affects so many, and its consequences on victims and families.”
Mandel refers regularly to the DVD as a resource for people who want to know what to do about child sexual abuse; most recently, in a full-page advertisement published May 13 in The Jewish Week, the organization listed watching the video as a “practical suggestion” for community members who want to take action against abuse.
The video begins with testimony from survivors of child sexual abuse and the mothers of two victims, describing the devastating impact of the abuse. The presentation then segues into various community leaders explaining why it is important not to shame sexual abuse survivors but to bring their stories out into the light and stop sexual predators.
Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, a highly respected rosh yeshiva at the Talmudical Yeshiva of
But the video never specifies to whom the victims should reveal their stories, or what responsibility adults have to report suspected abuse to law enforcement authorities.
The mother of a 15-year-old boy who was molested, whose story is held up as an example, says that she told community members about the molestation because “I was not going to let this man get away with it.”
“I didn’t treat it like it’s a secret, because the molesters, this is what they thrive on,” she says. “They think everyone should just keep it a secret.”
The woman is not identified, and she’s filmed behind a screen to hide her face. She makes no mention of calling police, or sending the molester to prison — the only surefire way to stop a pedophile from victimizing more children.
Aaron Twerski, a professor at Brooklyn Law School and a national expert on tort law, says in the video, “Every case that exists is a tragedy, and the fact that one molester can affect so many people makes this a problem that we just can’t look away from.”
Twerski does not suggest any legal remedies to the problem.
Contacted by the Forward, Twerski said that reporting abuse to police is a complex issue that could not be fully raised in the 10-minute video.
“The focus of that video was to alert the community to the problem,” Twerski said. “It’s a complex question of who has to report, and who is a mandated reporter. I’m not sure we could do it in that video.”
While the legal intricacies around mandated reporting may indeed be complex, the moral obligation of ordinary citizens is clear, Soury said: Report suspected child sexual abuse to authorities.
“It’s like someone breaking into your house and hurting you — should that be handled in the community?” Soury said. “No, you call 911 when there’s a crime.”
Soury said that efforts to deal with pedophiles within the religious community have failed because rabbis, principals and other community leaders are not equipped to investigate, prosecute and punish serious crimes. “The community cannot handle it. The community is not law enforcement,” Soury said. “These are terrible crimes against children.”
This is not the first time a video has raised questions about Ohel’s commitment to reporting abuse. Mandel was videotaped speaking at a February 2008 workshop in
In a response to a question about a father molesting his child, Mandel said, “One of the ways we advise the family to handle this is — for the protection of the family and so that the case does not have to become reportable to authorities, which is a whole separate conversation — we strongly advise and sometimes make a statement that the father needs to leave the house, period.”
A video of his remarks was posted on YouTube by The Awareness Center, a Baltimore-based Jewish group fighting against child sexual abuse. At the end of Mandel’s remarks, an unidentified person in the audience shouts out, “What about calling Child Protection [a state agency]?” Mandel ignores the question.
Ohel’s response to
The “Ignorance Is Not Bliss” video was produced with a grant from the New York State Office of Mental Health. Spokeswoman Jill Daniels said the amount of monitoring by her agency varies when it funds projects such as Ohel’s, and that she didn’t know how involved the agency had been in the video’s production. Daniels did say her agency’s policy is that anyone who suspects child abuse of any kind should report it to authorities.
Earlier this year, Ohel was selected by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office as a partner in its Kol Tzedek hot line, which is aimed at encouraging Orthodox Jewish victims to report abuse to authorities. Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said he hadn’t seen the “Ignorance Is Not Bliss” video but said that District Attorney Charles Hynes has a good working relationship with Ohel.
“We encourage anyone with knowledge of a crime to call the police. That’s all I’ll say about that,” Schmetterer said.
One unusual aspect of Ohel’s video is that it features an interview with a confessed
“I’m only one person, but look at all the people I messed up,” the molester says.
The Forward asked Ohel’s Saker what happened to this pedophile and whether his abuse of numerous children in the Orthodox community was ever reported to police. Saker did not respond to the question.
Contact Rebecca Dube at firstname.lastname@example.org