Penalties for Failure to Report Child Abuse -Maryland (and Wyoming)

LM is reposting the following article written by Joel Avrunin. The Avrunin family has been sued for defamation in conjunction with a report of abuse made by their son. They are currently litigating the matter in Federal Court. 

LM has been, for obvious reasons, following the Avrunin defamation case for some time; but has not posted anything about the lawsuit. There is most certainly a chilling effect on litigation.

We are reposting without permission of the author and, as always, will take down anything deemed to be a violation of copyright or inaccurate. Alternatively, we will correct any information if we become aware of inaccuracies or have some reason to believe that information we have been provided is faulty.  

Maryland Finally Enacts Penalties for Failure to Report Child Abuse

On April 18, 2019, Maryland took a big step towards protecting children when Governor Hogan signed a law creating criminal penalties for a mandated reporter who fails to report child sexual abuse. Mandatory reporting laws date back to the Child Abuse and Treatment Act (CAPTA) of 1974, and require certain people with knowledge of child abuse to report it to authorities. Until this 2019 legislation, Maryland was one of only two US states (the other being Wyoming) to have mandated reporting on the books, but have no criminal penalty failing to report child abuse. Imagine lowering the speed limit to save lives, but then having no tickets for speeding. A law with no penalty is no law at all. While past failure to report could result in civil liability for the person not reporting abuse immediately, Maryland House Bill 787 establishes criminal penalties. Versions of this bill have been proposed in Maryland for over 15 years, so the passage is a cause for celebration.

After my family was victimized in the state of Maryland by a member of the clergy, I learned that Maryland has some of the worst protections for sexual abuse survivors in the United States. Maryland police regularly ignore reports of rape, closing them as “unfounded” at nearly twice the rate in other states. When a victim pushes their case, police in Maryland force victims to sign waivers or recant entirely. And when a victim has the nerve to question the police, Maryland state attorneys are alleged to get aggressive not with sex abusers, but with abuse victims. Maryland also lacks strong anti-SLAPP laws to protect those who report abuse from being sued for defamation by their abusers. Even teachers indicated by CPS for abuse (but not prosecuted) get transferred from school to school, and only in 2018 did Maryland’s largest school system complete CPS background checks of teachers. If you like the beach, you move to Florida. If you like to ski, you move to Colorado.  Maryland’s legal environment makes it a sandy beach (or a powdery ski slope) for those who like to sexually abuse children. 

In fact, Maryland Delegate C.T. Wilson noted that Catholic priests seeking to escape punishment for abuse in Pennsylvania have been relocating to Maryland. Wilson plainly stated, “Maryland was a repository for bad actors because we had soft laws.”

The first big recent change to Maryland’s hostile environment to victims came in 2017 when Wilson sponsored a bill to expand the civil statute of limitations window from 25 to 38, understanding that it can take decades for abuse survivors to come forward. With a criminal justice system easy on sexual abuse, expanding the civil window is the next best step for victims to obtain justice.

The next big change came in 2018 when I had the honor and privilege to provide testimony to Annapolis in support of the Repeat Sexual Predator Prevention Act, being championed by Baltimore City States Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Prior to this act, in the rare circumstance police investigated sex crimes, and in the rarer circumstance charges were filed, the rules of evidence in Maryland prevented prosecutors from introducing evidence of other sexual crimes. Maryland’s rules prevented the introduction of patterns of sexually abusive behavior as evidence (including multiple victims). The 2018 law had languished in committee for years, being opposed by Jewish leadership, Catholic leadership, and criminal defense attorneys. Once it got out of committee, it passed, and Maryland took another big step towards protecting children and other victims of sexual abuse. However, the accompanying bill to establish criminal penalties for not reporting child abuse did not make it to a vote in 2018.

In 2019 Maryland took the next big step in victim protection, when the criminal penalties not only got a vote, but were signed into law.  I cannot find another article celebrating Governor Hogan signing this bill, and it is quite important in the battle to improve the law and make sure no other family goes through what my family has endured.

Maryland’s failure to report law previously did not address penalties for violations, only penalties for interfering in a report.  Maryland Family Law § 5-705.2 stated:

An individual may not intentionally prevent or interfere with the making of a report of suspected abuse or neglect as required by law. A person who violates this section is guilty of a misdemeanor and, on conviction, is subject to imprisonment not exceeding 5 years or a fine not exceeding $10,000 or both.

No penalty was established for those who delayed reporting or failed to report altogether. Even Maryland legislators had no idea the gaping hole in their own law. Maryland Senator Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) said,

I was shocked. I didn’t realize that we were only one of two [states without penalties for failure to report]

The new law faced opposition from those who thought the punishment was draconian, and that taking away professional licensing was punishment enough for failure to report. In fact, Del Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery) reportedly said that since the 2015 license revocation law hadn’t been used, they shouldn’t pass more laws. Arguments like these, combined with opposition from the Jewish and Catholic lobbies kept this bill languishing in committee.

The new law modifies Section 5-704 of the Maryland Code of Family law where mandated reporters are defined by adding the following language:

(B) A PERSON WHO VIOLATES THIS SECTION IS GUILTY OF A MISDEMEANOR AND ON CONVICTION IS SUBJECT TO A FINE NOT EXCEEDING $10,000 OR IMPRISONMENT NOT EXCEEDING 3 YEARS OR BOTH.

While this law alone does not solve the sexual assault investigation and prosecution gap in Maryland, it does provide a tool for more progressive prosecutors to begin unraveling this crime.

Unfortunately loopholes still exist. Maryland Code of Family Law Section 5-704 defines mandatory reporters as:

…health practitioner, police officer, educator, or human service worker, acting in a professional capacity

But Maryland Code of Family Law Section 5-705 provides an exemption from these laws from clergy if they are:

bound to maintain the confidentiality of that communication under canon law, church doctrine, or practice

Unfortunately, the clergy exemption is still too prevalent in many states. Maryland law does not clearly differentiate between a Rabbi operating within confidential canon law/rabbinic doctrine, and a Rabbi who is working as a teacher, a school principal, a camp director, or a medical doctor. The largest Jewish community in Maryland mostly follows the rulings of the Agudath Israel of America, who requires rabbinic approval prior to reporting abuse. One of the largest religious schools specifically brings questions to Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky who also requires Rabbinic screening of child abuse prior to reporting. Rabbis in Maryland trained at the local Ner Israel rabbinic college advise that when there is an indication of abuse, people should

Call CHANA [our religiously directed private community organization], and together with their guidance and support, they will help you navigate if and when to involve the police, CPS, or whatever may be most appropriate.

Should a school principal, teacher, or healthcare worker be charged under the new mandatory reporting law, the vague wording will put prosecutors and judges in the uncomfortable situation of litigating the intricacies of Jewish law (halacha). Will the rabbis who delay reporting abuse while they run internal investigations be able to claim their behavior is in keeping with canon Orthodox Jewish law? What makes a person a Rabbi? In the ultra-Orthodox world, often a formal ordination (smicha) process is not required, merely a letter from a school principal (Rosh Yeshiva) calling a student a Rabbi. Could a school teacher charged under the new law get a last minute smicha exempting him from the law?

Catholic opposition to clergy reporting is actually starting to abate, led by new initiatives. It certainly helps that prosecutors in Maryland have started to look through files of the archdiocese of Baltimore. As of today, the most vocal opponents of mandatory clergy reporting are not Catholic but Jewish. In response to mandatory clergy reporting laws being debated in neighboring Washington DC and Virginia, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld provided what I would term a strawman argument as he commented:

Turning clergy into policemen is very dangerous…….If we try to hurt how religious societies function, it will hurt children

Ron Halber of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington offered tepid support to clergy reporting, but then walked it back with the caveat:

In some traditions there are privileged communications that take place between religious authorities and parishioners. We want to make sure there’s nothing blocking free exercise

It is ironic that prosecutors in Maryland are investigating the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, but have made no public inquiries into the Jewish Archdiocese (known as the Vaad of Baltimore and Vaad of Greater Washington). A push for mandatory clergy reporting in Maryland as is currently under debate in DC and Virginia would be a great first step.

The problem is that Maryland Code Sections 5-704 and Sections 5-705 are in conflict due to the vague language. The legislature could fix this in at least two ways. First, narrow the legal definition of clergy-communicant privilege by defining who can claim the religious exemption and when. A Priest must have a church, and a Rabbi must have a synagogue. The disclosure must be in a recognized protected conversation. Right now the law fails to clearly differentiate abuse learned through spiritual privilege, and abuse heard through other means, such as while playing a game of basketball. The aforementioned Jewish community group that reportedly chooses which cases to report to police will sometimes refer abuse victims to a Rabbi for therapy. Is that Rabbi required to report child abuse he learns about because he is a therapist, or is he exempt from reporting because he is a Rabbi? The law does not make it clear.

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The Child Victims Act Means Suits Against MTA (Yeshiva) Can Move Forward – It’s Time for Victims to Get Justice…

New Law in NY Allows Abuse Case Against MTA to Move Forward

In 2013, 34 former students of Yeshiva University’s high school for boys, Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy (MTA), sued the yeshiva alleging they were sexually abused over three decades by two rabbis and other school staff. In 2014, the case was dismissed by a New York District Court judge who cited an expired statute of limitations.

In February, 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Child Victims Act (CVA), which changed the statute of limitations on criminal charges and civil lawsuits involving children. It opened a one-year window, which began on August 14, for new lawsuits to be filed on old cases, allowing adult survivors of child sex abuse to seek restitution. The CVA gave these alumni the opportunity to have their case heard, and they filed suit once again, joined by several other men, totalling 38 current plaintiffs.

The lawsuit alleges the plaintiffs were victims of child sex abuse perpetrated by Rabbis George Finkelstein and Macy Gordon, and three unnamed individuals at MTA, over a 30-year period from the 1950s to the ’80s. Rabbi Gordon is now deceased and Rabbi Finkelstein lives in Israel.

Jay Goldberg, a 53-year-old software developer who lives in West Orange, has joined the lawsuit alleging that he was a victim of abuse at the hands of Rabbi Finkelstein while a student at MTA in the early 1980s. Goldberg’s goal, he said in an interview with The Jewish Link, is “to help the people who aren’t ready to get help, who have been abused and are stuck in a situation where they feel they can’t do anything.”

“If anything comes out of this, I would like it to be if only one, 10, 100 victims who wouldn’t have felt comfortable getting help, will get help. It is not about rehashing the facts, it’s about helping others in similar situations get the help they need.”

He stated emphatically that he does not want to be suing Yeshiva University. “I am not out to destroy YU,” he added.

According to Goldberg, it is not the facts of the case that are in question. “The only issue in question is ‘Are they responsible for what happened 30 years ago?’” he noted. The current law in New York seems to answer that question in the affirmative.

Goldberg’s hope is that this lawsuit will help to end the stigma of child sex abuse for survivors. He feels that most people do not know how to deal with abuse victims.

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Political Ambitions, Mesira, Lack of Education – a Culture of Sexual Abuse in Orthodox Judaism- How Many Victims?

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Secrets and Lies

Sexual abuse in the world of Orthodox Judaism

In 1973, when Barry Singer was a fifteen-year-old student at New York’s Yeshiva University High School for Boys, the vice principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, stopped him in a stairwell. Claiming he wanted to check his tzitzit—the strings attached to Singer’s prayer shawl—Finkelstein, Singer says, pushed the boy over the third-floor banister, in full view of his classmates, and reached down his pants. “If he’s not wearing tzitzit,” Finkelstein told the surrounding children, “he’s going over the stairs!”

“He played it as a joke, but I was completely at his mercy,” Singer recalled. For the rest of his time at Yeshiva, Singer would often wear his tzitzit on the outside of his shirt—though this was regarded as rebellious—for fear that Finkelstein might find an excuse to assault him again.

Jay Goldberg, who attended Yeshiva from 1980 to 1984, says that he endured years of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse from Finkelstein. The rabbi, he said, forced him and others to wrestle with him while he became sexually aroused, and demanded that they hit him repeatedly. Neither Goldberg nor Singer ever reported Finkelstein’s behavior to the school; when one student, identified in a future lawsuit as John Doe 14, finally did, in 1986, Finkelstein allegedly pulled him out of class in a rage, shoved him against a wall, punched him, and threatened him with expulsion. The school took no action during those years other than removing Finkelstein’s office door. In 1991, he was promoted to principal.

During those same decades, another Yeshiva rabbi, Macy Gordon, was also reportedly sexually abusing students. One accuser, identified in the lawsuit as John Doe 2, claims that Gordon sodomized him in his dorm room in 1980. The rabbi “said he was going to punish me for missing class,” the accuser told me. “He laid me across his lap and took my toothbrush and plowed it in and out of my rectum, and it burned. I remember it burned for a very long time after. I can’t go back in time and tell you what I was thinking, but I can only tell you that it lasts forever.” He told me that Gordon also sprayed Chloraseptic on his genitals, remarking that he showed “signs,” by which Gordon meant signs of puberty. Later that year, John Doe 2 tried to kill himself.

In total, Finkelstein and Gordon are suspected of hundreds of acts of sexual abuse at Yeshiva, though they never faced any legal repercussions. Finkelstein was discreetly forced out of Yeshiva in 1995 but quickly found work as the dean of a Jewish day school in Florida and later as the director general of the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, although allegations of abuse followed him to each of these new positions.

Gordon, for his part, enjoyed a thirty-plus-year career at Yeshiva. He also eventually moved to Jerusalem, where, according to the New York Times, he served alongside Finkelstein on the advisory board of the National Council of Young Israel, an organization promoting Orthodox Judaism to liberal American Jews. (The current president of the organization claims that neither rabbi had been involved with the group “to my knowledge.”) In 2002, Dr. Jonathan Zizmor—a celebrity dermatologist whose advertisements were a staple of New York City subway cars for decades—set up a $250,000 scholarship fund in Gordon’s name for future generations of Yeshiva students. (Zizmor claims he knew nothing of the abuse at the time, and when allegations surfaced, he maintained that Gordon was “a great teacher, a great man.”)

In 2013, thirty-four of Finkelstein’s and Gordon’s victims—including Singer, Goldberg, John Doe 14, and John Doe 2—filed a $680 million lawsuit against Yeshiva, alleging that sexual misconduct occurred for decades with the knowledge of the administration and without recourse for victims or punishment for the perpetrators. But by the time the suit was filed, the statute of limitations had expired, and the case was dismissed.

This past February, however, the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, signed the Child Victims Act (C.V.A.), which modifies the state’s statute of limitations such that many cases previously dismissed because of the length of time since the alleged crime can now be relitigated. As of this writing, attorneys for the former Yeshiva students—now numbering forty-one—planned to refile the lawsuit with new evidence on August 14, the day the law was scheduled to go into effect. Their hope, one of the attorneys, Michael Dowd, told me, is for Yeshiva to “finally be held accountable for their craven, repugnant, and unconscionable behavior in letting known sexual predators have unfettered access to scores of innocent and unsuspecting boys.” But even if they succeed, it’s far from certain whether the C.V.A. will be able to fundamentally change the culture of secrets and lies that has given rise to scandals such as the one at Yeshiva in the first place.

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Jewish Organizations and the Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse, Victims Should be ENCOURAGED to Come Forward

Team USA volleyball player Sarah Powers-Barnhard speaks in support of the Child Victims Act on March 14, 2018 at the New York State Capitol in Albany, New York.  Getty Images

Through ‘Lookback Window,’ Jewish Orgs Face Retribution for Child Sex Abuse

As child abuse cases against yeshivas mount following a one-year lookback provision, questions turn to legal strategy. Are their fears of bankruptcy warranted?

When a one-year lookback provision created by New York’s new Child Victims Act opened last month — temporarily lifting the statute of limitations on civil child sex abuse cases and allowing survivors of any age to pursue justice through the courts — youth-serving institutions across the state braced for legal fire.

Now, just weeks after the lookback clause went into effect, Jewish institutions across the denominational spectrum are facing legal retribution for allegedly mishandling allegations of child sexual abuse, with claims reaching as far back as the 1950s. In the handful of cases filed thus far, prominent defendants include the National Ramah Commission, the Conservative movement’s camping arm; the Conservative movement’s flagship rabbinical school, Jewish Theological Seminary; Modern Orthodoxy’s flagship institution, Yeshiva University; prominent Modern Orthodox day school Salanter Akiba Riverdale High School (SAR); prominent Modern Orthodox day school Westchester Day School; Yeshiva Torah Temimah, a Brooklyn-based ultra-Orthodox school with a branch in Lakewood N.J.; Oholei Torah, a prominent Chabad yeshiva in Brooklyn; and Temple Beth Zion, a legacy Reform congregation in Buffalo.

Claims leveled against these institutions include negligence in stopping or preventing sexual abuse; breach of fiduciary duties; and the intentional infliction of emotional distress against survivors of childhood sex abuse. Though details among the cases vary, leadership across institutions are alleged to have known about predatory behaviors and failed to act; helped alleged abusers gain entry to other youth-serving institutions; and engaged in intimidation tactics to prevent victims from coming forward.

Yeshiva Torah Temimah, an all-boys charedi school based in Brooklyn, faces a new lawsuit for covering up the alleged sexual abuse perpetrated by Rabbi Yehuda Kolko, who taught at the school from the 1960s throughout the ’80s. Four ex-students previously sued the school, charging Kolko molested them from ages 11 to 13; at the time, the state court tossed the cases after determining claims fell outside the statute of limitations then in place.

(L-R) Barry Singer, Jay Goldberg, David Bressler three of the plaintiffs in the suit against Yeshiva University at a recent press conference announcing their suit against YU. Hannah Dreyfus/JW

(Previously, the school agreed to pay an unprecedented $2.1 million to two former students who accused Kolko of sexually assaulting them. Details of the secret settlements emerged in 2016 when the school failed to make payments. The case marked the first time a New York yeshiva paid off alleged victims of sex abuse, experts said. Kolko, now 72, received a controversial plea deal from then-Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes in May 2012 after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor counts of child endangerment; he did not have to serve jail time or register as a sex-offender.)

Now, the case is being revived under the Child Victims Act. Alleged victim Baruch Sandhaus filed a complaint in Brooklyn Supreme Court last month, alleging that Kolko and another rabbi on staff “would inappropriately touch” his private parts on various occasions between 1978 and 1980, when he was a student at Torah Temimah.

Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesperson for the yeshiva, said the alleged events occurred “40 years ago” and so have no connection to the current administration.

“Why would a new administration know anything about what took place decades ago?” he told The Jewish Week in a phone conversation. “It’s not going on today.” The school, he said, is “financially capable of dealing with a lawsuit” and will “continue to function and turn out Torah-trained young people.”

Sheinkopf referred to the new roster of lawsuits — including the revived case against Torah Temimah — as “a trial lawyer game to make a lot of money.”

As cases begin to play out — a process that could take years — precedents set in other states that have adopted similar lookback provisions might provide a blueprint for what institutions, and survivors, might expect, lawyers say.

“So far, every religious institution I’ve sued has told its constituents that lawsuits would lead to bankruptcies,” said Patrick Noaker, the attorney representing plaintiffs in a new lawsuit filed last week in Kings County Supreme Court against the Chabad boys yeshiva, Oholei Torah.

Yeshiva Torah Temima in Brooklyn, NY. Wikimedia Commons/Jim.henderson

Noaker said the passage of the Child Victims Act won’t make it any easier for alleged victims to win cases. “Sometimes the time that has passed can make it hard to find witnesses and evidence that the school knew or should have known that children were in danger. We also have to prove damages,” he said. “The only thing the Child Victims Act does is open the court room doors. We still have to prove our case like any other,” he said.

“The only thing the Child Victims Act does is open the court room doors. We still have to prove our case like any other.

In February, shortly after the Child Victims Act bill passed, Agudath Israel of America — a large charedi umbrella group that long advocated against the bill alongside the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts of America — issued a statement warning its constituents that the look-back provision “could literally destroy schools, houses of worship that sponsor youth programs, summer camps and other institutions that are the very lifeblood of our community.”

Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel, told The Jewish Week this week that “the fears certainly continue,” though he was not aware of how many suits had been filed against yeshivas.

For Noaker, a Minneapolis-based lawyer who represented plaintiffs in a host of lawsuits against Catholic dioceses in Minnesota after the state passed a three-year lookback window in 2018, the line is familiar.

The argument is straight-up manipulation.

“The Catholics said lawsuits would shut down hospitals and homeless shelters — it never happened,” said Noaker. “The argument is straight-up manipulation.”

Though several of the cases he litigated did contribute to dioceses in Minnesota filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in order to settle hundreds of claims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests, not one diocese ceased to function because of the financial decision.

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More on the Child Victims Act here.

Child Victims Act Look-back Window in Second Month – Now is Your Chance to Get Closure, Restitution, Understanding..

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38 Ex-Students Accuse Orthodox Rabbis of Sexual Abuse at Yeshiva University High School in New York

(NEW YORK) — Thirty-eight former students of an Orthodox Jewish school in New York City operated by Yeshiva University sued Thursday over claims they were molested by two prominent rabbis in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. The suit alleged the university failed to protect students at Yeshiva University High School for Boys and even promoted one of the rabbis to principal after receiving abuse reports.

A Yeshiva University spokesperson declined to comment, citing a school policy against speaking publicly about litigation.

The lawsuit is one of hundreds that have been filed over child sexual abuse allegations since last week, when New York state opened a one-year window for suits previously barred by the state’s statute of limitations.

During a press conference Thursday, three of the alleged victims, flanked by their lawyers, spoke about disturbing behavior they say went on for decades. “I didn’t even understand at the time that this was sexual abuse; I just knew that this guy was putting his hands all over me,” said Barry Singer, 61, speaking of one of the rabbis he said kept reaching into the boy’s pants, even in school hallways.

The Associated Press doesn’t typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual abuse unless they choose to be named.

One of the accused rabbis, Macy Gordon, died recently in Israel. The other, George Finkelstein, has denied the allegations.

Finkelstein was promoted from the school’s assistant principal to principal even after some of the boys’ parents reported the alleged abuse to school officials, the plaintiffs said. He also eventually moved to Israel, where he worked at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue. Calls to the synagogue rang unanswered Thursday.

Thirty-four of the plaintiffs attempted to sue Yeshiva University for sexual abuse and facilitating sexual abuse in 2013 but the case went nowhere, because it was barred by the statute of limitations at the time.

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To the Victims of Child Sexual Abuse in NY, SEIZE THE DAY, You Have a Year to Have Your Voices Heard!

For Abuse Survivors, A New Shot At Justice

As ‘look-back’ window opens, a sense of disbelief and gratitude.

Hannah Dreyfus
Child victims and advocates during the debate in Albany in the run-up to a vote on the Child Victims Act.  Courtesy of Asher Lovy

Child victims and advocates during the debate in Albany in the run-up to a vote on the Child Victims Act. Courtesy of Asher Lovy

An earlier version of this article appeared here. It has been updated below with additional reporting.

Mordechai Twersky, one of the plaintiffs in a 2013 lawsuit against Yeshiva University accusing administrators and teachers of a decades-long cover-up of physical and sexual abuse at its affiliated high school, said the flagship Modern Orthodox institution “left us for dead” after a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the suit.

Citing federal and state statutes of limitations, which had expired, the judge wrote in a decision handed down on Jan. 30, 2014, “No exceptions apply.”

As of last week, that is no longer the case.

Six months after the Child Victims Act was signed into law on Feb. 14, extending the statute of limitations for reporting sex abuse and filing lawsuits, last Wednesday marked the start of a one-year litigation window in New York allowing people to file civil lawsuits that had previously been barred by the state’s statute of limitations.

As New York courts gird for an onslaught of filings — with thousands of lawsuits expected to be filed against the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America and other entities in the coming days and weeks — those who say they are survivors of childhood sexual assault at Jewish institutions anticipate their day in court with a combination of disbelief and gratitude.

“It’s been a 38-year ordeal and counting,” said Twersky, who was among 19 former students of Y.U.’s boys’ high school, Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy (MTA), who sued the school for $380 million. Twersky said the alleged abuse against him occurred in the spring and summer of 1980. In 2014, Y.U. said in press reports that it would not comment on ongoing litigation.

Now, Kevin Mulhearn, a lawyer representing the victims, is expected to file on behalf of 40 plaintiffs against Y.U. in the coming weeks, The Jewish Week has learned.

“For decades, our clients have been denied justice, or even the opportunity to hope for justice, against Y.U.,” said Mulhearn. “The Child Victims Act will hold the complicit to account.”

A Y.U. spokesperson said last week, “Unfortunately we can’t comment at this time.”

“Somehow, I feel emboldened,” said Twersky, who said he was inspired to recite the traditional “Shehecheyahnu” blessing on the day the look-back window opened, a prayer generally reserved for momentous occasions and holidays.

“The one-year look-back window has breathed new life into our fight, and we’ll soon have our day in court.”

Twersky and other Yeshiva University plaintiffs are far from the only ones seeking redress against major Jewish institutions.

Two men who originally brought a lawsuit against the National Ramah Commission in 2016, alleging that they were sexually molested in 1971 by a counselor-in-training at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, plan to refile the suit in the coming days, one of the plaintiffs, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Jewish Week. The case was originally dismissed in September 2018 after a judge ruled that the statute of limitations had expired on the claims of sexual abuse.

“When you’re a 12-year-old kid, you’re a victim, but you don’t have the power to do something to save yourself or prevent it,” said the plaintiff, who says he was molested by the counselor, despite camp leadership knowing about the problematic behavior and failing to act. “That’s one of the shameful things I’ve carried throughout my life: why couldn’t I have stopped it?”

Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, director of the National Ramah Commission, responded: “Our hearts go out to anyone who may have been abused as a child. Although it is our policy not to comment on any potential litigation, we reaffirm that child safety is the highest priority at all Ramah camps.”

Advocates for alleged victims of child sexual abuse in the Jewish community have employed different strategies in responding to the new Child Victims Act.

Asher Lovy, the director of community organizing for Za’akah, an organization that advocates for survivors of child sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community, said he has done “everything in my power” to educate survivors about their new legal options.

“Our role has been trying to raise public awareness,” said Lovy, who has been at the forefront of lobbying for the Child Victims Act since 2016. Since the bill passed, the organization’s call volume has been “significantly up” and Za’akah has successfully organized a series of panels, webinars and presentations on the expanded options under the new law.

Still, the organization has had a “very difficult time” fundraising for advertisements that would run in Orthodox media outlets and inform survivors of their legal options, said Lovy.

“This is one of the things that marred the celebrations for me,” he said. While secular victim-service organizations have gone to great lengths to “get the word out” — including a video billboard in Times Square sponsored by the victim-service organization, Safe Horizon — efforts within the Jewish community have fallen short, he said.

According to Zvi Gluck, director and founder of Amudim, one of the largest victim-service organizations in the Orthodox world, with an annual operating budget of $7 million, efforts not to publicize the one-year look-back provision and extended statute of limitations for civil suits were intentional, based on the organization’s prerogatives.

Gluck said the organization chose not to speak out publicly because he did not want to “risk causing secondary trauma for survivors.

“If we publicized these new legal options and survivors chose to bring their cases back to court only for those cases to be dismissed, we could cause even more trauma for survivors,” he continued.

Gluck said that if the new Child Victims Act had been in effect since his organization was founded in 2014, 37 percent of its clients would have been able to file criminal complaints against alleged perpetrators. “The issue boils down to a lot of people were first reaching out to us for help when it was too late.”

Citing that his organization prefers to work “within the community,” as opposed to mounting a public ad campaign, Gluck said Amudim caseworkers have “privately” reached out to about 1,300 Amudim clients via phone calls to let them know about expanded legal options under the new law. He said caseworkers referred clients to legal resources, including Indianapolis-based attorney Jon Little, who previously pursued cases against the U.S. Olympic sports’ governing bodies on behalf of athletes who claim they had been molested by coaches.

Reached by The Jewish Week, Little said that to date, no clients have been referred to him through Amudim, and that he was not familiar with the organization. “My staff would welcome their calls,” he said. (The other firm Gluck said his caseworkers have been referring clients to is the Boca Raton, Fla.-based Herman Law, which has not yet responded to a request for comment).

Mike Reck, a trial attorney who specializes in sexual abuse litigation, said Gluck’s concern about causing secondary trauma for survivors if a case is dismissed is “outlandish, dangerous, unconstitutional and flies in the face of children protection in the modern age.

The possibility for a survivor to have their day in court validates what they went through, regardless of the outcome,” said Reck, who has represented hundreds of survivors of sexual abuse in cases against the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts, camps, private schools and other institutions. In the past, he has represented a handful of Jewish clients, though he recalled being “chased out of the community” when he met with potential plaintiffs from the charedi enclave of New Square, in Rockland County, three years ago.

“These Jewish communities are so insular,” said Reck, who said he is currently representing “less than a dozen” Orthodox survivors of sexual abuse, compared to 450 cases he will be filing against the Catholic Church in the coming weeks. His current caseload includes cases against Ramaz High School and Yeshiva University, he said.

Reck attributed the disparity between Orthodox survivors and Catholic survivors willing to pursue legal recourse to a “lack of education” in Orthodox communities. “People are not aware of the Child Victims Act — there is a need for public outreach there,” he said.

After the Child Victims Act was signed into law, ultra-Orthodox umbrella groups expressed fears that the look-back provision and extended statute of limitations could wreak havoc on Jewish schools, camps and other institutions.

Agudath Israel, the ultra-Orthodox umbrella group that lobbied against the passage of the Child Victims Act for years alongside the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America, issued a statement shortly after the bill’s passage warning that the one-year look-back window “could literally destroy schools, houses of worship that sponsor youth programs, summer camps and other institutions that are the very lifeblood of our community.”

Orthodox leaders, including Agudath Israel’s director of public affairs, Rabbi Avi Shafrantold The Jewish Week that “fears” of a barrage of potentially crippling lawsuits from alleged victims of child sexual abuse against yeshivas and camps “are real.”

“The statements and op-eds and hand-wringing about yeshivas going bankrupt is really a coded message about religious beliefs,” said Marci Hamilton, founder and CEO of Child USA, a nonprofit that works to prevent child abuse, shortly after the act’s passage. “That message is meant for victims within their own community: Don’t tell outsiders about the bad behavior that has taken place in our organizations.”

For Yeshiva University plaintiff Twersky, now 55, the desire for justice has not waned over time.

“Quite to the contrary, my anger has only intensified with the indifference and contempt that Yeshiva has displayed toward our group of survivors in the face of our pain and suffering. It is the ultimate betrayal,” he told The Jewish Week.

The look-back window is an “opportunity for survivors to have their day in court and attain a semblance of justice,” he said. “Seize the moment.”

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