Rabbi Blau on Why the SOL Should Be Extended

Text of Statement to Hearings of the New York State Assembly, Committee on Sexual Abuse, March 8, 2013 by Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani (spiritual adviser) at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) of Yeshiva University. The Committee hearing were devoted to the Child Sex Abuse Act (CSA) to extend the Statute of Limitations for filing criminal and civil cases beyond the current limit of age 23. The CSA is also know as the Markey Bill after its sponsor, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey. 

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak on behalf of survivors of abuse who suffer from the present statute of limitation; this statute prevents them from starting criminal and civil proceedings against their abuser and those who covered up and protected him.

My name is Rabbi Yosef Blau. For more than two decades I have been supporting and advocating for survivors of abuse, particularly within the Orthodox Jewish community.  During these years my understanding of the trauma and its ongoing consequences has grown from conversations with the survivors and reading the literature.  Most of the people who have contacted me are adults who are first confronting abuse that occurred during their childhood.

Twenty three and a half years ago I was part of a rabbinical court that dealt with an accusation of slander.  A young man accused a rabbi, who worked as an educator and youth leader, of sexually abusing teenagers; that rabbi sued the young man.  Naively we restricted testimony to events that had taken place during the last ten years.  Few victims came forward and they found it difficult to testify.  Soon after, I received a number of letters from survivors clearly describing acts of abuse done to them by this rabbi fifteen and twenty years earlier.  Only as adults, having had extensive therapy and in many cases a supportive spouse, were they able to openly confront their abuser.  When they were adolescents he seemed all-powerful.

When the abuser was a member of the immediate family, the victim often had no support.  The rest of the family did not want to hear the child; instead, the relatives wanted to protect the family’s image and reputation.  When the victims approached teachers and rabbis, they were told that it was in their best interest to remain silent.  Now, as suffering adults, the law has silenced them again.

Serial abusers tend to work in frameworks which give them access to children.  The organizations that employ them are primarily concerned with protecting the institution’s reputation.  This tragically trumps concern for victims.  Only when schools, youth movements, and religious bodies understand that there are consequences for their inaction, will they begin to take responsibility.

The overwhelming majority of survivors of sexual abuse that I have met are not interested in money.  They are looking for a sincere apology and commitment to change.  However, the only tool that they have is the threat to sue.  The present statute of limitations deprives them of any way to combat powerful institutions.

Adopting the Markey bill will transform the situation; it will give hope to those who have been victimized, and will reduce the number of acts of abuse in the future.