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.

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4 thoughts on “Rabbi Blau on Why the SOL Should Be Extended

  1. Wow!! Powerful words by a great man.

    SOL’s are the subject of great debate with opponents claiming that a) the victim should have come forward sooner, and/or b) too much time has passed and the accused is unable to properly defend himself. In situations of sex abuse, both claims are inaccurate and dangerous. Self realization and desire to protect future harm are both mature concepts that often dont apply to young adults. Thus, seldomly do individuals below the age of 25 ever come forward. A profound and telling example of this is the Catholic Church cases in California. Abuse was going on for many many years before anyone ever came forward. By that time, almost every single case was beyond the SOL.

    In California, the SOL was changed to potentially allow reporting at any time, which would trigger a new SOL. (Further discussion for a different time). In Florida, they have completely removed any SOL for sex abuse. Meaning, the victim can come forward at any time and the police can investigate indefinitely. (As an aside, in most states, murder has NO statute of limitations, so that the police could potentially prosecute someone for a crime that occurred decades before. Moreoever, murder, inevitably has a greater concern regarding the loss of evidence than sexual abuse). Hopefully, and God-willing, the SOL in NY will change. It’s about time we protect victims at the expense of predators than vice versa.

  2. I agree – no SOL in connection with the sexual abuse of children. I’d say it might put the fear of G-d in these people but clearly that isn’t what they fear so let them fear the law for the rest of their lives, never knowing when a victim may come forward and never feeling safe except, I suppose, when the offenders would be expect to be prosecuted in Joe Hynes’ domain – though he may not survive the next election.

  3. Why is it that it is good to attack all sexual scandals except for the Lanner scandal?Yosef Blau knew about Lanner for eleven years. Yet,all we hear is about how great he is. Yerachmiel.Can you explain this please?

    • If you are in contact with Lanner’s victims you will learn that in spite of Rabbi Blau’s early missteps on Lanner, in way less than eleven years he moved to the other side and worked with victims in a variety of ways that culminated in the Jewish Week article. More important, Rabbi Blau unequivocally and clearly learned from his experience with the initial Lanner beit din and moved to a clear position that beit din in our time is not an appropriate venue for dealing with child sexual abusers and cases should be brought directly to the civil authorities. BTW, I have in a number of posts attacked the Lanner scandal as has Rabbi Blau, over the years. For whatever reason, you can choose to attack Rabbi Blau. In my work I have found his public statements and less publicized actions to be invaluable for my struggle.

      As for your comment on this post, it is off-topic. I see nothing in his SOL statement to which you speak or criticize. You just resent Rabbi Blau. So be it. But don’t fool yourself into thinking your comment is actually speaking to this post.

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