Local activists rally for the Child Victims Act

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Local activists and a delegation of Jewish leaders went to Albany earlier this month to lobby for passage of the Child Victims Act, the legislation to end the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases and to open a window for past cases to be prosecuted.

Rabbi Ari Hart of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale joined the group in the state capital.

“This is an issue that cuts across every demographic and every faith and all sectors of society,” he said.

He and his colleagues represented 150 rabbis and Jewish leaders who signed a letter of support for reforming the state’s statute of limitations, or SOL, on child sex abuse. Rabbi Hart said about 50 people participated in the activism on May 3 and 4.

Activists and politicians who support the Child Victims Act spoke. Speakers included Jim Scanlan, a clergy abuse survivor depicted in “Spotlight.” The film was screened as part of the lobbying days.

“Listening to survivors is always very painful and sobering. And then when you reflect on our SOL law, it’s very angering, because we heard from survivors who were not able to pursue justice,” Rabbi Hart said.  

While the state Assembly has previously passed the Child Victims Act, the legislation has long stalled in the Senate. Activists have sought the support of Bronx state Sen. Jeff Klein, who has allied with Senate Republicans for the past several years. After initially opposing the legislation, Mr. Klein, whose district includes Riverdale, began saying he supports it in 2014

Rabbi Hart said he met with the state senator on one of the lobbying days.

“I just hope that he and his fellows in the Senate can muster the political will to make this happen,” the rabbi said of the Mr. Klein.

Mr. Klein’s office did not answer an interview request for this article.

State law currently requires sexual abuse victims to bring civil and criminal charges within five years after they turn 18. Activists say it takes much longer for victims to overcome the psychological and other barriers to going public with their suffering.

“I know that survivors are often discouraged from reporting and then when they’re ready to talk about their abuse it’s often too late,” said Peter Brooks, a leading organizer for the Horace Mann Action Coalition. 

He also spoke out for creating a one-year window for previous victims to bring lawsuits against their abusers. While Horace Mann has settled with about 30 victims of abuse inflicted by teachers from the 1960s to the 1990s, there are believed to be many others who have not settled.

“The proposal for a revival window for a year would allow the judicial system to identify perpetrators who are known both to the district attorney and to victims, and everybody agrees they committed crimes, but because some of those crimes are out of statute, they can’t be charged,” Mr. Brooks said. 

“If [schools] stall the victims for a certain amount of time, at some point there’s no access to justice and the school can keep the news private and hidden, the consequence is that they enable a lot more abuse.” he added. 

Mr. Brooks said California, Hawaii and Minnesotta have had good results from creating a window for past victims of child sexual abuse to come forward. He rejected objections from groups including some prosecutors who say such a window would swamp courts.

The window, he argued, is sometimes misrepresented by opponents

 “They think it’s there to provide access to lawsuits or money, but it’s really to identify hidden perpetrators who are hiding in plain sight,” Mr. Brooks said. 

Last year, the Child Victims Act’s main sponsors divided the legislation into two separate bills, in hopes they could pass a law focusing on civil cases before one about criminal cases. With the state legislature set to go on summer recess in several weeks, it remains to be seen if the lobbying days will help the legislation pass this time around.

“We need a statute that helps victims and doesn’t protect abusers,” Rabbi Hart said.

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