By Marci Hamilton (NY Daily News)
November 20, 2008
Most people think our culture offers no sympathy to perpetrators of child sexual abuse and goes to great lengths to protect victims. But in reality, sex criminals still get far too much protection and victims far too little help. The most recent reminder is the case of Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who is sitting on files that detail such abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community - including the names of 60 accused sexual predators.
Hikind isn't revealing the information to the authorities because, he says, his sources - the people who say they were victims - had sworn him to secrecy and are afraid of becoming outcasts in their community. But the case, and Hikind's excuses, only underline the need for urgent reform.
First, he says that most of the victims are in their late 20s or older, meaning the statutes of limitations have expired and no prosecution or civil lawsuit could be filed. Regrettably, that is true; state law mandates that criminal charges must be filed by the time a victim is 18 and civil claims by 23.
Second, Hikind maintains that the victims spoke to him in confidence. Again, this is correct. If Hikind were a doctor, police officer or one of the other professionals required by state law to report such abuse, he would be prohibited from refusing to inform authorities because of a deal with victims. He is not.
This is infuriating. In the name of protecting victims, a state assemblyman is shielding people accused of committing the most heinous crimes imaginable.
Enough is enough. First, the Brooklyn district attorney should convene a grand jury to investigate abuse within the Orthodox Jewish community - just as the district attorney did in Philadelphia to investigate the Catholic Archdiocese there.
Second, the state mandatory reporter law, which requires health care professionals and others to inform authorities of child abuse cases, must be amended to include elected representatives. There is no sound public policy that justifies permitting these officials to hoard such information to the detriment of children.
Most important, New York must enact Assemblywoman Margaret Markey's bill to extend the statute of limitations on child sex abuse and create a "window" - making it possible for those victims whose statutes of limitations have expired to file, for a set period of time, a civil lawsuit against perpetrators and the institutions that hid the truth.
Most victims need decades to come forward. Current deadlines virtually guarantee that predators are able to abuse many children before (and if) they get caught.
Across the country, a grass-roots movement advocating such window legislation is on the move. In 2002, California passed a one-year window. The result: more than 300 previously unnamed predators were identified.
New York must get in step before more children are victimized - with no legal recourse as far as the eye can see.
Hamilton is a professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University and author of "Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children."