Two competing bills involving child molestation are winding their way through the State Legislature with supporters lining up on both sides.
At stake is millions of dollars in punitive damages from such institutions as the Catholic church and several Brooklyn yeshivas, as well as criminal prosecutions.
One version of the bill, introduced by Queens Assemblymember Margaret Markey and State Senator Tom Duane, grants victims of child sexual assault a longer period of time to press charges by extending the statute of limitations.
The cornerstone of the legislation provides persons a one−year window from the date of the bill’s enactment to bring a civil action, regardless of the victim’s age, in which to seek damages for any past instance of child sexual abuse.
The bill would also add five years to the statute of limitations, which is the period of time allowed to file charges for a given crime.
Currently a victim who has until they are 23 to file prosecution charges.
Under the Markey⁄Duane bill, the victim would have another five years, or until they are 28.
“Far too many of these crimes go unreported or are not reported for many years. Then, when victims finally and courageously speak up, many of them are denied justice because arbitrary statutes of limitations prohibit them from seeking the legal recourse they are due,” said Markey.
Under a counter proposal, introduced by Assemblymember Vito Lopez and Senator Carl Kruger, the language is essentially the same with the exceptions being there is no one−year window.
The Lopez⁄Kruger bill also adds an additional two years — or until the victim is 25 to bring civil and criminal prosecution.
Additionally, the bill includes public schools and not just private institutions.
Lopez argues that some of these cases go back 50 years where the school no longer exists and the abuser may be dead, but the Catholic church, because of its structure, would still be liable for millions of dollars worth or damage.
Public opinion is also divided over the two bills.
“I’m a survivor of abuse 60 years ago and this has been going on for centuries,” said Brooklynite Joe Byrnes and a member of the national organization SNAP (Survival Network of those Abused by Priests).
Byrnes said that both Catholic and Jewish victims have shown support for the Markey⁄Duane bill.
Kids between the ages of five and 10 have been abused for years by nuns, priests, ministers and rabbis while religious institutions have been covering it up and these victims should have the right to sue, he said.
But Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, which advocates on behalf of Jewish day schools, said the one−year window clause could put a lot of private schools out of business.
“Under this proposed bill one can theoretically bring a claim against an administration that is no longer there, where insurance records are lost and where there is no record of the victim even enrolled in the school,” said Zwiebel.
“It would put a severe financial strain on institutions we regard as the lifeblood of this community,” he added.
Currently the two bills have yet to be put for a vote before the Assembly, and Assemblymember Dov Hikind said a compromise should be reached.
“The bottom line is we have to more than what’s being done to protect victims,” said Hikind.
Even if a compromise doesn’t make a perfect bill, it is badly needed to address the problem of child molestations at private institutions, he added.