Monday, May 14, 2018

How many kids have to die, how many have to become addicted to drugs, how many have to live on the street, how many have to starve themselves, cut themselves, hang themselves, stab themselves, drown themselves, overdose themselves, until you actually help us do something about it?

 by Asher Lovy

NY1's coverage of yesterday's ZA'AKAH's press conference outside of Simcha Felder's district office. Thank you so much to everyone who came, and a special thank you to Rabbi Barry Kornblau for standing with us, and lending your voice to this critical issue. Below is a full text of my statement:

We're here outside Senator Simcha Felder's district office because he is the tiebreaking vote in the New York State senate right now. As evidenced by the recent budget negotiation in the senate, while John Flanagan might be the majority leader, it's Felder's word that for now is literally law. And I know how you feel about the Child Victims Act, Simcha, you told me how you feel about it in 2016. You will not support any bill with a lookback window.

As a former constituent of yours, let me tell you why that position is hurting your constituents, and community. I grew up on 15th avenue and 48th street, in Boro Park, 4 blocks away from your then city council office. I was abused by my mother for years just 4 blocks from your office. The idea, at the time, of reporting was so far out of the realm of possibility, the very thought of it was laughable. I can't count the number of times the police were called to my house, I can't count the number of times they handed me a complaint form and a pen and asked me if I had something to tell them.

What I do remember vividly is my grandmother pleading with me, begging me, not to report. "Think of what the neighbors will say. Think of what will happen when it's time for shidduchim. No one will want to marry you." So I stayed quiet. When I was finally ready to come forward and disclose, she again begged me, "think of your shidduchim." By then I'd given up on the possibility of finding a shidduch through a shadchan. "Ok, but think of your cousins. They're trying to get married now, think of how this would ruin their shidduch chances," she begged. And again, I kept quiet.

I begged my family to intervene. Even though they were literally witness to much of my abuse, they didn't care enough to do anything. They said I was making it up to justify my bad behaviour. I had dropped out of school and gone to work so I could earn enough money to be self-sufficient. I stayed there until three years ago, age 23 because I was worried about my grandmother who by that time was also a victim of my mother. I thought I could protect her.

I can no longer report what happened to me when I was a minor because New York's Statute of limitations won't allow it.

Simcha, you may think we don't remember, you may think that by the time we're 23 we've already gotten over it, but we haven't. Baruch Hashem I was able to run away at age 23, and with the help of some very generous people, build a life for myself. But when I'm alone at night, it comes back to me. All those years of locking myself in my room, terrified of what she'd do to me next, the threats, the horror she made my life, the invasion, the violation of who I was, the times she tried to kill me, the terror she instilled in me. Every time I hear a knock on the door of my new, safe home I jump, because my body remembers what a sudden noise might mean. My body remembers being in constant danger and can't forget.

When I worked at Our Place, on avenue M and east 18th, I met dozens of kids who hadn't been so lucky. Kids who had been abused and had been forced into silence. Kids who dropped out of school, were addicted to drugs, sleeping on the streets, self-harming, depressed, suicidal, kids who did anything and everything they could think of to numb the pain, to make it stop, to just go away, if only for a little while. We were able to save some of them. Some of them we couldn't. Some of them died. We put them on our ever-growing wall, a damning testament to the inaction of our community in the face of sexual predators violating children. 

You may not hear these stories, Simcha, but I do. Every single day from people in this community, people who themselves were abused, people whose children have been abused, people who are too terrified to speak up for fear of ruining their family's shidduchim, of losing their jobs, their homes, of being thrown out of their shuls, of their children being expelled from yeshivas for daring to report, for daring to go against Agudah's psak, and report sexual abuse to the police without first asking a rav for permission.

Sexual abuse is covered up every day in this community, Simcha, and it's made even easier by all the communal pressures we as frum Jews have. Shidduchim, not wanting to be a moiser, daas torah, emunas chachamim, fear of causing a chillul hashem, there are a dozen different leverage points used by the community to keep victims of child sexual abuse silent until they're 23 and it's too late for them to get justice. 

You know what that means, Simcha? It means that hundreds of sexual predators are loose in your district, in the frum community, protected by the law, because their victims who are under 23 are too terrified to report, and the survivors over 23 are barred from reporting by law. That's why we need the lookback window, Simcha. Those survivors deserve their day in court. They deserve the chance to confront their abuser in court and identify them so the community knows who they are and whom to stay away from. A survivor should never hear "I'm sorry, find me someone else who was sexually abused more recently" when they go to the police to report being sexually abused. 

We need to eliminate the civil and criminal statutes of limitation going forward so survivors know that if they're not safe enough to report right now, they'll still have the chance to get justice when they are. We need to open the lookback window so the predators who have thus far remained hidden behind New York State law in our community can be identified, and the institutions that enabled their abuse can be held accountable.

We need the Child Victims Act, Simcha Felder. Children are dying in your community because they were sexually abused and have no access to justice. Do you care enough, do you have the courage to do the right thing for District 17's children?

I know, people are worried about what might happen to yeshivos if this passes. I'm sorry, but I don’t understand what the hand wringing is about. If it we were dealing with an epidemic of murders in the community, committed by yeshiva faculty, and covered up by yeshiva administrations, we’d be up in arms, demanding justice. Somehow with sexual abuse it’s different.

And why? You know as well as I do, Simcha, that abuse is retzicha. You know as well as I do that children die every single year from suicide, eating disorders, and drug overdose, as a direct result of sexual abuse they’ve suffered. You know as well as I do that the effects of sexual abuse include PTSD, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, depression, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, self-harm, addiction, among a host of other problems. Is the difference between sexual abuse and murder that sexual abuse kills them more slowly, or that it’s so darn common that we’ve become desensitized to it?

We talk a lot about crises in the frum community. How is this not something that instills in community members and leaders a sense of crisis? How many kids have to die, how many have to become addicted to drugs, how many have to live on the street, how many have to starve themselves, cut themselves, hang themselves, stab themselves, drown themselves, overdose themselves, until you actually help us do something about it?

If kids were dying every day in yeshivos, would you be so pareve about what should be done, or would you be out on the front lines demanding change and justice? Is it that these kids don’t die in yeshivos themselves, but on the street a few years later after they’ve lost everything and everyone, and kill themselves just to end the pain? Do you no longer recognize them as important at that point because they’re so far gone at that point from the yeshiva that covered up their abuse that you don’t care anymore?

I hope you care, Simcha, and I understand, you’re worried about hypothetical children not being able to get into hypothetically closed yeshovs. Simcha, we have real children, really dying, right now, and we need to change that.

We have a real bill really in front of us, and we’re in real need of real support. Don’t let hypothetical concerns about hypothetical problems blind you, or distract you from the very real, and very present problem of children being abused, and their abusers and enablers hiding behind New York State law to deny them justice. Don’t let yourself be blinded to the fact that more and more kids are dying every day while we sit here and quibble about the degrees to which we should pursue their roitzchim.

I’m sorry if I seem impatient. I don’t have the luxury to be patient. I’ve been fighting for this for 3 years. I was abused for 23 years. I’ve lost I don’t know how many friends to suicide, and I’m sick and tired of waiting.