Rabbi Sexual Abuse in Pennsylvania
Media reporting of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other Christian religious leaders is widespread. Rabbi sexual abusers get less publicity, but the problem of abuse by religious leaders within the Jewish community is quite similar to the more widely-publicized issue in the Catholic church. A rabbi holds a special position of trust within the religious community, and may play additional roles, such as teacher or principal.
In recent years, special concerns have arisen about secrecy in Orthodox Jewish communities. While some Orthodox Jewish leaders now encourage victims and their families to cooperate with authorities, other Orthodox communities actively discourage reporting sexual abuse and other crimes to police. Victims and their families have reported shunning, financial pressure, and other repercussions from their communities after reporting sexual abuse to police.
The leadership of Agudath Israel of America recommends that followers talk over the situation with a rabbi before deciding on their own to make a report to the police—something that may be particularly difficult when the sexual abuser is himself a rabbi. While this organization rightly points out that a false allegation can destroy the accused’s life, the tendency to discourage reporting has deeper roots. Traditional Jewish law prohibits “mesira,” loosely translated as “informing” to the government on fellow Jews.
Liability for Rabbi Sexual Abuse
The person most clearly and directly responsible for sexual abuse is, of course, the abuser himself or herself. However, there may be many other responsible parties. This is especially true within sects of Judaism or Jewish organizations or institutions that create barriers for victims of sexual abuse who might seek help from law enforcement. These may include organizations that:
- Fail or refuse to act on allegations of sexual abuse by a rabbi
- Actively discourage a victim or his family from reporting abuse to the police
- Have policies that discourage reporting to and cooperation with legal authorities
- Were negligent in hiring or retaining the abuser
- Fail to adequately protect victims
- Retaliate against victims or their families for reporting sexual abuse
The Pennsylvania Sexual Abuse Statute of Limitations
Any young person who has been sexually abused by a respected member of his or her community may be reluctant to come forward. That reticence is even more likely to occur and is likely to run even deeper when that victim is a member of a community that may view him or her as a traitor for making that report. Victims in that environment may also report the abuse to a trusted adult, only to be told that it is their responsibility to keep the information to themselves.
Often, these and other obstacles prevent children who have been sexually abused by rabbis and other authority figures from truly confronting the abuse for many years. Some childhood sexual abuse victims even repress their memories for years.
Pennsylvania lawmakers understand these obstacles, and the importance of sexual abuse victims having a chance to confront their abusers and see justice. That’s why child victims of sexual abuse are afforded a much longer statute of limitations than most civil plaintiffs. A victim who was under the age of 18 when the abuse occurred may file a civil lawsuit for up to 12 years after his or her 18th birthday. In less complicated terms, the statute of limitations does not expire until the child victim’s 30th birthday. Under certain circumstances, an experienced sexual abuse attorney may be able to file a lawsuit even after this generous limitation period has expired.
Fighting Back Against Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is confusing and disempowering, and can leave a young victim with a mistrust of authority figures and others that extends far beyond the abuse and even beyond childhood. When a victim of rabbi sexual abuse pursues damages from his abuser and the institutions that failed him, the benefits can extend far beyond the financial. For instance:
- Confronting the abuser can allay long-held fears and allow the victim to reclaim power
- Financial compensation can provide for the expensive and ongoing therapy sexual abuse victims often require
- Publicly exposing the abuser and those who protected him can make prospective victims safer
- An official finding of wrongdoing on the part of the abuser and institution can help restore the confidence of a victim whose religious community ignored his needs or discouraged reporting
If you were the victim of sexual abuse by a rabbi, taking the first step toward justice is simple. Just schedule a free consultation right now.