The financial settlement by a Brooklyn yeshiva of two sexual abuse cases marks an important milestone in the battle to expose such assaults and encourage victims to come forward despite strong social pressures to remain silent.
Yeshiva Torah Temimah agreed in the fall of 2014 to pay $2.1 million to two former students who accused Rabbi Joel (Yehuda) Kolko, 70, of molesting them when they were 6 years old, according to a recent New York Post story. The settlement became public when papers filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court indicated that the yeshiva had defaulted on its schedule of payment. The lawsuits were filed in 2006 and 2007.
Numerous allegations of sexual abuse had been made against Rabbi Kolko, dating back some 25 years. In 2012, in a deal with Charles Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney at the time, Rabbi Kolko pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of child endangerment but did not receive a jail term and was not required to register as a sex offender.
The two separate lawsuits that came to light last week claim that Rabbi Lipa Margulies, the head of the yeshiva, was aware for more than two decades of allegations that Rabbi Kolko sat boys on his lap and touched their private parts, but kept him on as an elementary school teacher. According to the lawsuits, yeshiva officials threatened the families of victims to ensure their silence.
Advocates in the Jewish community for victims of sexual abuse said this is the first time a local yeshiva agreed to financially compensate victims. Ben Hirsch, a spokesperson for Survivors of Justice, described this as “a game changer in that it demonstrates that yeshivas can be made to compensate victims of child abuse.
“While no amount of money can undo the trauma these victims were subjected to by Kolko and Yeshiva Torah Temimah,” he said, “it is encouraging to see justice served.”
He and other advocates decried New York State’s statute of limitations on abuse cases as archaic and cruel in that victims can only sue predators before they reach the age of 23, and institutions by the age of 21. Older victims have no recourse under the law. Hirsch noted that four alleged victims of Rabbi Kolko filed too late, with one missing the deadline by two weeks. Efforts in Albany have and been unsuccessful in extending the statute of limitations. Opponents, including the Catholic Church and Agudath Israel of America, argue that such an extension could result in bankrupting schools for past crimes.
The law needs to change, particularly in light of numerous psychological studies indicating that many victims are unable to deal with the trauma and shame of abuse for decades. It is time to bring these cases out of the shadows; perhaps the financial incentive illustrated in the Torah Temimah case will help convince more victims to step up.