justice

Judge Upholds Right to Anonymity for Child Victims Act Accusers

The Loyola School on the Upper East Side is facing serious allegations of child abuse.
The Loyola School on the Upper East Side is facing serious allegations of child abuse. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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A New York City judge has shut down a Catholic order’s challenge of the use of anonymity in three Child Victims Act cases filed by plaintiffs alleging childhood sexual abuse.

George J. Silver, deputy chief administrative judge for the New York City courts, took a firm stance in orders issued Friday, granting three plaintiffs’ requests to proceed anonymously and rejecting a request from the  Northeast Province of the Jesuit Brothers to have the cases proceed with the names of plaintiffs publicly exposed.

Silver wrote that it was “axiomatic” that the plaintiffs should be granted the “protection of anonymity.”

In his decision, the judge drew upon an ancient quote from Aesop: “The injuries we do and those we suffer are seldom weighed in the same scales.”

“That principle applies here, where the legislature has codified specific protections for alleged victims of sexual assault that do not apply to alleged perpetrators of that abuse,” Silver wrote.

The three cases — one involving the Loyola School in Manhattan and two regarding Fordham Preparatory School in The Bronx — all allege “unpermitted sexual conduct” occurred when plaintiffs were under 16 years old.

Attorney Jeff Anderson described the decision’s impact as monumental not just for the trio of plaintiffs he’s representing, but for all victims of childhood sexual abuse who might seek justice through the courts. Had anonymity not been granted, he said, the potential for harm would have been “enormous.”

“The prospect of the survivors under CVA of having their identities disclosed in New York would bleed across this country in a way that is incalculable,” he said.

An attorney for the Jesuits and a spokesperson for the Northeast Province of the Jesuits both declined to comment. Their side had argued that the potential for public embarrassment wasn’t sufficient grounds for anonymity and that such a measure would violate the due process rights of the accused, according to court documents.

Ruling Affects Hundreds of Lawsuits

The  suits at issue in Friday’s ruling are among more than 900 filed in New York state since the Child Victims Act went into effect in August, opening a yearlong window for plaintiffs to file lawsuits about abuse that happened years in the past. The CVA also significantly lengthens the statute of limitations on civil cases going forward.

Brian Toale, a victims’ advocate with national support group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that for many victims, sexual abuse was a secret kept on lock for many years and that anonymity was a key tool in helping them decide to speak out.

He said he experienced sexual abuse by a teacher at a Long Island high school when he was 16 years old.

Anonymity “will help more people come forward and as people come forward, that encourages more people,” said Toale, who filed a lawsuit the day the Child Victims Act took effect.

“Everyone who comes forward has the potential to make children safer in the future.”

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