Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Is It About the Pain or the Money?

Yeshiva University. Inset: Finkelstein and Gordon - Photo Credit: YU (Forward)
$380 million. That buys a lot of doughnuts.

There is an old saying that goes something like this: If someone tells you it’s not about the money – it’s about the money.

According to report in several news media (e.g. the Jewish Press and the Forward), 19 students that were sexually abused by either former Talmud teacher, Macy Gordon or former principal, George Finkelstein  (both of Yeshiva University’s high school) - have filed suit against YU to the tune of that awesome figure.

Wouldn’t you like to be the lawyer handling this case?

I have little doubt about the veracity of these survivors’ claims. I believe that they were abused the way they said they were. And I believe that even though most of them have probably gone on to lead normal lives, they have nevertheless suffered the ill effects of sex abuse that is common to victims of it. Those are serious and lifelong traumas that are difficult if not impossible to overcome. From the Forward:
The abuse took a terrible toll on students, according to the lawsuit. Many have suffered from depression, anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual addiction, emotional distress, broken marriages, and problems holding down a job. Some have spent years in counseling and on medication.
I have nothing but sympathy for those who suffer like that. I can’t imagine living with that kind of stress and anxiety; and going through what these young men have gone through - and in most cases being kept secret and suffering alone in silence for fear of the stigma attached to known survivors. I believe that sex abusers and their enablers ought to be fully punished.

I also believe their stated claims that they tried to confront YU to acknowledge the pain they suffered and respond were to no avail. They were basically given the bum’s rush. I am not going to defend YU here. They should have dealt with it properly. They didn’t. They did what all institutions that have had sex abuse in their midst have done in the past. They tried to cover it up in order to protect their reputations.

I support an independent, complete and thorough investigation of that entire episode. And the results should be made public. Indeed YU needs to come to terms with its mistakes and make amends to the best of its ability with the resolve to never let anything like this ever happen again.

My problem here is the money. This is not just about compensating the victims for their pain. It is not just about punitive damages. It is about making a lot of money off of that pain. And I am troubled by it.

If anywhere near that kind of money is paid in some sort of settlement, it is an obscene amount of money and it makes me question the very credibility of the claim that it’s all about their pain.

It isn’t so much that I have pity on YU’s money. It’s that I am beginning to question the real motives of the victims here. The only way I could even begin to accept that it’s not about the money is if the bulk of it (say… $300 of the $380 million) is used to set up some kind of sex abuse treatment center that would help future victims deal with their pain. That would then speak volumes about their sincerity. Otherwise... I’m not so sure.