The families of 8 young children have filed a civil lawsuit against a DC synagogue and one of its directors, claiming the congregation failed to address warning signs that a preschool teacher had been sexually abusing children for more than two years.
The lawsuit, filed anonymously to protect the identities of the minor children, named Washington Hebrew Congregation, a Reform Jewish Synagogue founded in the mid-19th century, as a defendant, and Jordan Silverman, a teacher at Washington Hebrew’s Early Childhood Center preschool, as the alleged abuser.
Silverman has not been charged with a criminal offense at this time, and he and Washington Hebrew have publicly denied claims made in the lawsuit.
About the Lawsuit
- Claims – The lawsuit, filed Monday April 15, 2019 in DC Superior Court, claims the negligence of school administrators allowed for the “systemic, regular sexual abuse” of young children at Washington Hebrew.
- Defendants – In addition to suing Washington Hebrew, the families also named the education director of its Early Childhood Center, Deborah Jensen, as a defendant. The suit alleges Jensen failed to protect children from a known and preventable risk of sexual abuse.
- Washington Hebrew Response – A statement released by Washington Hebrew says the congregation reported allegations of sex abuse to Police and Child Protective Services in August of 2018, “as soon as [it] learned of the allegations.” The congregation has stated it has fully cooperated with investigations, and that no violations occurred.
- Allegations & Police Report – According to a police report from August 2018, a Child and Family Services hotline received allegations of sexual abuse at the preschool. The report states the alleged abuse began in September 2017 and continued through August 15, 2018.
Sexual Abuse Lawsuits & Victims’ Rights
The lawsuit against Washington Hebrew, which will take some time to unfold, illustrates a few important elements of sexual abuse lawsuits and the rights of victims and their loved ones.
- No Criminal Charges – Metropolitan Police Department officials have confirmed a criminal investigation into alleged child sex abuse at Washington Hebrew is currently ongoing, but have not provided any further details or information about possible suspects, and have not filed any formal charges. It is not uncommon for civil lawsuits to be filed before and / or in the absence of criminal charges, especially as law enforcement must have sufficient evidence to meet the legal system’s highest burden of proof: beyond a reasonable doubt.
- Civil vs. Criminal Cases –Though sexual abuse is a crime for which wrongdoers can face life-altering penalties, families behind the suit, as many sex abuse and assault victims do, are seeking accountability through the civil justice system. Separate and distinct from criminal proceedings which focus on criminal guilt, civil suits (in this case a “tort”) focus on whether individuals and / or entities responsible for those individuals should be held financially liable for victims’ damages. Because civil cases use a different burden of proof, at-fault parties can be held civilly liable even if no criminal charges are filed, and even if a criminally accused suspect is found Not Guilty. Civil sexual abuse lawsuits ultimately provide a more viable source of compensation to victims than criminal cases do, and allow for accountability at all levels where those in position to help victims or stop wrongful acts failed to do so.
- New DC Sex Abuse Law – In January 2019, DC lawmakers signed DC Act 22-593 into law to strengthen the rights of sexual abuse victims. The new law removes the statute of limitations for criminal sex abuse charges, and extends the statute of limitations for civil sex abuse claims. Survivors of sexual abuse now have more time to file claims against wrongdoers and responsible organizations, and those with previously barred claims will also have a 2-year “revival” period to file suit.
Experienced Sexual Abuse Lawyers in Washington, D.C.
Our team at Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel, P.C. has extensive experience handling cases of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexual misconduct, and representing victims in claims against individuals, institutions, high-profile persons, and schools. That includes cases such as:
- A $14.25M class action settlement against a Georgetown Synagogue and DC Rabbi Bernard Freundel, who secretly recorded numerous women while they used a religious bath. CSCS filed the first class-action suit, and served as co-counsel.
- A pending case against a DC charter school and a former teacher accused of child sex abuse. Partner Joseph Cammarata and CSCS are representing six minor children and their parents.
- Partners Cammarata and Siegel, and Attorney Matthew Tievsky represented seven women in a defamation suit against Bill Cosby.
- Partner Cammarata representing Paula Jones in a high-profile sexual harassment lawsuit against President Bill Clinton, which resulted in a landmark Supreme Court decision regarding civil suits and Presidential Immunity that has profound relevance today.
Whether you or someone you love has been a victim of sexual abuse or assault at a school, an institution of higher learning, a Synagogue or Catholic Church, or any other organization, the current social climate is making it possible for more survivors and their families to step forward and share their stories. Because these are highly complex and emotional cases which are still subject to intense scrutiny, having proven and experienced attorneys by your side is of the utmost importance.
If you have questions about a sexual abuse claims, your rights, and available options, CSCS is here to help. Our attorneys serve clients throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Call (202) 659-8600 or contact us online to speak with a lawyer.