For Immediate Release:
Alleged Abuser, a Vermont-based Photographer of Dozens of Notable Subjects, Hired Despite Having No Experience as a Child Educator; Additional Victims Expected
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The families of eight children between the ages of three and four today accused the preschool at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, as well as the head of that school, of enabling a predator to sexually abuse the children for over a two-year period. Despite multiple warning signs over a prolonged period, the Congregation’s Edlavitch Tyser Early Childhood Center and its Head of Schools for Early Childhood Education, Deborah “DJ” Schneider Jensen, failed to protect children from a known and avoidable risk of sexual abuse, according to a civil lawsuit filed by all eight families.
The children who, with their parents, brought forth these allegations have implicated Jordan Silverman, a teacher at the Congregation’s preschool, as their abuser. Silverman was hired to teach and care for children despite having no professional background in teaching or providing child care. The crimes reported by both male and female children reveal that repeated and prolonged abuse occurred on the premises of the educational facility when Silverman was allowed and encouraged to be alone with the children individually and in small groups, a violation of D.C.’s “two-deep” policy. The abuse included the most grievous, demeaning and damaging forms of sexual abuse.
Prior to being hired at Washington Hebrew’s preschool, Silverman had a 20-year career as a Vermont-based photographer, during which time he claims to have photographed a stunning array of political and entertainment luminaries, worked for many of the most well-known newspapers and photo agencies in the world, maintained a robust commercial photography practice and shot everything from child and family portraits to wedding celebrations for a range of private clients around the Northeast.
“Law-enforcement research indicates that many child sex abusers have multiple victims over time. So, as in any case involving credible evidence of sexual abuse of young children, anyone with concerns that the accused may have abused children at Washington Hebrew or elsewhere should contact law enforcement with that information; in this case, that would particularly include anyone in Vermont, where Mr. Silverman lived for about the first 20 years of his adult life,” said Michael Dolce, Of Counsel at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, which represents the victims.
“Silverman’s alleged behavior is only a part of this story. Sadly, the Early Childhood Center and ‘DJ’ Schneider Jensen not only created an environment that enabled this predatory behavior but failed to act on a myriad of indications that something was wrong. Accountability is important so that no child in this program ever suffers again,” added Steven J. Toll, Managing Partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.
The 70-count complaint filed in Superior Court for the District of Columbia carefully details an alarming degree of willful negligence by both the Early Childhood Center itself and DJ Jensen. As noted in the complaint, “systemic, regular sexual abuse of such young children and in large numbers in an educational environment does not occur in the absence of neglect by the school administrators of their duty to operate the environment in a manner that thwarts the ability of would-be and unknown predators to access children alone, without visibility or accountability, in order to abuse them.”
Jensen was hired by the Washington Hebrew Congregation in the summer of 2014 to serve as its Early Childhood Director for the Edlavitch Tyser Early Childhood Center. She has previously written a book that included at least two unorthodox attitudes toward serving as the director of a preschool: that preschool administrators and teachers should avoid providing parents with negative information about what happens to their children at school because the information could be relayed to authorities, and that teachers have no right to share with parents any negative opinions about how a school is being managed.
In March of 2016, Jensen recruited and hired Jordan Silverman to work with children at the preschool as an assistant teacher, among other roles. Prior to his hiring, Silverman had no professional background in teaching or providing child care. As detailed in the complaint, concerns related to Silverman’s behavior were reported to Jensen as early as one month into Silverman’s employment, and repeatedly thereafter, by both parents and teachers. In fact, throughout his tenure, Silverman was observed by other teachers and parents to be engaging in behaviors towards children that could be part of a purposeful “grooming” effort as a prelude to abuse. Concerns that Silverman was taking children alone to certain areas of the school, that he was sometimes late returning children after being alone with them and that co-workers were unable to locate him while he was alone with children were also shared with DJ Jensen, who allegedly rejected these and other concerns about Silverman, her hire, as unfounded without initiating any type of investigation.
Despite the concerns expressed to her over more than a two-year period, Jensen refused to order Silverman to stop his unusual behavior, made no attempt to determine the validity of the allegations, took no action to restrict Silverman’s unsupervised access to children and failed to report the alleged misconduct to any law enforcement or child welfare authority.
In August 2018, Silverman was finally placed on administrative leave following a young child’s disclosure of sexual abuse. A number of similar allegations quickly followed and the District of Columbia’s Metro Police Department launched a criminal investigation that remains ongoing. As of this morning’s filing, DJ Jensen remains in her capacity as Head of Schools for Washington Hebrew’s Early Childhood Center, although has announced her intention to leave at the end of the current academic year.
As detailed in the complaint, the behaviors exhibited by multiple children that were indicative of possible abuse were not understood by Washington Hebrew Congregation staff at the time to be warning signs of possible abuse due to inadequate training, policies and procedures. Furthermore, those that were recognized as abnormal and extreme adverse behaviors were not reported to parents in a timely manner and, in some cases, were purposely withheld in accordance with the policies established by Jensen to avoid providing parents with negative information.
The plaintiffs – the child victims, their mothers and fathers – filed the lawsuit anonymously and will ask the Superior Court judge to allow them to proceed that way in order to protect the identity of the victims.
The short- and long-term effects of prolonged sexual abuse of children on both the child victims and their parents are well-documented. In their developmental years, abused children are more likely to suffer from psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety and stress disorders; experience behavioral problems; suffer developmental delays, psychosomatic disorders, post-trauma symptoms such as engaging in premature sexualized and promiscuous behaviors, poor self-esteem or academic problems; develop substance abuse, eating or sleep disorders; and struggle with above-average peer relationship problems, among other harmful impacts. Learning that one’s child has been sexually abused is known in mental health medicine to inflict severe and long-lasting psychological distress, mental health disorders and other such harm on the child’s parents, potentially provoking such symptoms as: clinically-significant depression and/or anxiety, rage, agitation, irritability, humiliation, hypervigilance as to the child’s ongoing safety, fear, despondency, mistrust of others, damage to other relationships, distressing damage to the parent-child relationship and damage to religious faith.
Among the counts brought against Washington Hebrew Congregation’s preschool and DJ Silverman are several forms of negligence, including that of Jensen for hiring Silverman and of the school for hiring Jensen, as well as infliction of emotional distress. The families seek damages in order to help manage many of the repercussions frequently associated with abuse: costs of medical, psychological and psychiatric evaluation and care and medications; costs of vocational, rehabilitative, occupational and physical therapies; loss of earning capacity and future lost earnings; cost of transportation to and from health care providers; educational expenses; excess child care expenses; and the cost of parenting and family therapies, among many others.
The victims and their families are being represented in this case by the Sexual Abuse, Sex Trafficking and Domestic Violence practice group at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll. The group is led by Michael Dolce and Takisha Richardson. A highly regarded trial lawyer and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse himself, Dolce has dedicated his career to securing justice for survivors of sexual crimes. He was also instrumental in convincing the Florida legislature to repeal the state statute of limitations for civil and criminal prosecution of child sexual battery. Prior to joining Cohen Milstein, Richardson was an Assistant State Attorney in Florida and Chief of the Special Victims Unit of the State’s Attorney’s office, where she directed the prosecution of crimes against children and the elderly and sexually motivated offenses.
About Cohen Milstein:
Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC is recognized as one of the premier law firms in the country handling major, complex plaintiff-side litigation. With more than 90 attorneys, Cohen Milstein has offices in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Ill., New York, N.Y., Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Philadelphia, Pa. and Raleigh, N.C. For additional information, visit www.cohenmilstein.com or call 202.408.4600.
Media Contact: Anna Susman, 646-200-5285, email@example.com