Saturday, February 6, 2016

Prep School Sex Abuse: What Can Be Done?

Back in the 1970's, sexual predation at my boarding school occurred regularly. Although the administration knew about it, and certainly had received complaints over the years about teachers who had engaged in improper, if not illegal, sexual relationships with numerous students, the students went unheeded - even blamed - while the predators went unpunished.

To this day, the school's attitude is essentially, 'Aw, come on, it was the seventies.' The school has taken no efforts to reach out to alienated survivors struggling with the traumatic after-effects of abuse that have haunted them through the decades. The school's current manual has utterly insufficient standards and practices for reporting abuse, counseling or investigating reported incidents, or  for avoiding abuse in the future.

This, despite the highly publicized abuse scandal at Horace Mann, and the intensive efforts of a dedicated group of Horace Mann survivors and supporters that funded their own investigation after their school (like mine and countless other elite private high schools) continued to ignore the sordid taint on their illustrious legacy.

A high respected jurist, Leslie Crocker Snyder, the investigator retained by the Horace Mann Action Coalition, ultimately issued a scathing report on the Horace Mann events that also contained a detailed list of recommendations to address as well as avoid future abuse at private schools that can be read here:

I forwarded the report to my alma mater's current administration, via the Chair of the Board of Trustees, who happened to be one of my fellow '70s alums.

The result?

Silence. Even from the vast majority of my fellow alums who, like me, are not survivors of such abuse but have known about it 'through the grapevine,' or through the personal confidences of our survivor friends who can't or won't come forward for reasons of their own.

We must respect the wishes of our survivor friends, but for God's sake we should support them!

There are three things all of us -- survivors and non-survivors alike-- can do.

First, and at the very least, pressure the school to acknowledge the past as more than 'oh, it was the seventies, when standards were relaxed, the curriculum was free-wheeling, and the student body was sub-par' (I'm accurately paraphrasing the words of our associate head emeriti, who is not only blinded by her enthusiasm for the school, but dissing many recent and current members of Board of Trustees, plus thousands of brilliant women who are generous alums).

Second,  lobby the school to adopt Judge Snyder's recommendations for screening, investigaring, reporting, and counseling.

And finally, join the effort to end New York's disgracefully short statute of limitations on claims by child sex abuse survivors. Our statute ranks as one of the worst four in the country. It's long past time for us to pry our state from the clutches of religious and insurance-industry interest groups, in order to provide redress for survivors.

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