16-04 Segment 1: Lessons Learned from the Horace Mann School Scandal

 

Synopsis: Many stories of child sexual abuse in schools by trusted teachers, coaches and clergy have come to light in the past decade or so. One of the latest is the abuse suffered by some students at the Horace Mann School in New York City. We talk to a former student of the school about how the story of abuse came to light, how teachers and coaches lured children into sexual situations and how the draconian statute of limitations on child sex abuse in New York and other states hurts victims who wait until adulthood to reveal their horror.

Host: Gary Price. Guest: Amos Kamil, author, with Sean Elder, of Great is the Truth: Secrecy, scandal, and the quest for justice at the Horace Mann School.

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The Horace Mann School Scandal

Gary Price: The film Spotlight is garnering a lot of awards buzz this year for its actors and for the compelling story it tells about the revelations by The Boston Globe of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests and the cover-up by the Church. While this was going on and for decades before, there were other boys and girls – these in an exclusive prep school in New York City – who were being molested by trusted and revered teachers. Amos Kamil, a former student at the Horace Mann School, along with Sean Elder write about the sex scandal in their book, Great is the Truth: Secrecy, scandal, and the quest for justice at The Horace Mann School. Much of the abuse in Massachusetts and other places went on for decades in secret. Why have these stories come out now? Why are people talking about their experiences as children in their middle age? Kamil says it’s like a dam bursting…

Amos Kamil: The Boston Globe just broke that whole story wide open and it enabled people to see that they were not the only people that this had happened to as children. That’s part of it, I think, it’s just the floodgates open and that leads to Penn State, and you know Penn State was literally the thing that made me pursue the Horace Mann case. And, I think the other factor here is the Internet. I think brands, and dioceses and schools are brands also, were able to control their story in the past. So if something like this happened an administrator would say, “Ahh, let’s keep this between us. You wouldn’t want to hurt the school or the Church.” Today, with the rise of the Internet, everybody’s got a Twitter account, these stories are really hard to contain.

Price: Kamil was not molested at Horace Mann, but several of his friends were. He was a middle-class kid who went to school on a baseball scholarship, and he admits he loved the three years he spent there. Ten years after graduation, though, he and some school friends went on a camping trip…and the stories about abuse came out…

Kamil: There were five of us, and Andrew on one night sort of cleared his throat and said, “Guys, when I was in eighth grade I was raped by Mark Wright, the football coach.” And it was what happened next that really surprised everybody, or surprised me. We all went around the campfire with different strange stories. And three of the five of us had been abused. I was not, I was not abused at Horace Mann or ever. But it was three different teachers. And it wasn’t until 20 years, we all moved on with our lives and we had families and we remained friendly but it didn’t really come up again.

Price: After the priest and the Penn State abuse were revealed, though, Kamil says that people were willing to come out with the personal stories of molestation that they had held in for years…

Kamil: I called up Andrew and I said, “How are you doing?” His abuser was a football coach as well, and he said, “I’m not doing too well. I wish somebody would write about it.” And I began to write about it and that ultimately became the front-page story at the Times magazine called “Prep School Predators.” And at that time I had exposed three predators. We are now up to 22, and that’s really what I chronicle in Great is the Truth, the mushrooming, if you will, of the allegations, the credible allegations, I should say.

Price: Kamil says that schools, camps, and sports clubs are often the places where predators find employment because that’s where they’ll find the most young, impressionable kids. He says that most of these molesters and very patient and carefully choose victims. That, along with uncertainty, is what keeps these crimes so secret for so long…

Kamil: It’s a very hard thing to identify. So I was laboring under the impression that everybody knew. And I had to soften that to a certain extent. Certainly many people did know and they didn’t come forward. They had blinders on, they really didn’t understand, they didn’t want to poke and prod too much. It’s a very difficult thing to accuse your coworker of actually sexually abusing a child. How do you know what happens when they’re going off in a classroom alone? It’s sort of a crime written in invisible ink.

Price: Kamil says that the predators are also very good at manipulating their victims into keeping quiet…

Kamil: In a way it’s almost like it’s part of the seduction. So you take a vulnerable kid or any kid and you say, “Hey, you know what? There’s something special about you.” And then, when it very slowly leads up to the act of abuse and the kid feels part of it, in a way, because it’s between him or her and the abuser. And that’s part of the con, part of the grooming process to make the kid feel like it’s consensual. And then it’s like a secret, “Us against the world.” And then that secret gets locked in for decades. Most people never speak about this. That’s changing, I hope, slowly but people don’t speak about this until their 40s, 50s, and 60s. Certainly not when you’re 13 or 14.

Price: Although young girls are molested in greater numbers than boys, Kamil says it’s especially difficult for boys to admit that they were abused by another male…

Kamil: They say that the number’s about one in four girls and one in six boys. So actually girls get abused more. But with boys, particularly if it’s man-against-boy violence, if you will, you don’t get a lot of credibility when you’re a 14-year-old boy in the lunchroom when you tell your friends that the teacher did something like this to you. You’re going to be called a homosexual, whether or not you are, you just learn to keep it inside. And sometimes when kids, and boys in particular do talk about it, they’re either made fun of or they’re not believed. They’re told to just move on with their lives. And when you get enough of those messages you just lock it away in a file and it doesn’t come out until many, many years later. And it usually comes out as a result of either having a kid around your age at the time you were abused, or your life falling apart in other ways whether it be divorce or alcoholism and drugs. So very few men actually report it. The shame is so deep.

Price: His best friend came out about six months after his New York Times piece ran, and Kamil says he hopes the shame of what happened to him and other children gets placed not on the victims, but where it belongs – on the predators. Some people think that the accusers are just in it for a big payday, but Kamil says it’s far more complicated than that…

Kamil: Most adult sexual abuse survivors are not in it for the money. They’re in it for two reasons, mostly: one to acknowledge that this happened to them, and then for someone from the institution — whether it be the Catholic Church, or a camp, or a school – somebody to say, “Sorry.” And what this has turned into in some ways with mediation is that, “Oh, you’re just looking for millions of dollars.” Many people are not. Many of these folks, and I’ve met them, can barely get out of bed in the morning. But the money helps, but it can’t repair decades of shattered lives.

Price: Rules about settlements from sexual abusers and their employers are different across the county, and Kamil says that New York State’s statute of limitations is especially draconian. Since so much of the abuse took place decades ago, he says that the school found it could play hardball with the victims – and win…

Kamil: And you have until 23 years old to come forward to file a claim. So all of these instances that happened in the past, and most of these folks were 40s and 50s and 60s. They were well past the statute of limitation. So when 32 survivors from Horace Mann entered into a mediation process with The Horace Mann School, and the school took the position, “We don’t have to pay you anything.” They looked at it almost like a mergers and acquisitions negotiation. Real hardball, to the extent that if the victims’ lawyers were asking for, let’s say, a million dollars, they would throw back a number like, “Okay, we’ll give you 10-thousand,” these kind of tactics. And the victims were demoralized, many talked about re-traumatization, why is this school that has billions of dollars you know, on the board alone, why are they doing this to us? So, while they did take the mighty Horace Mann to the table, they didn’t really get much. Very few did.

Price: There is an effort by several organizations and politicians to get that statute of limitations changed or eliminated so victims of any age can come forward and have their allegations heard. Kamil says he’d like to see that, and a Restorative Justice Movement put in place for Horace Mann victims…

Kamil: Best known as what happened in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. You have victims and perpetrators in the same room talking to each other. You need to listen to each other’s stories. So I imagine that I think the only way that Horace Mann can actually get through this on a broader level is to have a sustained series of dialogues, mediated, but with teachers, maybe some of the abusers, maybe some of the current parents and students, and to see how this actually affected, and to break down the barriers of talking about it. I really believe that until that happens, Horace Mann’s not going to get past this. People are always going to wonder if they did the right thing.

Price: Talking to an abuser is something that Kamil did and writes about in his book. He says he got mixed messages from the teacher who abused a female student…

Kamil: I went and visited a fellow up in Vermont that I knew very well. And he’s a conflicted bundle of emotions. At the same time he knows that what he did was wrong, he’s also combative, he unapologetic, and the next minute he is apologetic, calling the girl a liar, and yet getting aggressive. And it’s an interesting portrait about what these guys think. And it’s not my place to judge teachers. I wanted to show him in his own words. You can judge the acts. You know the actor is a complex human being. Many people loved him as an English teacher, and yet he did these horrible things. And that’s, that’s a hard thing for us to hold at the same time.

Price: Mediation, confrontation, restorative justice strategies can be helpful – after the fact. Kamil says we need to get better at preventing these crimes so more children are not subjected to abuse in the first place…

Kamil: We have to become better trained in understanding signs while hiring teachers, and signs along the way. We’re getting better at that. There are many services available today that were not even 10 years ago.

Price: You can read about how the abuse unfolded at Horace Mann school in New York, and about the lives of the victims and the perpetrators in Amos Kamil’s and Sean Elder’s book, Great is the Truth, available in stores and online. You can find out more about Kamil on his website, AmosKamil.com. For more information about all of our guests, log onto our site at Viewpointsonline.net. You can find archives of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher. I’m Gary Price.

 

 

 

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