The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the retro expansion of statute of limitations for child abuse. Yesterday’s ruling is a huge victory for survivors of past abuse and for justice.
Boston Globe: “This is tremendous,” Durso said. “I can’t overemphasize the importance of how much this will mean to great numbers of people.” Durso said the SJC ruling will bolster advocates in other states who are seeking to expand the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits in their jurisdictions. “They’re all looking to see what we’ve done here,” he said.
SNAP: The unanimous ruling is part of a larger, longer trend toward repealing or reforming archaic, predator-friendly statutes of limitations that keep being exploited by those who commit and conceal child sex crimes as a way to protect their secrets and evade consequences for their horrific acts.
The Ruling: “..the extent of the expansion appears to be tied directly to the compelling legislative purpose underlying the act, and in particular, the apparent recognition that in many cases, victims of child abuse are not able to appreciate the extent or the cause of harm they experience as a result of sexual abuse perpetrated on them for many years after the abuse has ended.”
“New York’s current statute of limitations law prevents a victim of child sexual abuse from filing suit after he or she turns 23. In essence, the law makes it possible for schools and other institutions to escape legal accountability simply by remaining silent long enough.
The laws enable institutions to protect their brand while placing children at risk. By using the narrow constraints of the law, they avoid not only legal consequences, but also any kind of moral reckoning. It’s not just that these institutions are effectively evading legal and financial consequences; they are creating more victims by allowing abusers who could have been stopped years ago to continue their abusive behavior.
It is time that New York State residents and lawmakers gave millions of adult survivors a fighting chance to reclaim some dignity and gain justice in the remaining years of what are, for many, already shattered lives.”
“Since seeing the movie “Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe investigation of sexual abuse and coverups in the Catholic Church, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it and the questions it raises—about how far institutions will go to protect themselves, about who we listen to and protect, about who and what we ignore, about the power of disclosure and even conversation.” Sarah Larson, the New Yorker:
On Monday, Nov. 16th, 25 child protection organizations met in front of the White House to announce a coalition seeking a National Commission on Child Sex Abuse, along the lines of the groundbreaking Australia Royal Commission on Institutional Abuse. Their mission has been to inquire into and report upon responses by institutions to instances and allegations of child abuse.
American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC)
— (Michael L. Haney)
American Humanist Association (Roy Speckhart, Matt Bulger) Bishopaccountability.org(Terry McKiernan, Anne Barrett Doyle)
Catholic Whistleblowers (Rev. Jim Connell, Tom Doyle, etc.)
Child Friendly Faith Program (Janet Heimlich)
Child Justice, Inc. (Eileen King)
Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse (FACSA) (John Salveson)
Foundation for Survivors of Abuse (FSA) (Deondra Brown)
Horace Mann Action Coalition (HMAC) (Peter Brooks)
Justice4PaKids (Maureen Cislo)
KidSafe Foundation (Sally Berenzweig)
Lauren’s Kids (Lauren Book)
MaleSurvivor (Christopher Anderson)
National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (NAACSA)
— (Bill Murray)
National Black Church Initiative (NBCI) (Rev. Anthony Evans)
National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC)(Jeff Dion)
National Organization of Forensic Social Work (Viola Vaughan Eden)
National Partnership to End Interpersonal Violence Across the Lifespan (NPEIV) — (Sandi Capuano Morrison)
National Survivor Advocates Coalition (NSAC) (Kristine Ward)
Peaceful Hearts Foundation (Matt Sandusky)
Road to Recovery (Robert Hoatson)
SNAP (David Clohessy, Barbara Blaine)
Speaking Truth to Power (STTOP) (Ruth Moore)
Stop the Silence (Pamela Pine)
Survivors and Clergy Leadership Alliance (Peter Isely)
Together We Heal (David Pittman)
Turning Point Women’s Counseling and Advocacy Center
— (Kristen Woolley)
Vertigo Charitable Foundation (Valerie Gibson)
Voice Today (Angela Williams, Marlan Wilbanks)
Horace Mann Action Coalition Nov. 16th, 2015, Washington, D.C.
The American public is learning what the advocates and abuse prevention groups here have known and confronted over years in their work to support survivors: the role of institutions in enabling most sexual abuse.
Behind the vast majority of incidents of sexual abuse are repeated sets of crimes the justice system overlooks in many states and by doing so, perpetuates continued abuse and harm.
It’s time to recognize the pattern we see in repeated abuse rather than react to each new revelation.
“We hope it goes away” isn’t a prevention strategy, it’s an obscene free pass for organizations hiding abuse and worse, a deadly message to unspoken victims everywhere which shouts “we don’t want you to speak up.”
From our research, we see a clear pattern again and again: When an abuser is reported, organizations most often cover it up. The victim is stalled. The abuser isn’t confronted or is moved, allowing further abuse. The abuser continues to operate. How? By running out the clock, using the state’s SOL as a roadmap. The institution takes advantage of that perverse incentive, games the system and claims no accountability for creating the majority of abuse.
I know. In my own school, sexual abuse on an unimaginable scale continued for more than 35 years, despite repeated reports made by victims, students, parents and teachers to the administration. Some victims committed suicide. Most suffer life-long wounds.
Add many further failures to the covering up of reports and the intimidation of those reporting:
· Not alerting authorities
· Not investigating or documenting accounts received so subsequent abuse would be obvious
· Not looking for the likely other victims
· Not counseling those harmed
· Not informing parents of abuse reported of their own children
· Not confronting abusers
· Not alerting schools where abusers moved on to teach
At each step, they hurt victims already wounded, hide abusers, and stall justice – all to put reputation over safety with impunity. Even years later, with a fresh opportunity to help heal, they stonewall and re-injure.
Why do we still allow schools, religious groups and other institutions to betray trust and subvert accountability? Why is the same abuse confronted quickly in one state and invisible next door?
A national commission would have the power to investigate and would recognize what we all have seen. Our colleagues in Australia had the courage to examine historic and nationwide abuse with enough perspective to see it as it really is. They concluded:
“We need to move from an understanding of institutions as merely places where child sexual abuse may occur to places where the institution itself is conducive to crime. And if institutions or organizations are directly or indirectly responsible for criminal behaviour such as child sexual assault, the law should hold them to account.”
– – – –
Ariel Kaminer interviewing Amos Kamil at NYU on Nov. 18th. She set the tone for an intimate evening asking about aspects not explored in other discussions: the toll of taking on the story, icons, father figures, confidences, the writing process, and the concentration and scope of what is known so far. Questions and comments followed, from the full house audience which included schoolmates young and old, former teachers, grads from Hilltop and other schools. Notables attending added details to the revealing discussion, including Judge Snyder, teachers and survivors. Where would things be had Amos not written his article? More open discussion events are planned for January and throughout 2016.
I encourage everyone to read this new book “Great is the Truth” by Amos Kamil with Sean Elder. From the dreadful span of decades-long abuse to how leaders entrusted to protect children fail today, the tale provides astounding lessons, hidden for too long, to help every parent, spouse, student, teacher and school administration. It’s a compelling read, not just for grads but for anyone curious about what our institutions do behind the scenes to protect reputation at the expense of safety. It’s the kind of cover up the public rarely hears about in news accounts. The largest school sexual abuse scandal in America, worse then Penn State, shouldn’t ever have to be repeated to recognize the warning signs highlighted here or to confirm how you would expect your child’s school to respond, opposite of what this school’s administration sadly chose. Let’s hope that when the next incidents of sexual abuse are revealed, schools react with compassion and reach out, instead of burying reports as just a PR problem to be made to go away. If that’s the message to victims ashamed to come forward, none of them will. I learned that now is the time to ask my child’s school what they will do, before any event would make that discussion impossible.
The Report by concerned alumni here is a great companion piece to the narrative of this book and a way for a parent to begin a conversation with the principal of their child’s school. http://makingschoolsafe.com/quiz/
HM Alumni are puzzled by recent steps the school has taken that seem peculiar:
— Alumni were not included in the dedication of “Alumni Field,”
— Those abused by Mr. Clark and others were not consulted on the renaming of the former “Clark Field,” and
— An article the following week cited three alumni without the paper consulting them; the paper issued corrections.
Below is the letter to the editor of the HM Record in response from two of those involved, published this past Friday, Nov. 6th, 2015:
We are among the dozens of students who were sexually abused by our trusted teachers at Horace Mann, and one of us was abused by Headmaster R. Inslee Clark, after whom the former “Clark Field” was named.
We were pained and distressed to see our names in print in the October 16th Record, cited as “proponents” of a decision about the renaming of “Main Field,” despite the fact that we were not proponents of that decision and had not been consulted on it. Dr. Kelly has phoned us to apologize and to communicate the reporter’s apology, and The Record’s Editor has also published an apology. We accept these apologies.
Nonetheless, the rededication of the field represents a missed opportunity for our community. It seems strange that those who were abused by Mr. Clark and others were not consulted on the renaming of the former “Clark Field.” And it seems strange that alumni were not included in the dedication of “Alumni Field.”
There is a constructive way to move forward toward healing and eventually to an on-campus memorial. Since the abuse was revealed publicly in 2012, many in the HM community, including the Survivors’ Group, the Alumni Council, and The Record’s former Editor-in-Chief (in a May 2014 opinion piece), have called upon the school’s leadership to provide a public accounting and acknowledgment of what happened, based on the memories of current and former school personnel and based on the school’s own files. The Survivors’ Group has also asked repeatedly to meet with the Trustees for constructive dialogue, but the Trustees have declined to meet face-to-face with us, other than as part of a legal process.
Poly Prep faced a similar situation and managed to address it in a way that was able to bring the beginnings of healing to many of the Survivors of abuse there, the alumni, and the current students and faculty. Through a series of meetings between members of the Survivors and school Administrators and Trustees, including open dialogue about what transpired, and plans for a fitting ceremony which included speeches and dedication of a memorial, both sides worked together to take a much needed step towards healing and unity.
If we can achieve a similar process and outcome, then Horace Mann might be able to bring together the entire community, including members of the Survivors’ Group, to create a fitting memorial that would be healing to our community – both for past memories and for future generations.
We have spoken with Dr. Kelly, and are hopeful that we can organize something along those lines, and step forward, hopefully culminating in a memorial service and dedication in the near future, that can bring together Alumni, current students and faculty, and renew old friendships.
On Oct 16th, the HM Record printed a seriously flawed article about the dedication event at Homecoming, wrongly portraying the support of survivors and by me without having contacting us. The school mailed the edition to all parents.
I was surprised to read an article about the re-dedication. Even more to be quoted and mis-identified. I called around and discovered that none of the others quoted had been interviewed either. What’s more, it turns out the event described didn’t take place. So I wrote the editor of the Record and have since learned the following:
The editor informed the faculty advisor of “significant problems with the recent article,” and that “quotes in the article were falsely attributed.” The advisor agreed this was extremely troubling, that the administration was taking the matter very seriously, promising a full explanation when available and to issue a corrections statement in the next issue. She declined my request to meet in person at HM. The original article and the corrections in the following issue are uploaded below.
Why these three people, from among all alumni? Who chose them? Why was no call made to each of us? How did the story itself come to be? Who commissioned the author? With whom did author speak? Who fact-checked? The student reporter(s) made an error as did others at the school who, knowing the people and issues far better, should have intervened. The reporter(s) should not be faulted if the story was provided to them by others.
The reporter’s reference to me as a survivor appears to have been based on the mistaken assumption that my work with HMAC is motivated by my personal experiences. Like many of my fellow alumni – both survivors and their classmates – I am motivated by a belief that what happened needs to come to light if justice is to be served and future harm avoided. Because the school has declined to take responsible action we are doing so ourselves, with a broad base of support from the Horace Mann community.
The school’s response is additionally troubling as it immediately follows alumni letters to the editor of the Record offering a path for the school leaders to join with alumni to reconcile divisions in the community. An inclusive dedication could have been meaningful progress.
( Click to enlarge images )
The school squandered a valuable opportunity to heal the community and join with alumni at Homecoming on the field. From my perspective, the school didn’t plan an inclusive, meaningful ceremony to include the survivors, because the school hasn’t taken necessary precursor steps. They threw it onto a schedule without a lot of care or thought, and then there was either no ceremony or, at best, no ceremony that those who’d have wanted to attend could attend as a practical matter. Well-intended people were there and were left standing around – stood up after they thought they were invited on a date. The schedule showed a time set for a ceremony. For whatever reason, any ceremony was very small. If no event was intended, why run the article in the Record citing the approval of survivors in the first place?
Renaming is one step forward. Doing it alone is forgetting and excludes those harmed, not truly re-dedicating to all. “Alumni Field” is just a sign when what’s still missing is the truth and real engagement. Why wasn’t the school’s event more like the analogous Poly Prep event, which seemed to be more unifying? Because there, the whole community found the strength to overcome fear and pain and work through some hard owning up together to make that solemn ceremony possible.
HM can hold a dedication which heals after first undertaking the prerequisite of any honest accounting. Then meet with survivors and those interested in the planning, invite students and alumni and join together in a dedication with true meaning.
The following letter appears in the October 9th issue of the HM Record, defining a necessary step for the administration to move to heal the community:
To the Editor:
This letter responds to The Record’s September 8 pieces on the HMAC investigation report and the 2014-2015 annual fund, and also to Peter Brooks’s October 2 letter to the Editor. I write from the perspective of a lawyer who for almost twenty years has advised independent schools on issues of institutional concern. I’m also a member of the Class of ’82 who, like so many of my schoolmates, experienced inappropriate conduct by an HM teacher.
Per well-established best practices, independent schools grappling with histories of sex abuse and inadequate responses to such abuse restore institutional equilibrium by pivoting toward transparency and renewed trustworthiness in the eyes of all significant constituencies. For such a pivoting to happen, a necessary step is a school’s candid “letter to the community” that includes reasonable detail about what happened and what specific institutional shortcomings contributed. Most often, the “guts” of the letter is a summary of an independent investigation commissioned by the school itself. Deerfield Academy is a strong example of the many independent schools that have followed this playbook to restore equilibrium, goodwill, and a warm sense of shared, communal values spreading across constituencies and generations.
With alumni funding, the HMAC report was prepared because the HM administration has not yet provided the school community with a written report on the systemic problems that allowed abuse to occur for so long. From the 2012 publication of Amos Kami’s article in TheNew York Times through the present, the school’s positioning on the abuse issue has been a source of frustration and pain for survivors and large numbers of alumni. To survivors and many alumni, HM’s actions feel inconsistent with survivors’ and alumni’s statuses as members of an HM “community” — a word with ancient roots connoting a group that acts collectively to fortify, strengthen, or defend.
Accordingly, in addition to the opportunities identified in Mr. Brooks’s letter, the HMAC report’s publication is a renewed opportunity for our school’s leadership to consider pivoting decisively, through the issuance a “letter to the community” about what happened and what institutional shortcomings contributed. Many including this writer believe that such a factual accounting by the school would be in its institutional interest, and would be a necessary step to show all that, going forward, the school administration stands with rather than apart from survivors and concerned alumni. As the experiences of many other schools have shown, any institutional risk associated with reasonable transparency on the sex-abuse issue is substantially less than the risk of a lack of transparency. A moderately-detailed “letter to the community” from the school would — to borrow Mr. Brooks’s phrase — “only help us and cannot hurt us.”
As school reopens, students wrote in Horace Mann’s weekly paper of the report on decades-long abuse commissioned by alumni. An administrator was quoted as saying it contained “nothing substantially new,” despite the school’s refusal to investigate or discuss any of the lessons learned from its own understanding or files. In the following issue, the paper printed this letter to the editor from alumni in response:
“Dismissing the alumni report as containing nothing new overlooks important contributions and a vital opportunity. First, there is now an actual report in one place with recommendations based on investigation. Second, it includes practices endorsed by administrators to make school safer today. Third, it includes a list of reports made to the school in order to diagnose how to improve early warnings, prescribe practical methods to heal similar events and limit damage. Fourth, school heads and boards are using it to improve their education and prevention systems.
More central, as the alumni of HM have taken a leading role in a national effort to address abuse in schools, an opportunity is open for the administration to join with alumni in helping all schools benefit from the lessons learned. Surely all members of the community share the goal of making school safe, whatever our differences may be.
We should join together to eliminate the gaping loopholes in mandated reporting identified by the Bronx DA. We should help current and future survivors by supporting the Child Victims Act as endorsed by experts. We can recognize the systemic conditions that enabled abuse at HM and make sure they are removed in our school and all schools. As a next step, we should meet and speak openly together to show our community that nothing that has happened in the past should be feared and that however awkward and however painful discussing sexual abuse can be, discussing it can only help us and certainly cannot hurt us.
The report can be found online at MakingSchoolSafe.com
It remains to be seen what proportion of teachers have read the report or are even aware of it. Beyond the value of the narrative history of accounts it contains, the report puts in one place best practices and recommendations for prevention which all teachers should know. It also includes key questions parents can ask to understand the policies and systems in place at their own child’s school and to engage administrators in ongoing conversation. That discussion is far easier now than after any tragic event.
As Horace Mann prepares for its annual Homecoming day and assorted class reunions, how do the survivors of abuse feel about coming “home”? What efforts have been made to welcome them?