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RIVERDALE PRESS: HM's apology falls short for victims

posted by HM Action at 2013-05-30 04:27:00

HM’s apology falls short for victims

By Sarina Trangle
Posted 5/30/13

Horace Mann issued its first public apology to alumni who were sexually abused by school faculty, but victims said the message was disingenuous because the school still refuses to investigate decades of abuse and, therefore, does not know what it is apologizing for.

On May 24, Horace Mann Head of School Thomas Kelly and Board of Trustees Chair Steven Friedman released a statement acknowledging that former teachers and administrators sexually abused students between 1962 and 1996.

“We sincerely apologize for the harm that was caused by the teachers and administrators who abused anyone during their years at Horace Mann School. These unconscionable betrayals of trust never should have happened. But they did, and now we, as a school must fully accept this reality,” the statement read. “Members of the Horace Mann School community who are survivors deserve our gratitude for having the courage to come forward, and our deep appreciation for demanding that Horace Mann School become a model for child abuse prevention and reporting programs. Beyond their pain, generations of alumni/ae have had their memories of Horace Mann School tarnished by these abusers. For this, too, we apologize.”

Some alumni were concerned that people who served as trustees when abuse was reported and did nothing were continuing to serve as trustee emeriti. In the note, Horace Mann announced it would eliminate that position effective June 30.

According to the release, “the great majority” of the 31 alumni that participated in settlement talks brokered by Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation reached an agreement with the school.

Horace Mann’s letter, which was posted on its website the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, announced plans to create an advisory board on student safety. The board will have seats for at least one abuse survivor, a representative from the Bronx District Attorney’s office, a New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children employee and a representative from Commonwealth Mediation.

A survivor will also be appointed to the Head of School Committee, which was created after Mr. Kelly started at Horace Mann in 2005, to advise trustees and the administration.

The school has asked Commonwealth Mediation to prepare an independent summary of reported abuses, without identifying survivors. 

Abuse victims have waited nearly a year for Horace Mann to respond to their requests that the school acknowledge and apologize for the abuse and commission an independent investigation into the allegations. Alumni began coming forward in numbers after a bombshell exposé on abuse at the school was published in The New York Times Magazine last June. 

More than 35 alumni have accused 22 faculty members of abuse and, according to the Horace Mann Action Coalition, they have detailed at least 18 instances of school staff ignoring reports of abuse. The alumni group formed in the wake of the story and has worked to set up a network of mental health professionals willing to voluntarily counsel victims and members have funded an independent investigation by Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder. Ms. Snyder said the school has refused to cooperate with her team. 

In a written response to the apology, abuse victims announced that they planned to participate in Ms. Snyder’s investigation because the school has left them with no other option.

Joseph Cumming, a 1977 alumnus who often speaks on behalf of survivors, said he disagreed with the school’s suggestion that the Bronx DA’s review of the abuse was sufficient because most abusers are dead, mentally infirm or unwilling to discuss the matter. 

At least three abusers have been confronted by police, two have spoken with the media and two others have not been publicly accused, Mr. Cumming said. The DA’s inquiry focused on whether any crimes were prosecutable under the statue of limitations, which bars victims of childhood sexual abuse from beginning civil or criminal cases after they turn 23.

“It’s like saying we have a termite problem in our house so we will put on mosquito repellent. Putting on mosquito repellent is a good thing to do, but it’s not going to resolve the termite problem,” said Mr. Cumming, a pastor for the International Church at Yale. “We want to know the truth — who knew what when and what was or was not done.”

Mr. Cumming and other abuse victims have said the investigation would help them heal and would signify to current students that if faculty behaves inappropriately, students can expect the school to take their reports seriously.

Mr. Cumming said the survivors believe at least one trustee emeriti advocated on behalf of victims and, therefore, stripping all trustee emeriti of their position is inappropriate.

The school’s proposal to release a summary of statements survivors gave during mediation talks concerned some victims. They said they abided by a confidentiality agreement barring them from discussing the mediation process and felt betrayed that the school planned to breach this agreement by releasing their stories without airing any of its actions.

The survivors’ letter noted that Horace Mann has become a case study for a social-science research into institutional betrayal of victims of sexual abuse.

Jennifer Freyd, a University of Oregon psychology professor, said she and a doctoral student sent surveys to Horace Mann abuse victims this spring and plan to use them to begin tracking their wellbeing.

She said her research into institutional betrayal — when large organizations such as the military or schools do not respond properly to allegations of abuse — can exacerbate mental health problems for victims. Engaging in a thorough process of self-reflection in a transparent manner can help victims, Ms. Freyd said.

“It is important to get the message to institutions that it is not enough to prevent these thing as much as possible,” she said. “Sometimes the response to reports of sexual assaults or abuse is just as painful as the actual assault.”

Some survivors said the school’s response made them feel worse.

“Imagine that the Freeh Report consisted of the complaint of the kid in the shower and that was it. And Penn State never opened up its books or allowed testimony,” said one survivor, who asked to remain anonymous. “See Horace Mann doesn’t want anybody to know that McQueary went to Paterno who went to Spanier. They want the world to think that the end of this story is the little boy in the shower without any adults’ enabling of the repeated abuse. And that’s not the whole story.”,52545?page=1&



posted at: 2013-05-30 04:27:00, last updated: 2013-05-30 04:30:03

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