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WALL STREET JOURNAL: Report: Wider Abuse at Horace Mann School

posted by HM Action at 2015-05-27 09:14:00

Report: Wider Abuse at Horace Mann School

Alumni investigation alleges more students victimized than previously thought


The alleged sexual abuse at Horace Mann was more widespread than initially described, according to an investigation of the elite Bronx private school by a nonprofit group founded by alumni to address the scandal.

The report identifies more than 60 former students who allegedly were abused from the 1960s through the 1990s by 22 school employees. The report, compiled by the Horace Mann Action Coalition, was expected to be released Wednesday.

Handling Abuse at School

The Horace Mann report researched best practices for preventing student sexual abuse. Among them:

  • Establish a system that protects those who report suspected abuse and alleged victims. Give clear direction to everyone at the school on when authorities must be contacted; keep names confidential.
  • Train staff, students and parents on what constitutes sexual abuse and appropriate boundaries.
  • Write policies that define what an offense is and what the response will be.
  • Ask job applicants if they ever have been convicted of a crime. Seek references on a range of work and volunteer experiences.

The number of alleged victims are more than double the 25 cited in a 2013 report by the Bronx district attorney’s office. The office also found 12 alleged perpetrators.

The office didn’t pursue prosecutions because the alleged incidents fell outside New York state’s statute of limitations, which requires that victims report sexual abuse within five years of turning 18 years old.

“If there are cases they have and wish to refer to us—and are within the statute of limitations—this office will investigate for possible criminal charges,” said Terry Raskyn, public-information director for the Bronx district attorney’s office.

The report details allegations of abuse by both male and female staff members, including a headmaster, coaches, teachers, a school chaplain, a dean of guidance and department heads. The report incudes at least two people who haven’t been named in connection with the abuse scandal.

Horace Mann has apologized for the abuse and reached settlements with some alleged victims. It declined to participate in the report.

“While the school has significantly revised its practices and procedures regarding child abuse prevention and reporting to make them state-of-the-art, we will review the report to determine whether it contains any suggestions that would further strengthen child safety,” the school said in a statement released Tuesday.

“The school cooperated fully with reviews by the Bronx district attorney and the New York City police department, and engaged in an extensive mediation and settlement process during which over 30 survivors told their stories of abuse at Horace Mann from the 1960’s to the 1990’s,” the school’s response continued. “We encourage anyone with additional information to reach out to the appropriate authorities.”

The report’s lead investigator was Leslie Crocker Snyder, a former sex-crimes prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office who expressed disappointment that Horace Mann officials declined to participate or provide access to documents

“To me the report is important because people should know how horrible things could be,” Ms. Snyder said. “But what’s really important is how do we move forward.”

The report includes suggested best practices for private schools to prevent and respond to sexual abuse, and calls for the creation of a statewide office dedicated to investigating sexual abuse at public and private schools, modeled on a similar office in New York City that only focuses on public schools.

The report also calls for state lawmakers to close a loophole that requires public schools in the state—but not private ones—to report suspected abuse by school employees and to create a registry of offenders.

“There was this widespread assumption that if you put your child in a private school that they were in safer space,” said Marci Hamilton, a professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo law school at Yeshiva University who specializes in sexual-abuse cases and consulted on the report. “Just like all the rest of the assumptions that we’ve had about child sex abuse—that it’s rare, that it doesn’t have long-term effects—all of these myths about child sex abuse have been blown out of the water.”

The report also urged legislators and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to change the state’s statute-of-limitations laws, which are among the strictest in the U.S.

“The governor’s office will review the proposal,” said a spokeswoman for the governor.

Officials at the Horace Mann Action Coalition said the report cost $90,000 to $100,000, said group spokesman Robert Boynton. The money was spent to hire Ms. Snyder and others, including retired New York Police Department detectives who interviewed alleged victims, witnesses and perpetrators.

The group interviewed more than 70 people over two years.

Mr. Boynton said it found “that there was no broad conspiracy that I’m aware of—it really was lots and lots and lots of small cowardly decisions to take the easy path and the path of concealment and secrecy rather than transparency.”

The report includes descriptions about the school’s tactics during negotiations with alleged victims that led to a number of settlements in 2013. “They told people they were making an exploding offer,” an anonymous victim recalls in the report. “The offer is X and if you don’t decide by the end of the day we withdraw the offer.”

The school received at least 25 separate reports through 2011 of students who said they had been abused between the 1960s and 1990s and didn’t forward any of them to law enforcement, the report alleges. It accused the school of retaliating against students, including threatening to reduce one girl’s scholarship when her family reported abuse.

Horace Mann declined to comment on those allegations.

Joseph Cumming, who says he was abused by a teacher at Horace Mann between 1975 and 1977, said he appreciated the report, but it was only a beginning. His alleged abuser is dead.

“This report does make us feel we’ve been believed, we’ve been taken seriously and it uncovers as much of the truth as could be uncovered given the obstacles that the school has put in the way of those working on it,” he said. “But as the report acknowledges, it’s incomplete because of the school’s refusal to cooperate.”

Write to Sophia Hollander at

posted at: 2015-05-27 09:14:00, last updated: 2015-05-27 09:24:21

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