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RIVERDALE PRESS: HM Failed, Alumni Prevailed


HM failed, alumni prevailed

By Ben Field

My heart sank as I read Amos Kamil’s story in the New York Times Magazine last June.  Trusted teachers and administrators had violated students in their care. It weighed heavily upon me. 

The broad Horace Mann community now bore a solemn responsibility. Ensuing discussions among alumni convinced me that Mr. Kamil’s article had only scratched the surface. As the past year’s revelations have now confirmed, this tragic history is far more shocking and saddening than even the most cynical observers could initially have imagined.  

Of course we shouldn’t have been as shocked. Though we rarely stop to ponder it, one in six children is a victim of sexual abuse.  

Silence about sexual abuse harms us all. Victims suffer in silence, go unheard, or, worse, try and fail to find help. 

Those who should and could help are also frequently paralyzed into silence by shame and fear. We must lift the veil of silence and learn to openly address sexual abuse of children. 

My alma mater, Horace Mann — a leader in progressive education, blessed with engaged, caring and successful alumni and substantial financial resources — will now forever be part of that dialogue. Despite the bleak statistics and horror of learning what befell some of my fellow alumni, I entered last summer with a feeling of hope.

My hope was shaped by the school’s motto, “great is the truth it prevails,” my belief that HM viewed itself as a leader and the response of my fellow alumni who announced themselves ready to help victims, work with the community and set an example for future institutions. 

This led me to one simple question: What would it look like if for once the response of adults to reports of sexual abuse was to lift the shroud of silence and speak openly, honestly and caringly? 

This seemingly simple question requires challenging and complex actions. In the case of HM, I believe lifting the veil of silence would have meant a prompt and heartfelt apology and offer of assistance to any and all who were harmed, the creation of a safe and confidential space for victims to come forward and a transparent examination of mistakes so we could learn from them. All of this would have to be done through open communication unmarked by fear and shame.  

HM has failed in this regard. The school asked for patience. But sexual abuse proved too scary to talk about, much less investigate. Its suggestion that a “report” comprise of victims’ statements, without any information from the school or others, put the burden of speech on those most silenced by the pain of sexual abuse — the survivors themselves. Horace Mann will only speak of sexual abuse through victims, never for itself.

I remain stunned not only at Horace Mann’s unwillingness to openly address the sexual abuse committed by its teachers and top administrators but how the school has fractured its own community to preserve its silence.

These issues are endemic of the dynamics that enables a society in which sexual abuse thrives.  

Institutions confronted with a past history of sexual abuse simply must break silence and speak openly about what happened.   

Though I believe HM has squandered an opportunity to lead, I remain hopeful a year after Mr. Kamil’s article. 

The alumni community is filled with strong and caring individuals, including survivors, who have come together and worked over the past year to assist survivors in their healing and to break the silence that surrounds sexual abuse.  

Along with the bravery of the survivors who first broke their silence, my former classmates have demonstrated with word and deed that no matter how awkward and painful addressing sexual abuse can be, speaking and acting is always a good thing. 

I am proud to be part of a community that is working toward a day where no child (or adult) will feel the need to live silently with shame and fear and all who have been harmed will feel safe enough to ask for help. 

Perhaps HM taught us well after all.

We know that somewhere there’s a child living silently with shame and fear, who is watching and listening to how we, as adults, react to these reports. What that child hears will impact whether or not he or she feels safe enough to ask an adult for help. 

Maybe Horace Mann will join that conversation in the future. In the meantime, the broader Horace Mann community continues to work toward a better future on its own.

Ben Field is a 1989 alumnus of the Horace Mann School. The Points of View column is open to all readers.,52664?print=1

The Voices Behind Angelina Jolie


DNA: Analysis - The Voices Behind Angelina Jolie

The Voices Behind Angelina Jolie

DNA / Naomi Wolf / Sunday, June 9, 2013 11:51 IST

On May 26, Angelina Jolie’s aunt, Debbie Martin, died of breast cancer at 61. Jolie’s mother, Marcheline Bertrand, died at 56 from a related illness, ovarian cancer. And, two weeks before Martin died, Jolie revealed that she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy after testing positive for a BRCA gene mutation - which is correlated with a woman’s being five times more susceptible to breast cancer and 28 times more susceptible to ovarian cancer.

The test for the BRCA mutation is expensive - roughly $3,500. In the United States, health insurers cover the cost only if a first-degree relative — for example, a woman’s mother — has had a history of breast or ovarian cancer;; other women must pay out of pocket. Given the benefits of preventive care, the test has become highly controversial, because its manufacturer, Myriad Genetics, holds a genetic patent that gives it a monopoly — and huge profits — on all testing.

Her revelation of her mastectomy— and the evident support of her partner, Brad Pitt — has elicited a rapturous response from popular media, including the tabloids that once damned her as the “other woman” who broke up Pitt’s previous marriage. There is something about the narrative — a sex symbol sacrificing her fetishised breasts for the sake of her children, with her husband staying by her side — that is deeply reassuring to women in Western culture.

But the real importance of Jolie’s story is its context: a wave of women and men, in very different settings around the world, who are insisting on narrating their own meanings for events involving their bodies — events that, like breast cancer, were once shrouded in shame, silence, fear, or blame. Jolie has refused to treat mastectomy as scary or tragic — or as making her “less of a woman” in any way.She is thus modelling a refusal to be a woman victim;; by doing so, she is also modelling agency in relation to her own body and its “story.”

Jolie is prominent, but she is hardly alone. Consider the Brazilian women who are coming forward to talk publicly about having been raped on public buses — attacks that echo similar assaults in India and Egypt. Or consider the two young female staffers of New York officials who have publicly pressed their complaints about having been sexually harassed by New York Assemblyman Vito J Lopez.

Similarly, the men who were sexually abused in the 1970’s at Horace Mann, a prestigious New York City private school, are refusing to perpetuate the silence and “shame” of their victimisation by a circle of pedophiles (and by the school officials who covered up the abusers’ behavior). They have now joined a highly publicised lawsuit against the school, stepping into the light of day under their own names.

Times have surely changed — partly because of people and actions like these.

Twenty-two years ago, when Anita Hill publicly accused then-US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, it was she, the alleged victim, who was scrutinised and smeared as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.”

When I began in recent years to insist that the traditional silence and anonymity assigned to rape victims does not protect them, but only perpetuates a Victorian framework in which rapists attack with impunity and victims are asked to carry the “shame,” my argument was met with hostility. But events are proving me right: nothing changes until everything changes — that is, until a critical mass of “victims” comes forward under their own names to reject the shame assigned to them for carrying a scary, “mutilating” disease, for having been assaulted by rapists, or for having been abused by pedophiles.

Angelina Jolie puts a famous face on this phenomenon. But many others are already standing up and proclaiming, under their own names and bylines: “I have a right to say publicly what happened to me, and to define it in my own terms;; it is not my disgrace.”

Naomi Wolfis a political activist and social critic whose most recent book is Give Me Liberty: A HandbookFor AmericanRevolutionaries. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2013.

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THE WEEK: Australia's Army Chief Demonstrates How You Address Sex Abuse

Australia's army chief demonstrates how you address sex abuse
By Harold Maass | June 13, 2013
Like the U.S., Australia is faced with a scandal involving women in the military. That's where the similarities end, however. While American generals have been criticized for their handling of an epidemic of sexual assaults, Australia's army chief, David Morrison, is getting rave reviews for a blistering video he released this week demanding, through clenched teeth, that sexists in his country's military mend their ways or find another place to work.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Detention of Critic of Child Abuse Draws Ire in China

JUNE 7, 2013, 2:19 AM Detention of Critic of Child Abuse Draws Ire in China By DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW BEIJING — The first urgent message came at 11.41 in the morning of Thursday, May 30: Ye Haiyan, a campaigner against child abuse and for the rights of sex workers and those with HIV/AIDS, wrote that her home had been invaded and she was being physically attacked in Bobai, Guangxi Province.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Detention of Critic of Child Abuse Draws Ire in China

JUNE 7, 2013, 2:19 AM Detention of Critic of Child Abuse Draws Ire in China By DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW BEIJING — The first urgent message came at 11.41 in the morning of Thursday, May 30: Ye Haiyan, a campaigner against child abuse and for the rights of sex workers and those with HIV/AIDS, wrote that her home had been invaded and she was being physically attacked in Bobai, Guangxi Province.

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