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Why NY State laws on sexual abuse need to change

Why NY State laws on sexual abuse need to change

There are 3 significant reasons to eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual abuse:

1) The psychological shame that prevents victims of sexual abuse from reporting, sometimes for decades,

2) The perverse incentive in the law that rewards institutions when they discourage, silence and cover-up reports of abuse, and

3) The system being unable to pursue abusers teaching right now -- unnamed, uninvestigated but known. The provision for the retroactive window protects students. The CVA works to remove these barriers:

-- Justice requires we recognize the pain victims struggle with that prevents reporting:

  • Shame prevents victims of sexual abuse from reporting.

  • Blaming oneself is a typical response and it too prevents reporting.

  • Feelings of self-degradation and unworthiness, confusion, loss of self-respect and dignity -- all these also prevent reporting.

  • The relationship with the abuser -- like spousal abuse -- prevents victims from reporting.

  • Being privately and secretly sexually abused by an authority figure is not like having your hat stolen in the street.

Many victims may choose to live with their pain hoping to forget the experience in time. From reading accounts of Horace Mann victims from their own hand, I've learned that when they finally, after decades, choose to report, it is not because the memories have suddenly erupted like a recovered memory. They report because the memory has never left them. It visits their sleep in nightmares; they remember it every morning when they wake; it haunts them every day; when they know that the unbearable will not be relieved, they have nothing more to lose than to speak out the truth.

-- Justice requires we remove the perverse incentive the current SOL provides to schools to silence reporting... at the very time it would be most effective:

We now know that many victims did report abuse to the administration from the late 1960's through the 90's only to be turned away and ignored. The SOL for schools is only 3 years. When a sophomore reports abuse and the school stalls them, by graduation the school is no longer accountable.

So even those victims with the self-assurance and confidence and tough courage to report were only to be dismissed by the institution and discouraged in their pursuit of justice. No law can strictly prevent institutions from hiding timely reports, but it CAN remove an incentive. Since a cover-up may last decades, the statue of limitations facilitates institutional cover-up.

The current SOL prevents the arm of the law from extending beyond the walls of institutions like Horace Mann that conceal and cover up sexual abuse and discourages victims from reporting enduringly hurtful crimes. Neither the abusers nor their protector and facilitator institutions should be allowed to hide behind a statute that serves harmful, dangerous people and unjust institutions.

-- Justice requires we address abusers still teaching, hidden in the backlog of cases.

Beyond the removal of the SOL, the retroactive window is essential so that abusers now teaching can be identified. As it is now, the DA or police cannot fully investigate accounts out of statute. As a result, abusers remain unchecked and unknown to the public. Children remain at risk.

The DA is better able to investigate crimes than a school principal, but when the SOL prevents charges, the process ends. In NY, once an abuser's crimes are 5 years old, he can teach your child without you even knowing -- without accountability. Making civil action available would at least uncover risks hiding close by. Victims should not bear the burden alone to speak out. Our schools and institutions must be accountable to report abuse when it occurs. And speak about it openly.

In sum, victim shame, school cover-up, disabled authorities - all three are enlisted by institutions as they game the system to buy silence for reputation over safety. The price is paid by further victims.

Finally, I have learned some lessons over the last 3 years about independent schools:

  • Your child's teacher is obligated to report YOU but not an abuser teaching next door, in independent schools. We need to fix mandated reporting. And the Bronx DA agrees.

  • Private schools in NY State rarely alert authorities when they get reports of abuse. Abusers love that.

  • The policies schools write are to show parents. All bets are off when a real event happens.

  • Schools aren't accountable for keeping records. Once a school covers up an incident with an abuser, every next incident is preventable and inexcusable.

  • If your child reported abuse to the principal, you'd expect an immediate call. Not at Horace Mann.

We know more about the sanitation of the restaurant down the street than about the risk our children face in the schools we trust to take care of them every day.

With any abuse event, knowing how and why is essential to prevention. Despite 4 decades of abuse, HM refuses to investigate or cooperate to learn the truth. We expect our schools to be accountable.

You can learn more in our report of the investigation by concerned alumni, online soon.

Read what we found. Assess your school. And find out what your school is doing.


CVA Lobby Day, April 22nd, 2015 Horace Mann Action Coalition Peter Brooks

Riverdale Press: Alleged abuse victim settles with HM

Alleged abuse victim settles with Horace Mann School
By Nic Cavell
Posted    4/9/15

A man who sued Horace Mann School over alleged sexual abuse that took place years ago in New Jersey has settled with his alma mater. The unnamed plaintiff was one of a few people believed to have suffered at the hands of Horace Mann educators who did not settle with the school in the months after the institution’s legacy of abuse came to light in 2012.

Rosemarie Arnold, the plaintiff’s lawyer, confirmed the settlement on April 2, but declined to provide any further information, including the terms of the deal. She previously said that, based on the substantial evidence provided by her client, she would seek a settlement between $10 and $15 million.

Horace Mann administrators did not return press inquiries and a communications firm the school hired to discuss the sexual abuse also declined to comment.

An organizer for the Horace Mann Action Coalition, a group of graduates who have called for justice over the abuse, had mixed feelings about the outcome of the New Jersey case.

“Surely we all hoped for more from the justice system, but the outcome is historic, with implications for the school and other victims,” said Peter Brooks.

Mr. Brooks added that he hopes the success of the settlement encourages other victims to come forward with their cases.

Since 2012, about 30 former Horace Mann students have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse at the elite school from the 1960s through the 1990s. But since the accusations came more than 15 years after the alleged crimes — the window of opportunity to seek justice, according to the state’s statutes of limitations —  most reportedly accepted small “now-or-never” settlements out of court. Activists familiar with the plaintiffs estimated the payouts ranged from $20,000 to $350,000.

However, New Jersey, which has a more liberal statue of limitations on child sexual abuse, left an opening for an anonymous plaintiff who walked out of the earlier negotiations. The plaintiff accused Johannes Somary, a music instructor at the school who died in 2011, of sexually abusing him 450 times between 1973 and 1977.,56754

WSJ: Horace Mann Settles Sex-Abuse Lawsuit

By Sophia Hollander
Updated April 3, 2015 10:10 a.m. ET  
A closely watched sexual-abuse lawsuit filed in New Jersey against Horace Mann, the elite private school in the Bronx, has been settled.