On April 23rd 2013 Horace Mann alumnus Joseph L. Cumming released the following statement about his abuse while a student at the Horace Mann School.
Marc Fisher (HM ’76) has published a lengthy look at the career of English teacher Robert Berman in the April 1, 2013 issue of The New Yorker: A Sex-Abuse Scandal at Horace Mann:
…what about Mr. Berman—this odd, secretive man who frightened away many students, yet retired to a house that former students bought for him? He wasn’t mentioned in the Times stories, but he may have been the greatest enigma of all.
The full contents of the article are graphic and may be triggering for abuse survivors.
As revelations about Jimmy Savile fill the news — another tragic case of an abuser using his position to lure children —Kathryn Westcott & Tom de Castella published an excellent article in the BBC News Magazine (25 Oct) explaining why these cases take so long to come to light. In ‘The decades-long shadow of abuse’ Westcott & Castella discuss the re-traumatizing effect of not being believed once abuse survivors come forward, in a way continuing abusers’ psychological power to harm their victims years, even decades, later.
In an earlier insightful article in the New Yorker magazine (24 Sep), ‘In Plain View: How child molesters get away with it,’ Malcolm Gladwell — focusing, among other examples, on the Sandusky case — also addresses why these cases take so long to become known .
|When monsters roam free, we assume that people in positions of authority ought to be able to catch them if only they did their jobs. But that might be wishful thinking. — Malcolm Gladwell (2012)|
Published online today, Daily Beast reporter, Abigail Pesta, shares a heartbreaking story of a young woman who was raped by her teacher while a student at Horace Mann in the 1980s.
Warning: This is painful reading. Years of sexual and emotional abuse are described. Bravely and generously the victim, now an adult, shares these awful experiences. Not only is her strength inspirational, but her story helps us to understand why it is so difficult for children to come forward and seek help.
The following is the official survivors’ group response to the letter issued this morning by Steven M. Friedman, Chair, Horace Mann School Board of Trustees:
The survivors of sexual abuse at the Horace Mann School welcome outreach by the Board of Trustees, although we are disappointed in the amount of time it took the Board to generate a response to our requests, which we first made on June 21, 2012.
While any gesture of outreach is positive, we are disappointed as well that this response does not address the requests we made in June and have repeated since: an apology from the institution, compensation for the survivors, and an independent investigation.
The investigation by the Bronx District Attorney’s office does not constitute an independent investigation according to established best practices. Nor does the NYPD investigation, also in progress. These investigations are not voluntary. The model for an independent investigation is the Freeh Report conducted by Penn State, which was voluntary, was funded by the school itself, and was not restricted by any constraints, such as the statute of limitations, on its ability to see its inquiry through to its conclusions. An independent investigation conducted by special outside counsel retained by the School for that purpose is especially appropriate and necessary in light of the facts that have come to light concerning the involvement of predecessor School Heads and Boards of Trustees in failing to respond to and/or suppressing reports of sexual abuse. These failures and suppressions would not necessarily be the subject of the DA’s or NYPD investigation.
We are disappointed as we have been in the past that the School and the Board choose to communicate in detail with the community as a whole before communicating in any substantive way with us.
We continue to assert our requests, and hope that a fully satisfactory response will be forthcoming from the School and the Board in future.
The following is the full text of the statement issued today by the survivor group to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal about independent initiatives:
The survivors of sexual abuse at the Horace Mann School welcome any and all initiatives that individuals are willing to undertake on our behalf. We ask that people who want to support us consult with us first, since we can help guide these initiatives to make sure they best support our needs. We note that no individual act can substitute for action by the school itself. We continue to ask that the Horace Mann School administration and Board of Trustees honor our request for an apology, compensation and an independent investigation.
The Survivors’ Letter was delivered to the Board of Trustees on June 21st. After three weeks, the Board has failed to respond.
We have received no acknowledgment of our letter, nor any indication of when or whether we will ever receive a personal response. We have received no gesture of compassion or caring from the Board of Trustees.
Today, the Survivors sent a Second Survivors’ Letter.
To the editor:
In private communication with over 2000 Horace Mann School alumni, we have learned of several instances of sexual abuse perpetrated by past faculty against students, some more egregious than those which have already been published. We are appalled that the school administration has failed to reach out to our classmates who were sexually abused. Our demands for an apology on behalf of those classmates have been met with silence. We are also appalled that those school Trustees who were aware of those abuses at the time and ignored them have not resigned from the Board. We have demanded that they be removed.
Justice, accountability and healing cannot be complete without these first steps.
[signed by ?# of Horace Mann alumni listed alphabetically]
In his message to us, Rob writes:
I am gathering signatures for the letter below intended for the New York Times. If you wish to sign, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org indicating your desire to have your name included.
I intend to list the signatures in alphabetical order including non survivor alumni and survivors alike. I do not need a great many signatures, but I don’t wish to exclude anyone. Alternatively, the signatures can be compiled and submitted by other means — a webpage or by some other person. In any case, I would like to get this moving quickly, since newspapers do not print letters that are no longer timely.
(I’ve kept it short to increase the likelihood of getting it published.) Thanks to Christina Propst for her wise emendations.
Below is the letter (referenced in the New York Times piece of June 6, 2012) written by then 16-year-old Benjamin Balter, seeking help. The letter is addressed to Mr. Foote, who was Head of School for Horace Mann at the time. It is posted here with the permission of Balter’s mother.
Scanned pdf of the original letter sent: Benjamin Balter 1993 letter to Horace Mann – scanned copy of original
Many thanks to all who support the Survivors’ Letter.
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