Fourth Survivors’ Letter

We are a group of more than thirty[1] survivors of sexual abuse at Horace Mann. We write in response to Sunday’s letter from Board Chair Steve Friedman and Head of School Tom Kelly, in which they blamed us for their refusal to tell you and us what happened at HM and why. As a result, we are asking you directly today to support our ongoing call for an independent investigation and public accounting, ending the cover-up at Horace Mann.

Mr. Friedman and Dr. Kelly would have you believe we are satisfied with the trustees’ actions. This is false. The trustees’ response has left us worse off than before, causing fresh pain and hindering our ability to heal and to move on with our lives. From the beginning, our chief request has been a fully public investigation by a credible, independent third party – not merely the minimum legally required cooperation with law enforcement. We continue to call upon Horace Mann to explain who knew what, when they knew it, how they responded, and how abuse was allowed to flourish for decades. Dozens of us were molested. Many more teachers abused us than the media have reported. Numerous trustees and administrators knew but did nothing or coerced victims into silence. As we have stated in the past, and despite contrary claims in Sunday’s letter, we are eager to tell our stories to a responsible investigator who examines both the roots of the abuse itself and the subsequent cover-up. We are not willing to do what has been offered: for our painful stories to be exploited in a “report” which intentionally ignores our questions about how a climate of molestation, rape and cover-up was allowed to flourish. To reject our request and then to blame us for the school’s lack of transparency – claiming the trustees are acting “out of respect for [our] wishes” – is yet another in a series of betrayals.

We make these requests out of affection for our alma mater and a desire to help heal our school and our community. We renew our request, expressed in our June and July 2012 letters, to meet with the trustees outside a legal environment to promote truth-based reconciliation. Our school’s motto is “Great is the truth, and it prevails.” If Mr. Friedman does not believe that motto, then he should resign in favor of someone who does believe in pursuing truth. If you support us in wanting our school to commission or cooperate with a careful investigation and to tell the truth of what happened, please write to Mr. Friedman and Dr. Kelly at headofschool@horacemann.org. If you have donated to Horace Mann in the past, please consider telling them that until the truth is told, you will restrict your donations to supporting an investigation (commissioned by HM or by alumni) or to helping the victims directly. If you have not donated in the past, please consider telling them you will give if they stop the cover-up. If you have any questions, you can contact us at HoraceMannSurvivor@gmail.com.

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October 11 2013 update from Joseph Cumming ’77:

[1] Several people have written politely asking us who, exactly, is behind the above letter. Horace Mann’s spokesman at the PR firm of Kekst and Company questioned how many survivors were behind it. This letter was drafted and released corporately through a consensus process involving all of the women and men who have come together in the Horace Mann Survivors’ Group. Successive drafts were circulated via email among a community of 34 people, including 31 survivors of sexual abuse and 3 people representing close family members who took their own lives. Despite the short timeframe, the large majority of group members contributed input on the successive drafts, and only a small handful were unable to be reached for comment (some due to illness). On the final draft 30 members were able to provide comments, and all were favorable. Some members of the group have good reasons – including family responsibilities and professional obligations – for not feeling free to be individually and publicly named as survivors of sexual abuse. Nonetheless 15 members of the Survivors’ Group have been publicly identified by name – either in the news media (11 of us) or on the alumni-related Facebook groups (4 more).

New Coverage: Robert Berman article in The New Yorker

Berman, Robert

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.

Child sexual abuse remains hidden, often for years

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.

The decades-long shadow of abuse

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 .

In Plain View: How child molesters get away with it

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)

Raped by a Teacher

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.

Raped by a Teacher: One Woman’s Tragic Past at the Horace Mann School

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.