The world of elite New York City private schools was rocked this week by allegations in a special New York Times Magazine report alleging decades of sexual abuse at one of the most well-respected institutions in the country.
For decades, a handful of teachers at the Horace Mann school, an elite prep school in the Bronx, sexually abused both their male and female students with various levels of impunity, according to the exposé by screenwriter Amos Kamil. In the article, Kamil, a Horace Mann alumnus, recalls his friends and classmates privately confiding in him the abuse that they endured at the hands of their teachers:
“Guys, I have to tell you something that happened to me when we were at H.M. Do you remember Mr. Wright, the football coach?” Our metal utensils ceased clanking. Speaking calmly and staring into the flames, he told us that when he was in eighth grade, Wright sexually assaulted him. “And not just me,” he added. “There were others.” First Wright befriended him, he said. Then he molested him. Then he pretended nothing happened.
No one knew what to say, at least at first. But then slowly, the rest of us started telling stories, too. One of the guys talked about a teacher who took him on a field trip, and then invited him into his bed in the hotel room they were sharing. (My friend fled, walking in the rain for hours until the coast seemed clear.) Another told a story about a teacher who got him drunk and naked; that time, no one fled.
Very few of the victims ever reported the abuse, instead resorting to silence, apathy, therapy, alcohol and even suicide. On the two occasions when complaints were made, the offenders were swiftly relieved of their duties; but as Kamil alleges, the school took no action to investigate other similar crimes or to address the mental or other needs of the victims.
The case is the latest in a series of New York-area school sex abuse scandals that have come to light lately. At Poly Prep, a prestigious Brooklyn private school, a former football coach was accused of preying on boys in his charge while the school administration turned a blind eye. In April, a former math teacher at Riverdale County School in the Bronx was arrested on charges of sexually abusing a teenaged student. Meanwhile, several New York City public school teachers have been arrested for sexually assaulting students, sparking a district-wide investigation.
The Horace Mann allegations are among the most troubling of the recent accusations, not least because of the pedigree of the institution involved: the school is consistently named one of the 10 best prep schools in the country, and came in second on a 2010 Forbes list. Following the release of the Times article, Horace Mann released a statement to the school community expressing abhorrence at the alleged crimes committed and reassuring students and parents that the school is a safe place to learn. “The safety, security, and well-
being of the children who attend Horace Mann are at the core of everything we do,” the letter stated. Many Times commenters, however, were quick to point out that the school as of this writing has not reached out to past victims, many of whom still struggle with memories of the abuse that they endured as children.