Prep-School Predators: The Horace Mann School’s Secret History of Sexual Abuse

Amos Kamil, Prep-School Predators: The Horace Mann School’s Secret History of Sexual Abuse. The New York Times Magazine, 6 June 2012. Behind the Cover Story: Amos Kamil on Sexual Abuse at Horace Mann: ” Penn State [2011] was the watershed moment for me personally. I reached out to a friend of mine who had talked about being abused at Horace Mann just to ask him how he was doing. And he said he wasn’t doing very well because of it. And he also said, “I wish someone would write about what went on at Horace Mann.” I found myself on the train the next day from New York to D.C., and I had my laptop, so I just wrote what I thought I knew the whole way down. And I looked up at the end of the trip and had written 30 pages.”

Excerpts from story:

Shortly after my arrival [September 1979], a new friend walked me around the school, pointing out teachers to avoid.

“What do you mean? Like, they’re hard graders?”

“No. Perverts. Stay away from them. Trust me.”

I heard about some teachers who supposedly had a habit of groping female students and others who had their eyes on the boys. I heard that Mark Wright, an assistant football coach, had recently left the school under mysterious circumstances. I was warned to avoid Stan Kops, the burly, bearded history teacher known widely as “the Bear,” who had some unusual pedagogical methods….

Ten years after graduation [1992], four Horace Mann friends and I decided to go on a camping trip…. One night after a particularly grueling hike, we sat around the campfire, eating some burned vegetarian meal and enjoying that pleasing quiet that falls between exhaustion and sleep. Then one friend [Andrew] cleared his throat…. “Guys, I have to tell you something that happened to me when we were at H.M. [Horace Mann]. 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….

When the Penn State scandal came out last year [2011], I kept getting tangled in the questions everyone else was getting tangled in: How does an institutional culture arise to condone, or at least ignore, something that, individually, every member knows is wrong? Andrew’s story came back to me in a rush. The questions of Penn State, I realized, are the questions of Horace Mann and perhaps every place that has been haunted by a similar history….

Victims rarely speak out, said Paul Mones, a lawyer who represents people who have been sexually abused by authority figures. “The whole goal of the grooming process is to wrap the child close,” he told me. “The affection and trust is to make the kid complicit in the act. Make them feel like it was their fault, so it won’t even occur to them to talk.” Even if they do, New York State’s statute of limitations, which says people who were victimized as minors cannot take civil action against an abuser after they turn 23, makes it unlikely that they would find justice. Thirty or even 40 years later, many students who have talked about surviving their teachers’ abuse say they still live in its shadow….

At Horace Mann, students who spoke up at the time and saw quick action from the school seem to have suffered few, if any, ill effects….