Horace Mann sexual abuse

The stories of of children sexually abused within the Catholic Church dominate America’s understanding of the crime. When rumblings of the child sexual abuse scandal at Horace Mann preparatory school in New York City first surfaced, it seemed like a very different kind of scandal. Parents spending huge sums of money to send kids to a school where “everyone knew” of sexual abuse, and then defending the school in the media, seemed like a very different institutional abuse narrative. And this is where Great is the Truth  by Amos Kamil and Sean Elder, sheds some light on this confusing story and shows how ugly it truly is.

The author has the perfect perspective to tell this story- an alumnus, but one who entered on a scholarship, an outsider to the culture of privilege that predominated the school. He has a deep sense of gratitude to the school and teachers who changed his life, including some of the teachers who sexually abused his classmates.

And this is where the real story unfolds. The school was a second family. Teachers were expected to spend time with students outside the classroom. This holistic approach to students’ lives was considered the secret to the school’s success at securing students ivy league acceptance letters and amazing careers. But the lack of boundaries made sexual abuse easy. The familial atmosphere made teachers inclined to support each other and administrators inclined to support teachers. And the pervasive lack of knowledge and stigma that surrounds child sexual abuse ensured that mistakes were made and survivors were silenced.

After the author broke the scandal wide open with an article in in the New York Times, the full scope of the scandal became apparent; the most recent, most official count is 64 students and 22 faculty. New York’s Statute of Limitations barred all the survivors from New York courts, so the survivors had no legal recourse whatsoever. Many of them petitioned the school for settlements, which included an individual financial piece and an independent investigation to determine the full scope of the crimes.

And here the story becomes hauntingly familiar. The school refused to launch an independent investigation, and only gave the survivors a fraction of the $210,000 experts say amount to the crimes’ actual damages. And they justified it all with a familiar refrain; We’ve changed, this is ancient history, and we won’t be able to afford to do the good things we like to do if the truth comes out.

Anyone with any interest in institutional child abuse would do well to read this book. It brilliantly illustrates our society’s tendency to look away, to not recognize what they see, and for children to continue getting hurt. Great is the truth, and great are the efforts by guilty parties to suppress it.