“Once I heard the stories, there was no going back.” So said Kevin Mulhearn, a New York lawyer who has argued several high profile cases on behalf of adult victims of child sexual abuse including those against teachers and staff at Horace Mann, Yeshiva University High School and his own alma mater, Poly Prep.
I could relate. I had published “Prep School Predators” in the New York Times Sunday Magazine exposing decades of sexual abuse and cover up at my alma mater—the Horace Mann School in Riverdale, New York. Once the article ran, the last thing on my mind was writing a book on the subject. Truth be told, after close to six months of hearing stories and processing the battered lives of so many friends and former classmates, I was suffering a measure of secondary trauma. The stories were affecting my mood, my sleep, and my health.
It wasn’t only that I couldn’t get the stories out of my head. It was that the stories never seemed to end. The three Horace Mann predators outlined in the original piece expanded to twenty-two. And hundreds of people from public and private schools, churches, and synagogues, around the world were coming out with their own stories. The painful stories, silenced for decades, poured forth with a vengeance.
Horace Mann, the institution I so loved and which had changed the trajectory of my life, was no benign actor in this drama. It became crystal clear that, despite the current administration’s claims to the contrary, many students had come forward to tell their stories. And the playbook Horace Mann used to silence those stories was to wait out the clock on New York State’s statute of limitations, which gives a victim until the age of 23 to file suit. The current law actually gives Horace Mann and other institutions like it the incentive not to report crimes. “It’s time to change that arcane law,” said one Horace Mann alum, a former head of the New York State Bar Association.
The CVA, (the Markey Bill) is an attempt to change the current law by lifting the age to 28 and offering a one-year window for survivors to make a claim against their abuser—no matter when the abuse occurred. But there are plenty of interests, and well paid lobbyists running around the corridors of Albany, for whom the status quo is just fine.
Great Is the Truth (the title is the school’s motto) sheds light on the struggle adult survivors have in telling their story within the current legal environment. If “Prep School Predators” was shocking to readers because of the graphic nature of the abuse, my hope is that the play book institutions use to evade justice as outlined in Great is the Truth, will shock New York residents and lawmakers into finally passing the Child Victim’s Act.
It’s time the courts hear these stories, too.