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Shortly after I entered the Lawrenceville School in the fall of 1962, the school doctor molested me. I was a fourteen-year-old freshman.
We new students were instructed to report to the infirmary, where we stripped to our shorts and lined up for what we were told was a mandatory physical examination. When it was my turn, I entered into a small, windowless exam room, where Dr. Blackmar awaited me.
He told me to drop my shorts, and abruptly grabbed and fondled my balls with his bare hand. He told me to turn my head and cough, which I did. As he conducted the exam, he looked me in the eyes, not in the genital area.
My testicles were the only part of my body he touched or examined. When done, he retreated to a small desk, where he jotted down some notes while mumbling medical mumbo jumbo. I was too shocked and disoriented to hear what he was saying. He dismissed me, and the next student entered. My time with the doctor lasted less than one minute.
My health was good, and I had no symptoms in the genital area or in any other part of my body. The doctor took no medical history, asked no questions, and offered no advise.
Blackmar used no gloves and offered no privacy-protecting hospital gown. There was no third party present during the exam, even though there were nurses on duty that day to collect urine samples. I didn't see him wash his hands either before or after the exam.
His manner was brusque and impersonal and his actions created the impression of an assembly line.
The experience left me feeling hurt, shocked, and confused. No one had ever before touched that part of my body, let alone in such an impersonal and insensitive way.
I'll never forget the look of helpless resignation and weary exasperation on the nurse's face as we students circulated into and out of the exam room. It was as if she knew all too well what was going on inside.
To relieve the tension, we laughed among ourselves about the funny doctor, calling him Quackmar behind his back and speculating about his pedophilic preferences. Someone said that he preferred the strapping young man type. I was small and skinny and late to enter puberty, so I felt somewhat relieved.
Someone else speculated about what he would do if one of us sprang an erection on him during the exam. I weighed about eighty or eighty-five pounds and, except for my roommate, I had yet to make any friends in school.
That was the last time I saw Blackmar. I hoped I would never again be forced to see any doctor who showed such cold disregard for a patient's feelings.
§ § §
I felt lucky as a newly-arrived freshman to be placed in an accelerated math class for sophomores with Dr. Ross Harrison. The class met for two years, 1962-'63 and 1963-'64, with largely the same students both years.
Harrison had a habit of hitting the boys, including me, after an incorrectly answered question. He struck on the upper arm, just below the shoulder, with a closed fist. In boxing terms, it was a jab, but without gloves. Sometimes he used the extended knuckle of his middle finger, which hurt more.
Even worse, he instructed the students to hit each other after a missed question. If a student got a question wrong, Harrison would sometimes instruct another student to hit him.
Some students struck their fellow students firmly, others lightly, and it was always an adventure to see what would happen next. Occasionally one student would give another student a hard shot, causing a nervous titter to ripple through the class. I hoped that he wouldn't ask me to hit anyone, and to my recollection he never did.
One student refused to participate in the hitting. He was forced to endure tough questioning outside of class from a classmate who wanted to know why he insisted on deliberately disobeying the teacher. One simply didn't disobey a direct order from a teacher or other authority. Nevertheless, the pacifist student stood firm in his refusal to hit.
The feeling among us boys was that it was to our advantage in terms of college admissions to seek the favor of our teachers, especially in the elite classes. It was almost a matter of perverse pride to go along with Harrison's program of abuse.
Members of this class attended some of the most selective colleges in the country, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and MIT.
§ § §
I don't wish to continually relive the pain and horror of having the integrity of my body violated and my safety threatened, but they don't go away. I still remember the pain, but the confusion and shame are worse.
Following the assaults, I threw myself into my classwork, partly to avoid the vagaries and uncertainties of socialization in what I viewed as a hostile environment, and partly because I was afraid of failing the classes I was doing poorly in.
As a schoolboy I believed that whatever your chosen path in life, you would need to confront a harsh and unforgiving environment where only the strongest survived. You were, therefore, well advised to become accustomed early in life to its inevitable rigors, austerities, and demands.
I worked hard in my math and science courses, and did well, but I worked even harder in my humanities classes, because I was doing poorly in them. I could make neither head nor tail of my literature, poetry, or fiction readings, whether they were in English or a foreign language. I also struggled with composition and creative writing. No matter how hard I tried, I always drew a blank and couldn't think of anything to write about.
It was as if my imagination and the parts of the brain that process storytelling had shut down.
I became friendly with three or four fellow day students from Princeton, with whom I rode the bus to and from school. I had little desire, however, to befriend those who were doing what I considered hard time while living inside the gilded but austere cage of boarding school. I quickly developed a disliking for the overprivileged, look-at-me, preppie atmosphere, and the competitive sports-oriented and Ivy League college-admissions mentality that seemed only to intensify with each passing year.
My way of coping was to stop talking.
During my sophomore and junior years, my housemaster William D. (Dren) Geer drew a connection between my social withdrawal and my academic difficulties in the humanities.
Paul's shy verbal reticence has continued to affect all that he does. The struggle that he had on his midyear English and history exams, the comments from his teachers in these courses, and his silent friendliness in the house all reflect the obvious difficulty he has with verbal communication.
Unfortunately the courses that he faces during the next two and a half years will demand more and more fluency, and unless he begins to break down the barriers of hesitancy that constrain him whenever he has to speak or write, I foresee an increasingly difficult problem for him.
He feels uneasy when confronted by the indefinite complexities of verbal communication. (March, 1964)
§ § §
His participation in the affairs of the house this fall have been limited to quiet passage to and from class and passive observation of the activities of others. (December, 1964)
Dren Geer graduated from Lawrenceville in 1952. His father was an editor and publisher at Time Life, Inc. After completing his studies at Harvard, the younger Geer started teaching at Lawrenceville in 1956.
In the fall of my senior year, I wrote my American History thesis on the controversy surrounding the political activities of the atomic physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who lived in my home town. For the remainder of the year, I went through the motions of school while barely lifting a finger for my schoolwork. There was little heart and soul in my effort. Early in my final semester, I turned eighteen, registered for the draft, and mentally checked out of school.
Looking back, I believe that my molestation during freshman year dealt a serious blow to my desire to apply myself fully at Lawrenceville and beyond.
Around 2001, thirty-five years after my graduation, I posted an essay entitled, "A Lawrenceville Story: Lessons Our Daddies Taught Us" on my website. It began:
One of the first things you noticed about the Lawrenceville School, besides the green lawns, the leafy trees, and the world-class landscape architecture, was the funny doctor. His name was Blackmar, but we called him Quackmar. At the beginning of each year, you would have to go to his office and strip to your underpants. He would sit on a chair in front of you, tell you to drop your shorts, grab your balls, and ask you to turn your head and cough. That comes to 600 pairs of nuts!
Lesson: All abuse begins with sexual abuse.
The essay has sold dozens of copies on Amazon and has been downloaded hundreds of times for free from my website.
I now view my abuse at the gloveless and loveless hands of a doctor and a math teacher as grotesque and unacceptable under any circumstances. At the time, however, I saw them as little more than exaggerated manifestations of a much larger toxic culture.
Lawrenceville's culture of homoerotic sadomasochism oozed and seeped its way into every inch of its well-manicured lawns and dusty, old buildings. In the essay I documented a catalog of attacks of varying degrees of subtlety on those who fell on the wrong side of America's class, ethnic, and racial divides.
Children are nothing if not adaptable to changing circumstances. Sometimes a bit too much so for their own sakes.
In one context blind trust can be a canny survival strategy, but in another it can be a sign of disastrous naivete.
No one wants to be the first family member to accuse grandpa of being a child molester.
Those who go public with their abuse must first assess the risks. I've had few contacts with the school over the years. No one in my family, before me or after, has attended Lawrenceville. There was, therefore, little risk of retaliation.
At worst, coming out would mean that it would be awkward to attend school events when they're scheduled near my home in the Bay Area. Such events have already been problematic for me as I haven't chosen a professional or executive career path like those favored by most of my schoolmates. Nor do I engage in alumni giving or participate much in alumni social activities.
No one wants to be the first family member to accuse grandpa of being a child molester. This is no way to win friends.
Harrison died accidentally in 1976. Blackmar, though long retired from service as a doctor, was still alive in 2001, and there was some potential for a lawsuit. He died in 2010.
§ § §
After posting the essay, I heard from two or three former classmates. We talked a little about old times and current happenings in our lives, but my sexual and physical abuse didn't come up in our conversations.
Reading between the lines, my classmates seemed quite astonished that I would write such an essay. I'd remind my critics that I did single out in the essay two teachers who have had a positive effect on my life. (One was Harrison.)
I could have written a love letter to Lawrenceville, but it would have been shorter.
Sexual assaults on children are always illegal, of course, but sadly, it's unclear whether hitting that causes no permanent physical damage is a matter of much concern to the civil authorities. The law doesn't view psychological damage as worthy of the same attention as physical harm, even though all that the human services profession has learned in recent decades suggests otherwise.
To my knowledge no one before or after me has written an extended memoir about their life as a Lawrenceville student. One reason I was prepared to do so was because I'm not new to the subject of the abuse of power.
In 1994 I published a book-length memoir about my years in the Hare Krishna cult, another classic example of the abuse of power. It has sold hundreds of copies on Amazon and been downloaded thousands of times from my website.
One might say that my tolerance level for official misconduct in any setting is zero.
§ § §
Over the past two decades, the press has covered a number of sexual assault scandals involving schools, colleges, the Church, and other institutions.
Boston Globe: Church allowed abuse by priest for years
Several priests in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston were convicted of sex crimes against children and served time in prison.
The series brought priestly abuse to the attention of the public and led to other criminal prosecutions across the nation and overseas.
The Diocese ultimately paid nearly $100 million to settle cases brought by almost one hundred alleged victims. It's estimated that over the years Church authorities have tried to cover up the abuse of thousands of victims.
Press reports about Jerry Sandusky, a former football coach, surfaced in 2011. (By way of disclosure, I was a graduate student there in the mid-1990s, when Sandusky was still active as a coach.)
In 2012 Sandusky was found guilty on dozens of counts of sex crimes against young boys and sentenced to thirty to sixty years in prison. Many of the assaults happened on the Penn State campus. The amount of the settlement with the survivors was in excess of $90 million.
San Francisco Chronicle: Ayres pleads no contest to molestations
William Ayres, a prominent child psychiatrist, pleaded no contest to eight counts of felony molestation of boys who were sent to him for counseling in the 1980s and 1990s. He died in state prison in 2016.
Boston Globe: Private schools, painful secrets
The article alleges improper sexual contact between faculty and students at the venerable, old New England preparatory schools.
On June 13, 2016, the Lawrenceville headmaster sent the alumni a short, 500-word message on the subject of "inappropriate, intimate contact" between students and adults. He suggested that if we knew of any "instances of unacceptable behavior," we should contact him, the school doctor, or its longtime legal counsel there in New Jersey.
Dear Members of the Lawrenceville Community,
As the school year draws to a close, I am writing to you regarding our efforts to ensure the well-being of all of our students, past and present. There has been considerable coverage in the press over the course of this year concerning incidents where the safety and welfare of young people have been significantly compromised through inappropriate, intimate contact with adults. The context for these cases varies and has included many types of organizations, but these behaviors are especially damaging in a boarding school environment where the very fabric of the institution depends on the inviolable trust between student and teacher, who live and work at close quarters.
At Lawrenceville we continue to maintain a zero tolerance approach to physically intimate or other inappropriate contact between adults and students. As an institution, we have sought to maintain the highest standard of care in this area, but we cannot pretend to be immune to the possibility of an issue, in spite of our ongoing efforts to reinforce boundaries and promote healthy relationships.
In an effort to be more transparent and to signal genuine concern for all members of the community, some schools have made the decision to reach out proactively to learn if there are any past instances of unacceptable behavior. I feel that Lawrenceville has a responsibility to do this as well.
I also feel that we need to consider afresh all we do to educate and protect our students, and we have undertaken a number of steps in this regard. We have begun by reviewing all of our policies and practices aimed at maintaining the healthy adult-student relationships that are so central to the Lawrenceville experience. This includes reviewing our approach to teaching students about self-advocacy. We will work over the summer and the course of next year to further refine our teaching and practices in this area.
As a part of this process, we have set up the means for any individual to report a concern that he or she feels warrants our attention. If any situation is brought to our attention, with the help of the outside legal team we have retained, we will take steps based on the information supplied and will seek the truth. We will be guided above all by a deep concern for the well-being of any individual who might come forward with a report. If you have any information that you feel should be of interest to us, you may communicate directly with Julie Tattoni, attorney at Windels Marx in New Brunswick, N.J. (firstname.lastname@example.org; 732-448-2559). Alternatively, if you wish, you may communicate with Robin Karpf H'14 P'11, M.D., who is a long-time Lawrenceville employee (email@example.com; 609-895-2080); or you may prefer to communicate directly with me (firstname.lastname@example.org; 609-896-0408).
While this communication is by nature unsettling, I feel it is part of an important responsibility that all educators have to maintain the crucial trust between the school and the students and families whom we serve.
Stephen S. Murray
I wanted to believe the headmaster's comforting words. It was heartwarming to learn that the school had finally awakened and discovered that it was responsible for protecting its students from attacks by its employees.
I took the message at face value. The school was trying to do the right thing, I thought.
Responding to the headmaster's message seemed like the right thing to do. A couple of days later I sent a reply that included a link to my 2001 essay with its brief but blunt description of my abuse at the hands of Blackmar and Harrison.
Dear Headmaster Murray,
About a decade and a half ago, as I was tossing around some ideas for an essay about my early adulthood, I quickly realized that I first needed to address my formative years at Lawrenceville.
The resulting essay is available on Amazon and on my website.
I wanted the reader to understand that inappropriate contact between students and staff cannot be understood in isolation from the issues of power, privilege, gender, and sexual orientation.
It saddens me to learn from news accounts that these issues remain unaddressed at many of Lawrenceville's peer schools and more broadly.
My class had its fiftieth reunion last month. I was invited to submit a short piece for the yearbook, which I declined to do. I feel that in the long run my story is safer — though by no means perfectly safe — in the hands of the public.
I applaud your decision to reach out to the community. In my opinion, breaking down the walls that separate the private academies from the larger society by thoroughly airing these issues is the only way forward.
Class of 1966
On June 16 the headmaster sent this reply:
I read with great interest your long, thoughtful, sometimes wry, sometimes sad account of your Lawrenceville days. I went to prep school in the early '80's, and while things were changing, there were elements in your description that reminded me of my experience.
I am currently at a conference at St. Paul's School in Concord, NH — we are looking at different ways of examining and better understanding school culture. I am helping facilitate a working group looking at what we refer to as the Hidden Curriculum — we wrote a group definition based on our understanding of this underground culture of socialization:
Anyway, I share it with you because in all honesty, we are working hard to get a read on the negative elements of any school experience, and in my mind, especially the various ways in which the adult community inadvertently contributes to the hierarchies and negative traditions that exist. Thanks for sharing your piece — you gave me much to think about.
After some thought, I realized that perhaps it was more realistic to assume that about forty percent of the headmaster's message to the alumni was driven by legal requirements and forty percent by public relations, with the remaining twenty percent driven by a genuine concern for the health, well-being, and safety of its students.
I later discovered that the message was likely motivated almost entirely by the Sandusky scandal. It was Lawrenceville's way of limiting its legal liabilities by starting the clock on a statute of limitations for any potential victims.
Today, I believe that the headmaster has no concern for student safety beyond its potential impacts on the school's reputation, parental relations, and fundraising efforts.
I also thought that it was somewhat ironic that the headmaster's message to me was coming from St. Paul's, a school that has a long history of failing to protect its students from sexual predators.
Dear Members of the Lawrenceville Community,
Many of you will recall that I sent a letter to our community in June 2016 aimed at bringing to light any reports of adult-student sexual misconduct at Lawrenceville, whether past or present.
To date, the School has not received any firsthand reports from victims about sexual contact or sexual relationships between faculty and then-current students as part of this process. There were four past incidents (the most recent of which occurred more than 25 years ago), which were deemed to constitute serious misconduct. Of these, the three most serious incidents, which were known, reviewed, and addressed by the School at the time they occurred, involved physical contact with a student and resulted in the dismissal of the teacher immediately after the misconduct occurred. The fourth incident did not involve physical contact with students, but clearly constituted serious harassment. [emphasis by the headmaster]
We reviewed each reported incident, as well as any incidents previously known to the School but not reported by a member of the community as part of this due diligence process, to determine if there was credible information or evidence of serious sexual misconduct. We defined serious sexual misconduct as an act of a sexual or intimate nature between a faculty member and then-current student — whether a single egregious physical act or a series of less egregious acts that together could have the effect of harming the student physically or emotionally.
We regard four previously known incidents as fitting into this category. While none involved sexual intercourse or a sexual relationship, and none were reported by victims in response to our due diligence, we consider these incidents serious misconduct. Three of the incidents involved inappropriate physical touching, and in each instance the faculty member was terminated or required to retire with no further contact with students. The fourth instance of serious adult misconduct involved a wholly inappropriate form of discipline, which was clearly harassment; we have no information that it involved any physical contact with students. To date, no known cases or allegations have surfaced involving more intrusive or traumatic sexual contact by a faculty member with a student. [underscoring by the headmaster]
While these incidents crossed healthy teacher-student boundaries, none of them constituted serious sexual misconduct, and they were addressed by the School at the time of the conduct in several ways, which included counseling, training, meetings with deans or similar monitoring, and, in one instance, termination of employment.
For those seeking to contact us in reaction to this letter or with new information, please know that there are a number of options. Our highly confidential, anonymous reporting portal hosted by Navex is open to all members of the Lawrenceville community and can be accessed through the following link: https://secure.ethicspoint.com/domain/media/en/gui/48378/index.html. Erika Worthy, our director of human resources can be reached via email: email@example.com or phone: 609-620-6114. And of course, for those wishing to contact me personally, I welcome your direct communication either through my office phone: 609-896-0408, or my email: firstname.lastname@example.org. As we learn more and as the need arises, we will continue to report to the Lawrenceville community. Doing so with honesty and a clear sense of our fundamental responsibility is the only way forward.
Stephen S. Murray
In December, 2017, eighteen months after his first message, the headmaster sent a second message to the alumni. He reiterated that he was looking for "serious sexual misconduct," which he defined as "an act of a sexual or intimate nature between a faculty member and then-current student."
He asked us to contact himself, the director of human resources, the legal counsel in New York, or an anonymous web portal.
The three-thousand-word message described four incidents that occurred at Lawrenceville, one in each of the decades from the 1960s through the 1990s. The headmaster failed to name any of the alleged perpetrators, even as he admitted that the press had already reported on at least one of them. All of the offenders were "terminated or required to retire" as a result of the allegations, he assured us.
The first incident involved "inappropriate contact or attempted inappropriate contact with a student" in the 1960s. The alleged perpetrator apparently died in the 1980s.
The second incident involved a student who suffered "sexual assault or attempted sexual assault in the form of groping" in the 1980s. The alleged perpetrator had previously violated the school's rules concerning alcohol usage in the company of students.
The third incident, which occurred in 1992, involved "several students [who] reported that a long-time administrator and coach had inappropriately touched and kissed them."
The fourth incident, from the 1970s, involving "a long-time teacher and housemaster" who forced students "to perform pushups fully unclothed, while the teacher in question watched."
Two sentences and one paragraph in the message stand out. The first is the only sentence that's in bold type:
To date, the School has not received any firsthand reports from victims about sexual contact or sexual relationships between faculty and then-current students as part of this process.
The second sentence, which appears later, is one of only two in the report that are underlined:
To date, no known cases or allegations have surfaced involving more intrusive or traumatic sexual contact by a faculty member with a student.
Sadly and disappointingly, both statements are false. Or perhaps the headmaster was playing word games in making a distinction between unwanted or unnecessary sexual touching and sexual intercourse.
A paragraph of note that appears later in the message reads as follows:
These behaviors were all serious breaches of fundamental trust and of our duty of care. In each instance of misconduct of which we are aware, students reported the incident to a trusted adult shortly after the behavior occurred. In other words, in these instances our students felt empowered to report the behavior as inappropriate, which enabled the School to address the conduct. [underscoring by the headmaster]
The headmaster writes tautologically that the victims who came forward "felt empowered" to do so. The absurdity of the statement aside, he failed to acknowledge that the majority of victims in any context never come forward. On those rare occasions when a person does come forward, however, it's almost always in spite of structural disincentives, not because of positive incentives.
The headmaster's use of the word "students" as opposed to "victims" in the underscored sentence appears to be a reference to the first incident, which was reported by a student witness, not by the victim himself.
Also unmentioned is the fact that none of the four incidents involving staff misbehavior were reported by other staff. Any robust and comprehensive solution to these pervasive issues must involve empowering staff as well as students to report misbehavior.
A fifth incident, which was more recent, involved inappropriate conduct by a teacher, whom the headmaster named as Michael Reddy. He offended against a minor prior to his employment at Lawrenceville.
I informed the headmaster — who is a legally mandated reporter — about Blackmar and Harrison in June, 2016, a year and a half before the message. He made no reference, with or without names attached, to either of the situations I reported.
The headmaster repeatedly emphasized transparency in his messages:
In an effort to be more transparent and to signal genuine concern for all members of the community, some schools have made the decision to reach out proactively to learn if there are any past instances of unacceptable behavior. I feel that Lawrenceville has a responsibility to do this as well. (June, 2016, emphasis mine)
The increased scrutiny that the independent school world has recently undergone has caused an often painful, but fundamentally important reckoning, and the result is that today's standards of transparency and accountability have risen far above standards in past decades. (December, 2017, emphasis mine)
Despite these assurances, the school hasn't been forthcoming with the names of perpetrators, the scope of the allegations, and specific steps beyond broad generalities that it has taken to address these issues.
Dear Headmaster Murray,
I'm writing in response to your e-mail message to the community of December 18, 2017.
I applaud you for reaching out to the community and for reporting your findings to us. I was, however, a bit surprised that you didn't mention the issue concerning Dr. Ted Blackmar that I reported to you.
I was also surprised, but not shocked, by the following sentence:
To date, the School has not received any firsthand reports from victims about sexual contact or sexual relationships between faculty and then-current students as part of this process.
You put this sentence, and only this sentence, in bold type. Yet with all respect it appears to be the least true statement in the message.
Let me be clear: One of my first recollections of Lawrenceville when I entered as a freshman in the fall of 1962 was being examined in the infirmary by Dr. Blackmar. We new students all lined up, stripped to our shorts, and were told to prepare to enter one by one into a small exam room. When it was my turn, I entered. There was no one there except me and the doctor. He told me to drop my shorts, and proceeded to grab me by the balls. The exam was over in less than one minute, when it was the next student's turn.
We laughed among ourselves afterwards about the funny doctor, calling him Quackmar behind his back. Someone speculated about his pedophilic preferences. It was said that he preferred the strapping young man type. I was small and skinny and late to enter puberty, so I felt somewhat relieved. Someone else speculated about what he would do if someone sprang one on him during the exam. I was fourteen years old and weighed about eighty or eighty-five pounds. I didn't yet know anyone in my form.
I'm no medical expert, but I now know that some physicians only perform gynecological and testicular exams on patients who are twenty-one years of age or older, who are symptomatic, or who are sexually active. I was none of these things. This causes me to wonder what the necessity of the exam was.
Ted Blackmar was a resident Lawrenceville employee from 1958, according to the Olla Podrida, until 1973, according to his obituary.
Here's what I would like you to do:
1. Let the community know that at least one student has reported inappropriate physical contact in a medical setting at Lawrenceville. Perhaps this will encourage others, such as my Second Form classmates, and possibly many others, to come forward and share their experiences. You have my permission to use my name. I've been public about this abuse for seventeen years.
2. If the policy that was then in place — mandatory genital contact between the medical staff and an asymptomatic minor who is unaccompanied, who is uneducated on the procedure, who hasn't given consent, and whose parents haven't given consent — is unacceptable under the current policy, then I ask you to publicly spell out what the current policy is.
3. In formulating your policies, please consider the following:
• patient education and informed consent
• having a nurse present during all exams involving sensitive areas
• providing a choice of clinician and nurse whenever possible
• anonymous questionnaires following all office visits
• mandatory written medical report for all appointments
• maintaining all medical records in perpetuity
• mandatory reporting for all adults — not just legally mandated adults — who witness abuse or suspect that a minor may be in danger
• full and active cooperation with state medical authorities and law enforcement to resolve any potentially criminal behavior
• ongoing active solicitation of student and alumni experiences
• erring on the side of caution; believing rather than disbelieving the complainant
These issues don't go away, as much as we may want them to. If anything, they intensify over the years if left unaddressed. What Lawrenceville can do is admit its mistakes, and spell out not in broad generalizations but in concrete detail what steps it has taken to address these issues.
What's needed is a bond of trust between doctor and patient. Like any relationship, it's built up over time and can't be achieved between strangers in an assembly-line setting.
I know that Lawrenceville now has girl students. I hope that the medical protocols and guidelines are strong for them as well.
These past few weeks have been highly stressful for me in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct at Michigan State University SportsMedicine. Watching the victim impact statements on videotape has given me an unforgettable master class in the difference between good and bad doctoring. It has also dredged up memories I wish I could forget.
I also wish that when I entered Lawrenceville I had had the knowledge I have now. Children need to learn not only the three R's but how to protect themselves from an often hostile and unforgiving world. Sometimes that hostility and lack of caring comes from people we tell them to trust. Parents can't always be there to protect their child, no matter how much they might want to be.
As I said in my previous message, although the specific issue at hand — power and control in the medical exam room — is important in its own right, it cannot be fully separated from larger issues of power, privilege, and control at Lawrenceville and beyond.
For this reason, I believe that while all members of the school community have an important role to play, in the end a full and open public airing of these issues is necessary.
Class of 1966
I must apologize for mistaking or misunderstanding your earlier message regarding your experience with Doctor Blackmar. You described what some might interpret as a hernia exam, and as it happens, inguinal hernias are not uncommon in adolescents. But your very recent note clarifies how you viewed it, and as I say, I truly apologize for not realizing your intent. Rereading your earlier note, I now see more clearly what you were trying to convey. We are still in the process of receiving various recollections from alumni, and we currently have the benefit of outside counsel who are conducting the investigation. They may wish to follow up with you, and if so, would you be willing to share your experience directly with them?
§ § §
During 2017 and early 2018, the press called out Lawrenceville and other schools for sexual abuse under the color of authority.
New York Times: St. Paul’s School Acknowledges Decades of Sexual Misconduct
The Concord, New Hampshire, prep school faces a long history of sexual abuse and coverup.
The article details the alleged sex crimes against children committed by Michael Reddy and Alyssia Reddy, a married couple who resided and taught at Lawrenceville. The alleged offenses did not involve Lawrenceville students.
South Florida Gay News: Former Prep School Housemaster Accused of Abuse Decades Later
The Broward County-based weekly interviewed six former students who alleged that Presley forced them to perform naked exercises while he watched. It described him as "a prominent gay entrepreneur, philanthropist, and documentarian."
Bruce Presley earned his BS degree at Yale University and arrived at Lawrenceville in 1960. When I was there, he was teaching introductory science classes. I had no interactions with him, but I gathered that the boys thought he was a bit odd. I heard no accusations of sexual misconduct.
Presley left Lawrenceville in 1984 and started a computer textbook business, which he eventually sold. There's no evidence that he ever taught school again.
Following the recent revelations, Presley fell out of grace in his community in Florida. He faced no criminal charges, however, possibly due to the statute of limitations. The gay community has been falsely and unfairly accused of pedophilia for a long time, making this a highly sensitive issue.
Faced with overwhelming evidence that the charges were true, SFGN, to its credit, was in no mood to defend Presley, even if he were a prominent member of the community.
Presley, who was in his upper seventies at the time of the revelations, has granted no interviews and has not spoken publicly about the allegations.
Trentonian of Trenton, New Jersey: Two former Lawrenceville School housemasters accused of sexual abuse
This article includes additional information about Michael Reddy, who the headmaster named in his description of the fifth incident in his December, 2017, message, and his wife Alyssia Reddy.
Michael Reddy, who was a teacher and housemaster at Lawrenceville from 2013 to 2017, was accused of having sex with a minor prior to his employment there.
Alyssia Reddy, who taught at the Pennington School in Pennington, New Jersey, was arrested in 2017 for sexually assaulting one of her students. Pennington is a coed boarding school about five miles from Lawrenceville.
Two former Lawrenceville students who live in the New Jersey area and three others who were flown in met at the school with Headmaster Murray, other school officials, and lawyers.
The men said they had no desire to sue. Rather, they were interested in seeing that future generations of students weren't subjected to the same treatment.
The school offered to pay for their counseling.
My fear is that the school's handling of the Presley situation sends a message that to get its attention, you must go the press. It was only the embarrassment that the press can cause the school that motivated it to do the right thing. I fear that the school believes that, in the absence of press coverage, it can safely ignore the legitimate concerns of its students.
Following the press coverage of Bruce Presley's abusive behaviors, the headmaster sent a third message to the school community. For the first time, he named an employee (Presley) who offended against Lawrenceville students. He also announced his decision to turn the investigation over to outside counsel.
Dear Members of the Lawrenceville Community,
I write to update you on our continuing efforts to identify and address incidents of adult-student sexual misconduct at Lawrenceville, regardless of when they occurred. You will recall that our December 2017 letter described four past incidents of serious sexual misconduct and encouraged anyone to come forward if they had additional information about those incidents or any others. (Read the December 2017 letter here)
The response from our community was meaningful. Alumni have come forward and provided firsthand accounts of misconduct. We have already spoken with some of these alumni, and will speak with all others, including those who were victimized by Bruce Presley, a former faculty member and housemaster whose conduct was described as the "fourth incident" in my December letter and who was recently the subject of media reports. We also received additional reports about some of the other incidents reported in the December letter as well as other accounts of past misconduct by former faculty and staff members.
Based on the information received since my December letter, we have retained outside counsel, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, to conduct an independent investigation. Debevoise & Plimpton is a highly respected firm based in New York, with extensive experience in matters such as this, and with no prior relationship to the School. Their work has begun and they have conducted interviews with some alumni and will contact and interview everyone who has already provided information about misconduct to the School since the December letter — whether by email, letter, phone, or through our confidential reporting portal. In addition, Debevoise will also follow up with, and, as appropriate, interview anyone else who may still come forward with relevant information about instances of adult-student sexual misconduct. We will report on the investigation when it is complete.
From the start, our approach has been pro-active, and we continue to be committed to eliciting any new information about prior incidents of sexual misconduct at the School. While we are disturbed by the reports that members of the Lawrenceville community have shared with us, we believe that understanding our past is an essential part of healing for those who have been impacted and for preventing misconduct in the future. We want to ensure that victims feel empowered to come forward, that we provide for counseling where helpful, and that we learn from any past mistakes so that students today and in the future are safe at the School. For these reasons, we encourage anyone with relevant information about adult-student sexual misconduct at Lawrenceville to share that with us.
For those seeking to contact us, we are offering a number of options. As before, I welcome your direct communication either through my office phone: (609) 896-0408, or my email: email@example.com. In addition, our highly confidential, anonymous reporting portal hosted by Navex is open to all members of the Lawrenceville community and can be accessed through the following link: https://secure.ethicspoint.com /domain/media/en/gui/48378/ind ex.html. Erika Worthy, our director of human resources, can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: (609) 620-6114. Finally, for those wishing to contact independent investigative counsel from Debevoise directly, Mary Beth Hogan can be reached via email: email@example.com or phone: (212) 909-6996, and Bruce Yannett can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: (212) 909-6495.
Stephen S. Murray
As the saga of sex abuse at Lawrenceville was playing out in the press and in the alumni e-mail inboxes, a major scandal was breaking at Michigan State University. A doctor there was accused of multiple counts of sexual abuse under the guise of medical treatment.
Indianapolis Star: Former USA Gymnastics doctor accused of abuse
This is the first of a series of articles detailing the abuses perpetrated by Larry Nassar, a sports medicine physician. He was charged with multiple counts of abuse, as well as child pornography. Convicted in federal and state courts, he will almost certainly spend the rest of his life in prison.
Over a long weekend in early February, I watched on Youtube as more than one hundred survivors of abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar delivered their heart-breaking impact statements.
The first speaker was Kyle Stephens, a woman who Nassar abused in a non-medical setting when she was six years old. Seven working days later, the sentencing phase of the trial concluded with a statement by Rachael Denhollander, a former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics athlete. She now leads a campaign dedicated to holding MSU, the United States Olympic Committee, and USA Gymnastics publicly accountable for their actions.
It was during the viewing of this videos that I became convinced that I was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. All lingering doubts, confusion, and self-blame had been erased.
"[T]here are very few instances when there's any need to treat a patient skin-on-skin in a sensitive area."
Let's take a closer look at what we mean by good and bad doctoring. Here's what some of the (real) medical professionals who gave statements at the Nassar sentencing had to say.
Christina Barba is a Doctor of Physical Therapy:
As a professional I know there are very few instances when there's any need to treat a patient skin-on-skin in a sensitive area.
Gina Nichols, a registered nurse and mother of gymnast and Nassar survivor Maggie Nichols, addressed the defendant at sentencing:
I just have a little bit more to say ... as a parent and a healthcare professional. I've been a registered nurse for thirty-five years, and my husband, by the way, is a doctor. And you know what my husband is: a real doctor. A real doctor that treats children, and helps them to get better, not to hurt them, like you have to hundreds of people.
You disgraced yourself by calling yourself a doctor to the medical community.
A real doctor never sees a child alone in a room and does 'procedures' on them. A real doctor has an adult present when working with a child. A real doctor gets parental consent. A real doctor never under any circumstances would touch a child in their genital or anal area. A real doctor if he would need to be in private parts would wear gloves. A real doctor would explain every single thing he is doing to the child with a parent or an adult with them. A real doctor, as I said before, helps heal; he doesn't hurt.
You actually are not a real doctor, you're not a doctor at all. You're a serial child molester, a pedophile.
Tiffani Berra is a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Her younger sister, Lindsay Woolever, is a survivor of Nassar's abuse:
I specialize in treating pelvic floor dysfunction, and I would just like to say as a clinical specialist in treating pelvic disorders in women and men, I am appalled that you would try to pass what you were doing for what I do. Unlike you, I take my oath very seriously. And I use my techniques and skills to try to help women and give them tools to help themselves heal from any injuries and disorders that they may have going on.
You used your powers to abuse little girls. And what you did, myofascial release, I do that every day in my practice. But I would never do something like that without proper patient education, proper consent, gloves, if I need to do internal treatment. And as a healthcare provider, I'm ashamed that someone like you was able to get away with this for so long.
"You preyed on the most vulnerable, you preyed on innocence, and you preyed on trust."
Brad Johnson is the father of Nassar survivors Maddy Johnson and Kara Johnson:
I'm here today to address Larry Nassar, both as an osteopathic physician, and as a father of two beautiful girls that were ... abused by you. Before I begin I'd like to say how proud I am of each and every survivor in this courtroom. I will never forget your stories and the pain in your voices as you so courageously tell all those stories that we've heard.
As a physician we are given a great privilege to care for our patients. What a wonderful and beautiful privilege this is. Our patients trust us with their most intimate problems, their fears, their bodies, and their history. They trust that we will care for them with compassion and respect and love. That we will do no harm. They place their trust in us without knowing us, because we are physicians.
The pain you caused was intentional. You did not care for these young girls with compassion, respect, and love. Your care was selfish, not selfless.
You preyed on the most vulnerable, you preyed on innocence, and you preyed on trust.
You are not a physician, you are a pedophile. You only used your degree as a platform to sexually abuse your patients one by one for your sick and your very perverse pleasure.
§ § §
The totality of my experience with Blackmar leads me to believe that this wasn't a legitimate exam.
There are old and enduring principles of medical ethics at work here: necessity, prior consent, Do No Harm, and the maintenance of appropriate professional boundaries.
Blackmar violated all of these principles.
There was no medical necessity for the exam he performed on me. Many physicians only perform gynecological or testicular exams on patients who are twenty-one years of age or older, who are symptomatic, or who are sexually active. I was none of these things. This leads me to question the necessity of the exam.
While it may make sense in a residential environment to screen incoming students for communicable diseases, it makes no sense to screen universally for non-communicable testicular problems.
There is such thing as a legitimate testicular exam, which checks for lumps, growths, or other abnormalities. It has been suggested that Blackmar may have been checking for a hernia, but he didn't examine my abdomen or inguinal canal. He touched and fondled only my testicles.
"I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgement, but never with a view to injury and wrongdoing."
When an examination of a sensitive area of the body is indicated, it is usually performed as part of an overall physical and health evaluation. This was not the case here.
The totality of my experience with Blackmar — including the atmospherics as well as the details of the procedure itself — leads me to believe that this wasn't a legitimate exam.
No doctor should ask a patient to disrobe in their presence. The usual practice is to allow the patient to disrobe and put on a hospital gown, or at least a sheet, while alone in the exam room.
The medical literature on women's and teenage girls' breast exams emphasizes the use of the pads of the middle fingers, not the fingertips. Thus the patient has a minimal level of protection against an ill-intentioned provider.
The literature on physical exams for both men and women emphasizes communication, minimizing discomfort, building mutual trust and confidence, and creating an overall positive experience for the patient. A patient who has a negative experience may hesitate to seek medical assistance when in need. This, in turn, can have disastrous consequences.
A poorly executed exam — let alone one undertaken under false pretenses or with an intent to molest — can alienate a patient, especially at such a young age.
Blackmar made no attempt to obtain my or my parents' consent before performing the exam. I was a day student and had my own family doctor. Neither was there any attempt at patient education. The patient has a right to know what the doctor is doing to his body and why. No exam or procedure should come as a surprise to the patient.
"As to diseases make a habit of two things — to help, or at least, to do no harm."
Do No Harm means not giving the patient any problems they didn't have when they came to see you.
Gross insensitivity on the part of the provider can leave the patient traumatized and confused, and can cause long-term issues involving trust of authority figures and trust in intimate relationships.
The doctor is there to heal, not to traumatize. For healing to happen, there must be a bond of trust between doctor and patient. Like any relationship, it's built up over time and cannot easily be achieved between strangers in an assembly-line setting.
Looking the patient in the eyes while touching his genitals is a gross failure to maintain appropriate professional boundaries.
Blackmar left Lawrenceville in 1973 at the age of fifty or fifty-one. The circumstances of his departure are unknown, but it appears that he never practiced medicine again. Never married, he died in 2010.
I will win. In a manner of speaking, I've already done so.
The impact statements at Larry Nassar's sentencing hearing devastated me. I realized, however, that I was not going to let my assault under the pretense of medical treatment defeat me. Having released the guilt, shame, and confusion, I was ready to move forward with my life.
I don't know how future events will unfold — no one does. Neither can I control what other people do, as in the end that's up to them. But I did know that I was no longer going to be a passive victim. Rather, I was going to be a victor.
After hearing these stories, I was one-hundred percent convinced that I was molested — there was no doubt left in my mind. I discovered that there's a bigger difference between ninety percent convinced and one hundred percent convinced than there is between fifty percent and ninety percent convinced.
For nearly forty years I said and did nothing about the assaults. Realizing that this strategy wasn't working, I decided to try a different path.
The Lawrenceville headmaster is a temporary employee, and I'm a permanent victim. He'll remain on the job until he loses the confidence of the alumni, key benefactors, and the board of trustees. I, on the other hand, will always be an alumnus. You can't fire an alumnus or revoke an earned degree.
The lessons I learned at Lawrenceville — both positive and negative — cannot be unlearned.
The headmaster will continue to use his talents to craft a carefully balanced mixture of truths and half-truths, and straight talk and doubletalk. Believing that he has no other choices, he'll continue to paint a picture of a reformed Lawrenceville well aware of its past as it looks ahead to ever greater platitudes of institutional achievement.
When the headmaster's days at Lawrenceville are over, he'll likely return to whatever he was doing before. I, on the other hand, will always be a strong and committed survivor of child abuse.
I will, therefore, win. In a manner of speaking, I've already done so, for the simple reason that I'm willing to outwork the other side. I'm willing to put the safety of other students like myself above all else, and I believe in the power of truth.
The school, on the other hand, only has its own narrow and parochial self-interest to protect. It's convinced that institutional prerogatives must prevail over individual well-being.
That's a mismatch. The truth wins every time.
The school apparently believes that the solution to these problems lies in tweaks to its bureaucratic procedures, in minor adjustments to its program of instruction, or even in the creation of additional layers of bureaucracy.
I believe that the solution involves the genuine empowerment of students at all levels in the shaping of the environment around them, and an insistence upon mutual accountability among all parties.
The settlement is believed to be the largest ever in a sexual misconduct case involving a university.
Lou Anna Simon, former president of Michigan State University, testified on June 5, 2018, before a US Senate subcommittee that was looking into the Nassar scandal. Here she responds to questions from Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut:
Sir, I am not a doctor, nor am I capable of making judgements about medical procedures and their appropriateness. I have throughout my career believed that experts should be investigators, and those of us in a position of leadership should take the results of those investigations and take them seriously.
Granted that the ex-president isn't a doctor. I would ask, however, if she as a lay person knows the difference between good touch and bad touch? If she were being examined and there was some question in her mind as to the appropriateness of the exam, what would she do? Would she put the matter before the doctor, and the doctor alone? Or before other doctors? I would hope that, if doubts lingered, she would avail herself of victim advocate or rape counselor before making up her mind about how to think about the touching.
Even after stepping down from her job, Simon is still expressing support for the same system of deference to doctors and their judgement and devaluing the experiences of patients that led to the problems with Nassar.
To Simon being an administrator means not having to deal directly with student concerns. Others administrators and medical professionals can do that.
We are an imperfect system.
False dichotomy and red herring. Perfection isn't required. To the contrary, what's needed is a commitment at all levels, including the highest levels, to first serve the interests and needs of patients, many of whom are juveniles, rather than the providers and their bosses.
I think going forward we have to think very seriously about again how we think about the voices and how we hear them, the processes that are very bureaucratic, and done for lots of reasons, including legal reasons, that may have accumulated into the wrong unintended consequences.
Here we have more attempts at offloading responsibility to committees, to abstract processes, and to the prerogatives of a legal counsel more interested in protecting the reputation of the university than the safety of its students and patients.
Had I been asking questions, I would have asked when she discovered that there were bureaucratic roadblocks to serving the needs of students, and what steps she took to overcome those roadblocks. One might also ask who put those roadblocks there in the first place.
And we have to continue to make systems better with people and with encouragement to have the highest standards. And with that that is our collective responsibility, that is our moral responsibility, and I keep thinking about ways the voices can happen differently, be heard differently.
§ § §
After hearing Ms. Simon's barely coherent rambling, dissembling, and blame-shifting words, I decided that, for the time being at least, it was hopeless to try to get through to the leadership of large institutions.
They're simply too far gone. They've spent so much time and effort building walls around themselves with their bureaucratic procedures that they've become incapable of feeling empathy for those they are charged with serving.
Simon was president of MSU from 2005 to 2018 and interim president from 2003 to 2005. In 2017, the year the Nassar scandal broke, she was offered a prestigious professorship. In early 2018, she was allowed to resign the presidency while remaining on the MSU payroll.
Her doctorate was in Higher Education. You might say she was deep in the weeds of educational administration from the beginning. One might have hoped, however, that she had learned more about putting students first in her master's degree program in Student Personnel and Counseling at her alma mater, Indiana State University.
Perhaps the best hope is to work at the ground level to design protocols that will boost the public's confidence in the safety of the medical examination room.
§ § §
Coming out is a continuing process and one of its most difficult challenges is learning how without flinching to mention the unmentionable and speak the unspeakable. These are places where no one wants to go, and yet we must go there and we will.
Being a survivor of abuse may partially explain my own symptoms of depression, fear, anxiety, sleep disturbances, feelings of worthlessness, anger, rage, and despair.
Nicole Reeb is a dancer and an athlete. Nassar abused her during weekly treatments for back and hip pain when she was a high school senior:
I could never rid myself of a constant sense of unease. Honestly, I still can't.
Despite the challenges, I've never been more optimistic and hopeful than I am today about the school's future and my future. Once we realize that our fates are forever bound together, we can then move forward to a place of greater transparency and accountability.
"Sexual abuse ... changes the trajectory of a victim's life."
Kyle Stephens's non-medical abuse began at age six and continued for six years. She first accused Nassar at the age of twelve:
Sexual abuse is so much more than a disturbing physical act. It changes the trajectory of a victim's life, and that is something that no one has a right to do.
Amanda Cormier was referred to Nassar by his physician wife. He first molested her at the age of fifteen:
These things that happened to me in his office long ago were not short-lived uncomfortable moments. They were lifelong traumas that have changed the way I walk in the world.
"Do you even remember what we will never forget?"
Victim 125 is an attorney. Her abuse began in 1992 at age twelve. She was one of the first to report Nassar's abuse:
You chose to take from me, from all of us, something that was simply not yours to take.
Do you even remember what we will never forget?
Jenelle Moul, a gymnast, addressed Nassar:
I thought you were fixing me, but I have realized you broke me.
Mary Fisher Follmer, who is a physician, read a statement written by her gymnast daughter Maureen Payne:
In the beginning of our lives, you tried to rob us our will, our dignity as women, our ability to trust, our capacity for love, and our strength.
The sexual assault I suffered has stayed with me all these years. Its traumatic memory is embedded in my body as much as in my brain. That's why these kinds of post-traumatic psychological conditions tend to resist most cognitive and talking therapies.
(A few words about terminology. What I'm calling sexual assault, a term that came into use in the 1970s, would probably have been called indecent assault in the 1960s. Another term, sexual abuse, became into use in 1980s.)
Luckily, I didn't suffer from confusion over my sexual orientation after being molested by an older man. I do wonder, however, whether the attack left me feeling less free and at ease in social, sexual, and intimate situations.
"Please don't call me a survivor. ... I am not a victim either. I am just a woman — and a statistic."
We all struggle with the language that surrounds victimhood and survival. Some prefer one term or the other, with survivor being preferred, as it is forward-looking suggests a more hopeful future.
A bit of research revealed that the issue is complicated. It turns out that some people are able to embrace both terms, and others choose to reject both.
The prosecutor's office read Victim 10's statement. She started gymnastics at age six and met Nassar at the Twistars Gymnastics Club. He groped and penetrated her four times while she was a student at MSU.
I am a victim of sexual assault. I am a survivor of sexual assault. I don't even know if one can survive the events that rob a person of their wholeness, their innocence.
All we can do is try. All we can do is support one another as the band-aids are ripped off every time sexual assault is mentioned.
Emilie Morgan is the author of "Don't Call Me a Survivor," an essay anthologized in Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation, 1995, 2001, Barbara Findlen, editor:
Please don't call me a survivor. I really don't feel like one. I live my life as if I were raped yesterday. Essentially I was: it happens again every night in my dreams. I am not a victim either. I am just a woman — and a statistic.
Please don't call me a survivor. Not yet, anyway. I have a lot more healing to do, and it's going to take time. I am just a woman who has a story to tell, and I am learning how to make it heard.
Abuse is a theft of self-determination, whether it be for a brief moment or for years. Healing begins when we take back the power and begin again to make our own decisions in life. This in turn requires taking back control of the language, and in particular, the ability to name oneself.
Victim, victor, survivor, all of them, or none of them, that's our choice.
"I don't need an apology, and I don't need an explanation. What I need is accountability."
Kyle Stephens addressed Nassar:
You used my body ... for your own sexual gratification. That is unforgivable.
The prosecutor's office read Victim 10's statement:
Nassar, you deserve an eternity of suffering for the damage you have caused, and there is no bone of forgiveness in this body, for you robbed me of that when you put your filthy hands all over my body with malice, disrespect, and a sheer will to destroy me as a human being deserving of love, dignity, and a right to be happy in life.
Emily Morales, a gymnast, was eighteen years old when she delivered her impact statement. Nassar first molested her while she was in middle school:
I want you to look at me. I believe in forgiveness, Larry. You and I are human beings. We make mistakes. Although you have hurt me, I want to forgive you and feel closure and move on to healing in my life.
I want you to apologize to me right here. I want to forgive you, but I also want to hear you say tell me that you regret all the hurt that you caused.
Tiffani Berra is a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Her younger sister, Lindsay Woolever, is a survivor of Nassar's abuse:
I know that her healing will start today, and will continue, but with that said I want you to understand you have changed the dynamics of our family for years. We went through a lot, trying to figure out what happened to this happy, fun-loving, humorous girl ... and now we know.
She is so strong, and I like she said, we thank you for admitting your wrongdoings. From this day forward I know she will be working on forgiveness and we will as a family so that we can start to heal.
Sterling Riethman was a twenty-year-old diver when Nassar abused her:
I don't need anything from you. I don't need an apology, and I don't need an explanation. What I need is accountability. What I need is the promise that no one else will ever have to endure the vast systemic failures that we endured.
What I need is systemic changes at the highest levels to end the culture of abuse that is sweeping our nation.
I'm not as far along in my healing processes as some of the women who delivered their statements at the Nassar sentencing. I'm in no mood to forgive anyone, neither the perpetrators nor the administrators who knew, or should have know, about the crimes.
Some administrators continue to this day to deny, minimize, and delay. They need to know that healing cannot begin until they fully disclose and accept responsibility.
Forgiveness can have religious and therapeutic meaning, however. It allows us to acknowledge our own sinful nature as we grapple with the transgressions of others, and it helps us to move forward with our healing and with our lives.
I would have appreciated an apology, but a manipulative or insincere one can be worse than nothing at all. Even a sincere apology cannot change the facts.
Blackmar and Harrison abused over long periods of time. These weren't isolated instances of bad judgement. To the contrary, they appear to have been calculated and remorseless.
"[W]ounds heal into scars, and these scars become stories that you share and heal from each day as time goes on."
That which is lost is lost forever. It's important to be realistic and to acknowledge this. That's my belief.
Jade Capua is seventeen years old. Larry Nassar molested her when she was thirteen:
There are some days that this horrifying experience fills my brain, and I can't think about anything else. It left a mental scar that unfortunately will always be something that happened.
However, I'm a strong believer that wounds heal into scars, and these scars become stories that you share and heal from each day as time goes on.
Scars can be worn proudly, as they tell the stories of our lives and can be offered in a spirit of love and respect to others, as we all commit ourselves to healing together.
Scar tissue isn't normal tissue. It has fewer pores and nerve endings and is less supple than healthy skin. A scar functions as a much-needed barrier and is necessary to survival, but it doesn't breathe, feel, or communicate as well as healthy skin.
Similarly, an emotionally damaged person can learn to function, to survive, but some of the subtle joys, and even pains, of life may be lost, at least for the time being.
Healing rarely happens on its own. It happens when we understand that we're here to help others with their pain, just as they are here for ours.
Aly Raisman said at the 2018 ESPYS Awards ceremony honoring the survivors of Nassar's abuse:
If we choose to listen, and we choose to act with empathy, we can draw strength from each other. We may suffer alone, but we survive together.
"I am done being ashamed of something that was out of my control."
Emily Morales is an eighteen-year-old gymnast:
My innocent, naive self had no idea that what he was doing was not medical care, it was sexual abuse. He was abusing his power as a doctor to use my body for his own sexual pleasure.
I remember my doctor sitting me down a year ago and asking me if I had been assaulted by Larry. I had no idea what she was talking about.
As she explained, I was filled with confusion and uneasiness. He had done that to me. Every time I saw her after that she asked me how I was doing. I told her it had no effect on me. I didn't care, I was fine. My mental problems had nothing to do with Larry.
You see, I was struggling, and still am, with depression and anxiety, but I always blamed myself for that. I thought it was my own imperfections, mistakes, ugliness, and poor social skills that made me so unhappy.
At school, I was always on edge, I had horrible stress, and for a while I stopped talking while I was there. I wanted to disappear, and I didn't want any attention. The happy-go-lucky social butterfly was gone. The stress, social anxiety, depression, and hopelessness followed me into high school.
Despite counseling and medication, I still had a hard time.
I was convinced I was simply bad at being a human being, as I often told myself.
I will not take my own life, I'm going to take it back.
Amanda Smith, a gymnast, first met Nassar when she was eight years old. He abused her at the age of fourteen:
I was ashamed, although I'm not quite sure what I was ashamed for. It wasn't until recently that I put two and two together. You abused me. You violated my body. You made me feel emotions no fourteen-year-old should ever have to feel.
Megan Ginter is an eighteen-year-old high school student, gymnast, track and field athlete, and horseback rider. Nassar abused her when she was thirteen years old:
I have been sexually abused by Larry Nassar, but I will not let what happened define me. I will persist until I get the closure that I need and learn to view the abuse as something that has given me strength, rather than something that has defeated me.
I am done being ashamed of something that was out of my control.
"False assurances from organizations are dangerous."
Jessica Tarrant is a sergeant in the Marine Corps. Nassar assaulted her at the age of fourteen. She delivered her statement by videotape:
At fourteen, I may have been too young to understand the difference between abuse and treatment. But it is unacceptable for medical professionals to claim the same. If it wasn't a coverup, it was gross negligence.
Alexandra "Aly" Raisman is a three-time Olympic gold medalist in gymnastics. Nassar first abused her at the age of fifteen:
False assurances from organizations are dangerous.
Kayla Spicher was assaulted in "hundreds and hundreds of visits" over twelve years:
You took away my worth, my privacy, my innocence, my energy, my time, my safety, my confidence, my childhood, and my own voice — until today.
Amanda Smith was an eight-year-old gymnast when she first met Nassar. He abused her at the age of fourteen:
Even when my voice cracks, it will be heard.
"The ones you sought to ruin will rise up and create change that will negate the harms you have caused."
Victim 10, in a statement read by the prosecutor's office, addressing Nassar:
We will continue to work every day, every moment, to take our power back. It will not be without challenge, without hardship, without pain, but we will fight to ensure that abuses like yours will never be perpetrated against another human being. Not on our watches.
So in essence, thank you. Thank you for destroying me. The Phoenix will always rise from the ashes and I can tell you with the conviction of a million armies that the ones you sought to ruin will rise up and create change that will negate the harms you have caused.
Your wrongs will be made right.
"I'm a strong survivor of child abuse."
I had always thought of New-Age affirmations as simplistic and nearly brain-dead. They were one-dimensional answers to complex and nuanced life questions, questions that in the end may well prove to be unanswerable.
Affirmations were at best aspirational, expressing a desire to achieve a state of mind that one doesn't currently possess. If you repeat an affirmation often enough, it magically becomes true, or so the New Age philosophy went. It was all about mind over matter.
You might say that over the years I've developed a growing respect for the brain-dead. No one was more astonished than me when I began to embrace what sounded at first like childish affirmations but which quickly became more like adult statements of accomplished fact.
I'm a strong survivor of child abuse.
This isn't about the perpetrators. They're history. It's about me, my recovery, and my health.
Strength is the courage to confront the tough questions head-on. Weakness is thinking that you know all the answers.
I will not only survive, but I will thrive and flourish.
Today is the first day of the rest of my life.
I'm getting stronger every day.
There will be good days and bad days, but the trend is upward and my future has never been brighter.
Conversely, the perpetrators and those equally culpable individuals who enable them or cover for them lead static lives that are stuck in the past. Their future can't and won't be brighter than their past for the simple reason that they are unwilling embrace meaningful change.
One person can make a difference.
Even a small gesture can make a difference in people's lives, if it's done with love and respect.
Anyone can improve their immediate situation by making small changes in their lives.
I know that depression can be an issue for some survivors of abuse. Take a small step today on your own behalf: take a walk around the block, sweep out your kitchen, clean out that messy drawer.
And many more:
Keep moving forward. Don't fall into lethargy or sloth. Don't wait for things to happen, make them happen.
There's nothing I can't do or accomplish.
We're living in a special moment, the #MeToo movement. It would be wise to take advantage of it.
But we're also living in a time when Donald Trump has unleashed powerful reactionary forces.
In March, 2018, I spoke on the phone with Bruce Yannett of Debevoise & Plimpton, the law firm that's conducting an investigation on behalf of the school. (Debevoise is the same firm that's currently investigating allegations of sexual misconduct against Les Moonves, the former chairman and CEO of CBS Corporation.) The details I reported to Yannett concerning Blackmar and Harrison are the same as those I had posted the previous month on my website.
Frustrated with the glacial pace of progress in the headmaster's office, I decided to take a more active approach. As he had failed to name either of my perpetrators, it occurred to me that doing so myself might encourage additional conversation.
My one-page message to the alumni mentioned my abuse at the hands of Blackmar and Harrison, and asked them to contact the school with any information they may have to offer. I added a sentence at the end promising confidentiality to anyone who chose to contact me directly.
Subject: Re: The Headmaster's Letters to the Lawrenceville Community
Over the past few years, you've received several messages from Headmaster Murray on the subject of inappropriate contact between staff and students.
I'm writing to those classes who were in school when Ross Harrison of the Math department, and Ted Blackmar, the school doctor, were on staff. Their years of service were 1952 to 1976 and 1958 to 1973, respectively.
I've informed the headmaster and the school's legal counsel that Blackmar performed an improper testicular exam on me and other students, and that Harrison hit me and others in the classroom.
It has been a long time, but I encourage anyone with information about inappropriate encounters between these staff members and students to get in direct touch with the headmaster or any of the other contacts he has provided. You can also report at an anonymous website.
In addition, if anyone has information about the circumstances surrounding Blackmar's departure from the school in 1973, please let the school know.
I hope you'll join me in sharing what you know with the headmaster, and in encouraging him to continue his efforts to develop, articulate, and implement policies that will make it harder for present and future school employees to abuse.
I believe that a complete airing of past events, though difficult for all parties, is the first step toward healing and the creation of an atmosphere that's safe, nurturing, and conducive to learning for all students.
For more details about my story, see Tears of Freshman Year.
Correspondence with me will remain confidential.
Class of 1966
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From late April through mid-June, I sent messages to more than sixteen hundred alumni from the classes that were at school when Blackmar and Harrison were there. To my knowledge, no one had ever used Lawrenceville alumni e-mail in such a way.
I made no attempt to cherry-pick my recipients nor to avoid ruffling feathers. Among the recipients were many with impressive titles: a former ambassador to the United States from a wealthy Middle Eastern nation, a former chief executive of one of the world's largest media companies, a former president of a Central American nation, a former president of an influential conservative think tank, a former sportswriter and network television sportscaster, a former college president and Lawrenceville headmaster, and the current Director of Alumni Relations.
None of the above-mentioned individuals responded.
While looking through the addresses, I was reminded how many have found careers in law, medicine, capital management, and other professions.
E-mail etiquette requires that the sender must obtain the recipient's permission before signing them up for a list.
I felt, however, that what was at stake was of greater importance than any inconvenience a recipient might feel upon the receipt an unwanted message.
No one received more than one message from me, unless they chose to reply.
This is in effect a "greater good" argument that allows an adult to run into the street to save a child from an oncoming truck, even though she may be in technical violation of the jaywalking laws.
I understand that whether one accepts this analogy depends on one's point of view. I was, however, prepared to face the consequences of my actions, as any practitioner of disobedience must be.
Forty-three alumni responded. The responses ranged from requests to be removed from the list, to assertions that the writer had suffered no untoward treatment, to second- and first-hand accounts of abuse at the hands of Blackmar, Harrison, and other adults.
I don't recall who was with me in the infirmary on the day Blackmar that molested me, but I do recall the names of about half of the dozen or so students in the math classes with Harrison. Two are now deceased, and none of the others have responded to my message.
I promised and have subsequently maintained full confidentiality for all respondents. The only exception was an anonymized and paraphrased summary which I sent to the school's lawyer. Even this was the subject of much agonized reflection. Lawrenceville in my day was a closed, insulated, and isolated institution. One could safely assume that everyone knew everything about everyone else.
It would be unethical to involuntarily "out" any survivor of abuse, and all the more so in the case of a child survivor.
All of this is further complicated by the fact that simply observing or having knowledge of abuse can be a form of terrifying abuse in its own right, especially for a minor away from home. Even second-hand information that a close friend, for example, has been mistreated may lead a person to question their own safety and to suffer their own post-traumatic reactions.
I'm in no position to preach about coming out. It was nearly forty years before I was ready to go public about Blackmar's sexual abuse.
I received multiple reports of testicular examinations. Many were from alumni who have a medical or military background.
An alumnus stated that many if not most of those who work in the ob/gyn field do so with a mixture of honorable and dishonorable motivations.
An alumnus reported that Blackmar improperly fondled his testicles on multiple occasions. The alumnus added that, while in medical training, he learned that best practices require that when such an exam is performed on an asymptomatic patient, it should be done as part of a comprehensive physical exam.
Two alumni who are now physicians reported that Blackmar performed testicular exams on them. One also remarked on the absence of an accompanying comprehensive physical exam. The other said it was his understanding that Blackmar performed these exams on as many as one hundred and eighty incoming students each year.
Another alumnus stated that it was his understanding that Blackmar performed testicular exams on all of the students in the school, and that all students were aware that he was performing these exams on others. (This was also my understanding.)
Several members of the medical community vigorously defended the molestations.
An alumnus stated bluntly and matter-of-factly that many if not most of those who work in the field of obstetrics and gynecology do so with a mixture of honorable and dishonorable motivations. I never thought that, even if this were the case, anyone would ever have the nerve to put such a statement into print.
An alumnus reported that, when questioned, Blackmar would say that he was checking for hernias, which he believed were prevalent among teenage boys.
While hernias can be found among boys and men of all ages, they are most commonly found among men who are middle-aged or older.
Another physician commiserated with the difficulty he believed Blackmar must have felt as he performed hundreds of what I assert were unnecessary testicular exams. He blamed the doctor's seemingly mechanical and unfeeling approach to medicine on boredom. The writer added that in his opinion the incident I described couldn't have constituted abuse.
"We all got the same 'treatment' from [Blackmar]. ... Get over it."
A number of veterans also defended Blackmar's abuse by stating that similar ad hoc, improvisational, and unsupervised testicular exams were commonplace in the military.
Perhaps their attitude was best summed up by the alumnus who wrote, "Everybody knew about Dr. Blackmar. ... We all got the same 'treatment' from him ... Get over it."
These respondents didn't explain how a failure to prevent attacks on adults can be used to justify attacks on children. Most societies offer children greater protections than those afforded to adults, for the simple reason that a child is less able to defend itself.
There's never any justification in any circumstance or context for a sex attack.
This is what's called the normalization of abuse: if everyone does it, they why is it such a big deal?
"Dr. Blackmar, I think I have a broken finger."
"Drop your pants."
An account of an overnight stay in the infirmary when, at a time when no one on the medical staff was treating the student, a person presumed to be Blackmar was standing too close and lingering near him too long for his comfort.
A report of hearing the following joke:
"Dr. Blackmar, I think I have a broken finger."
"Drop your pants."
A report of hearing jokes about how much Blackmar enjoyed giving rectal exams.
One recalled the nickname "Dr. Quackmar."
Ted Blackmar was the son of a lawyer and the grandson of a New York State Supreme Court judge. He graduated from Hamilton College in upstate New York, as did his grandfather.
Blackmar was the resident physician at the Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey, before coming to Lawrenceville in 1958.
Harrison is described as "a little weasel," "a small, nasty old man," and "this creep."
Multiple reports of punches, jabs, and knuckle hits to the upper arm and shoulder. Reports of knuckle rubs to the head, referred to as "Nuggies" or a "nougy." Two reports of a temporary pain or stinging sensation.
Most of the incidents happened in class or tutoring sessions, often after the student had given a wrong answer. One incident occurred while the student was working at the drama club of which Harrison was an advisor.
A report that Harrison forced the writer and other students to adopt homoerotic poses and to hit each other. Upset by this, he prepared to leave school, but his housemaster ultimately dissuaded him.
This incident raises questions about the ability or desire of the faculty to police itself. The housemaster knew about the abuse, but failed to stop the abuser. In addition, the lack of involvement of the administration in this story speaks volumes about its indifference to student safety.
A second-hand report that Harrison had a reputation for punching his students.
A report that Harrison repeatedly insulted the writer in class due to his ethnic-sounding first name.
Harrison is described as "a little weasel," "a small, nasty old man," and "this creep." He was also said to be possessed of a "Napoleon complex."
A number of alumni defended Harrison, however. One even said that he appreciated the hitting, as he felt that "it made the student-teacher interaction more intense."
Another mentioned the physical abuse he had previously suffered from teachers in parochial school. Yet another recalled Harrison's hitting, but said that it didn't cause him suffering or fear.
Another stated that his treatment from Harrison was of little cause for concern, as he had already been desensitized by similar treatment from older siblings.
An alumnus added that he believed that the treatment of students was worse at other schools, and that students often treat each other worse than do the teachers.
Harrison graduated from Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, in 1933. He taught at Peddie School before arriving at Lawrenceville in 1952.
The abuses happened in all grade levels, from first-year students just arriving on campus through seniors preparing to graduate. They also involved staff members other than Blackmar and Harrison.
A report that Candler was inappropriately close to some of the students, and another report that there were persistent rumors to this effect.
Peter Candler was the director of Periwig, the drama club. He came to Lawrenceville in 1959.
Two reports that Lavino inappropriately touched a student, leading to his firing.
Steve Lavino succeeded Richard Gaines as housemaster or co-housemaster of Cromwell House in about 1967. Lavino was asked to leave after he was discovered inappropriately touching a student. He is a graduate of Williams College, circa 1965. He is believed to have passed away in the 1980s.
Lavino is almost certainly the man described in the first incident in the headmaster's December, 2017, message.
A second-hand report that Pratt inappropriately touched female members of the swim team, leading to his separation from service. Pratt was an administrator as well as a coach at the time of the incidents.
Pratt coached the swimming and diving teams, and taught math. I was in his Calculus class in my junior year, and he wrote a recommendation for college on my behalf.
A personable man, he appeared to be one of the good guys, someone who had chosen to work in the education business for the right reasons.
He also sat on the admissions committee. My impression was that he was the athletes' representative on the committee, a strong advocate for top-rated athletes who wanted to finish their secondary school education at Lawrenceville.
It was a surprise, therefore, to learn that he had been forced out after allegations of unwanted touching and kissing of female athletes. (Girls had first been admitted to the school just a few years prior to these alleged incidents.) At the time of his departure in 1992, he was the director of admissions and an officer of the school.
One can see the dangerousness of the territory here. Pratt was heavily involved in recruiting, admitting, and coaching his athletes. Some of them may have felt powerless to refuse his advances.
Pratt is the unnamed perpetrator in the third incident mentioned in the headmaster's December, 2017, message.
Philip Gorton Pratt was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1932. The son of a schoolteacher, he graduated from Harvard University in 1953. After teaching for a time at the Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, he arrived at Lawrenceville in 1958.
Pratt died in 2015.
A report that Humason offered a thinly veiled sexual invitation to a student he had invited to his home. The student declined the invitation.
Humason was born in Connecticut in 1917, graduated from Wesleyan College in 1935, and began teaching English at Lawrenceville in 1944.
Because of his obvious sexual attraction to adolescent males, we called him Hum Job Humason, or Hummmmason.
A report that Presley retaliated against the writer in class for his failure to play along with Presley's sexual overtures.
After inviting a student to his apartment, a teacher put his hands without warning on the student's shoulders. Understanding the unwanted touching to be a sexual advance, the student quickly left the apartment.
An alumnus who suffered abuse at Lawrenceville reported a reluctance to contact the legal counsel out of fear that the school would retaliate against family members who are currently enrolled there.
A report that an alumni reunion publication declined to publish the writer's essay about bullying at Lawrenceville due to its content.
Reports that masters who became close friends, including Humason and Frank Heyniger, and Presley and Herman Besselink, enabled each other's inappropriate behavior.
Heyniger taught my junior-year Modern European history class. He was an heir by marriage to the Corning Glass fortunes. I noticed no funny sexual vibes, but there was a hint of alcoholism.
According to his obituary, Frank Heyniger was born in New York and was educated at Lawrenceville and Princeton University. He started teaching at Lawrenceville in 1941. He died in 1970 at the age of 53.
Herman Besselink was born in the Netherlands and studied at the University of Michigan. In 1964 he came to Lawrenceville, where he taught history and ultimately became the department chairman. He was master of Haskell House when I boarded there in 1965-66. He later became the master of Kinnan House. He died in 1997.
I tried to avoid being alone with certain teachers: Chester "Chet" Wagner, who I had for French my first year; Frederick "Fred" Gerstell, who taught history and who I didn't have as a teacher; and the above-mentioned John Humason.
Their gazes were predatory and there was a palpable homoerotic tension in the air whenever they were around. I had no first-hand knowledge of improper contact between them and their students, but I do know that I always scared to death in their presence.
Chester Hall Wagner graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1935, and served in the US Army from 1942 to 1946. He taught French and English and coached wrestling at Lawrenceville from 1948 to 1977. He died in 2009.
Frederick Wood Gerstell graduated from Yale University in 1958 and earned an MA from the University of Michigan. In 1961 he arrived at Lawrenceville, where he taught history and was administrator. He currently lives in Leesburg, Florida.
Before sending my messages, I didn't know that I was conducting something of a demographic study. I received hostile reactions from alumni from many class years, but some of the most strident were from those who graduated in the classes before mine.
Their responses contrasted with the generally more sympathetic responses from my own schoolmates, the post-World War II Baby Boomers. I'd like to think that the 1960s and 1970s-era movements in favor of civil rights, women's rights, and LGBT rights have penetrated at least to a limited extent even in societies as isolated as Lawrenceville.
It's clear that many alumni are hostile to change.
In one of the more astonishing messages, a man who regularly gives money to the school nevertheless expressed a reluctance to come forward about the abuse he suffered. It's hard for me to imagine what kind of leverage the school, or his fellow alumni, must have over him.
Unlike their counterparts at the public high schools, private school alumni exert considerable influence in the running of the school. Alumni giving is a critical part of a private school's financial health, and the alumni have long formed an important component of its paid and unpaid staff.
It's important to have a forward-thinking administration, but systemic change can't and won't happen without the partnership of the alumni.
A respondent who calls himself a historian was unable to restrain the urge to employ the caps-lock key when engaging in name-calling against an advocate for change.
Another alumnus felt that my waiting until the perpetrators were dead before reporting them was an act of cowardice. I do regret saying nothing about Harrison before his death in 1976. I did, however, come out publicly as a survivor of Blackmar's sex abuse almost a decade before he died.
Sadly, some alumni have decided not only to tolerate and excuse bad behavior, but to embrace it. That is, for them sexual abuse and sexual humiliation are important tools in the disciplinary processes that are used to establish and maintain the social order.
As I moved forward with my e-mail project, I realized I needed support. From mid-spring through early summer, I received peer counseling at the offices of San Francisco Women Against Rape.
Everyone knew, and yet no one knew. This is the sad and all-too-familiar pattern of institutional abuse.
Those who study abuse know that many if not most survivors never tell anyone. Not their best friend, not their parents, their spouse, their children, or their doctor, pastor, or therapist. No one.
One reason is that going public with one's story and confronting one's tormentors can result in a second victimization, which is often worse than the first.
Everyone knew about the molesting doctor and all of Harrison's students knew about the hitting.
Everyone knew, and yet no one knew. This is the sad and all-too-familiar pattern of institutional abuse. Universal acknowledgement from below, and universal ignorance, indifference, and denial from above.
Bruce McClellan served as headmaster from 1959 to 1986, making him the longest serving head of the school in the Twentieth Century. He wasn't responsible for the hiring of Blackmar or Harrison.
There's no evidence, however, that as headmaster McClellan ever punished these men for their misbehavior. On the contrary, Harrison was promoted to chairman of the math department, and an annual mathematics prize was posthumously named after him.
In my time, Lawrenceville had eighth grade students. I fear that Blackmar may have molested boys as young as thirteen under McClellan's watch.
In addition, McClellan was headmaster when two or three of the four incidents mentioned in the December, 2017, message occurred. He was head of school during entire tenures of Steve Lavino and Bruce Presley.
It's possible that McClellan played a role in the departures of Blackmar in 1973 and Presley in 1984, or was at least made aware of the circumstances.
According to the current headmaster, record keeping then was minimal, and there's no evidence that the school notified civil authorities about any of these cases of abuse.
To be sure, all decisions of any importance would have needed the headmaster's approval. It appears, however, that to men like McClellan, being the top administrator meant not needing to occupy himself with what he may have viewed as the administrative trivia of disciplinary cases involving individual students or staff.
That is, what characterizes the administrator in this view of governance is his distance from, not his proximity to, the details of staff behavior and staff management.
The farther up the chain of command one is, the less knowledge of, and the less involvement in, disciplinary decisions one has. The system is designed to favor senior administrators over junior ones, and staff over students.
McClellan graduated from Williams College in 1946 and arrived at Lawrenceville in 1950. He became its headmaster just nine years later at the age of thirty-five. He died in 2008.
Unlike Larry Nassar, Blackmar made little attempt to "groom" his victims. That is, to methodically and systematically prepare them for eventual sexual exploitation.
With one exception we know of, Blackmar employed an impersonal, drive-by approach to his molestation of children. He failed to even make a rudimentary attempt at a bedside manner. Perhaps he was perversely inspired by stories of rampant doctor-on-patient sex abuse in the Navy, where he served as a medical officer during the Korean War.
Testicular exams are reportedly used there to harass, humiliate, and publicly embarrass. One might call them the ultimate assertion of rank, privilege, and power.
The exception to Blackmar's drive-by strategy was one student whom he molested on multiple occasions. This tragic situation, which stands out as the worst tale of abuse among many, suggests an ongoing relationship between doctor and patient that was almost certainly characterized by some form of interpersonal coercion or emotional manipulation.
An alumnus reported that Blackmar discovered an inguinal hernia and referred him to a surgeon for what proved to be successful treatment. He went on to say that he was grateful for the exam, because it may have led to the prevention of possible further damage to his intestines.
One wonders how many other students Blackmar's shotgun approach to genital examination may have scared away, even if, in a best case scenario, his intentions had been ethical.
It's likely that had Blackmar checked all of his patients' eyes, ears, or throats, for example, he would likely have eventually found some symptoms of disease.
But he didn't. He only checked our genitals.
Together we must build structures that are more resistant to disasters.
Headmaster Murray frames these issues with what I'll call a "bad apple" model. There's nothing much wrong with the system as it is, he assures us, although it can always be improved by way of a few tweaks here or incremental changes there.
What's wrong with the system, under his model, is that from time to time a few bad actors bring with them unwanted behaviors from the outside. The system itself neither encourages nor provides fertile ground for such bad actors.
That is, everything is okay except for a few rogue actors, people who don't follow the rules. Purging them will, therefore, purge the system. Training students to come forward after they're attacked will prevent further attacks, we're told. Perhaps a few bureaucratic procedures do need to be changed, but the system, though flawed, is largely adequate as it is.
The suggested changes, such as easier reporting, more complete background checks, and strengthened school-directed counseling, are all designed to protect the generally benign system from sinister outside influences.
May I suggest a different model. The system itself needs to change from the inside out. Hierarchical systems are by their nature ripe for abuse and at risk of failure. And the more rigid the mindset, the more room for manoeuvring there will be for criminals and the more sudden and catastrophic will be the failures.
Even a well-designed reporting system doesn't go far enough. While a secondary school is by necessity in locus parenti, it also has an important duty to facilitate its students' maturation and decision-making processes. By graduation, they should be ready to accept some of the responsibility for their own governance. In our eagerness to protect, we mustn't overprotect and fall into the trap of permanently infantilizing the student.
Student participation is the key to a successfully designed student safety program. This requires a concession of power on the part of the administration. A successful student-designed and implemented peer-to-peer safety-education program requires at least a small set of faculty or administrative sponsors, mutually agreed upon by all parties.
Most schools have at least one faculty or staff member who is known for their rapport with students as well as for their discretion. We must work hard to encourage and empower such people to bridge the communication gap between students and administration.
To put it differently, it isn't enough simply to let the crowd know where the emergency exits are. Together we must build structures that are more resistant to disasters.
In the midst of these difficult and longlasting issues, I choose to remain optimistic.
I sent an anonymized and paraphrased summary of the alumni responses to Bruce Yannett of Debevoise and Plimpton. He encouraged me to ask the complainants to contact his office. Some had already done so, and at least one has used the online reporting service.
I wondered why people felt more comfortable talking to me about their abuse than to him. Perhaps the reason is that I pose no threat to anyone, I don't work for the school, and I have no ability or desire to retaliate against or exact retribution from anyone.
Lawrenceville is a self-perpetuating network of interdependencies that resemble an extended family. To be sure, in such setting blood relationships will have the highest priority, followed by blood proxies such as race, regional and national identity, religion, and school and college affiliations.
What is stopping the school, which has student records, employee records, and class lists going back decades, from getting in touch with those students who may have been at risk of abuse by their predatory employees?
Admittedly, one who reaches out to an abuse survivor must always do so with great sensitivity. In consultation with victim advocates and therapists who specialize in trauma, one should provide a range of choices for reporting, along with appropriate support services.
We return again to the same power dynamics and power imbalances in the so-called helping professions that led to the sex crimes in the first place.
I never thought seriously of filing a lawsuit against the school. Among the significant hurdles are the statutes of limitations, the deaths of the perpetrators, and the lack of witnesses who are willing to come forward.
Equally important, however, to my reluctance to sue was my belief that there's no monetary solution to such problems. The only solution is for the school to take full ownership of its past and commit to full transparency in the design and implementation of programs that make such improper behavior less likely in the future.
Financial settlements don't change the past, and neither do they necessarily change the behavior of institutions who hire and protect criminal employees. My fear is that the school will simply write off the settlement as part of the price of doing business, and continue with its usual practices.
I also wanted to be able to continue to speak out freely and publicly on these important issues, which might not be possible while a lawsuit is pending.
Frustrated again with the headmaster's inability or unwillingness to report my abuse to the community or to name my perpetrators, however, I reluctantly decided to contact a lawyer.
Jeff Fritz of the firm Soloff & Zervanos asked me to gather my psychotherapy notes. I remembered seeing eight therapists from the 1980s through the 2000s. Many are retired. Among those I was able to locate, all but two have destroyed my records.
Due to problems associated with the statute of limitations, it was not possible to file a lawsuit at this time. There is, however, some hope that the State of New Jersey will join with some of the other states in passing a law that will allow such lawsuits to go forward.
I discovered that there are no federal laws compelling psychotherapists to create or maintain notes. Nor, if such notes should exist, are they required to make them available to the patient upon request. To the contrary, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) states that psychotherapy patients have no right to access their notes.
This isn't the case with physical medicine. The same law requires that all medical records must be made available to the patient.
It is, therefore, the responsibility of the states to guarantee the rights of psychotherapy patients. My home state of California requires that notes be kept for a minimum of seven years following the termination of therapy. This applies, however, only to clients whose termination date is in 2015 or later. All of my therapy happened long before that year.
It should also be said that there's nothing in the state or federal regulations that prevents a therapist from keeping a patient's notes for more than seven years, or from providing them upon request.
We return again to the same power dynamics and power imbalances between institution and client that created fertile ground for the sex crimes in the first place.
Patient records should be the property of the patients. They should have the legal right to dispose of them as they see fit, and the therapist should have a legal duty to maintain them and provide them to the patient upon request.
§ § §
The press continues to report on cases of widespread sexual abuse over long periods of time in institutional and corporate settings.
A rogue gynecologist allegedly abused numerous Mountie cadets.
Many students accused gynecologist George Tyndall of improper examinations over several decades.
Richard Strauss, a sports medicine doctor, is alleged to have abused hundreds of male athletes, many of them wrestlers, over twenty years.
Morning Call of Allentown, PA: Scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report accuses hundreds of priests of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children
Washington Post: Former students of Key School in Annapolis allege sexual misconduct
Just hours after the magazine published the article above, CBS announced on its website that Moonves had stepped down.
Despite its long history of sexual abuse against students, prosecutors declined to charge its legally mandated staff for failing to report.
Another example of a doctor at a prestigeous institutional abusing his powers over a long period of time without punishment.
Bringing abusers of any kind to account for their crimes is always a challenge, but all the more so when it comes to medical abuse.
Those who possess the power to heal also possess the power to destroy.
We aren't simply fighting against individual rogue providers. We're confronting a larger dysfunctional system that allows these crimes to happen repeatedly over long periods of time without punishment. The medical establishment is a part of a larger universe of dysfunctional institutions, including educational and religious institutions, who feel the need to harbor and protect abusers.
The perpetrators and their protectors will always claim "medical necessity" — an all-purpose way of dismissing a survivor's genuine concerns. It's important to explode this myth.
To understand the subject of patient safety and doctor responsibility, you must first understand that those who possess the power to heal also possess the power to destroy. This has been understood for centuries. That's why there are codes of medical ethics that include necessity, informed consent, Do No Harm, and appropriate professional boundaries.
Despite obstacles, a system of guidelines and checks has developed over the years.
My own brief experience working at an all-volunteer community medical clinic taught me an important lesson. I had previously thought that either a person possessed empathy toward others or not. It turns out that anyone can be taught to empathize with the patient.
Almost anyone can be trained to at least follow rules and guidelines that are intended to help the practitioner to do the right thing by the patient, even under difficult or novel circumstances.
Training in the ethics of medicine and healthcare must begin on the first day and must be constantly reinforced throughout all training sessions and clinical work.
The state boards of medicine are at best reactive. If they respond at all, it's after the damage has already been done. We, the public, are left to put the broken pieces back together.
What goes on behind the closed curtains and doors of the examination room may be difficult to regulate, but this shouldn't stop us from making a good-faith effort to improve the patient experience. Best practices have evolved over the years by common consent, rather than by the force of law, and it remains unclear how much direct authority the state boards exert in everyday exams in your provider's office.
Women with breast and gynecological issues have come to expect at least a small measure of dignity and respect in the exam room. No disrobing in front of the doctor. If requested, a third party must be present for the duration of the exam. Gloves are used always, and lubricant when needed.
To these protocols I'd add prior, informed consent for all exams, tests, and procedures and a requirement that clinical notes be taken, kept in perpetuity, and made available to the patient or their representative upon request. Some survivors may not choose to come forward until decades after the assault.
It's also important to provide a choice of clinician whenever possible. As we have seen in the Michigan State and Ohio State cases, as well as the case of Lawrenceville, having but a single choice of doctor can be a recipe for disaster. While not all sports-team doctors are abusers, we should be realistic and admit that a potential abuser might be tempted to gravitate toward a situation where the patients have little or no choice of doctor. Such patients are at risk of becoming a captive, vulnerable population for a serial abuser.
All of these issues become even more acute when we're dealing with children who lack the support that's needed to successfully challenge their superiors.
• Patient education and informed consent prior to any exam or procedure
• Limiting skin-to-skin or glove-to-skin contact in the sensitive areas, absent a compelling medical necessity that has been thoroughly discussed with the patient and consented to
• Presence of a friend, relative, or other third party during all exams involving sensitive areas of the body; medical staff employed by a doctor's office may be reluctant to report abuse
• No disrobing in the presence of medical staff; disrobing only to the extent necessary to perform the exam
• Anonymous questionnaires following all office visits
• Mandatory written medical reports for all consultations, exams, and procedures
• Maintenance of all records in perpetuity, providing them upon request to the patient or a person designated by the patient
• Thorough vetting and background checks of all personnel, including volunteers, who have contact with patients
• Mandatory reporting for all adults — not just legally mandated adults — who witness abuse or have reason to suspect that a minor may be in danger
• A commitment that the school will contact law enforcement even if it is conducting its own investigation
• Full and active cooperation with state medical authorities and law enforcement to resolve any potentially criminal behavior
• Ongoing active solicitation of student and alumni experiences
• Erring on the side of caution; believing rather than disbelieving the complainant
• Immediate suspension of all medical personnel who are under active investigation — no contact with patients until investigation is complete
• Public statement that the school will not disparage the motives or intentions of those who have chosen to come forward
• Employees who are dismissed for cause should be denied a settlement consisting of cash or benefits
• A commitment not to enter into non-disclosure agreements with victims; a commitment to instruct legal staff not to enforce any such clauses should they be found in existing agreements
• Lengthening or elimination of the statute of limitations, especially with regard to sex crimes against children. There is no statute of limitations on the victim's pain and suffering.
• Strengthening of reporting requirements to include all adults who have contact with children, or who have management oversight of those who do
• All medical records and psychotherapy notes property of the patient or client. Patients have full rights over who sees their records.
"I was taught that it was not okay for anyone to touch you down there, except a doctor."
The present challenges at residential secondary schools will continue unabated until we adopt a different model of child development. You can build protective walls around children — there's a time and place for that — but it would be better to begin as soon as possible to prepare them for the challenges of life.
It broke my heart to hear Larry Nassar survivor Alexis Alvarado say, "I was taught that it was not okay for anyone to touch you down there, except a doctor."
Ms. Alvarado, who was a preteen at the time of the abuse, did as she was told. And yet the unthinkable happened.
What's needed is a world in which students who are away from home for the first time, who have yet to make friends with other students, and who are unfamiliar with the arcane rules and disciplinary procedures that accompany residential life, feel empowered to negotiate on an equal basis with authority figures.
To the contrary, all that a child has been taught may well militate against this: Obey your parents. Do what the teacher says. The doctor is a healer who has your best interest in mind.