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Wounds in need of healing

There are some threads of our human story that we would rather pretend affect only others, not those who are part of our own social spheres, or ourselves. Denial is too often the default, and can lead to bad behavior and life-changing victimization being hidden or ignored for long periods of time. Such is the case with sexual abuse. 

At The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, decades of such public denial were blown apart when some of the school’s alums decided to pursue acknowledgment and openness about sexual misconduct they witnessed during their time there. As reported by Executive Editor Cynthia Hochswender in the Aug. 23 Lakeville Journal, the Class of 1977 communicated among themselves in advance of their 40th reunion in June 2017 to gather information on their experiences with sexual misconduct as students at the school. Hochswender’s story was based on a report commissioned by Hotchkiss itself from two separate law firms over the past two years, initiated after lawsuits related to such misconduct were filed by former students, in addition to pressure brought by other graduates of the school, like the Class of 1977.

That class formed, along with other alums, the group Hotchkiss Alumni for Reconciliation and Healing, proving that there is strength in finding support from one’s peers when trying to right an injustice, even, or perhaps especially, one that happened years before. 

It is to these Hotchkiss graduates’ credit that they used their organizational skills and leverage to take on old offenses that needed rectifying. Their memories and senses of right and wrong are all that stood between revelations of the alleged abuse and misconduct, and having the apparent exploitation of minors by those who were supposed to be protecting them swept under the rug forever.

Kudos to the former students who decided they would stand up for those who faced abuse while they were at Hotchkiss. Were they encouraged to do so by the #MeToo movement? It seems possible, but whatever the impetus was to finally demand awareness and accountability, it was time for transparency and respect from their school. 

Thanks as well to the current administration and board of trustees at The Hotchkiss School, who were committed to seeking the facts through investigation and to being open with its findings. 

At least one of those named in the report, and maybe more, are contesting the allegations against them of abuse or misconduct. Some of those accused are deceased, and not able to defend themselves had they been so inclined. But with the statute of limitations of 30 years in force in such cases, there is no other direct opportunity through the courts for a path to justice, for trying those accused. Investigations such as the ones Hotchkiss pursued must suffice for now when the statute of limitations has run its course.

This should change, as noted as well by Robert Wallingford, another person raised in the Northwest Corner who has alleged he is a victim of sexual abuse. (See story by Hochswender last week.) The statute of limitations should not apply to pedophilia. The secrecy and intimidation embraced by perpetrators of child sexual abuse guarantees that victims often take many years before they are able to reveal their experiences — if they ever can. 

To read the Hotchkiss report, go to the school’s website at www.hotchkiss.org. And, as the school is committed to transparency in these matters, keep track of the ongoing litigation surrounding these cases. One would hope the outcomes will be posted there as they happen.