"Magna est veritas et praevalet"
March 24, 2013 6:40 PM   Subscribe

Last June, the New York Times published an exposé of New York's exclusive Horace Mann School, detailing decades of sexual abuse of students by their teachers. The revelations prompted additional accusations and lawsuits from former students, an all-but-useless investigation, an admission by one of the school's former teachers, and a response by the school to parents (pdf). But one person who escaped the Times' notice was former English teacher Robert Berman.
posted by zarq (24 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

I read this piece earlier and found it pretty stunning, even by the standards of this increasingly familiar genre of horrific childhood abuse narrative.
posted by gerryblog at 6:44 PM on March 24, 2013

I should probably mention that the final link contains some graphic descriptions which may be disturbing to readers.
posted by zarq at 6:56 PM on March 24, 2013

One of the abused, referring to Berman, who is an old man now, says

“Even if they did something wrong, at some point revenge or justice becomes unseemly. At what point do you say, ‘Let it rest’?”

My answer: so the sane but vicious amongst us now cannot think they will get away with it. I want demonstrably guilty psychopaths publically chased to their graves, so maybe, just maybe, it might act as a damn deterrent for people who have some chance at controlling their actions.
posted by lalochezia at 7:11 PM on March 24, 2013 [8 favorites]

posted by scruss at 7:14 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Even if they did something wrong, at some point revenge or justice becomes unseemly.

Oh, unseemly. I'm glad this guy has his priorities straight.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:35 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

My answer: so the sane but vicious amongst us now cannot think they will get away with it.

See also why the name "Gerald Ford" should always be accompanied by turning one's head and spitting.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:59 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

This was the late sixties, and what we now think of as rape or sexual assault didn’t quite mean the same thing in that age of sexual awakening

posted by five fresh fish at 8:12 PM on March 24, 2013 [6 favorites]

This was the late sixties, and what we now think of as rape or sexual assault didn’t quite mean the same thing in that age of sexual awakening

Like hell it didn't! Let's find another excuse, shall we?
posted by BlueHorse at 8:28 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

In other child-rapist news, The Today Show will air part of a documentary by a 'Penn State Truther' and I think I'm having a stroke...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:03 PM on March 24, 2013

Everything about this is terrible. It's sickening, and it's wrong. It's a story of pain and suffering. But if I might focus on the ridiculous and petty, rather than the terrifying:

The quotes from Berman and his Bermanites... They're so bad. It's pretentious hogwash. And Berman is so addicted to parentheticals, it's almost a joke. This is someone so in love with his own brilliance, he can't tell it apart from shit.
posted by meese at 9:07 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I went to Horace Mann for kindergarten around the time that this abuse happened.

The kindergarten was located on a different campus then.

When I first read about this I asked my mom if she and my dad had ever heard anything about this back when I was a little kid there. She had not. In any event we moved to the suburbs the next year so I did not go through the school.
posted by dfriedman at 9:22 PM on March 24, 2013

This story is as old as humanity and as universal as hunger. Set in the same century as the holocaust, a war in which 50-75 million were killed, the narrowly-avoided threat of nuclear extermination.

Horror is a perspective. How lucky we are to have come far enough to have one.
posted by Twang at 9:29 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is just awful. In addition to the sex abuse these poor teenagers had their brain and spirit invaded and invalidated by a pretentious narcissistic charlatan. 30 years of this before anyone took the trouble to even notice it?

There's been a horrible case in the UK recently to do with Chetham School of Music; here the main witness for the prosecution killed herself after giving evidence. Abuse from an admired teacher is a complete violation of a young person, body and psyche, and it's hard to know which of those is worse. Instead of nurturing a young talent it strikes a blow at its heart.

The mechanism by which authorities manage to convince themselves that young people's physical and psychical integrity is of minor importance seems to me to be the thing that really needs to be understood, so we can STOP IT GODDAM HAPPENING! Over and over and over again! Is there no situation of formal adult authority over young people that won't be corrupted?
posted by glasseyes at 9:34 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

As it happens, I just finished reading this article independently a few minutes ago, then happened across this thread on MetaFilter. Except... I just don't know what to say. It's all so horrifying and enraging and yet the school refuses to accept the truth. And it's not just about Berman, because Horace Mann clearly has had an enormous problem on its hands for years.

But if, as the school's chairman pretends, their "primary fiduciary responsibilities and legal obligations are to the school today and to its 1,800 current students," then it means Horace Mann is insisting on sweeping this all under the table as best it can, even now, after so much has been exposed. I don't see how this posture is any different from those who insisted we couldn't hold to account those who led us into war with Iraq, for instance—who insisted we had to "look forward, not back."

And when those in power try to bury the truth and deny justice, it only makes it more likely that such abuses will continue to happen. Disgusting and appalling. My only hope is that this piece, along with the rest of the media firestorm, pushes Horace Mann and other schools into proper action. But I find it hard to be optimistic.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:23 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

What a horrible, ridiculous man. He controlled people by invoking the "legacy" they might leave on the world, and now this is his.
posted by metaman livingblog at 12:18 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Magna est veritas et praevalet, truth is mighty and will prevail. That is a deeply comforting thought in the light of abuse survivors sharing stories of what happened to them. It is through such sharing that the motivation is generated to create laws to prevent future abuses to some degree and permit action to be taken against the perpetrators in a timely way, which acts as a deterrent. What irony that Latin phrase is the Horace Mann motto.

So poignant this: The experience was at once cleansing and harrowing; the men were turning for help to the same authority that, years before, had spurned their attempts to tell their stories.

The term, poisonous pedagogy, comes to mind.

Soul murder involves the deliberate traumatization or deprivation by an authority of his charge (child). The victim is robbed of his identity and of the ability to maintain authentic feelings. Soul murder remains effective if the capacity to think and to know has been sufficiently interfered with--by way of brainwashing.

Wow, zarq, what an excellent, if deeply disturbing, article. Heartrending. So well written by Marc Fisher. He did a great job. Bravo to the New Yorker for publishing this. I can well imagine many of the readers of that magazine, who went to East Coast prep schools in the 60's and 70's ( I can think of two schools in particular), who survived sexual abuse by chaplains, coaches or teachers there and for whom this article will be deeply validating. I'll be forwarding this article on to at least one of those survivors.

Statutes of Limitation of Child Sexual Abuse in the 50 States of the USA [pdf].

"Reform the Statute of Limitations on Child Sexual Abuse" website.

> Whatever limitation is set in a particular state, eventually a case of heinous abuse is discovered that is time-barred—leading to a grave injustice. Then the state extends the SOL so the next equally heinous case will be covered. But unless the SOLs are eliminated, there will always be the next awful case.

Brava to Gloria Allred, the lawyer that helped the abuse survivors get some sort of settlement, an unofficial statement of responsibility by Horace Mann School.

This particular topic, of a pathological narcissist, such as Berman, enmeshing, controlling, manipulating vulnerable people, children in this case, is something I have studied and written about a lot over the last dozen or so years. An online friend, Stan, with whom I had discussions about the enmeshment between a pathological narcissist father and his son, drew an excellent diagram of the merger that happens, between the narcissist vampiring the psychic life force from their child. I think it is relevant to the enmeshment-merger between Berman and his victim-students-devotees.

Mind-boggling that a sociologist, of all people, could say something so asinine and idiotic as Gary Alan Fine, a 1968 graduate of Horace Mann and a sociologist at Northwestern University, "what we now think of as rape or sexual assault didn’t quite mean the same thing in that age of sexual awakening” . Wtf!

And ugh, what a revolting malignant that Berman creep is! Reminds me a bit of a male and much darker version of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, a cult of art, a narcissist twisting the beauty and meaning of art into some psyche-distorting labyrinth.

The dynamic of Berman with his cult of personality, his student-devotees, is very much a betrayal of trust like that in incest perpetration, in which the vulnerable child is violated by their trusted elder. In this case it is also a betrayal on the level of breach of pastoral counseling, like a priest screwing people in his parish, because in this case, Berman was preaching a whole way of being, a mindset, a belief system, art as a religion or spirituality of sorts.

It is my theory that pathological narcissists seek to delete their sources of narcissistic supply (attention, which is the narcissist's addiction, their drug of choice). Narcissists crave attention but do not want to acknowledge the source of that attention. The result of the narcissist's psychological abuse in deleting others I call the homicidal ideation of narcissists, it ends up creating suicidal ideation in those doing the people pleasing to the narcissist and are are vampired of their libido.

In the article Gene, one of Berman's victims, says in talking about the suicide of one of Berman's other victims: “The suicide,” Gene told me, “is almost to kill the false self that’s so hard to live with.” But I feel really sad that the article ends with Gene imagining that this Berman predator loved him. Pathological narcissists can appear seductively alluring but it's a mirage, illusory, no substance.

It sounds like what was going on at Horace Mann was an abuse support network. I think the schools, such as Horace Mann, whose teachers know that 'something wrong' is happening were morally obliged to stand up for and protect the students from being victimized by sexual predators working in the school. These days teachers are legally obliged to do that. Then, prior to the 1990's that was not the case. This is where the statute of limitations topic is important, when it comes to holding a school accountable.

Gene spoke to a retired administrator, who told him that there had been a file, passed from headmaster to headmaster, with complaints of transgressions by teachers. A spokesman for Horace Mann says that Kelly searched for such a file and found nothing. Still, Gene insists, “people knew. They knew and they did nothing.”

That is blood-boilingly disgusting.

My hope for the survivors of the abuses described in this article, and probably countless abuses not described, that in this telling there is some relief, some vindication that those child abuse predators did not get away with their malice in secret, that the truth is out now, that some action is being taken to protect students now and in the future.
posted by nickyskye at 1:34 AM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

These days teachers are legally obliged to do that. Then, prior to the 1990's that was not the case.

I think they might have been, actually.
New York’s Child Protective Services Act, passed in 1973, established:

* Mandatory reporting by specific professionals of suspected child abuse or maltreatment.
* Creation of a central registry (the SCR) open 24 hours per day, 7 days a week to receive the reports, operated by the New York State Office for Children and Family Services (OCFS).
* Creation of local Child Protective Services (CPS) to receive and investigate reports from the central registry (NYSOCFS, 2011).

Today the laws that guide New York CPS services are Article 6, Title 6 of the Social Services Law and Article 10 of the Family Court Act (NYSOCFS, 2011).
The law included mandatory and voluntary reporting of suspected child abuse and maltreatment.

There is proof that the school received complaints in the form of letters from students and parents and never reported them.

(By the way, back in '73, NYS was ahead of the curve. Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in 1974.)

This is where the statute of limitations topic is important, when it comes to holding a school accountable

Exactly. I like your phrase, "an abuse support network." It describes what was going on so well. The school protected and supported its own. And they did so until the victims no longer had legal recourse.
posted by zarq at 6:46 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Excellent correction zarq. The New York Child Protective Services Act may well have been passed in 1973 but it certainly was not implemented to any meaningful extent that I've heard about until much later.

I can think of one case, in which a student at a New York City, Upper East Side school of the caliber of Horace Mann, went to the headmaster in 1975, as well as one of the senior teachers, reported that they, the student, was being sexually abused and absolutely nothing was done about it.

It's really interesting, the cover up. I know of one case of a chaplain in an East Coast prep school in the early 1970's, who molested the sons of East Coast scions, the son of one of the presidents of an Ivy League university, another boy a close relative of a United States President, among many others kids in the school. This chaplain got away with the molestation for four years, left under a dark cloud and went on to take many boys out on 'hiking' trips. He even has a website with hundreds of photographs of the boys he took on his trips into the country.

One of the problems in taking legal action against pedophiles is the statute of limitations, as well as the fear that a person's reputation will be tarnished for life for being the victim of a sexual predator.

In my experience of outing serial pedophiles, one of the only ways that lawyers have found to get some sort of justice for the victims, when the statute of limitations has expired, is to find a journalist and a newspaper or magazine with enough courage, enough stamina, to publicly out the abusers in the media. I do think that the author of this article, Marc Fisher, and the New Yorker magazine are to be commended on their help in this truth sharing.
posted by nickyskye at 9:11 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd also add that, having just finished Lawrence Wright's exceptional book on Scientology, "Going Clear," the smilarities are quite striking. What L. Ron Hubbard did and what David Miscavige is still doing is obviously of a far greater magnitude, but Berman understood just how to suck people into a cult and bend them to his will, just like those two. The section on Berman's super-creepy "Satis House" could have fit right in in "Going Clear."
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:38 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well said, Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell.

The best single book I’ve yet encountered on the whole topic of narcissism, gurus and cults is Prophetic Charisma: The Psychology of Revolutionary Religious Personalities (1997) by Len Oakes, an Australian psychologist.

Prophetic Charisma is readable online for free.
posted by nickyskye at 11:45 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

...but Berman understood just how to suck people into a cult and bend them to his will...

Berman seemed to have three steps in his strategy: humiliation to screen out people with healthy self-images and attracting those with a mild masochistic streak; grooming of the remaining likely candidates by selective praise and grandiose proclamations (Berman ranked himself one slot higher than, ahem, Herman Melville); and, finally, threatened withdrawal of the master's attention and ostracization for not sticking with the program. Yep, pretty much the Scientology shtik.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:26 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

While this was a terrifying read, for me it was mostly so because it describes my own "private school in the seventies" experience. I was never assaulted, instead, I spent all of 7th grade and part of 8th grade in the school psychologist's office. Our main teacher had a reputation for raping under-age girls and I was calling him on it on a daily basis. So off to the shrink. Specially since my parents were spending nights drinking with him and other young teachers who seemed to think students (boys and girls) were fair game. Luckily for me, our math teacher was a very religious 50-something, who protected me.

There really was a different attitude back then. To be fair, when I confronted my parents with this much later, their defense was that they had felt so repressed during their youths, they never had the idea there could be a backside to "liberation". They had lusted for their younger teachers, and they only saw it as a freedom that we "could have sex with" our teachers. When I explained how sick this was, they understood and were horrified, but they hadn't seen that at the time.

Actually, there was an effort to control this in the late seventies. The worst perpetrators, like my teacher, were fired, and sent to jail. But the effort was so misguided it back-lashed. The genius and genial chemistry professor was fired because he was gay - as if all gay people were pedophiles. This and other wrong decisions caused a lot of anger, but also provided an excuse for the former criminals to get back on course, delaying progress for at least a decade.
posted by mumimor at 4:22 PM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd add, Mental Wimp, that Berman substituted the absurd promises of Hubbard's "Operating Thetan" levels with an absurd promise of his own: immortality through art. This passage in particular is what I have in mind:
One afternoon at Horace Mann, Doug wrote, Berman called him in and asked which of three lives he wished to live: “(a) to leave no monument behind (e.g., a store owner), (b) to leave a quickly forgotten monument behind you (e.g., like your father), (c) to live immortal in a creation (e.g., Milton)?”
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:18 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd add, Mental Wimp, that Berman substituted the absurd promises...

Agreed. High school kids cannot see the absurdity of a high school teacher with such pretensions and are easily swayed by the grandiosity. Most of them probably woke up shortly after high school. The ones that didn't were the most scarred.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:43 AM on March 26, 2013

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