This past weekend, I was enjoying my Sunday New York Times went to reach for my favorite section, the magazine, and was struck by the title on the cover: “Prep-School Predators”. The article took an in-depth look at sexual assaults reported by students at Horace Mann, an elite private school in New York. The author and Horace Mann alumnus, Amos Kamil, recounts a camping trip that he took with fellow alumni and the stories of rampant sexual assault that seemed to touch the lives of every person present. The author said the group didn’t speak about the subject again for 20 years, until the Sandusky case brought the issues of child sexual abuse into the forefront of the media’s attention. The author wrote:

I spoke with nearly 100 people for this article, including 60 former students and 15 former or current faculty members. Some of them implored me not to pursue the subject, insisting that no good could come of opening old wounds. Others said that Horace Mann today is a very different place than it was back then — eagerly responsive to the concerns of students and parents. Some said they were unaware of these rumors. Some said nothing had happened to them but that they had heard similar stories from classmates. Many said they were surprised it took this long for these stories to come out.

I couldn’t help but think about how bystander intervention could have made a difference here. Just think about the small actions that people from all over the campus community could have taken to intervene and protect the welfare of the students on campus:

  • A fellow teacher who recognized that one of the abusive teachers seemed to have a lot of one-on-one time with students could have told another colleague, the headmaster, or made sure that they did not leave the abusive teachers alone with the student.
  • A fellow classmate who heard about how another student was victimized could have brought it to the attention of a teacher, parent, or school administrator.
  • Victimized students, if they had felt validated or supported by bystanders on campus, could have been encouraged to seek legal recourse.
  • The school could have implemented a “no tolerance” policy for teachers, setting a behavioral tone for the school and providing swift action against perpetrators.

None of these suggestions insinuate that one potential bystander or one survivor’s actions determined the ultimate course of events. My thought is that if all of these actions had come together (working across the social-ecological model and spectrum of prevention), then the likelihood that these perpetrators would have been able to assault multiple students on multiple occasions throughout their time at Horace Mann would have been greatly diminished. There are always opportunities to speak up and take action to create a climate free of violence.
With this in mind, 1 in 6 (a national organization that supports men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood) has designed a survey to identify programs that are currently providing services to male survivors; barriers that hamper efforts to expand services to men; and what resources and trainings would be most useful to support programs that want to reach out more effectively to men who have experienced sexual abuse. To learn more about this survey, please visit Sandra Henriquez’s blog!