History of Abuse
October 12, 2011 7:53 AM   Subscribe

I went away to boarding school in 1993/4. During 1993, a teacher there who was sexually inappropriate. I sort of lost track of him, but found out today he is now the Head Director of a school, and on the board of the Assoc. of International School Heads, It was a long time ago, and I cannot prove anything, and do not want to go in guns half cocked, but I feel like I should say something. What are best practices here?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best practices are to be really, really, careful.

You're talking about one of the most serious allegations one can make, one which has the potential to completely destroy someone's life and career. One which could potentially expose you to significant liability for defamation (though given your anonymity, it's hard to give any kind of jurisdictional advice).

Still, regardless of the location, I think it's pretty safe to say that if you don't have any ability to back up what you're saying with evidence that goes beyond your own say-so, it's probably better to just leave this one alone. The potential for this going badly for you is real and not to be underestimated.
posted by valkyryn at 8:03 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

I second valkyryn - be very, very careful about how you proceed.

I would also consider contacting a mod and asking them to remove the identifying information (the name of the city, the man's current work position) from your post, because in less than 10 seconds on google, I'm about 98% certain I found the name of the man you're talking about.
posted by Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo at 8:15 AM on October 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have been in your shoes, and as much as it pains me to say it, I would err on the side of caution and do nothing. The fallout from these kinds of things can kill you. Took a year of my life away, for sure.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:22 AM on October 12, 2011

If you "cannot prove anything" then you are on extremely shakey ground.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:24 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

If he was sexually inappropriate with you chances are very good that he's been that way with other students. Is there some sort of alumnae/alumni organization for the school you attended? If there is, perhaps you could reach out to other former students and, without naming anyone, ask if they were ever subjected to such behavior when they were at the school.

Yes, doing anything will be difficult and may cause you more harm than good. On the other hand, it's likely that he's continuing to hurt children and he should be stopped.
posted by mareli at 8:26 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

[ folks, please keep the revenge comments out of there, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:27 AM on October 12, 2011

I think the answer is going to depend a lot on what you mean by sexually inappropriate and how you know. If the answer is 'you were his student, and he had sex with you', your accusation is going to hold a lot more weight than if the answer is 'he made sexually explicit comments to my best friend and she told me about them'. And then there's an array of different levels of inappropriate and awareness between those two extremes.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:27 AM on October 12, 2011 [18 favorites]

Consult w/ lawyer or other professional.
posted by aramaic at 8:30 AM on October 12, 2011 [5 favorites]

There are a lot of professionals you can talk to about this. An abuse survivors group in your area can help put you in touch with someone. Please do think about the level of "sexually inappropriate". It is unclear whether this was just creepy behavior or whether it was criminal.
posted by boobjob at 9:00 AM on October 12, 2011

Is there some sort of alumnae/alumni organization for the school ..... Perhaps you could reach out to other former students

I remember hearing about an abuse survivor who put a small ad in his hometown newspaper that said simply "Do you remember Father So-and-So?" with a post box number. That was the whole ad. He was flooded with mail.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:19 AM on October 12, 2011 [15 favorites]

Honesty and a respectful, cautious approach are called for. You were, what, 15-16 years old at the time? Write up a very factual account of what happened, when, and where. The only emotion should be an account of the effect this had on you. Do some research on the Board of Directors of the school. Fine one who seems like someone approachable. Either directly, or through a faculty or staff member (teacher whose integrity you respect, clergy, counselor), make a report, stating that you are concerned that the person may have some trouble with appropriate behavior with students, and that you are concerned that other students could be at risk.

Then it's up to them. They have a responsibility to investigate, any concern of inappropriate behavior, and they will. If there have been no other complaints, it might end there. If there have been other complaints, then, who knows. You will have done what you think is right.
posted by theora55 at 9:51 AM on October 12, 2011

I just tried a lawsuit representing a victim of sexual abuse by a person in a position of authority. In the middle of trial, victims came forward about what happened in the early 90's to them that was similar to my client. The jury found this evidence extremely compelling.

When I asked these individuals why they came forward, they expressed how the abuse had weighed heavy on their souls since it happened, and when they heard it happened again, they regretted not making it known at the time. They also expressed how empowering to them it was to provide information that would help these types of things from happening again. Finally, it was apparent that it gave them some emotional strength to tell their story because it allowed them to help heal and move beyond the self-blame and doubt they had about their own abuse.

Sexual abuse like this perpetuates because of silence. We need to encourage people to make reports that are true without fear of repercussions.

I do not know what you mean by your comment of "sexually inappropriate." That phrasing could mean any number of things along a continuum--that is, was it harassment, flirting, grooming behavior, touching, or more invasive sexual assault. But whatever it is you were describing, it apparently was serious enough to stay with you all of these years. I also assume that the conduct was unequivocally wrong and not something that was perceived to be offensive or subject to misunderstanding. If it was serious enough to cause you concern about this person's judgment to this day--as opposed to an obvious momentary lapse by this person--then I would do what your conscience is telling you.

If it was me, and I believe that this person was a real risk based on the seriousness of the conduct, I would find someone on of the board of the school and contact him to voice my concern. I would do the same for the other board. A little research allows people to find out who are on such boards. I would either contact an individual directly or in an anonymous letter and leave a back-channel dummy email account.

Of course, my sensitivity to this issue is very heightened right now and I am assuming this is something serious because of the heavily emotional trial I just finished. Because I do not know details, I cannot provide you specific advice. Rather, I can only state general thoughts if this is in fact serious misconduct you unmistakably experienced.
posted by dios at 10:25 AM on October 12, 2011 [17 favorites]

Thanks to those who came up with answers that were not merely, "just let it go."

Sexual abuse is not something one can just let go.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:01 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks to those who came up with answers that were not merely, "just let it go."

Sexual abuse is not something one can just let go.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:01 PM on October 12

With the greatest respect, this really depends on the person. Some can let it go. I did, and I know other people who did. Please don't assume that your feelings on a subject - no matter how emotive - apply universally. I second the advice given by valkyryn. That's both wise and realistic.
posted by Decani at 12:51 PM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you do decide to move forward with your concerns, it may be worth having a short consultation with a lawyer. Your local bar association can provide you with lawyers who will provide free, short, consultations. As valkyryn mentioned, those kind of accusations can have serious ramnifications and you want to make sure that you are proceeding in a way that won't cause you further hardship down the road.
posted by Nightman at 12:58 PM on October 12, 2011

This question is called "History of Abuse" and I'm going to assume that what happened was sexual abuse.

Doing what you can may be risky for you, but it would also be courageous and make it less likely that this teacher will be able to hurt other children. While you may not be able to prove what happened 18 years ago, if people are informed, he may be watched more carefully and other people's allegations may be taken more seriously.

To reduce the risk to yourself, I would urge you to talk to a lawyer about this. The MeFi Wiki has general tips on how to find a lawyer. You may wish to specifically look into a crime victim attorney. Perhaps the other lawyers here could provide other suggestions how to find the right kind of lawyer.
posted by grouse at 1:38 PM on October 12, 2011

You may conclude that you do not have the ability to legally and/or openly accuse this man of his crimes. If so, and if your knowledge of his offenses is first-hand, I urge you to send anonymous letters to people who may be in a position to monitor his behavior.
posted by bq at 5:04 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

[This is a followup from the asker.]
Some follow-up:

The teacher in question masturbated in front of me, encouraged me to masturbate, and eventually touched my penis. It was more than grooming or just comments.

I have talked to the headmaster after him, other students, other staff, and done some archival work. I have talked to a lawyer, and the police. Neither thought their was enough evidence to proceed. This happened when I was 12. I have been working this out for a few years, the school died a couple of years ago, and I have been seeing a good therapist figuring out what to do next, for about that time.

I do not want him to continue teaching or be anywhere near children; but he seems to have quite a bit of power, and he is v. far away, and any attempts I've made in the past has failed.

I want to send an email, to his school but he will intercept it, or to the head, but i am not sure i will be believed...

So i need to have an efficious plan that has two means:
a) to be believed
b) to have him stop teaching.

I understand that these are serious charges, and one does not want to make them without a preponderance of evidence.

This was in Canada.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:51 PM on October 12, 2011

First may I say that it should have never happened to you, and no matter what, you are not alone.

I understand that you are worried that any attempt to contact the school will be stymied by him. I think that you should go directly to the police to tell them your concerns. Not to claim that he has committed a crime recently, but to tell them that he has committed a crime in the past and that you are afraid that he has continued.

I don't think it is up to you to prove anything - just to express your concerns and why you have them. You know what you are saying is true - all you really can do is to tell someone - best of all, the police - and give them the chance to investigate. They can question current children, as well as look for evidence from previous students. (And they don't use the leading questions they used to, not in large department; I know of a child who was questioned by the Toronto police after a friend of her mother's was found with child pornography - fortunately, nothing had happened to her, but my point is that in the decades since the witch hunts of the 80s, they have learned a great deal about how to investigate abuse without implanting suggestions).
posted by jb at 7:44 PM on October 12, 2011

Think of yourself as being like a teacher under mandatory reporting: your duty is just to report what you have seen and experienced, not to prove it.
posted by jb at 7:47 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

sorry - just rereading the follow-up:

when about were you in contact with the police? and even if there wasn't sufficient evidence for a prosecution for his crimes against you, did they not do a follow investigation?

I find it nearly incomprehensible that he is allowed to keep teaching in Canada with even one complaint like this against him. This was not inappropriate flirting, but outright assault. When similar accusations were made against a teacher at my public high school in Toronto (in 1992-1993), he was immediately suspended and never returned. (don't know if he was charged, but the board had enough evidence to fire him).
posted by jb at 7:55 PM on October 12, 2011

I'd suggest calling your local Rape Crisis Centre / Sexual Assault Centre and explaining the situation. They can connect you with free legal aid, advocacy, counselling and support services. You do not need to have been assaulted recently or feel like you are in "crisis" to qualify for support. They could probably connect you with better informed advocates (like a lawyer who handles this stuff all the time) and you will get better, more Canadian advice.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:11 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Decani: good point. I'll rephrase.

Sexual abuse is not something everyone can just let go. And just walking away may not be in the OP's best mental health interests, even if nothing tangible and totally satisfying is achieved. Just the effort of doing something may feel enabling, providing a sense of control over an event that still obviously looms in the OP's consciousness.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:50 PM on October 13, 2011

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