Updated: Aug 29
Dear Saint David’s Community,
Before I got married (for the first time), I spent a few days alone with my father in Florida. One night, I asked him: “Why didn’t you and Mom DO anything after I was sexually abused that night by Dick Featherstone?” (They had told me not to talk to his kids or anyone else, and they had a couple of conversations with the man – a swim and tennis coach, and 5th grade teacher in New Jersey, married to my Mom’s best friend – before we never saw them again).
“Why didn’t you do anything?” I asked.
I watched his face grow soft. “I’m sorry,” he said. “We just didn’t know what to do.”
With those few words – “I’m sorry. We just didn’t know what to do” – a burden I had carried for 15 years floated away. Not just a burden: a confusion, a pain, the feeling of being alone, of having to protect myself because no one was looking after the 12-year-old boy inside. My dad died in April 2001 after a long struggle with several illnesses.
I remember those words the most when I think of him, how he humbled himself before me, how he owned what he had and had not done for me as a child. I remember those words when I think of what Saint David’s is doing, and not doing, for the boys-who-became-good-men who have invoked the Child Victims Act regarding the teachers we had in the late 1960s and 1970s. At last count, four Saint David’s teachers – Rey Buono, Bob Ludlow, Chuck Jones, and Charlie Rich – sexually molested us in and near our classrooms at 12 East 89th Street. Yesterday, breaking my heart, another teacher was mentioned via the grapevine, one I have often referenced as a man who exemplified Jesus's suggestion to love one's enemies.
I also think of my Dad and Saint David’s when I suddenly recalled this morning one way in which he DID do something for me, vis à vis another adult who had hurt me. I was little – maybe in 1st grade? – when a coach at Saint David’s told my team a couple of weeks before Christmas that Santa Claus was a fabrication. I know this is sort of silly, but to a small kid, not so much. Even a small kid from the privileged setting in which Saint David's also locates itself.
I reported this to my parents and the next morning, waving his cane, my father walked into the school and told Headmaster David Hume in no uncertain terms that the coach was to apologize. My father was a character, for sure, if any of you knew him: the huge fur coat, the red convertible, the phony British accent; the gregarious friendliness; the loud voice; the hearty laugh; and the tuberculosis, the cancer, the alcoholism, the Marlboro’s and Dunhills he smoked. But, he stood up for me and my team.
Do you still name teams after New England towns? Mr. Kilkeary probably has a record of what team I was on. Fair Haven? Sturbridge?
I imagine I’ve been a pain in the ass to Saint David’s the past eight months, but I’m pretty happy to observe that the apple did not fall far from the tree.
This is all to say two things:
(1) All a survivor really needs from a perpetrator, or from someone who sheltered a perpetrator, is an apology.
(2) And, it is crucial to bring my voice, and the voices of my fellow alumni, to speak to power, to speak up, to confront injustice, and not to be silenced.
SURVIVOR RESOURCES are out there. I have no affiliation with nor do I endorse this resource, but it seems useful: https://1in6.org
When I first spoke to Sharon Nelles, of Sullivan & Cromwell, LLP, counsel for the school, last December, she described the situation at Saint David’s as “heartbreaking.” She was referring to the fact that I was bringing to her, and then to Headmaster O’Halloran, news that it wasn’t just Bob Ludlow who was molesting nine-year-old boys in the school, it was also Rey Buono. Ludlow was the man referenced as deceased in Saint David's original letter of December 11, 2019. (Ludlow is in fact dead; Buono awaits a second trial on child rape charges in Massachusetts, because after he left Saint David’s, he went to Milton Academy where he continued to rape minors).
Months later, I, as a bystander, wonder why there has been such delay in working with Saint David's alumni to resolve the allegations of sexual abuse at the school. Stalling? Fear? Mistrust? By my estimation, there are four cases currently pending, as mentioned in recent New York Post articles and via the grapevine. (You can thank me for one of these cases, at least, by the way. And: you’re welcome).
You can't blame everything on the corona virus. People DO meet via Zoom, or in rooms wearing masks.
With all due respect, the cases versus Saint David’s are as far apart in ethical, emotional, and legal tenor as they could be compared to the suits involving Volkswagen or JP Morgan Chase that Saint David's counsel has handled in the past. Sullivan & Cromwell is also involved in “#MeToo workplace” investigations, apparently. What’s that about?
And the school, and its counsel, assumedly led by the Board of Trustees, is fighting against raped young boys from Saint David’s.
Quoted in The American Lawyer in 2016, Sharon Nelles stated:
I love a good fight, I love being in a courtroom. But that’s not necessarily the way to approach these kinds of settlements. I see my role in part as one of a facilitator. The first thing I need to do is understand my client’s needs so I can communicate that. You have to understand what really matters to the client. Not just the facts, but their culture, their needs and concerns, where you can give and where you cannot.
The second thing to do is try to understand my adversary’s needs, or the needs of the various stake- holders at the table. I want to have a conversation that is pretty up front. I find that negotiations go poorly when people dig in their heels without sharing their reason.
If I can understand what is important to my adversary, then I can create an atmosphere where everyone can make clear what their needs are and work toward a solution where people feel they are getting what they need. Not necessarily what they want, but what they need.
These are really important to any negotiation, it seems to me. Thank you, Ms. Nelles. Who was it who said "Seek to understand, not to be understood?" That applies.
Because in terms of the current snowballing situation at Saint David’s (one survivor last fall ... and now four ... and more coming? See below... ), it is clear to me that neither party really understands the other.
The school does not understand what it’s like to be a sexual abuse survivor and how sexual abuse can permeate an entire life.
We survivors do not understand Saint David’s adversarial stance or what motivates it.
So ... would it be out of the question for us all to just sit down and talk about it?
Can we talk together as people who have a common concern for children’s welfare?
Can we talk about how sexual abuse of a boy or a girl can result in a lifetime of trouble – addictions, lost relationships, difficulty holding jobs, depression, guilt, anxiety, and suicide? Can we talk about how rape correlates to higher instances of prostate cancer in men, and breast cancer in women?
Can we talk about Saint David’s fears of compensating survivors, Saint David’s budget, and Saint David’s worry about its reputation? Can we try to understand how and why Saint David's response to its alumni survivors is so completely at odds with Saint David's statements regarding morality and "good men," peppered all over its publications and web site?
Can we talk about how Saint David’s could become a leader in this field, rejecting notions that include “blaming the victim” and instead advocating actively for the healing of the trauma – as deep-seated and profound as a combat veteran’s trauma – that survivors universally experience?
SURVIVOR RESOURCES are out there. I have no affiliation with nor do I endorse this resource, but it seems useful: https://1in6.org
The bottom line is this: no amount of financial settlement will erase a survivor’s experience of rape. What a survivor really wants is this: acknowledgement by the school that crimes took place; an apology from the school even though neither David O’Halloran, much of the staff, nor the current board was in power 40 years ago; and some kind of restitution.
Admit there was a problem, own it, apologize, and then do something about it.
The "do something about it" piece is a place to be really creative, compassionate, and thoughtful.
Some schools work with alumni one-on-one to compensate for therapy costs (my own out-of-pocket expenses are at least $100K over thirty years), and pain and suffering. (I say "some schools" because there are many examples out there, unfortunately; Saint David's is not an "n" of one). Check out the Horace Mann School story, for example. This is all nothing new.
Some schools establish an interest-earning fund administered by a neutral outside party to assess and address individual issues in a non-partisan way. (Review a survivor's actual expenses and needs, and act according to an established formula to compensate him/her ... but be very flexible).
Some schools generously establish no limitations on what a survivor requests and needs.
Some schools may even think outside the box.
For example, I am envisioning a small residential retreat center on Cape Cod funded by Saint David’s where five or six survivors could be in residence for a week or more to receive short-term EMDR treatment, referrals, and a safe haven. And not only survivors from Saint David’s. Why not include anyone else who has gone through a similar upending of their life due to sexual assault?
Imagine being on the forefront of helping survivors like this, rather than fighting them!
Check out how Penn State handled the Sandusky issue. It spent 3% of its endowment to compensate about 35 victims of his abuse. Is it out of the question for Saint David’s to do similarly for the pending suits, and to create a plan for future assistance? To allocate 3% - or better yet, 5% - of its $70M endowment towards helping its alumni survivors? That’s $5M.
But, since more and more survivors are coming forward, though, 10% might be more realistic. Think both long term, and think in terms of each individual. #metoo is written all over this.
There’s no win-win here. There’s only “good enough/good enough,” with both parties probably wincing a bit.
Saint David’s has chosen to take an adversarial stance towards my classmates and alumni who claim sexual abuse took place. Without a doubt it took place; I was there too.
An adversarial stance is a form of institutional betrayal of the worst sort. It feels exactly the same as being abused again.
How well is it working out?
Mark my words, before long there could be more $20M lawsuits. No one wants the school to be destroyed by financial ruin. But if Saint David’s continues to harden its unfathomable position, you can be sure that it will be met with an even stronger moral, ethical, and legal opposition than ever.
Before the NY Post article appeared last week – BEFORE it appeared – I heard from three “new” men as yet unnamed in any suit about abuse experienced from Bob Ludlow, Rey Buono and Chuck Jones. They had heard about all this through the grapevine, or were responding to the many emails I have sent to alumni who never received Saint David's first communication in December, 2019.
They were telling me their stories for the first time. Grown men. A doctor, a lawyer, a retiree. And there is a fourth man with a story to tell who is a state Supreme Court Judge. Can you imagine?
You, Saint David’s, have not heard from them ... yet. At least one of them is considering filing a complaint. At least one of them has even consulted with the well-known Boston lawyer who was featured in the movie "Spotlight." (That invites you to do a little digging ... insert wink-emoji).
For me, hearing their stories was like being abused three more times. Those of us on the sidelines are not unaffected. The vicarious trauma we experience is intense. Not a day goes by when one of us is not in tears. We're grown men too. With little boys inside who want to feel free again.
Saint David’s should join with other independent school leaders like the Rector of St. Paul’s, Kathy Giles, who spoke about the Lacy Crawford story in The New York Times in this way:
We respect Lacy’s courage and we admire her voice .... There’s a truth to her experience that’s powerful and important .... If there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s that we have to receive the stories and respect the experience and then take what steps we need to address the hurt and pain.
Saint David’s could have stopped this thing in its tracks earlier this year by emulating Giles. There may still be time. I hope and pray there is.
I and others are happy to talk in person in hopes of helping resolve all this.
Note/disclosure: while I am of course not privy to or entitled to know what proceedings, if any, are occurring right now between Saint David's and alumni Plaintiffs, I do know the entire cast of characters (and you can blame me for at least one of the plaintiffs coming to me and then finding counsel) and I have read the complaints. I’m not a lawyer; I’m not being paid by anyone to have carried on this campaign. I’ve already stated my concerns and disclosures in separate emails earlier this year. I represent no one and am therefore an information-broker and potential mediator, and my allegiances ally with both survivors and the school.
Why am I sending you this long letter? For one, I’m wordy. (Sorry!).
But the real reason I’m here is because I learned ethical principles at Saint David’s, like how to be a good man. We sang hymns in the chapel like, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers/sisters, that you do unto me.” That stuff sticks. And that’s why I am hurt beyond measure by what is happening and by what I have learned these past eight months.
It also comes from my Zen training. In Zen we are drawn to practice in the paradoxes of life, my teacher Joshin says:
On the one hand, we completely accept the world as it is, welcoming everything and rejecting nothing. On the other hand, we practice to strengthen our resolve to reject what is harmful, to upend the status quo and to create a new normal that is characterized by moral clarity and loving service.
Jesus and Buddha were brothers.
These boys-become-men just want Saint David’s to make amends to them. It’s not about money - that's just the concrete way to manifest what's really needed. It’s about justice and being heard, and hearing the school take ownership for what happened.
It’s about me fondly remembering some of my teachers at Saint David’s ... but also knowing how at least one of them knew what was happening, and turned away.
It's about one of them writing me last winter to say he was so sorry, and that he had no idea that these other teachers were up to what they were up to. (That's common. Perpetrators are so good at hiding, you may never know it. Perpetrators are selective, too, often picking particularly vulnerable boys as targets. Some of my classmates were targets; others, who have written me since January, have told me that a teacher like Rey Buono was an inspiration to them, or said things on Facebook like "Good
old Mr. Ludlow!" That's OK. It's hard to see through the camouflage).
It’s about retired teachers recalling the jokes they told us in class back in the 1970s (they all know the one about “Where’s the 'fuck' in ‘broccoli’?”).
And yet it’s also about the poignancy of how some of these same teachers become mute, today, when questioned about Rey Buono, Chuck Jones, and Bob Ludlow, who were their contemporaries. We alumni feel so confused by this, and even betrayed, but we also understand: each of us encompasses so much inside, and we are only human. But, we also assume Saint David's staff, and even retired teachers, have been warned there could be consequences for talking to the victims of those teachers.
Finally, it's about discovering, as I did today, that yet another teacher that I personally revered for his gentle and kind ways has been implicated. I can't really believe it, and there is nothing but hearsay for me to go on to report that. But it's hard to feel more gutted than I already do. This was a teacher who told me once about the night he was mugged at knife-point in the city.
I can relate to "knife-point," as a knife was involved in my own sexual abuse.
This teacher said to the mugger, "You poor man. How can I help?" At which point the man burst into tears, afflicted by whatever addiction held him. To hear that this teacher may also have been an abuser is almost unendurable; it is only rumor, so far.
But even so: that story hardens resolve, and opens the heart.
And so unless something changes, it’s inevitable that we will be reading more civil complaints about Saint David's School that start like this:
This case arises from Plaintiff’s lifelong pain and suffering caused by the systematic and continuous sexual molestation and drug use inflicted upon him by these three male teachers at Saint David’s. This sexual abuse included, but was not limited to, Saint David’s male teachers’ fondling and stroking his genitals, performing fellatio on him, masturbation and making him watch two of his male teachers have sex with each other as well as having him watch a Saint David’s teacher engage in sexual activities with another Saint David’s boy. The foregoing occurred, among other places, at Saint David’s, at events authorized by the School, at the apartment of a Saint David’s teacher, in movie theatres, public bathrooms and taxi cabs. In fact, one of the same teachers molesting Plaintiff was also having sex with his former girlfriend, an eighth-grade girl attending the “Convent of the Sacred Heart” school (“Sacred Heart”). She was 14. (from the most recent civil complaint filed and reported on in the New York Post last week, August 7, 2020)
It doesn't have to be this way. Please, Saint David's. Do the right thing.
August 13, 2020
Class photo from 1972. Ten years old. The age of many of the victims named in the recent lawsuits. I was sexually abused. At least one other boy in this class was also abused. And one other boy became a State Supreme Court Judge who sentenced Harvey Weinstein to jail in March of this year ... just saying.