On the heels of a comprehensive report from the Hartford law offices of Locke Lord on sexual abuse against children going back decades at the prestigious private Hotchkiss School, several attorneys who specialize in representing sexual survivors spoke out Tuesday on the revelations.
The report, which was released Friday and acknowledges sexual abuse by seven former staffers against 16 students from 1969 to 1992, was not a surprise to attorney Jason Tremont, a partner with Bridgeport-based Tremont, Sheldon, Robinson & Mahoney.
The firm has represented more than 200 victims of child sex abuse over the years and Tremont has personally been involved in more than 100 cases.
The pattern of administrators and top school officials apparently looking the other way or not taking decisive action to protect victims is nothing new when it comes to sex abuse of minors at established institutions, Tremont told the Connecticut Law Tribune Tuesday.
“It’s the same M.O., whether it’s the Diocese of Bridgeport, or Penn State or at Hotchkiss,” Tremont said. “I’m not surprised at all. What needs to happen now is we need to have information about sex abuse opened at all our institutions so the public can find out what happened in the past and to prevent it from happening in the future. We need to hold people accountable. There is always a trail.”
Accountability, Tremont said, is lacking in almost all of the well-publicized cases of childhood sexual abuse, including at Hotchkiss.
“What you’ve seen in all of these cases is the classic situation where the cover-up is worse than the crime,” he said, adding, “Here, we have both the crime and the cover-up.”
There was apparent cover-ups with the Hotchkiss case as outlined in a federal lawsuit filed in 2015 by “John Doe” against the school. In an article outlining the lawsuit in the Connecticut Law Tribune, Doe tried to write an article for the student newspaper about the failure of the school to appropriately respond to the complaint. But, according to the lawsuit, the headmaster at the time in the mid-1980s not only forbade publication but also “conspired to prevent John from informing the students, their parents and the school community about the [faculty member's] sexual assault and his predatory propensities.”
In fact, on the first page of the Locke Lord report to the board of trustees of the Hotchkiss School, it states “members of the Hotchkiss administration were aware of at least some of the instances of sexual misconduct at the time it was occurring.” The report was commissioned at the request of the school.
Tremont and attorney Frank Bartlett of the Cheshire-based Bartlett Legal Group both agree that one way to ease the pain of victims of childhood sex abuse in Connecticut is to allow people who are 49 and older to file lawsuits. In the Nutmeg State, no one older than 48 can bring a lawsuit regarding their sexual assault as a minor. Both Tremont and Bartlett said that is bad policy.
“Several states have no statute of limitations,” said Bartlett, whose firm also specializes in representing victims of sex abuse and childhood sex abuse. “I agree that you should be able to bring a suit at any age. Many victims are still coming to terms with what happened to them and to put a specific age on that as a requirement to come forward in many cases is arbitrary and wrong.”
Said Tremont: “What we’ve seen are people who have often not come forward whether because of shame or embarrassment who are passed that age limit. They then cannot do anything about it to seek or find justice.”
Because of the #MeToo movement and others, Bartlett, who has represented dozens of sex abuse victims, said: “It’s becoming more acceptable to talk about it [sex abuse] than it was decades ago. In many ways, there is strength in numbers. As more and more people are coming out with their stories, it’s important that victims see there are others who went through what they went through.”
Several instances of abuse at Hotchkiss revolved around Leif Thorne-Thomsen, a classics teacher at the school for 28 years beginning in 1964. He ended up marrying two of his students. The report said Thorne-Thomsen has sex on many occasions with at least two teenagers and touched even more inappropriately.
Helen Hom-Diamond, chief communications officers for Hotchkiss, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Also, a representative from Locke Lord said the firm would have no comment.
The school, according to the New York Times, put out a statement following the issuance of the report. That statement read in part: “We are deeply and truly sorry for the enduring pain suffered as a result of the behavior outlined in the report. We cannot say that enough, even though we know that words can bring only limited comfort to those who were harmed and cannot undo the impact of these actions on those individuals and on the Hotchkiss community.”