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Emma Willard case shows we're still not doing enough

Emma Willard case shows we're still not doing enough

Prosecution, legislation to raise statute of limitations are needed
Emma Willard case shows we're still not doing enough
Emma Willard school in Troy.
Photographer: Gazette file photo

Apologies won't cut it.

Neither will excuses.

"It was the 70s." "It was a different time." "Attitudes have changed." "It was part of the culture."

A report issued this week revealed startling revelations of rampant sexual abuse by teachers and other adults committed against young students at the Emma Willard School in Troy over the past five decades, including incidents as recent as last year.

The 127-page report detailed cases in which teachers, male and female, manipulated vulnerable young girls into sexual acts, fondled students during class and even had full-scale harems of young girls. One group of teachers who regularly had sex with students had a cute nickname you might apply to the forward line of a hockey team, the "Gatehouse Gang." It was all part of the dark secret culture of the private school.

Imagine. You pay good money to send your child to this esteemed private institution, and this is what was happening with regular abandon.

It's sickening to think that not only was this going on for so long, the activity had to be known to the administration and other faculty — as the report relied on misconduct reports and other school documents, and since many teachers were fired for their conduct.

Yet while some of the perpetrators lost their jobs, they were not criminally prosecuted. So they likely were able to continue their careers and their sick behavior at other schools with other people's children.

Law enforcement and state legislators should not take this report casually.

Some kind of criminal investigation must take place to determine whether anyone involved in the abuses or anyone aware of the incidents could be prosecuted criminally. That includes administrators who turned their backs, who condoned this conduct through inaction, and who failed to alert proper authorities.

[Sara Foss: Emma Willard report troubling, all-too familiar]

While successful legal action against these individuals might be difficult after all this time, it's not unprecedented. Last month, former Penn State college president Graham Spanier was convicted of child endangerment charges for failing to stop the abuse that was taking place under his watch five years earlier. He faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

State lawmakers also have to move quickly to approve legislation to increase the statute of limitations on sex crimes.

As we've noted in the past, New York has some of the most lenient statutes of limitations for child sex crimes in the country. The Legislature for the past few years has had several bills to consider that would extend the time child sex abuse victims have to come forward.

One, the Child Abuse Reform Act (A4272), would extend the statute of limitation on crimes involving certain child sexual assaults by 30 years beyond an individual's 18th birthday.

Other legislation, including the Omnibus Child Victims Act that failed last year, would eliminate the statute of limitation altogether and give current adult victims a year to sue their abusers and institutions that allowed the abuse.

We understand that as time goes on, it becomes more difficult to prosecute such crimes. Victims don't come forward, memories fade, evidence disappears and perpetrators die.

But that doesn't mean the state shouldn't be doing everything it can to obtain justice for the victims of these crimes.

The Emma Willard report is a startling reminder of how vulnerable our children are and how inadequate our laws are to protect them.

Much more needs to be done. Now.


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