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In Its Response to Sex Abuse Allegation, Sidwell Friends Joins Other Private Schools in Pursuing Transparency

Unfortunately, one of the fastest growth areas of business – and amongst the saddest – are the calls we receive at Hennes Communications with allegations of sexual misconduct.  For scores of years, the prevailing wisdom was ignore, obfuscate, transfer and protect privacy and reputations at all-costs.

Like so many pendulums, times change, and it’s now becoming de rigueur to engage in full transparency, including naming names.

From The Washington Post:

Officials at Sidwell Friends School were quick to respond when they received a call recently that a longtime music teacher had been accused of sexually abusing a former student at another school two decades earlier.

Within a week, they had obtained a police report, confronted the teacher, met with attorneys and drafted a public statement that included an admission that an administrator who had offered Michael Henderson the job had known “boundaries had been crossed” in his previous job but hired him anyway.

A letter to the school community announcing Henderson’s dismissal apologized for the school’s “grave lapse in judgement” and encouraged current or former students, parents or employees to come forward and report any inappropriate behavior or abuse by anyone at the school.

Henderson, through his attorney, has denied any wrongdoing.

Sidwell’s statement — and the admission within it — represents an unusually detailed and public response for the discreet private school in Northwest Washington that has been attended by the children of U.S. presidents, including Sasha and Malia Obama. The move also signifies what advocates and attorneys describe as a sea change in how private schools are beginning to respond to allegations of sexual assault amid a series of high-profile scandals unfolding at some of the nation’s most prominent private schools.

“In the past, it was modus operandi: When there was an allegation, you covered it up,” said Kevin Mulhearn, a New York-based attorney who has represented dozens of abuse victims. Now, he said, there’s “another school of thought” emerging that emphasizes transparency and justice for victims.

News reports in recent years have exposed a pattern of abuse at many private schools, documenting serial abusers who went unchecked for years or were allowed to slip away quietly and were never reported to law enforcement or prospective future employers. Litigation is mounting at many schools, and alumni groups are organizing to press for greater transparency and justice for victims.

At the same time, more victims are feeling empowered to come forward, often after decades of silence, amid a broader cultural shift in how people view and understand sexual abuse and how it plays out in schools.

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