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#85049 - 10/05/02 08:37 AM Decades of Sex Abuse Are Described at Choir School in New Jersey
Richard Gartner, PhD Offline
Past President
MaleSurvivor

Registered: 09/20/00
Posts: 404
Loc: New York, NY, USA
Decades of Sex Abuse Are Described at Choir School in New Jersey

By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO

April 16, 2002
New York Times


PRINCETON, N.J. In its 65 years, the American Boychoir School has created one of the nation's best-known choirs, with its sweet-voiced students, all fifth graders through eighth graders, invited to sing for presidents and at least one pope.

But in a series of interviews in the last two months, a dozen alumni from the 1960's to the 1980's described a pattern of sex abuse at the nonsectarian boarding school by two longtime choirmasters and by nine other staff members, from a headmaster to teachers' aides to a cook, that they say has resonated through their lives.

The portrait of the American Boychoir School that emerges from a review of court documents and interviews with alumni, former staff members and trustees contains echoes of the problems of sex abuse being disclosed in the Catholic Church. While different in some respects there are no questions about the impact of celibacy and an all-male priesthood the alumni accounts raise similar issues of settings like boarding schools, in which adults are entrusted with the care of children and violate that trust.

Though the events at the American Boychoir School happened long ago, alumni who were abused say the effects have echoed through their lives. Many speak of prolonged anguish in working out their sexual identities, and several of the men tried suicide. Extended bouts of drug addiction are not uncommon, and a few say they came home to molest their own siblings.

A review of documents in two lawsuits and interviews with alumni and family members speaking on their behalf suggest that a patron of boys choirs who was a convicted chronic child molester, John B. Shallenberger, played an important role in proposing people for the school to hire.

A choirmaster he recommended, Donald G. Hanson, is being sued by an alumnus, John W. Hardwicke Jr., in a suit filed in January 2001 in New Jersey Superior Court in Mercer County that also names the school as a defendant. Mr. Hardwicke, now 44, contends that Mr. Hanson raped and molested him three to four times a day and that he was molested by other adults at the school as well. Mr. Hanson ran the choir from 1970 to 1982.

At Least 3 Other Suits

The school has been a defendant in at least three other lawsuits in the last 14 years alleging sexual abuse as far back as the 1970's. Two of the suits were settled by the school, one of them for $850,000. Mr. Hanson and his predecessor as choirmaster resigned after admitting to having molested boys under their supervision, according to documents the school submitted in court cases.

School officials, citing the Hardwicke lawsuit, would not discuss specific allegations, but said they now urged students who suspect abuse to speak up, and provide a help line manned by a psychologist to alumni who were molested. But they say it would be unfair to judge their reactions a generation ago by today's standards. Through his lawyer, Richard Howell, Mr. Hanson declined to comment on the accusations. He has also declined to respond to the Hardwicke lawsuit.

There have been previous incidents of sexual abuse in boarding schools and choirs. In the last decade, a drama director at Phillips Exeter Academy was caught secretly videotaping students naked, and was convicted of transporting child pornography across state lines. At another boarding school, Porter-Gaud near Charleston, S.C., alumni accused school officials of sexual abuse and a jury awarded $105 million in damages.

At the San Francisco Boy's Chorus, the board publicly apologized to Ross Cheit, a law professor at Brown University, who as a boy was molested by an administrator at the chorus' summer camp. But the scope of the abuse that took place at the American Boychoir School seems striking.

Though alumni did not say Mr. Shallenberger ever molested them, it was Mr. Shallenberger who recommended Mr. Hanson and Anthony Edward Battaglia, the headmaster from 1969 to 1971, for their jobs, Mr. Battaglia said in a telephone interview. Once installed, Mr. Hanson recruited former singers from his last boy's choir as teachers' aides, several of whom, alumni now say, molested children.

Former officials at the school and board members said they knew nothing of Mr. Shallenberger's criminal record, which included a half-dozen convictions between 1958 and 1998 on charges relating to molesting children. He is now a fugitive from Pennsylvania authorities, after he failed to answer charges in 1998 that he tried to organize a choir trip without divulging his criminal record, in violation of a court agreement. Mr. Battaglia, reached at his Fort Myers Beach, Fla., home, said he hired Mr. Hanson on Mr. Shallenberger's recommendation, but knew him only as a supporter of children's choirs.

Abuse and Privileges

John E., an alumnus who now runs a small marketing company in New Hampshire and Florida, remembers himself as a 12-year-old nerd during his first encounter with the American Boychoir, at its summer camp in 1965. His loneliness, he said, only ended after a camp counselor in his mid-20's molested him, and then lavished privileges on him.

Though the abuse felt wrong, he said, he remembers thinking, "I'd do this one dirty little thing and everything else would be all right."

The abuse intensified when he joined the choir school and took private piano lessons with Donald Bryant, then the choirmaster. Eventually, he said, "every piano lesson turned into a groping session." He recalls fleeing a dorm manager who exposed himself and said, "I could make your life here a lot easier."

Another former choirboy, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mr. Bryant also molested him in 1964. And a former board member, Marjorie Blaxill, said Mr. Bryant was forced out in 1968 over "a love affair with a little boy."

Through his lawyer, Robert Meader, Mr. Bryant said he did not remember ever groping boys at the school. The lawyer said that Mr. Bryant, now retired, took over the children's choir at the First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Mich., in the 1970's, without incident.

After more than a year with no director to lead them, John Hardwicke recalled, the choir thrilled over the arrival in October 1970 of Donald Hanson, who showed up in a snazzy Jaguar XKE. A month later, the tow-headed boy sat alongside the new choirmaster in that car, speeding toward his parents' home in Baltimore, with Mr. Hanson planning to sleep over. But that night, Mr. Hardwicke recalled, the choirmaster told the boy to stop by his bedroom. He said that Mr. Hanson performed oral sex on him, persisting even after it became painful. The choirmaster told the boy his father was outside the door, listening, he said.

The next day, the Hardwickes treated the choirmaster to lunch. On the way home, the choirmaster chatted with the boy's parents in the front seat, while surreptitiously groping him in the back seat, Mr. Hardwicke said. Mr. Hardwicke said though it was not so, he believed at the time that his father endorsed the abuse, deepening his confusion and betrayal. Mr. Hanson abused him three to four times a day, he said, often urinating on him.

When he complained that anal sex hurt, Mr. Hardwicke said, Mr. Hanson told him, "Well, you're a `mo,' " short for homosexual. "Get used to it."

"It was almost like a vampire, only instead of blood, he was sucking innocence," Mr. Hardwicke said.

In his suit, Mr. Hardwicke contends that a teachers' aide Mr. Hanson recruited from Canada, Raymond Wycoff, also molested him, as did the headmaster, Mr. Battaglia; the school cook, whose full name he does not recall; and a Canadian friend who visited Mr. Hanson.

Mr. Hanson could not be reached directly for comment. No one answered the door at the family house in Bala, Ontario, where the telephone is unlisted, and neighbors said the family had been gone for several months. But through Mr. Howell, Mr. Hanson declined to address the accusations of alumni, and his lawyer would not say where Mr. Hanson is.

Alumni said Mr. Wycoff, in a fit of depression, committed suicide in England. Mr. Battaglia, who was also accused of attempted molestation by an alumnus who asked to remain anonymous, said he never abused any students.

Like John Hardwicke, Chuck Clinton felt lonely and far from home when Mr. Hanson summoned him to rehearse his first solo in April 1972, according to an interview with Mr. Clinton. Freshly showered and in pajamas, he walked down the hallway in the vast mansion to the choirmaster's bedroom.

The boy was 11, sniffling through a cold. After rehearsal, he said, Mr. Hanson offered him a snifter of what the boy guessed was brandy or port. He said it would help his cold.

Soon, the boy was confiding his misery to Mr. Hanson, whose every gesture and look children in the celebrated choir were trained to follow. "You're like a second father to me," he blurted. As if on cue, the former student said, the choirmaster reached over and clutched his genitals twice.

"I didn't know specifically what it meant, but I knew it was wrong," Mr. Clinton said. He recalled bursting into tears and excusing himself, stumbling toward his room.

All night, the child wept in his bunk bed, watching the hands on his Day-Glo watch crawl toward morning, he said. "I remember thinking I would never, ever view the world the same as I did before," Mr. Clinton said. Believing he was the only boy touched that way, he remained silent, revealing what happened only to Mr. Hardwicke and, later, a reporter.

In the summer of 1972, Robert Byrens joined the choir, becoming the star soloist for its impending European tour. Pope Paul VI, hearing him sing at his summer palace, touched the boy's head and said, "He has the voice of an angel."

His second year at the school, Mr. Byrens was given a private room near a teachers' aide, William Sargent, who invited him to sleep on his foldout couch one night, he said.

As he slept, Mr. Byrens said, the teachers' aide reached under the covers and masturbated him. Mr. Sargent then became a constant presence, he said, often taking the boy away from his friends for sex. When he tried to stop him, Mr. Byrens said, the teachers' aide wept and threatened to flunk him.

Mr. Sargent, reached at his home in Kennebunk, Me., at first pretended it was not him, but then promised to call back after considering the allegations. He never did.

In the following years, former students say, more child singers were molested at the American Boychoir School, but school officials and trustees did little to protect them. In 1977, three boys approached Stephen N. Howard, then the headmaster, to accuse the choir director of molesting a boy, but Mr. Howard's investigation consisted of asking the victim they named whether everything was all right. In a suit years later, the headmaster testified he did not believe the accusation because one of the boys was a "manipulator and pot stirrer."

Had the headmaster taken the reports seriously, Mona Samis said, her son might not have been sodomized repeatedly by Mr. Hanson in 1980. He might not have suffered a nervous breakdown in college, she said. Her son, who asked that his name not be published, collected $850,000 in damages from the school, conditional on his silence. The case was recently unsealed by the judge in Mr. Hardwicke's case. Mr. Howard, who now works at the Washington-based National Parks Conservation Association, declined to discuss his actions at the Boychoir School.

In November 1981, a boy finally complained not to the school, but to his parents. A second boy stepped forward, with similar allegations. Confronted, Mr. Hanson admitted to molesting one of them. Still, the school kept him on for five more months, according to minutes of the school's board of trustees. With its Midwest tour approaching, the board feared a cancellation would mean financial ruin. It moved Mr. Hanson off campus, barred him from being alone with the children, and appointed a staff member and friend of Mr. Hanson to watch over him.

On the last night of its Midwest tour in March 1982, the choir left Mr. Hanson in Canada and he formally resigned.

A letter Mr. Howard wrote explaining the departure cited only "reasons of personal health," and showered Mr. Hanson with praise. It said he virtually ran the school in the 1970's, controlling admissions, hiring and firing staff members, even driving the bus.

`Total Devotion' Cited

"His story at the Boychoir School is one of total devotion to the boys and dedication to the best interests of the school," Mr. Howard wrote.

Herbert Hobler, then chairman of the board, defended the letter, saying that despite the abuse that had come to light, Mr. Hanson "was a good choir director." Through a school official, Mr. Howard said he had reported the accusation of abuse against Mr. Hanson to state officials but could not remember when he did so.

Alumni from the early 1990's said that sexual abuse by staff members was not common, but estimated that 1 of every 5 students was caught in sexually predatory relationships with other students. In 1999, a former soloist's family sued the school, claiming abuse three years earlier by a classmate who had a record of sexual misconduct. Though the classmate received psychological counseling, the suit said school officials failed to report him to state authorities, and adequately supervise him.

The school, which later expelled the boy, settled the case for an undisclosed sum and had it sealed, with the school admitting no wrongdoing.

In April 2000, at Mr. Hardwicke's request, the school wrote to alumni and parents of current students about the allegations of abuse long ago, and set up a number for alumni victimized by abuse. The letters triggered calls from other alumni describing abuse not only by Mr. Hanson, but Mr. Bryant and three other staff members, documents submitted by the school in the Hardwicke case show.

In a court filing, the school accused Mr. Hardwicke of negligence, saying if he had been abused he should have spoken up at the time. The school argued that it was not responsible for Mr. Hanson's behavior or Mr. Hardwicke's well-being, and said that Mr. Hardwicke, then 12, had consented to sex. It also argued that the statute of limitations had expired. School officials said they now educate staff members and students thoroughly about sexual abuse, and have hired a social worker specializing in abuse to review their procedures. They say they now report allegations of abuse promptly, as required by law.

After suicidal depressions in his 20's, Mr. Byrens now enjoys a stable, loving relationship. But still, his wounds remain. He played a recording of himself singing the soprano solo in "I Never Saw Another Butterfly," based on the poetry of Jewish children in the concentration camp at Terezin, Czechoslovakia.

Mr. Byrens listened to the music, sorrowful and beautiful, mixing the words of orphans bound for death camps with the pure soprano of a boy whose childhood was breaking into shards. "If people in the audience only knew," he said, "what went into making that sound."

_________________________
www.richardgartner.com

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#85050 - 10/07/02 11:33 AM Re: Decades of Sex Abuse Are Described at Choir School in New Jersey
Huck Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 03/20/02
Posts: 17
Loc: south carolina
I just wanted to make this post to set the New York Times a little straight on a couple of points in this article. In it, the reporter cites: "At another boarding school, Porter-Gaud near Charleston, S.C., alumni accused school officials of sexual abuse and a jury awarded $105 million in damages."

Point number one: Porter-Gaud is NOT a boarding school. It is a very exclusive, private school attended by the children of some of Charleston's most affluent and influential families.

Point number two: Porter-Gaud is not NEAR charleston. The school is located just across the Ashley River from downtown, well within the city limits.

Point number three: While Porter-Gaud was sued by many alumni for sexual abuse endured by a teacher at the school, the $105 million verdict against the school referred to in the article was won by the FATHER of one of the victims who brought the suit against the school and an administrator for failing to protect his son when they KNEW the teacher, Eddie Fischer, was sexually assaulting students.

This school tried, repeatedly, to keep all allegations quiet and employed many dispicable tactics to silence victims. Similiar to the school the article is about, the headmaster of Porter-Gaud, it turns out, was also involved in the abuse itself. He, a man named James Bishop Alexander, elected to commit suicide on the morning he was to be deposed in one of the lawsuits, rather than face questions from the attorneys for the plaintiffs.

The story of Porter-Gaud is a long, sordid portrayal of people more concerned with their reputations than in protecting kids. The lenghts they went to intimidate victims and their families, minimize the whole situation, and shuck their responsibility serve as a sad example of how abusers are protected, many times, at all costs. In my opinion, they got exactly what they deserved.

For a complete history of the sorry saga that is Porter-Gaud, visit the following website:

http://www.geocities.com/~shawws


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#85051 - 10/18/02 02:05 AM Re: Decades of Sex Abuse Are Described at Choir School in New Jersey
Huck Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 03/20/02
Posts: 17
Loc: south carolina
I just wanted to correct something in my post above.

I just got back from a trip to Charleston where I described the story above and my response to it. I then found out that Porter-Gaud does have a few boarding students.


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