The President’s Challenge: Stop Sexual Assaults

[January 23, 2014] The White House report released yesterday (“Rape and Sexual Assault- A Renewed Call To Action“) is a stern reminder that all educational institutions — not just colleges, universities and other federally-funded institutions that must comply with Title IX — have a moral, if not legal, obligation to take all reasonable measures to reduce sexual violence and misconduct at their institutions.

The data and numbers highlighted in the report are noteworthy.

  • Nearly 1 in 5 women (22 million) have been raped in their lifetime.
  • Almost 1.6 million men have been raped in their lifetime.
  • Nearly half of female survivors were raped before they were 18.
  • 1 in 5 women was sexually assaulted while in college.
  • Assaults in college appear to be fueled by alcohol and drugs, often occurring at parties.
  • Most victims know their perpetrator.
  • 12% of high school girls report having been forced to have sex.

The costs of sexual misconduct are significant. They include not only the potentially irreparable damage to millions of young victims and survivors, but also potentially staggering litigation costs (which are not limited to attorneys’ fees), and damage to an educational institution’s reputation.

The President’s announcement and the Vice President’s leading role demonstrate the White Houses’s commitment to this issue. Thus, among other things, the White House has stepped up federal compliance and enforcement efforts. Colleges and universities have been well-advised to take notice. But rededication of efforts is now in order.

Accordingly, independent schools should now take note. We strongly encourage our secondary schools to act to reduce the risk of sexual misconduct on their campuses and to prepare their students to act appropriately when they get to college.

With this in mind, colleges, universities, and independent schools should:

  • Focus violence prevention education on perpetrators, survivors and bystanders. This should include getting men more involved, by educating the potential perpetrators, and by seeking the commitment and support of bystanders.
  • Educate (require attendance at preventive education programs) for faculty, other employees, and all students, providing information about the institution’s policies, practices and resources regarding sexual assaults and sexual misconduct. This will generally be tailored to the audience members’ ages and each institution’s campus and culture. For example, we are currently providing boundary training (‘Shades Of Grey And Blurred Lines’) at many schools.
  • In addition, schools may want to address these issues directly (bluntly) with applicants, to set an appropriate tone early on and discourage applicants who might be inclined to engage in misconduct.
  • Explore various ways to engage students, looking for whatever may generate their greatest involvement.
  • Understand your institution’s culture, and take appropriate action to redefine it if necessary. (Examine, and learn from, your institution’s past.)
  • Update policies and practices for responding to allegations of sexual misconduct and violence. This should include a review of disciplinary consequences.
  • Properly educate school officials responsible for responding to complaints. This will include education on a range of issues, including training for investigators and adjudicators involved in handling complaints of sexual assault (something that we have been doing for our clients recently, as well).
  • Consider whether the institution is properly organized (e.g., should HR be a separate department, as was recommended for Penn State by the Freeh Report); does it have the necessary resources to effectively administer and enforce the institution’s policies and protocols?
  • Provide survivors with appropriate resources and remedies to continue their education.
  • Address the need for fairness to the accused throughout the institution’s policies, protocols, and training, including the potential for false accusations.
  • Develop and maintain strong relationships with local law enforcement.

In short, institutions should update policies, practices and protocols, implementing best practices for preventing and responding to sexual misconduct, sexual assault, and rape.

The value of these measures may be obvious to those who have closely followed the stories at institutions in the headlines, from Penn State to Horace Mann, from Amherst to Deerfield. The challenge is not knowing what to do, in general. The challenge is in deciding to do it and tailoring these measures to your institution.

We are able and willing to assist.

Sara Goldsmith Schwartz, William E. Hannum III and the Education Team at Schwartz Hannum PC


An article written by William E. Hannum III entitled “The Right Thing To Do: Preparing For And Responding To Allegations Of Sexual Abuse At Independent Schools” may provide additional, helpful guidance.


William E. Hannum III is speaking on this topic at the Policy Institute, at independent schools and universities from Virginia to California, Indiana and Missouri.  Please join him! For more information, please click here.


For a copy of the White House report, please click here.

In Loco Parentis: Independent Schools At The Intersection Of Technology And Relationships

[October 19, 2012] After spending 24 hours with dozens of talented, dedicated Heads of School at a conference earlier this week, I have been pondering the themes that emerged during that conference, which seem to me to be interwoven under the rubric of in loco parentis.

One educator at the conference prefaced his remarks with the following observation: relationships distinguish independent schools from other educational options.  He opined that boarding schools and elementary schools are particularly adept at forming and cultivating strong, abiding relationships.  Prior to these remarks, a Head of School had commented to me that elementary school heads are a “special breed” with a higher proportion of women, who are “taking care of people’s babies.”  Clearly, the relationship foundation is essential to the independent schools’ role in acting in the role of parents – and, in today’s culture, that is an increasingly challenging and emotional job.

Another educational leader observed that today’s students are the iGeneration: focused on interacting with each other, and with the world around them, through the iPhone and the iPad.  This iGeneration culture frequently clashes with the relationship-oriented focus of independent schools.  Teens’ relationships can be premised on electronic interactions, potentially leading to a host of devastating consequences.  Many educators are striving to implement iPads and other electronic devices in school curricula – but perhaps as a homework device rather than a classroom tool, so that they can engage students in the learning process while preserving the essential classroom interactions.

And, finally, one inspirational Head of School at the conference shared a guiding mantra: “confrontation is the hallmark of caring and the soul of honesty.”  (He attributed this phrase to a mentor, not taking credit for coining it.)  This mantra stitched it all together for me.  Why?  Because it elegantly summarizes the essence of the in loco parentis role of independent schools at the intersection of technology and relationships.

Fostering these essential school-based relationships is achieved, in part, through teaching the iGeneration to communicate openly and honestly – and respectfully – with each other: to discuss the nitty-gritty of life in person, not through texts and Facebook.

Consider this: how do we feel about teens texting during dinner? About 9 year olds on Facebook?  How do we respond to sexual abuse cases emerging from 10, 20, and 30 years ago – by confronting the past with transparency (confronting the ghosts) or imitating an ostrich? How do we respond to 8th grade girls sending naked pictures of themselves to the entire football team?

As a true believer in independent school education, my professional passion is protecting independent schools, their students, faculty, staff and campuses: to prevent problems whenever possible, and to resolve and get through (thoughtfully, practically and lawfully) the sticky wickets when they present themselves.

As we sift through the daily onslaught of challenging issues on our campuses today, we should consider filtering each through a refined lens, incorporating these three themes: preserving the essential and enduring relationship-based essence of our schools, accepting the challenges of the iGeneration and crafting solutions to the novel issues that arise, all the while encouraging our schools, their faculty, staff, students and parents to confront the difficult issues in the name of honesty and caring.  In loco parentis.

Preparing For And Responding To Allegations Of Sexual Abuse At Educational Institutions

[July 19, 2012] In light of the recent sexual abuse scandals at educational institutions around the country, Schwartz Hannum PC has published an e-alert to assist educational institutions with preparing for and responding to allegations of sexual abuse.  The E-alert can be accessed by clicking here or by going to the E-Alert page under Resources on the Firm’s website.

Allegations Of Widespread Abuse At An Elite Private School

[June 19, 2012]  The New York Times Magazine recently reported allegations of sexual abuse at the prestigious Horace Mann School in New York City − starting in the 1970s and continuing through the 1990s.  The article describes a school community in which new students were warned by their classmates about teachers who were “perverts” and in which a number of adults in power sexually molested generations of students.

The article is a stark reminder of the importance of fostering a school culture in which child abuse is not tolerated and in which both adults and children are encouraged to report inappropriate conduct.

Even though the alleged abuse at the Horace Mann School is reported to have occurred more than two decades ago, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office is in the process of collecting reports of the alleged abuse.  It has established a special hotline for reports of such abuse and has also requested that Horace Mann School provide it with “a copy of its current procedural guidelines regarding sexual abuse.”

We recommend that all independent schools promptly review and update their policies and procedures for preventing and responding to allegations of sexual abuse.  Such policies and procedures should be drafted in a straightforward fashion and be consistent with all applicable mandatory reporting laws.

Finally, we also recommend that independent schools conduct a comprehensive assessment of their traditions, rituals and practices to ensure that they have appropriate procedures in place to reduce the likelihood of abuse.  Please contact either of us for a checklist of on-campus and off-campus activities to audit as part of this process.


Sara Goldsmith Schwartz is a member of the Class of 1983 at Horace Mann, attending the school in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.