Pingry list grows in ‘typical’ child sex abuse scandal

7 April 2016 - 14:12, by , in Pingry Survivors' News, No comments

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A typical child sexual abuse case.

That’s how the allegations against former Pingry School teacher and coach Thad Alton are playing out.

One alleged victim comes forward. Then another. Then a couple of more. And then more alleged victims — who suffered in silent shame thinking they were the only ones — become emboldened and come out and join forces.

The number connected to Alton is growing. It was four just 10 days ago when Pingry sent out a letter to alumni and the school community saying it learned “distressing news” about Alton, who worked at Pingry’s elementary school campus in Short Hills for six years in the 1970s.

And now up to 14 people have come forward, according to the law firm representing the alleged victims.

This act of transparency was one year in the making. The Portland law firm of Crew Janci, which specializes in child abuse cases, was contacted by the first alleged victim about a year ago.

Nathaniel Conard, the headmaster at Pingry, said in an email that he and his administrative team “only learned of the abuse recently” and the letter to alumni went out quickly.

“Our goal is to provide what support and, perhaps, closure we can for the victims, to discover if there were any other cases of abuse, and to continue our efforts to ensure such an awful thing could not happen again,” Conard wrote.

The case against Alton began with one man who sought out Crew Janci, which has won numerous child sex abuse cases, including the famed $18.5 million case against the Boy Scouts on behalf of victim Kerry Lewis in 2010 in Oregon.

One of the institutions Crew Janci has sued was the American School of Japan. It represented 13 women who were sexually abused by Jack Moyer, a famous marine biologist, during his 37 year tenure at the institution. Moyer committed suicide in 2004. The school admitted in 2014 that it knew about his conduct all along.

It was through that case that the first Alton complaint came to the Portland law firm, perhaps because the Japan school’s “friends” foundation in based in Princeton.

“Our first client came to us as a direct result of our case with the Japan school,” said Peter B. Janci, 35, a partner in the firm.

Janci said the client, a professional man in his 50s who lives in the region, provided the lawyers with what Janci described as “a witness list.”

“These are people who may have witnessed certain incidents or types of behavior,” he said. “More time than not, when you contact these witnesses, you find more victims.”

Typical again. And that’s exactly what allegedly happened with Alton, Janci said.

Alton had access to his alleged victims on three fronts, Janci said. As a teacher at the Short Hills Pingry campus, as a leader of the school-sponsored Boy Scout Troop 64, and as a counselor at Camp Waganaki in East Waterford, Maine, which was owned by a Pingry faculty member.

“Basically, these boys could not escape him,” Janci said. “He was very present in every aspect of their lives.”

This type of constant presence is what helps pedophiles build trust with their victims. Again, typical.

“The double tragedy of these kind of cases is that the kids these guys usually go after are the most vulnerable,” Janci said. “They’re the kind of kids looking for a strong mentor, or a good teacher or coach. Instead, they get hurt.”

Janci’s second, third and fourth clients “developed from our investigation” over a period of months, the attorney said.

And they all had one thing in common.

“They thought they were the only one,” Janci said. “This is very typical in how these predators work. They isolate their victims and make them feel special.”

Pingry sent out its letter 10 days ago asking victims or witnesses to contact the school or the investigators hired by the school. It is not known how many have come forward through school channels. Conard declined to elaborate, saying he didn’t want to “make those investigations more difficult or to taint them by commenting in detail” other than to say the school was aggressively pursuing information.

But another 10 people have contacted Janci’s firm.

“We certainly think there’s more out there,” Janci said.

Janci described the 10 additional people who have come forward as “like the first four. They’re all professional men in the 50s,” he said.

“We’re discussing with them what course of action they want to take,” he said.

Janci said the American School of Japan’s eventual admission of guilt and its efforts to change its culture of denial are the model of what he and the victims are seeking from Pingry.

“In all the cases we’ve done, the victims all want the same thing,” Janci said. “They want the truth to come out. They want their individual suffering acknowledged. And the want the policies and cultures to change to make sure it never happen again.”

Conard said the school in recent decades has implemented new procedures for vetting employees and other people who come in contact with students, increased awareness training for staff on inappropriate behavior.

In a letter to parents, dated March 29, Conard said safety of students was Pingry’s “highest priority” and that “on a regular basis” the school “reviews polices … to ensure our safeguards are built in to operating procedures.”

Janci says his investigation has him convinced that Pingry knew about Alton’s conduct.

In 1978, his last year at Pingry, Alton held a strip poker game and was convicted of lewdness and impairing the morals of a minor in 1980. The game was held in Millburn, which is the township where Short Hills is located. According to court documents, authorities learned about the incident in 1979.

And yet, he was able to get a job at The Peck School in Morristown, a mere 10 miles from the Pingry Short Hills campus, for the 1978-79 school year. Again, typical. The miscreant moves on, unimpeded by his reputation. That was the great shame in the Catholic Church scandal.

“We have heard that employees of Pingry either heard allegations or rumors over a significant period of time,” Janci said. “We believe people at Pingry (at the time) knew what was going on.”

And that leads to the final aspect of typical-ness in these cases.

When the complaints of children fall on the deaf ears of adults, it becomes a triple tragedy. Hurt, betrayal, and the final insult, denial.

“When these institutions say, ‘We had no idea what was going on,’ it rings hollow in the hearts of the victims,” Janci said. “Part of what motivates them is that they want their pain acknowledged.”

And that’s not a lot to ask for.

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