Community Message, February 15, 2018
Dear Hotchkiss Community,
When we last wrote to you in October, we reiterated Hotchkiss’s unwavering commitment to investigate reports of sexual abuse by members of the faculty or staff that occurred at any time in the School’s history and to take prompt, appropriate actions as warranted by the investigator’s report. Throughout this process, we have remained mindful that the decisions we make now will reflect who we are and what we stand for.
We have had the opportunity to speak with a number of you, including members of a group of concerned alumni called Hotchkiss Alumni for Reconciliation and Healing (HAFRAH). The insights and recommendations shared have been important and helpful. We would like to provide you with the specific steps we are taking to continue the work that has been done and to adjust course where necessary to ensure that we live up to the commitments we have made.
1. The School has retained Allison O’Neil of Locke Lord to serve as an independent investigator into reports of adult sexual misconduct with Hotchkiss students.
As we have previously informed you, we engaged Carlton Fields in June 2016 to conduct a third-party investigation. This initiative reflected the Board of Trustees’ resolute determination to uncover the truth, to recognize and apologize for prior misdeeds, to support survivors, to take appropriate actions with respect to abusers, and to ensure that best practices are in place at Hotchkiss to protect students today and in the future.
Our intent was that the investigation would be conducted with compassion and without bias. We appreciate that this can only happen if the investigation has the full confidence and participation of the community. In a meeting with school leaders at the end of January, HAFRAH brought to our attention concerns regarding the sensitivity of the investigation based on certain interactions in which participants felt uncomfortable. They also raised concerns regarding the appearance of objectivity of the investigation based on the investigator’s previous representation of defendants in sexual abuse cases involving the Catholic Church in Connecticut and others.
In light of these concerns, we have retained another preeminent law firm, Locke Lord, to conduct an independent investigation and build upon the considerable work of Carlton Fields. The investigation will be led by a Boston-based partner, Allison O’Neil, who has substantial experience in sexual abuse investigations. HAFRAH has also expressed confidence in her abilities and independence.
Our expectation was an investigation that would be both respectful and impartial, and we apologize to those who for whom it fell short in either regard. We are very grateful to all who came forward and spoke with Carlton Fields—especially survivors. We can hardly imagine how difficult sharing your experience must have been, and we salute your bravery and candor in helping Hotchkiss confront this issue. We thank Carlton Fields for their work to date, and we have asked them to provide their investigative files to Ms. O’Neil, except as they pertain to interviews with survivors.
We understand that alumni have had positive experiences with Miriam Berkman, a social worker who has conducted a number of interviews with survivors, so we have asked her to serve as a community liaison to facilitate the transition between Carlton Fields and Locke Lord. For any survivor who has already provided information to Carlton Fields, Ms. Berkman will contact you to discuss whether or not you would like to make that information available to Ms. O’Neil and/or participate in a new interview.
Locke Lord has created a Hotchkiss-dedicated hotline number and an email address. The phone number is (800) 403-7138 and the email address is email@example.com. Alumni who live abroad can reach Ms. O’Neil at (617) 239 0729. Miriam Berkman can be reached by phone at (203) 668-4338 and via email at Miriam.firstname.lastname@example.org.
We expect that Ms. O’Neil’s investigation will take several months. The School will release Ms. O’Neil’s completed report to the public in its entirety. However, we want to be very clear that no survivor’s or witness’s name will be included in this report without that individual’s express permission.
2. Immediate support services and access to financial assistance for current and past therapy costs are now available to alumni who were victims of adult sexual misconduct during their time at the School.
Hotchkiss has engaged RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) – one of the country’s leading providers of sexual assault services – based on alumni feedback as well as RAINN’s reputation and its victim-centered, trauma-informed approach. RAINN will provide support to alumni in two ways: immediate support services or referrals and/or assistance with therapy costs.
RAINN runs a national sexual assault hotline in partnership with over 1,000 local service providers. The hotline can be used to access immediate crisis intervention, information, and resources at any time by alumni who were victims of adult sexual misconduct during their time at the School. The hotline can also provide alumni with a referral to a local counselor or therapist. RAINN can be reached at (800) 656-4673 or www.online.rainn.org.
RAINN is also available to assist alumni desiring financial assistance and reimbursement for therapy related to sexual abuse during their time at the School. To this end, Hotchkiss has established a fund to pay for current therapy costs.
To access the financial assistance and reimbursement program or to obtain additional information, alumni should call RAINN's Hotchkiss-specific toll-free line at (866) 827-4029 (a toll line for international access is available at (860) 300-3389). After confirming alumni status and a therapy plan, RAINN will refer callers to a third-party administrator to process any therapy payments in order to ensure that alumni using this program will remain anonymous to Hotchkiss. The Therapy Fund Hotline is available from 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM EST, Monday through Friday excluding federal holidays.
In addition, the School will also reimburse alumni for up to $10,000 of past costs for therapy related to sexual abuse during their time at Hotchkiss, regardless of whether or not they make a formal report.
More detailed information about eligibility and assistance with therapy costs is available on the School’s website.
3. The School is conducting a new third-party review of its practices and procedures to ensure that there are secure processes in place to protect students.
Hotchkiss has in place today numerous policies and programs designed to ensure student safety and well-being. They have been developed and implemented in consultation with independent professionals and have been reviewed by third-party experts. In addition to the direct services described above, RAINN will undertake a further comprehensive review of the School’s sexual misconduct education and response mechanisms, including the School’s existing policies, protocols, and trainings. This process will take several months and will include site visits. At the end of its review, RAINN will provide Hotchkiss with an assessment of its current programs and a set of concrete recommendations to ensure that the School meets or exceeds best practices.
We remain firmly committed to an effective and thorough investigation, to taking appropriate action based on its outcomes, and to protecting the safety and well-being of our students. We believe the steps we are taking now and our work in the coming months will help us fulfill our commitment. We thank all of you in the Hotchkiss community, including the alumni who have reached out to us in recent months, for your continuing support of this important work.
Jeannie Weinberg Rose '80, P'18
President, Hotchkiss Board of Trustees
Craig W. Bradley
Head of School