*this story was captured from a GoFundMe Campaign started by a classmate in 2018*
Holding Leaders Accountable Means a Better World for All of Us – We Can Do This!
The First Wave of Reckoning
In 1994, our friend Vanessa, at 16 years old, confronted a grown man who was molesting young girls at Lawrence Academy in Groton, Massachusetts. Luckily, he did not fight, but agreed and humbly admitted he was doing wrong. All of us around her felt safer because of it. She believed this would be the most challenging moment in the struggle . . .
But the school decided to keep the child molester employed, and when Vanessa asked what would happen – her financial aid was revoked and she was sent away. Many of us didn’t know why she was gone or what she was going through at the time. Her closest friends knew something important had happened. Older women approached Vanessa soon afterward, and thanked her for doing that. They told her, this man had done similar things to them when they were her age.
The Second Wave of Reckoning
In 2001, after she spent 7 years pleading with school leaders to do the right thing – and after running away to the west coast – our friend stood before hundreds in the school auditorium and told the Truth of the situation. The old headmaster tried to hold her back and control what she would say. But she would not listen to him. She got up there and calmly told it all.
Once school leaders learned she was coming – and she would Not be censored – they finally released the perpetrator on “permanent, long-term disability”. The headmaster resigned suddenly the following year amidst great praises. He then relocated his career as headmaster to another state.
More people found ways to contact her and thank her for what she had done. This man had done similar things to them, when they were her age…
Hear Her Tell It!
Live audio of the speech on December 10, 2001 – Recorded on a mini-cassette device from stage when Vanessa was just 23 years old. (2:54 of edited clips from a 21 minute speech – transcript included)
The Third Wave of Reckoning
In 2016, the school asked sex misconduct victims to come forward in a public statement. So Vanessa did, yet again. She was up all night researching the Boston Globe’s database and talking to reporters at the Globe by morning. They recommended an attorney in Boston, and she soon retained him to represent her in a case against the school.
Within a year, the attorney’s office sent a letter to Lawrence Academy demanding $2,000,000 in settlement.
But, Vanessa soon noticed their approach was to make her look broken (someone from the office even said, “No offense, but you seem really together – and that’s going to make it a hard sell, as a case”). She asked when and how the school would acknowledge the cover-up, and learned this was not part of the plan. They would scare the school into settling and she would have to undergo hours of psychiatric evaluation.
No. Our friend would not be exploited for the possibility of monetary gain.
When she insisted that acknowledgement be part of the process, the attorney balked. She suggested Restorative Justice and he would not consider it. The attorney criticized her by saying “This thing you went through, it really gave you some control issues”. She was outraged. “That’s insulting”, she countered. “You don’t tell me how this has affected me – I tell You.” When he refused to apologize, she realized she would have to go another route, on her own. She was sad to lose a potential ally, but knew she had to carry on some other way.
In early 2018, Vanessa bravely stepped off the litigious path.
~ ~ ~
Finding a New Way
Vanessa Osage grew up to be a sexuality educator, founder of a nonprofit for puberty rites of passage, and leader of a social enterprise to positively transform love, sexuality & human connections. www.loveandtruthrising.org
Through her work in rites of passage, she had learned about Circle Process. One day at a Prevention Coalition Meeting, she heard of a man named Saroeum Phoung. He worked in Seattle (near her hometown) and in Boston (near all the action) using Restorative Justice in criminal cases. He would be the ideal fit! Vanessa found his contact through Point One North and they began to construct a new approach together.
Saroeum graciously gave of his time, talking with Lawrence Academy officials, sharing guidelines, setting an outline of the necessary time and crafting agreements. Vanessa had just a small window of dates when she could step away from her life. She has been raising her child largely on her own, and it would take great effort to leave everything, for any length of time.
Saroeum offered to go with her to Boston, but there were scheduling conflicts. The school was eager to delay (“Let’s take a few months and be more prepared”, they offered). But Vanessa recognized this as a stalling tactic. She had already come so far, with so much effort and she had to move forward. Though Saroeum was so eager and willing to be of assistance, she could not afford to delay or change the dates.
Vanessa decided to fly to Boston on her own, using the framework Saroeum had created, in conjunction with the school, and represent herself in the Circle Process. On February 27, 2018, she flew from Seattle to Boston…
The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same
It was a horrible trip east. She missed her originating flight out of the small airport and had to be searched when she reached the larger airport. She broke down crying with the stress on her way. The anxiety of revisiting the east coast (which was ever-present) compounded with coldness of airport personnel, and the significance of her efforts . . . It made for a rough day.
Though her bag would stay stuck at Logan Airport for another 48 hours, Vanessa made it to the hotel in Littleton, MA in the wee hours that night. When she checked in, the hotel clerk handed her a sealed envelope from the school. Exhausted, and in a state of surreal disorientation, she slept.
The next morning, she awoke to unveil the mystery of the letter. It was from the current headmaster, and it said that the Restorative Justice Circle was called off – but he would be happy to meet with her, along with his assistant, in the office.
She was enraged! Vanessa called the school and demanded that EVERY player in that process be called back in to meet Right Now. How dare they! Once they learned she was on her way, and they could not go through a known facilitator, they tried to sabotage the process altogether. (sound familiar?)
A “Disagreement” Surfaces
Vanessa went, wearing her traveling clothes, which she washed in the sink that morning, to the Lawrence Academy campus and met headmaster Dan Scheibe for the very first time. His assistant, Libby, stood beside him. She recalls they looked scared. But she was resolute. They moved through uncomfortable chit chat to talk about the new, adjusted plan. They had lost a whole day.
Dan was eager to have the confidentiality agreements signed right away (the same agreement he would later violate, by sharing sensitive sexual abuse details publicly in a statement). Numbers were briefly discussed – and he quickly implied that her/the attorney’s numbers reflected much more severe levels of abuse.
Vanessa said, “Well, we have to account for the impact of the school’s decision to keep him employed and revoke my financial aid”. Dan Scheibe then said what would become important, prophetic words, “We’re not exactly in agreement about that”. To which Vanessa said, “How could there be disagreement? That’s the easiest thing to prove. Look at any yearbook from 1994-95, and you’ll see he was still there, and I was gone.”
The headmaster and attorney insisted on having facilitators. Miraculously, Vanessa arranged for two from the Center from Restorative Justice at Suffolk University to meet her the very next morning at 7 am. The director of the Center was hesitant to send people without more preparations or time. But, she said, “If the alternative is you doing this on your own, I’ll see what I can do.” Two incredible young women rose to the occasion and spent a long day with Vanessa Osage, former headmaster Steve Hahn, current headmaster Dan Scheibe, assistant Libby Margraf, and Lawrence Academy’s attorney, Paul Lannon.
Responsibility . . . Where?
All moved through the process, as outlined by Saroeum. Four hours of structured Circle, followed by the second phase of discussing repairs. Notably, Steven L Hahn, former headmaster who had overseen the decision to keep the child molester employed, revoke financial aid, deny requests for protection, and discount pleas for the safety of others for 7 years – he could not stay for that part of the day.
Could this process establish legal liability? The school’s attorney said no. Vanessa requested $500,000 as personal injury (1/4 of the demand) with acknowledgement of the school’s choices in writing, to be kept on record for perpetuity. Reluctantly, she left the old headmaster’s office with only a written promise that the school would offer something as restitution. That was the best they could achieve in the abbreviated time. It promised a finite answer within a week’s time.
Now We See You – Now, You’re Gone
Back on the west coast now, communications with the school became markedly… abrupt. Vanessa received an official letter by mail – offering 1% of the attorney’s demand, if taken with a confidentiality clause on terms. She was livid. Were they actually asking her to keep secrets on their behalf? She called this “severely inappropriate” and immediately refused. She found new documents, and the school (with much anticipation and suspense) reconsidered. They came back with a whopping 3.75% of the demand – and the confidentiality clause remaining intact.
As for accountability? The taking of responsibility for wrongs committed by the school? Not even on the table.
This was going nowhere. Vanessa was 18 months deep into this process – for the 3rd Wave of Reckoning – and something had to give. After spending hours contacting attorneys, child abuse advocates, and mediators of all kinds, she realized she would now have to get creative.
~ ~ ~
Go Ahead – Tell Me to Be Quiet Again!
In May of 2018, Vanessa launched a full-exposure campaign to bring about accountability through public awareness. So far, it’s working beautifully – look how far this has reached around the world!
Slowly, those who had been harmed in similar ways by the school began reaching out to her. They found her through The Amends Project website: www.theamendsproject.com. Our friend has been carrying these devastating stories of human rights abuses, cover-ups and violations by Lawrence Academy for months. Since this is all still not “settled”, she’s been asking the school to make things right – on all of our behalf.
Vanessa has spent 10-40 hours/week for months reaching out to allies, supporters & advocates. She has made proposals to the school, researched legal and alternative approaches to resolution, and spent hours identifying supporters – from accrediting boards to national organizations. Vanessa has worked with the press, and even coordinated events from across the country. Most importantly, she has also created and proposed to Lawrence Academy a model for The Justice CORPS – the Committee to Oversee the Rights and Protections of Students.
She has been advocating for a root-level change in how they do things around there – and it’s become nearly a full-time job!
A Movement Begins!
Vanessa has laid out a mission & crucial guidelines for how we will move forward . . .
Goals of The Amends Project:
1. Bring the truth to light.
2. Hold leaders accountable.
3. Enact lasting, positive change.
Core Tenets of The Amends Project:
1. No further exploitation will be allowed on the way toward resolution.
2. Success by means of fear/control is no success at all.
3. Situations will be influenced only by the sheer power of honesty, a fierce insistence on accountability, and the encouragement toward true growth and positive change.
4. The Project will only conclude when leaders admit to the cover up, and new policies are firmly in place to protect the rights and wellbeing of students for perpetuity.
5. This is for everyone.
Now, we as “Outraged Alumni” represent over 65 former students and allies – who are grateful to be finding each other – and energized to be finding new ways to evoke what we all want, together.
Vanessa Osage has opened a door, and now many are walking through. Since the feature article was published in the Lowell Sun, another woman has come forward and decided to sue the child molester. More cases are likely to begin. We, as her friends, have begun to organize. Now, we all walk beside her, as we continue this effort together – the one she first began as a child 25 years ago. We ask you to walk with us by donating now.
What Is This About?
* This is for everyone who ever suffered abuse as a child, and then endured confusion or silencing.
* This is for everyone who has ever been a child, and trusted adults to create a safe space for them.
* This is for everyone who has ever loved a child.
** This is about holding leaders accountable so they get the message that abuses will not be tolerated!
** This is about human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, and shiftng the culture toward Honesty.
** This is about speaking up to see that the Justice we all crave is realized and systems are transformed.
*** This is important to me, because . . . Vanessa’s the hero. She’s handling it, and has been. All I did was make a post. That’s scary. I can’t imagine the guts it takes to go there and say it on stage with a microphone (at 23), to keep going for 17 more years, and put in a newspaper… out there all by yourself, with no comments and no people supporting, outwardly supporting. I never knew what it felt like to have a hero. I have Vanessa to thank for that. ***
This fundraiser sends a message to the school that people value accountability from our leaders and demand that things be made right. The money replenishes her efforts, helps her travel east for actions in the Project, and assures our success in bringing this all the way to Resolution.
Please give what you can! We bet you know at least five people who would be moved by this story and the movement… Share this with all of them! Because our voices are stronger when we speak together.