Shattuck-St. Mary’s and the Culture of Denial

Since last month, the tragic history of child sexual abuse at elite preparatory school Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota has unfolded piecemeal. The courageous survivors who have come forward have empowered others to bring to light the abuse of multiple students by multiple perpetrators, including Lynn Philip Seibel and Len Jones.  New details are emerging of a third perpetrator, Joseph Machlitt, an art and photography teacher, who abused a student “JJ” in 1980.  Machlitt is currently charged with two felony counts of criminal sexual misconduct and Machlitt admitted to his abuse of “JJ.”

With yet another revelation of abuse, it is increasingly clear that, for at least a thirty year period the administration at Shattuck-St. Mary’s operated in a manner that left children unprotected and vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation.  Focused on protecting its reputation, Shattuck-St. Mary’s cultivated a culture of denial. The administration denied the truth, denied their responsibilities, and denied the children—entrusted by parents to the institution for protection—a safe environment in which to live and learn.    We can only hope that by these courageous survivors coming forward, there will be accountability, and with it, change.

Jared Shepherd is an attorney and advocate working with survivors of clergy sexual abuse at Jeff Anderson & Associates.