The Case of Shattuck-St. Mary’s: Child Sex Abuse Remains a Systemic Cancer in our Society

Just when some might think that we have heard the last of shocking news reports concerning the sexual abuse of children at Shattuck-St.Mary’s, it was reported yesterday that Joseph Machlitt, arrested and charged last week with criminal sexual conduct involving a student at the Faribault school in the early 1980’s, was recently employed as a substitute teacher at the St. Paul Academy and Summit School (SPA).

This recent revelation is the latest in a chain of events that began in early October with Lynn Seibel.jpgformer Shattuck-St. Mary’s teacher, Lynn Seibel, being charged with 15 counts of criminal sexual conduct for allegedly sexually abusing six students from 1999 to 2003.  Incredibly, a day after the Seibel news hit the air waves a survivor now in his early 40’s, came to us and shared the secret that he also was abused at the school, but by another teacher. Law enforcement charged Machlitt and revealed him to the community in general, and specifically to SPA, who had no idea they had exposed their students to an accused child molester.

These events clearly demonstrate that despite of the exposure of clergy abuse scandals and the Sandusky case at Penn State, the sexual abuse of children remains a systemic cancer in our society and is a stern reminder that these cultures of secrecy and denial need to be broken. Indeed, we all have to be more vigilant and vigorous in our efforts to encourage victims to come forward sexual abuse.

The Shattuck-St. Mary’s case further demonstrates the need for statute of limitations reform in Minnesota.  Minnesota was at one time among the most progressive states in providing civil remedies for exposing offenders. Unfortunately, a number of Minnesota Supreme Court decisions have led Minnesota to become one of the least progressive states in the country, ranking with Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas in terms of their short statutes of limitations and time given to survivors to hold offenders and those who protect them accountable.  Shattuck, like so many other recent cases, serves as a dramatic reminder of the need for a change in public policy and a new look at what Minnesota must do to protect its children – reform and repeal the statute of limitations.

Finally, it is time for Shattuck to step up to the plate and instead of denying institutional responsibility, acknowledge its institutional failures. It is only through this acknowledgment can Shattuck and others like it create a truly safe and child-friendly environment as they hold themselves out to possess.

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