One thing that is predictable for survivors of child sexual abuse is this: the timing will never be perfect.
In many instances, when a survivor is ready to come forward and talk about the abuse—perhaps even ready to seek accountability in the courts—old statutes of limitations lock the courthouse doors to survivors, preventing them from using the civil and criminal justice systems to expose and punish predators and enablers.
For many other survivors—as is the case with some men and women who were sexually victimized at the elite Thacher School in Ojai, CA—social media, advocacy outreach, attorneys, and private investigators have come knocking on the survivor’s door before they were ready or healed enough to talk about the abuse.
You can read about the investigation and report in the LA Times article
The public investigation of sexual abuse and cover-up at the Thacher School is an important first step in transparency and preventing this institution (and others like it) from harboring predators. But this investigation didn’t happen on its’ own. Rather, survivors organized and used their voices to demand that the abuse they suffered, and the cover-up of those abuses were exposed. The survivors who led the social media campaign to shine light on years of abuse and cover-up at Thacher have and will continue to inspire survivors at other institutions to force changes that are long overdue.
At the same time, we believe that many other survivors may have wanted to participate in the investigation but were not ready. Or maybe they were concerned that their names would become public. Those are very real and relevant concerns.
How do survivors from a school like Thacher protect themselves and their privacy when approached and asked to talk about abuse they may have suffered? What about the dozens of survivors that are mentioned in the Thacher report who did not talk to investigators, but whom those investigators believe are victims of crime?
The first thing we want all survivors to remember is that in the legal system—if the survivor is represented by an experienced, reputable attorney—their privacy will be protected. With the investigation at Thacher School, however, those protections are not guaranteed. We know that the survivor-led movement rightly stresses privacy, but how can you give yourself further assurance?
If you attended the Thacher School and suffered abuse, you should talk to an attorney who specializes in child sexual abuse civil cases. Even if you decide to not file a case, talking to an attorney can help you determine your rights and how to protect your privacy. You should note that California’s Child Victims Act (AB 218) gives Thacher survivors new civil rights to seek justice.
If you are ever contacted by a private investigator, a law firm investigating/defending sexual abuse at an institution, a journalist, or anyone wanting more information about abuse you suffered, it’s still a very good idea to talk to an attorney who can represent your interests and make sure that your rights and privacy are protected.
We want to encourage survivors to continue in this amazing advocacy in demanding transparency for sex crimes they suffered. Hopefully, the Thacher School investigation is the first of many such movements and investigations statewide. In the meantime, we want all survivors to know that they are safe, that they are believed, and that help is available to ensure they are protected.