Thursday, July 12, 2012

In Today's News: Man Files Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Against Harvard

Man accuses Harvard of brushing aside sexual abuse claims

By Peter Schworm, GLOBE STAFF
July 12, 2012
Original article here

Embry says the memories drove him to depression. “I have made progress but am not the man I used to be,” he said.
Erik Jacobs for the Boston Globe
Embry says the memories drove him to depression
"I have made progress but I am not the man I used to be" he said
Four years ago, the memories came rushing back, an avalanche of horrifying images that shattered the life Stephen Embry had known.

He doubted them at first, but came to realize what he knew as the truth. He had been sexually abused as a boy.

“Suddenly, something snapped, and everything came back,” he said. “I wished it never had. It was like a reel, playing over and over.”

On Wednesday, Embry filed a sexual abuse lawsuit against Harvard University, contending he was repeatedly molested by a swimming coach at the campus from 1969 to 1972. The alleged abuse began when Embry, now 55, was barely 12.

Embry, along with his lawyer, Carmen Durso, who often represents victims of sexual abuse, also asserts that Harvard misled him about the statute of limitations on abuse claims, and failed to disclose a previous claim brought in 1996 against the university and the swimming coach, Benn Merritt.

The complaint against Harvard, filed by the brother of one of Embry’s closest boyhood friends, was dismissed. The suit against Merritt was resolved by settlement, court records show. A few months after the lawsuit was filed, Merritt killed himself in his Billerica home.

Embry, who first contacted a university lawyer shortly after recalling the abuse, contends that Harvard did not disclose the prior abuse claim against Merritt to deter him from taking legal action.

“They told me they didn’t know anything about this, that it happened too long ago,” he said. “They lied to me.”

Citing a 2010 letter to Embry from a university lawyer, Durso said the university committed fraud by misrepresenting the state’s statute of limitation law.

“They had no legal duty to provide him with information” about the previous case, he said. “But they couldn’t mislead him, and that’s what they did.”

Under Massachusetts law, victims of sexual abuse can file a civil claim within three years of when they realized they had been abused.

In 2010, Ellen Fels Berkman, a university attorney, told Embry that she had “been unable to find anyone who would support your suggestion that Harvard is legally responsible.”

“The time has long since passed for bringing a legal claim against the university,” she added.

That assertion, Durso says, was fraudulent, and discouraged Embry from pursing legal action.

In a statement issued Wednesday, university officials said “there was nothing to prevent” Embry from taking legal action, and that there was no evidence Harvard was aware of any abuse at the time.

“The acts that Mr. Embry says that he suffered at the hands of his neighbor can only be described as despicable, but there is no basis to suggest that the University had any knowledge of these events when they allegedly occurred more than three decades ago,” officials said.

Durso and advocates of abuse victims say Embry’s case underscores the need to relax the state’s statute of limitation laws. Like many victims, Embry realized he had been abused decades later, and the devastating effects made the idea of a legal challenge seem overwhelming, specialists said.

“The laws have simply not kept up with the reality of the trauma,” said Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children.

Bernier said that lawmakers are debating a proposal to eliminate time limitations on criminal and civil claims in sex abuse cases and that supporters are confident the restrictions will be eased.

“It would have huge implications for many, many victims,” she said.

After receiving the letter from Harvard, Embry continued to search for answers. He contacted the police department in Billerica, his hometown, which informed him that Merritt had killed himself in November 1996.

He learned that Merritt’s suicide followed the filing of an abuse lawsuit, and tracked down the court papers. As the pieces fell into place, he began to fully accept what had happened to him in his youth.

“I trusted him,” he said through gritted teeth. “But he was a monster.”

Embry said he was raped and sexually assaulted approximately 100 times over the course of three years, usually at the Harvard pool. Merritt lived near the Embry family in Billerica, and told Embry’s parents their son had great potential as a swimmer. He would drive Embry, and several other boys, to Cambridge for practice on a regular basis.

After the first alleged assault, Merritt said he nearly told his parents. But he lost his nerve at the last minute, and soon the guilt and shame became too much to overcome.

In the 1996 complaint, a 41-year-old man claimed Merritt sexually abused him from 1965 to 1970, when he was between the ages of 11 and 16. He did not realize he had been abused until 1993.

For Embry, the memories of the alleged abuse sent him into a desperate spiral. He fell into a deep depression, and attempted suicide. When he wrote Harvard in 2008, he described living “in a state of abject fear.”

Through intensive counseling, he has begun to rebuild his life, but remains troubled. “I have made progress, but am not the man I used to be,” he said.

Beyond the legal dispute, Durso said he believes Harvard had a broader moral duty to help any victims that come forward.

“Your obligation should be to find out who has been harmed and do whatever you can to help those people,” he said. “Because it happened on your watch.”

Peter Schworm can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globepete.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

In Today's News: Tennis Hall of Fame pivots, investigates Bob Hewitt

Tennis Hall of Fame pivots, investigates Bob Hewitt

Alleged Abuse Victims Hail Move

By Bob Hohler, GLOBE STAFF     
JULY 03, 2012
Original article here

The International Tennis Hall of Fame, reversing course after months of inaction, is investigating allegations that Bob Hewitt, one of the greatest doubles players in the history of the sport, sexually abused nearly a dozen girls he coached in South Africa and the United States from the 1970s to 1990s, according to several of the alleged victims.
The Hall of Fame launched the inquiry after drawing criticism throughout the tennis community for dropping its plan last year to investigate the scandal. The organization has hired a Boston law firm — Hinckley, Allen & Snyder — to conduct the investigation and present its findings before the hall’s board of directors meet later this month in Newport, R.I.
The law firm was commissioned “to submit a confidential report to the executive committee to assist in deciding whether to suspend or take other action against Mr. Hewitt’s status as a Tennis Hall of Fame’’ member, according to an e-mail sent from the firm’s attorney, Michael J. Connolly, to one of the women Hewitt allegedly abused in South Africa. A copy of the e-mail was provided to the Globe.
The inquiry was welcomed as long overdue by Hewitt’s alleged victims, five of whom called last year for his removal from the hall after a Globe story detailed his history of alleged sexual misconduct.
“This is half our battle won,’’ said Suellen Sheehan, who was 12 when, she said, Hewitt first had sex with her in South Africa.
The statute of limitations has expired on most of the allegations in the United States, but not in South Africa, where the National Prosecuting Authority is investigating Hewitt.
“For him, the abuse might have ended with his tennis career,’’ said Heather Crowe Conner, who had just turned 15 in 1976 when, she said, Hewitt, a former Boston Lobsters star, first had sex with her outside Masconomet Regional High School. “For the rest of us, the impact of that abuse continues to play itself out in our lives every day.’’
Hewitt, 72, who lives in rural Addo, South Africa, has not been charged with a crime. He has not spoken publicly about the case since last year, when he told the Globe, “I just want to forget about it,’’ and was quoted by the Weekend Post in South Africa as saying, “I only want to apologize if I offended anyone in any way.’’
Crowe Conner, now a teacher at Reading Memorial High School, said she has renewed hope that Hewitt one day will answer for the pain he allegedly caused her and the other women. She said she recently spoke at length with Connolly, a former federal prosecutor, about her allegations.
Connolly declined to comment, as did the hall, whose senior officials are attending the Wimbledon tournament in London and “are not readily accessible,’’ according to spokeswoman Anne Marie McLaughlin.
The hall’s executive director, Mark Stenning, said in May that the organization dropped its plan to investigate Hewitt in favor of drafting a policy to address similar issues in the future.
The decision triggered a backlash against the organization, as several prominent tennis figures voiced their support for the alleged victims. Among those who have spoken out is Billie Jean King, an inductee and life trustee of the hall.
In 1970, King partnered with Hewitt to win the mixed doubles title at the French Open.
“I’m not happy,’’ she recently told the Washingtonian magazine in her first public comments about the allegations. “I am very upset, and he needs to be in jail. If he’s guilty, which it looks like he is, he should be on trial. Of course, he’s innocent until proven guilty.’’
Child advocates in the United States and South Africa who have worked with Hewitt’s alleged victims were heartened by the inquiry.
“We applaud the Hall of Fame for acknowledging their responsibility to pursue the truth in this matter and give these women a fair opportunity to have their voices heard,’’ said Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children, which campaigns against child sexual abuse. “This is an encouraging sign that youth-serving organizations are taking to heart lessons learned from the Catholic Church and Penn State scandals.’’
While hundreds of supporters of Hewitt’s alleged victims have petitioned the hall to remove him, Massachusetts Citizens for Children and its South African counterpart, Men & Women Against Abuse, have been considering joint efforts to pressure the hall to oust him, including picketing the organization’s induction ceremony July 14.
But news of the inquiry prompted them to suspend their protest plans. Instead, the advocates said, they will wait for the law firm to present its report and the hall to respond.
The hall’s earlier backpedaling posed a striking contrast to the US Gymastics Hall of Fame’s swift expulsion last year of an inductee facing similar allegations of sexually abusing girls he was coaching. Hewitt’s alleged victims and their supporters viewed the tennis hall’s inaction as emblematic of leaders throughout professional tennis distancing themselves from the scandal.
In South Africa, where tennis officials have shown little interest in investigating Hewitt, advocates for the alleged victims said the hall’s inquiry has raised hopes that South African prosecutors will soon will file charges against Hewitt.
“We trust our criminal justice system will provide an opportunity for the truth to emerge,’’ said Luke Lamprecht, a spokesman for the Men & Women Against Abuse.
Sheehan, who was the first of Hewitt’s alleged victims in South Africa to seek criminal charges this year, said she was frightened by a threatening voicemail she received in May after she was quoted in the Globe about the hall’s decision not to investigate Hewitt. The Star newspaper of South Africa reported that the voicemail, which Sheehan forwarded to the Globe, was left by a woman from a phone number in Addo, South Africa.
Sheehan said police are investigating that allegation, among many others.