May 25, 2005  ·  Lessig

To everyone who has written about my ghosts, thank you. I am always stunned by the warmth of this community (though of course, stunned sometimes by the opposite as well). I had promised myself I would not read the piece, but the comments have forced me to break that promise. John is an amazing writer, and the piece has a rawness that is hard, but perhaps appropriate. (E.g., I rarely swear, though you wouldn’t get that impression from the piece.). Three comments below, but first a plea: that we drop the H-word, and B-word from commentary about this. This is an important social issue because of how ordinary it is in fact; and we need it to be understood to be ordinary, so as to respond in ways that can check, and prevent it.

Update: hero, brave

{Update II: Please see this follow-up.

(more below)

(1) Even I have been surprised by the extraordinary number who have written to share their own experiences. Many had never acknowledged it before. Many are struggling with how. We all need a better way to record this, so we can remark progress in its passing away.

(2) I regret the way the piece characterizes my view of the school today. I am not in this case to destroy a school — especially not this one which I believe can do extraordinary good in a kid’s life. The quote that suggests the contrary reflected growing anger at the behavior of the lawyers on the other side in this case. It is perhaps the one clear Scalia-like bit to my character: I believe in taking responsibility, yet this school is being held hostage by a very different ideal. At the point I said what was quoted, my thought was essentially this: if this is really how these people think this issue should be dealt with, then perhaps they are not reformed in the way I had thought they were reformed.

(3) My biggest regret, however, is the place my parents have in the piece. I can’t know this with certainty, but I don’t feel the blame that John saw in my words. At the time when it mattered, none in my family knew. Should they have known? In the world of 1972, from 250 miles away, it was easy to miss.

  • gzombie

    Kudos to you for your incredible courage to address this part of your life and to try to make it right for other people as well.

    Parents are human and fallible, and they are not omniscient. Your understanding is admirable.

  • iTripped

    Larry, your ghosts are your own, and you are fortunate if you have emerged as strong a person as it appears. I agree that the article in question was extremely well written and salute your bravery in disclosing such a personal matter to the general public.

    I really don’t have much more to say, other than ‘thank you’.

  • Matthew Skala

    Somebody’s got to do the things you’re doing. I’m glad you are. I’m sorry it’s so difficult.

  • orcmid

    I don’t know you.  I admire the glimpses that you provide us in those off-beat ways that blogging offers unexpected glimpses of who people are.   So I have an appreciative eye out for what you have to say on matters (like IP licenses) that capture my interest and attention.

    When Julie Leung wrote so compationately about the article, I was touched to learn that there is another way you have allowed us to know who you are.  I avoided reading the article until late last night when I saw one more link to it.

    I wept.  I don’t have any reason for it.  I wept. Then I wondered, how are his folks taking it?  Are the parents all right?

    I wanted to say something yet not arrive like a disruptive intruder in a tender time of your life.  I didn’t know what would be appropriate.  Now there is this place and I get to acknowledge you this way.


    Your little boy has a great dad.  Of course, he already knows that.  Now we do too.

    – Dennis

  • Seth Finkelstein

    An amazing story of triumph, worthy oif high admiration.

  • Kirsten Chevalier

    I’m in awe of your inner strength for coming forward with your story when you had nothing to gain from doing so. Thank you.

  • Juli Mallett

    I’d seen the piece going around, and not read it, until a friend posted a quote of it. The raw, blunt and honest emotional side of it struck me: it was the first time I’ve seen anyone just be honest and plain about the effect this sort of thing had on their life. A lot of the piece is full of real, Human honesty in a way that most humans never seem to share. I have nothing but admiration for your stand, for your words, for your eloquence about such a tricky subject. You sound like someone who hasn’t suffered a thousand people all coming up with creative ways to talk about this sort of thing: you came across very strongly saying what you meant, how you felt, and how you thought about it internally. That, in itself, is one of the most wonderful and inpsiring things I’ve ever happened across. Thank you.

  • C. K.

    Thank you for coming forth with your story. My own childhood sexual abuse was covered up by authorities within my church, and I want you to know that I am eternally grateful for you and people like you who are willing to fight against this. So thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • SWL

    Wow…you were right Larry. Very complicated. Good article though…facts are a little screwy, but that’s OK. I commend you having done what you felt needed to be done.

  • liza sabater


    Thanks again for your courage. I’ve written my thoughts here.

    John Hardwicke left the following comment on my site :

    “We’ve been fighting in New Jersey to be heard in the state’s courts, but New Jersey is one of three states that seems to protect non-profits from lawsuits by virtue of the state’s Charitable Immunity Act.

    Victims have been waging a parallel battle in the legislature to have a bill posted that would end charitable immunity in cases of child sexual abuse, but we can’t get the Assembly Speaker, Albio Sires, to post the legislation.

    It would be very helpful if we could flood Mr. Siries’ office with e-mails asking him to post the legislation for a vote. PLEASE e-mail the Assemblyman at:

    I definitely want to follow-up on this and have an action alert posted at two of my sites and at least 3 other progressive communities where I have diaries, DailyKos included.

    Please contact me to work out the wording and any other strategy on this. It’s good momentum to bring attention to this piece of legislation.

    liza sabater

  • pablo flores

    I have followed and admired your work. I just stumbled into this piece and I was shocked about what happened to you and also about how you decided to invent yourself and include your past in that invention of your identity. You are a courageous and strongly centered individual My best to you.

    Pablo Flores

    ps. Enjoy Chile.

  • Simon Pole

    Prof. Lessig, going about this in a public way will do a lot of good. But then, that’s been the central theme of your entire career.

  • Sarah

    I just wanted to say that I have a deep respect for anyone who is willing to (esp. publicly) acknowledge the complexity of issues that most are determined, or at least content to see only in black and white. (How else can we truly learn and change?)

  • Alex Ludd

    I’m not sure about this whole ghost thing, though I think my great grandmother appeared to me when I tried to pawn her wedding ring.

  • ted

    I’m sorry for what happened to you all back then and I’m glad you’re both fighting back and speaking out now.

  • Beatrice M

    I read the article after my husband pointed it out to me. I was really touched by your strength and willingness to talk about your past so publicly and fight for other survivors. Even as a survivor of sexual abuse myself, I cannot begin to understand what you went through because each person/situation is different. Again thank you for not backing away from this fight. Good luck.

  • Zak Greant

    This must be a difficult time for you and your loved ones. I hope that you each find the strength and peace that you need.

  • Ann Bartow

    Hi Larry,

    The “H-word” and “B-word” misunderstanding was mine, not Siva’s. You are often far, far too hard on yourself, why not let people say nice things about you if they want to? :>) Anyway, thanks for clarifying, and for speaking out.

    warmest regards,
    Ann Bartow

  • Evan Erwin

    Fantastic article, amazing story. I hope you get your triumph.

  • anon

    Larry: I’m so sorry to hear of what you went through (vocabulary limited to trite sayings, here; my apologies). You were nice to me, a distant acquantaince, once, when someone had hurt me badly (psychologically); wish I could offer you some of the balm you offered me (though it sounds like you’re doing just fine without it). Best wishes.

  • three blind mice

    professor lessig when i (stepping out of character for this one time) first read this i had no idea what the heck you were talking about. now i do.

    the profanity was absolutely appropriate. that’s how men talk when we mean business. there are times when it is wholly appropriate to step a little bit out of character.

    but there are also times to stay in character when your passion could easily force you out of it. those are hard times. real hard times. your dispassionate approach to this is truely impressive.

    i’ll use another b-word. you got balls professor. a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, but it take a real man to do it.

    hats off.

    *steps back into three blind mice character*

    all three hats.

  • Ed

    Hope the NJ Charitable Immunity law gets the ammendment it needs. Any group that has children in its care has an active responsibility over the use and abuse of power by its employed adults.

    Stories like this really underscore the responsibility schools, especially boarding schools have, more than what parents miss, in early adolescent years. When I now as a parent look back at my (brief) time in a boys boarding school, more than the huge variety of sexual and proto-sexual shenanigans, experiments, and power-plays that went on – none, to my limited knowlege, close to the pervasive abuse that LL described at Boychoir, but everywhere nonetheless, and rarely if ever in adult view – I wish the school had acted more in loco parentis about (a) the cigarette smoking habits then being established, (b) the mid-adolescent binge drinking, and (c) time management and stress relief. In other words, there is a lot that they should be on the lookout for that can have serious physical and mental health repercussions later in life. Of course, if any teacher, on school time or off, went too close or went after any student in his charge, it absolutely should have been the school’s responsibility.

    Apologies if this is a completely “duh” (obvious) point. Extraordinary article. E-mail your Jersey resident friends on that pending Immunity Act legislation.

  • three blind mice

    ed, with all due respect, that is exactly the wrong sentiment.

    if the immunity act legislation opens the door to institutions being liable for smoking, poor time management, stress and anything else that might have “serious physical and mental health repercussions later in life” there will be as few of these necessary institutions as there are ob/gyns in pennsylvania.

    we are all in agreement that the bad ones cannot and should not be able to claim immunity from responsibility for such exceptionally egregious goings on as in this case, but the good ones – and the vast majority are good – do not deserve to be driven into oblivion by over-aggressive legislation that would expose them to endless litigation.

    that is why professor lessig’s dispassionate approach is the only way to get this done.

  • Carol

    You were my favorite professor at HLS and I have enjoyed keeping up with your passions and thoughts through your books and blog. Reading the article – I was touched by your willingness to go public with your story and thankful that the events did not prevent you from being who you are today (and perhaps helped, I guess). I admire you very much. Best of luck with your family.

  • Natalie

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    Oh, and thank you.

  • Hugo

    I’ve never posted a comment here before but I followed your efforts against copyright extension. As you fight in the name of all of us its easy to forget that sometimes the most difficult battles are within oneself. I hope you can find your inner peace, and you’ll get those pesky copyrights some other time.

  • anonymous

    The struggle you went through in your teenage years is one shared by many, many boys. Not everyone is molested or abused, but I think nearly all boys struggle with monumentous burdens as they develop sexuality.

    I know you’re tired of hearing this, but it takes real courage to return to that struggle thirty years later. I think you could get at least $50,000 for the movie rights.

  • Ed

    Ed again, with apologies to 3 blind mice:
    You are of course absolutely correct about the Immunity Act and what it should not cover as legislation.
    I fear my muddled, non-legalistic, line of reasoning confused the notion of school’s responsibility “in loco parentis” – which can only go so far, but at least in theory might extend to habits which do start their roots in teenage years – with what can be expected of them legally.

    I believe that extending the Act to specifically exclude immunity for employees’ intentional criminal molestation or abuse of children is the only proposal now under consideration, correctly so.

  • donald b edwards

    Dear Professor Lessig:

    I was glad to see your comments on your web site about your view of the School today. Some of your readers may be interested in the School’s response to John Heilemann’s story:

    Message to Faculty and Staff, Parents, and Trustees:

    Sunday afternoon The American Boychoir gave one of the finest concerts I have heard in more than a decade of listening to this extraordinary choir. Their hard work, discipline and musicianship were at their peak. And it was clear in performance that the boys knew they were on a roll. Afterwards, they told me, “Everyone is just really happy this year.”

    Monday morning I read New York Magazine’s graphic retelling of the story of Donald Hanson’s sexual abuse of students and his subversion of the mission of this institution 30 years ago. I know that many of you are as distressed as I am with yet another round of publicity about a time that we can barely comprehend.

    We know that The American Boychoir School today is a safe and healthy place where students are taught that they can � and must � talk to trusted adults � their parents, teachers, houseparents, music directors � about any sign of abuse � physical, emotional or sexual. We are deeply sorry that John Hardwicke, Larry Lessig, and a number of other students who were abused by Donald Hanson in the 1970′s did not feel there was anyone they could tell, even in later years. The evil Hanson did has now made victims not only of the boys he abused but also of the School he betrayed.

    There is little any of us can do outside the legal process to address the past. We can, however, continue to speak out about the value of the ABS experience for so many generations of students and reaffirm our commitment to the mission of building character and community through the power of music. Your commitment to this mission has sustained us over the past five years, and it will see us through the challenges we face today. We must not allow Hanson’s crimes to rob today’s students of the unique benefits of an American Boychoir education.

    Donald B. Edwards
    American Boychoir School

  • Robert

    I hate to sound stupid, here, but can someone link the ‘ghosts’ posts that lessig is referring to…I’ve looked all over and have no idea what you all are talking about.

  • steve

    thanks larry. that is quite a moving story and i really respect that you got involved in the case.

  • Anon

    Thank you.

  • John Hardwicke

    I want to thank Professor Lessig for his work on my behalf in my case against the American Boychoir School.

    It is unfortunate that the American Boychoir School has chosen to address alumni who have come forward to talk about their abuse by claiming that these children consented to the sexual misconduct of teachers and staff; maintaining that the school had no duty to protect students from sexual predators; arguing that those who say they were molested are exaggerating.

    It is sad that the Boychoir is unable to acknowledge that the abuse of students was institutionalized. Former students claim that they were molested by a variety of individuals associated with the school from the headmaster, choir directors, proctors, teachers, a cook, gardner, neighbors of the school, friends of staff, and uncounted others.

    Moreover, the school�s claims that no one currently associated with the school was there during Mr. Hanson�s tenure is quite untrue: Herbert Hoebler and Anton Armstrong, currently on the school�s Board, were connected with the school while Mr. Hanson and others were abusing students.

    In fact, the school maintained contact with at least one abuser well into the 1990s � inviting Donald Bryant, the choir director fired for having �a love affair with a little boy� to alumni reunions.

    It distresses me that the American Boychoir School talks about sexual misconduct there as being decades old when, in fact, in recent years the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services was called to the school to investigate situations of sexual misconduct.

    Last year, the mother of a former student testified before a New Jersey Assembly subcommittee that her son was molested in 2002. When the school found out, she says, her son was expelled for failing to tell.

    In 2000, a former student brought a lawsuit against the Boychoir alleging a sexual abuse cover-up occurring in the mid-1990s.

    The New York Times reports that alumni from the 1990s estimate that one in five students was involved in sexually predatory relationships.

    Perhaps most disingenuous is the school�s public position that it wants to help alumni who were abused when, in reality, the school has used every weapon in its dark arsenal to frustrate and hide truth. Witness the fact that the Boychoir has appealed all the way to the state�s supreme court to keep former students from having the opportunity to present their cases in New Jersey�s courts.

    If, as Mr. Edwards claims, he doesn�t know the facts surrounding these incidents, why not let former students have their day in court to prove what happened? Let a jury decide based upon evidence whether the school bears a measure of responsibility.

    Is the school safe today? No one really knows, but I believe that until the American Boychoir takes seriously responsibility for its duty to keep students safe from sexual predators, children are at risk.

  • km

    we need it to be understood to be ordinary, so as to respond in ways that can check, and prevent it

    You, sir, are a national treasure. Thank you for “Free culture” and thank you for sharing this important story with us.

  • Geoff
  • mobilejones

    Prof. Lessig,

    Thank you for sharing your story, and exposing your humanity to put a face on this issue. I believe your story is one of hope. It is one of triumph against the odds.

    The letter from the school posted above is abhorent. It is clear that the school continues to refuse to be responsible and accountable. If the school wants to be accountable, it should send out a letter listing the actions it will take to ensure nothing like what you and others experienced could ever happen, again. IF the school is confident in it’s resolve and capability to protect children they could atone by joining the fight to change the law which protects irresponsible organizations. It would sit down with the victims and work out a solution.

    A systematic circling of the wagons, and finger pointing obvious from this letter should make those of conscious seek closing the school permanently. They can’t be trusted to do the right thing. The Boys Choir School has not displayed the integrity to be trusted with protection and education of children.

    I admire you, Prof. Lessig. The courage you have displayed in making yourself vulnerable and making public such a deeply personal experience is extraordinary. Many of us simply would not be capable of this type of courage.

    Thank you for valuing what is right above what is safe.

  • Donna Wentworth

    It took a special level of courage to take on this challenge, to expose your private experiences to do the right thing. I think it’s the most important and meaningful thing you’ve done, and that’s saying a lot. You’re helping everyone who has been made to feel small because of being victimized as a child. Hurting a child is the very worst evil out there. I’m speechless in admiration.

  • stefanos

    its all so public: this is not the same as the Schiavo case: the context is very different but the public nature of displaying a very human case in public resonates with real life tragety.

    I am confused: its as if when persons are in danger, society is increasingly accepting an amber alert system of publicity to provide saftey. When a child is lost, everyone knows everywhere. No details, no reasons, just pure data in a very well networked wide world media blanket.

    In your case, it is to place the spot light upon a problem that occured a long time ago to achieve some justice, and to examine the state rules of non for profit organizations and accountability.

    The media seems to have a consciousness of its own, reacting as persons hear, read and listen to the case. I don’t know the consequences of this over the next 200 years: how will such a media shape the world we live in.

    The method of a case that is unfolding reminds me of the OJ trial: I guess I am getting at the media and the law as a generalization, and how laws will evolve as we negotiate privacy and publicity: others may have similar cases, and may not want to experience the publicity, can they control the amout of data about themselves if the case becomes large? will it be a choice?

  • Jeanmarie Tissot

    I am the mother of a boy who began at the American Boychoir school in 2000. He was a student until the Nightline program aired. I took him home the next day, angry at myself for having left him there even with the misgivings I had had (and tried to reconcile) about the care/concern/oversight of the boys during our entire experience there. Sexual abuse by adults was not even the issue by then…….but the “Lord of the Flies” comment in the magazine article….very appropriate. I could write volumes on that subject alone, but will not do so here.
    If I read one more smarmy comment about how the current president is “sorry that Donald Hanson abused a few boys 30 years ago” but the school is different now, etc. etc……I will just throw up. The horrific abuse at the school occurred AND CONTINUED from the early 60′s until the early 80′s………in 1983 a boy DIED of choloform poisoning….I don’t understand why we don’t hear more of that. Nothing was ever really resolved about this death…..official ruling was that the boy got the chloroform from the school nurse’s office and accidently poisoned himself. …..even if it wasn’t a sexual predator perpetrating this crime, it points to the extreme carelessness at the school when it comes to everyday functional matters.
    Yes, the music is absolutely magical, wonderful and a great asset to the boys who receive training there. But the wonderful “moral values” that ABS likes to say it espouses? I’m sorry, but I REFUSE TO BE A GOOD GERMAN. When this scandal was beginning to be made public, we parents were told first that one or two incidents had occurred, (in the far distant past) then later that it had been ONE music director. It was intimated that John Hardwick was a disgruntled former student who wanted to shut the school down. The boys were told things like “people want to target those at the top.” And how can an institution even utter the words that it’s not culpable because a 12year old “consented” to sexual abuse?
    I felt compelled (after the Nightline airing) to research the whole mess……I spoke to reporters, victims, lawyers and found every article I could concerning the school. There have been lawsuits filed, settled and sealed up until 1999. How can we think the school has even ATTEMPTED to make amends when it is still refusing to acknowledge the problems?
    I was sickened anew when I read in this latest article that Shellenberger just died at the age of 87 AS HEAD OF AN ORPHANAGE. Most of the perpetrators of the sexual abuse at the school have simply moved to other venues and have yet to be “outed.”
    I have a copy of a letter written April 30, 1982 from Herbert Hobler (chairman) to Donald Hanson (who was then in London). As far as I am concerned, he typifies what the American Boychoir’s “official” stance is even today. He praises Hanson for his contributions
    and says “I am so pleased that the sad parting took place after the choir was fully trained” “without your years of input, we would not have the quality, image and guidelines you established and which I know will keep us on solid ground.” It ends with “I am most anxious to have you keep in touch, Don. Keep me posted and let me know if I can be of help in any way.”
    Until the American Boychoir School addresses a letter to all it’s SEXUAL ABUSE VICTIMS (rather than the perpetrator) that includes LET ME KNOW IF I CAN BE OF HELP IN ANY WAY, there is disgust in my eyes for this institution.
    Never, in my conversations with John Hardwick, have I heard him say he wanted the school shut down….but that is what I believe. The facts are blatant, great harm has been done. The crime now is the lack of action and continuing to deny the scope of evil that has occurred…..forbidding justice to the innocents.

  • Stephanie

    This all makes me ill. As a victim of molestation myself, the school’s reaction makes my stomach churn. It takes years and years of hard work to get to any semblance of “normalcy” and realize that what happened wasn’t normal or consensual.

    My father was a music teacher at a time when no one would stand up and say, “What you’re doing is wrong and we’re going to do something about it.” The schools would simply offer a blind eye in return for a resignation. We moved a lot when I was a kid and I didn’t figure it out until I was in my 30′s.

    Several years ago, I had the opportunity to confront him about it all as he lay in a hospital bed recovering from a car accident that left him a paraplegic. His response was neither indignant denial or an admission of guilt, merely one of questioning what I had just said to him. He begged me to go into counseling with him, told me he would do anything to “fix this.” Textbook perpetrator talk.

    How can anyone give us the years back, fix us so that we don’t live with the horror every night?

    Professor Lessig and Mr. Hardwicke, you are heroes and brave men in my book. Thank you.

  • Sarah

    I read the article in NY Magazine this morning. I really appreciated your voice about your abuse. You accurately described adolescence, including the warped norms that teenagers can accept, and you understand the nature of denial. I find too often that people manage to forget what it was like to be an adolescent and an amazing number of parents forget when their own children are adolescents (when it is most important to remember). Adolescents are sexual beings – they need assistance in becoming responsible sexual beings. Denial and the failure to be open and willing to speak about sex is very dangerous. I really appreciate that you are able to remember yourself without anger and guilt. If only society were able to forgive youth their youth and to provide youth with better choices, maybe we would really get somewhere.

    I trust the New Jersey Supreme Court to do the right thing and overturn the lower court decision.

  • nance

    Mark Samuel, Nurse Sex Offender Convicted
    On Sept 8,2005 RN:Mark Samuel was sentenced to five years in Jail with all but two years suspended,having been convicted in January 2004 of unlawful sexual contact with a 6 year-old girl . Mark Samuel counseled the girls mother. when the counseling ended , the three became friends attending family fuctions together. The violations occurred during sleepovers at the Nurses residence during the summer of 2003. Mark Samuel has been released from prison and is now at risk to the community of North Bay Ontario Mark Samuel emyployed 2007 for Assertive community treatment Team North Bay, ON
    Northeast Mental Health Center
    P.O. Box 3010 4700
    Highway 11 N
    North Bay, ON,CA

  • Eivind Kjørstad

    Because of you, and people like you, the world is a better place.

    Having high-profile, successful people step forward with their stories is important. It makes the burden easier to carry for others, and it shows in a practical way that though such a past will always -color- you to some degree, it doesn’t need to -define- you.

  • Jan / The Faux Press

    Professor Lessig,

    I come to this post late, while researching a documentary on the subject of healing from childhood sexual abuse.

    Read it, the associated article and comments with empathy, sadness, and hope.

    Am certain you must have heard of attorney Jeffrey R. Anderson’s efforts to litigate under the RICO statutes, the most interesting legal approach to the RNC’s long-standing institutionalization of pedophilia.

    Didn’t think it would be possible to admire you any more than I already did, but there you have it.

  • Gary Brubaker

    I was there, too, Lawrence. I started at the Columbus Boychoir about the same time and was there until ’81, when it officially became the “American Boychoir.” I remember what happened, and just recently had to bring it up to my partner of many years. There were a lot of us there at the time that went through hell. For me I thought that going to Princeton and meeting Donald Hanson initially seemed like a dream come true, but once there things became much more different.

    I can never forget what happened with Robert Hobbs. I’ll never forget Donald Hanson’s claret-coloured room with the huge bed and the telly in it (since there was only one other telly there, located in the mud room near the kitchen and the proctor’s apartment.)

    And since my family life was non-existent I was definitely an malleable individual. I, too, was sexually assaulted there on a daily basis. The worst incidents would happen when there was ‘open weekends’, when most of the other students left and we were stuck at 19 Lambert Drive, or, if we were really ‘good’, trips to Quakerbridge Mall. The supervision was even more lax during those periods and for years I have intentionally blocked the memories of those moments.

    Now I am trying to come to terms with it. I’ve been recently diagnosed with laryngeal dystonia, which has taken away my singing ability, and part of the recovery is to remove all stress from my life. So I now have opened this can of worms.

    I would love to hear from you and others during that time. I don’t want to mention their names publicly, but would be more than willing to discuss it further if you would like.

    Cordially, Gary W Brubaker

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