Survivors and the surrounding community of an exclusive private school in Southern California were hopeful that justice would be served after a damning study detailed decades of sexual assault at the institution. Those who made it through say they now wish they had been able to accomplish more.
Teachers, coaches, and even the headmaster have been accused of wrongdoing at The Thacher School in Ojai, where the police have uncovered approximately 100 incidents of misconduct. The charges range from rampant sexual harassment to rape.
However, no criminal charges have been brought against anyone since the report was released a year and a half ago, and it’s doubtful they will ever. Thacher has reportedly changed its policies to prevent repeat abuse and concealment that led to the school’s closure in the first place, and none of the accused employees are still employed there.
No way out
When the wrongdoing detailed in the previous year’s report surfaced on many social media platforms in 2020, the Thacher board of trustees decided to commission an outside law firm to investigate the allegations.
A law company representing the school released a detailed report detailing allegations of misbehavior against six ex-teachers and administrators after spending months interviewing more than 120 former students, parents, faculty, staff, and trustees.
Up to the present day, the report covers a wide range of charges. The institution has roughly 260 kids, and new incidents surfaced after the study went public as far back as the 1960s. The annual cost of tuition is over $60,000.
One witness remembered being 13 years old in 1982 when she first moved into the Thacher dormitories. At a press conference in October, the woman stated, “Within weeks of my arrival, I gained the special attention of the school’s headmaster.” She went on to say that she was suing the institution.
The research claims that Wyman’s actions significantly impacted many young women during his tenure from 1975 to 1992. After several teachers and children complained about Wyman’s behavior to a board trustee in 1992, the trustee hired an attorney to look into the matter. The investigation results were not made public until this year.
The school’s investigation revealed that Wyman had a long history of improper touching and offensive conduct, including stroking many students’ bottoms and urging them to dress provocatively so they could serve at a dinner party at his house.
In 2014,Wyman died. The student complaints were described as “a set of stories – accumulated over some years that could be considered sexist, seriously so in certain situations” in a letter he wrote to the board chair in 1992.
A criminal investigation that revealed many things
A criminal investigation was launched by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office shortly after the article came out, and six investigators found nearly a hundred instances of misbehavior. The statute of limitations in California means that around 70 of these cases have been closed already.
Former Governor Jerry Brown repealed the law in 2016, although its repeal was not retroactive. This means that the statute of limitations on sexual assault allegations dating back before 2017 has not yet run its course.
In 2020, survivors of abuse at Thacher gained access to a new form of justice when Governor Gavin Newsom approved a measure extending the statute of limitations for filing civil claims in such circumstances from 2020 to 2023.
In a complaint filed against The Thacher School last month, prominent attorney Gloria Allred claimed to be representing one of the victims and accused the school of carelessness.
The previous headmaster of the institution abruptly resigned in August amidst the probe. Headmaster Blossom Pidduck took leave after the report was released, citing the need to recover from sexual trauma she experienced as a student there in the early 1990s.
Allred, who has represented clients of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, and Donald Trump, noted that civil litigation could be a very effective tool for victims even while criminal charges are unlikely.