In June of 2012, Amos Kamil shook the American educational system with a New York Times Magazine cover story he wrote titled “Prep School Predators.”
It exposed a pattern of sexual abuse and child endangerment among members of the faculty at the elite Horace Mann School in the Riverdale section of the Bronx from the 1960s to the 1990s and the school’s failures to respond to the victims.
Kamil, an Israeli-born Montclair resident, said that report “was the tip of the iceberg.” After it was published, “the amount of people coming forward” compelled him to take a much broader look at the sordid allegations against one of the nation’s most prominent private schools.
In the resultant book, Great Is the Truth: Secrecy, Scandal, and the Quest for Justice at the Horace Mann School, which will be published on Nov. 3, Kamil and coauthor Sean Elder recount how for more than three decades, at least 22 Horace Mann teachers were alleged to have abused more than 64 students. Their youngest victims were in the seventh or eighth grade.
“The repercussions are enormous,” Kamil told NJ Jewish News in an Oct. 20 phone interview. “Horace Mann graduates go on to run Wall Street firms and media companies and real estate, but it has done enormous damage to many of them.”
Largely a result of Kamil’s article and subsequent investigation by law enforcement, the school publicly apologized to victims and said it had reached settlements with nearly all of the people claiming abuse (the statute of limitations had run out in New York, although this year the school settled a sexual-abuse lawsuit filed against it in New Jersey’s Bergen County).
Kamil’s role as whistleblower was a perhaps surprising turn for a communications and branding expert who had worked for Jewish and pro-Israel organizations. The former marketing and communications director for what had been the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, he went on to direct an Israel advocacy initiative run by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the former United Jewish Communities (now Jewish Federations of North America). He now works as brand marketing director for the Jewish Agency for Israel, where he was employed in 2001 when he wrote the article.
He and his wife, Madeline Till, are long-time members of Bnai Keshet, the Reconstructionist congregation in Montclair. They are the parents of four children — two of them adoptees from Ethiopia.
Kamil, who was recruited to Horace Mann from a public high school in the Bronx in 1979 because of his talent as a baseball player, became aware of the abuse 10 years after graduating in 1982, during a camping trip he took with four high school friends.
As they sat around the campfire, one said the school’s football coach had molested him and some other fellow students. Then two others told of similar experiences with other instructors. The fourth student said nothing at the time.
One of the faculty members named by Kamil’s article was R. Inslee Clark Jr., who was Horace Mann’s headmaster from 1970 to 1980. (He died in 1999.)
“I was the only one who I know for sure was not abused,” Kamil said. “I go out of my way to say that because in some ways what I’ve learned is that it is up to those of us who have not been abused to help those who have.”
As he continued his research after the Times article was published, Kamil discovered that “when Horace Mann became co-ed in 1975 it became open season on girls,” who comprised “roughly speaking 10 to 15 of those victimized. But it’s tough to give exact numbers of exactly how many were victimized.”
‘Not something you forget’
The Bronx District Attorney’s Office opened an investigation into the allegations of abuse and set up a hotline for victims and others to report allegations. Among the 60 people who called, 25 were deemed to have been victimized. Thirty-two people filed lawsuits against Horace Mann.
Only three or four of the 22 alleged predators are still alive. Some committed suicide, as have several of their victims. None is in prison.
“I’d liken the damage done to that of Holocaust victims,” said Kamil. “Some move on with their lives and then thrive. Other people can’t get out of their own house. No matter how successful in your life, this is not something you forget. There are cases of very successful Upper East Side professionals who are also heroin addicts, and others who never got their careers together, and other people who are struggling with drugs and alcohol their whole lives and are working in the sex trade.”
Among the victims is Jon Seiger, who said he was molested by eight different teachers at Horace Mann.
Seiger said he was 14 when he was sadistically raped by headmaster Clark and a teacher, Stanley Kops.
It was a trauma that propelled him down a dark road that led to drug abuse and prostitution. He told the New York Daily News in 2013 he was “passed among pedophiles on the Horace Mann faculty…. I figured I may as well get paid for this.” He embarked on a career as a male prostitute and an actor in pornographic films.
“Most of the victims didn’t start talking about their experiences until they were in their 50s and 60s,” said Kamil. “It wasn’t until after the Times article was published that I found out my best friend was one of the victims. He was a guy I essentially shared my life with…. He was in his 50s already. It points to how difficult this is for people to talk about.”
Kamil will present a reading from the book at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 12. He is continuing his work as an advocate and writer, saying, “I always tried keeping my writing and professional lives separate.”
“The point of the book for me is not about the horrors of what happened at Horace Mann back then. It is really about what to do in an institution today if you are approached by people who say this has happened to them,” he said.
Kamil urges those interested in the issue to visit the website Horace Mann Action Coalition at hmactioncoalition.org.