WESTMINSTER — A group of seven men who were sexually assaulted during the 1980s while at Kurn Hattin Homes for Children want to have their stories heard — and they want an apology.
"No client every comes to us and says this about money," said Nate Foote, of Andreozzi and Foote in Harrisburg, Penn. In this case, Foote said, they want the school to acknowledge what happened to them at the hands of Mark W. Davis, who pleaded no contest in 1990 to charges of lewd and lascivious behavior with students at the residential school.
"They want the school, through words and actions, to say 'We are sorry. We brought you here to make your lives better and it turned out the opposite,'" Foote said.
For now, Foote said, the men have not filed a civil complaint seeking a financial settlement.
"We are waiting for Kurn Hattin to do the right thing," he said.
And while his clients want an apology from Kurn Hattin and proof it has put in place policies and procedures to prevent abuse, "Apologies often come as reparations," Foote said.
Foote's request comes days after a law firm that represented abuse survivors of Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics national team doctor, announced it is representing men and women who say they were physically and sexually abused at Kurn Hattin. The school's executive director has urged the board of trustees to begin an independent review of the allegations.
"This is obviously an institution that has done a lot of good work," Foote said. "The current administration might not be responsible for Mark Davis specifically, but there are more of them out there. The risk of this happening again is still present. I would like to think Kurn Hattin is cognizant of this issue and is taking steps to prevent it from happening again."
In 1990, Davis, then 27, was sentenced to two years in jail on eight counts of lewd and lascivious behavior with students at Kurn Hattin. Davis pleaded no contest to the charges. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors declined to press further charges related to sexual abuse. According to court documents, Davis was implicated in the abuse of up to 17 students during his four years at Kurn Hattin.
Gary Karnedy, of Primmer Piper Eggleston Cramer in Manchester, N.H., speaking for Kurn Hattin, told the Reformer Sunday the school has no other comment than that which was issued on Friday by executive director Stephen Harrison.
"We plan to fully investigate these claims, and even though they allegedly happened 30 to 60 years ago, we vow to do all we can to uncover the truth, and if need be, help the survivors find the peace they seek and deserve," wrote Harrison, who has been at Kurn Hattin for the past five years. "We take these allegations extremely seriously. ... The thought that any of our children who came to us for refuge suffered abuse while in our care is both horrific and heartbreaking."
Foote said he was happy to hear that Kurn Hattin hopes to open an investigation.
"We contacted the school about a month ago," said Foote. "We heard from the executive director but we haven't heard much since."
Foote said he was contacted about a year ago by one of the men who was abused as a child by Davis. Working his way through court documents, Foote was able to locate others across the country, with six of them agreeing to be represented by Andreozzi and Foote.
Though the crimes are 30 years old, survivors are still struggling with the repercussions of abuse, Foote said.
"Yes, they are adults, but they have not forgotten and they have not recovered," Foote said. Many survivors of sexual abuse, he said, suffer from a lifetime of challenges including physical and mental health problems, suicidal ideation, eating disorders and obesity, alcohol and substance abuse, and aggression, violence and criminal behavior.
"Mark Davis was prosecuted," Foote said. "That's true. He's been able to move on with his life in some respects. Many of these men who were abused by him haven't."
In June 2019, Gov. Phil Scott signed into law legislation eliminating the statute of limitations for child sex abuse. Foote said because of changes to the law and because of movements such as #MeToo, abuse victims feel empowered to speak out because they are now being taken seriously.
"They don't have to stay silent anymore," Foote said. "We, as a society, are much more inclined to believe and support people when they say they were abused."
Foote said his law firm is focused solely on cases of abuse.
"We do this because it is rewarding," said Foote. "We are helping people who are scarred in ways that most people may not understand."
Andreozzi and Foote has been involved in litigation against Penn State regarding the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal. They have also taken clients who say they were abused by Catholic Church clergy and by Boy Scouts of America scout leaders.
"A lot of the institutions we have dealt with over the years are great institutions that do a lot of great work," Foote said. "At the same time, they are better institutions for having had to deal with their past sins."
Foote said his firm is working in conjunction with the Brattleboro law firm of Phillips, Dunn, Shriver & Carroll.
Bob Audette can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.