“I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” — 1 Timothy 3:14-15 (we like it as a literary reference!)
In today’s blog, we have an interview with Susan Larson, an ASIJ 1979 alumna instrumental in leading sexual abuse survivors’ snowballing movement against their alma mater. The school’s systemic denial that at least one of their star teachers harmed children, lasted years, exposing countless children to harm. Ms. Larson will lay out some tips for communities, like that of St. Mary’s International School, regarding what it takes to organize hundreds of alums to bring an institution to account for better protection of its children past, present and future. SMIS actually had a parallel case announced by the school itself in January 2014–but it was ASIJ alums that have gone the distance in finding a solution to this complex problem for themselves and hopefully for future ASIJ students.
Moral, psychological or financial restitution are all possibilities down the road for this phenomenal group of alums who have reached critical mass in their 500-signature petition (now at over 700, and extended) lobbying for an investigation, compelling the engagement of several international legal firms to enact investigations on both the school and the survivors’ behalf. Of note, the abuse victims have engaged the law firm O’Donnell Clark and Crew, LLP, a firm specializing in these types of cases against large institutions of trust like the Catholic Church or Boy Scouts of America. Read the firm’s PRESS RELEASE on June 11, 2014:
Here is an except from the Press Release:
To SMIS alums who are abuse survivors, you may have yet to decide on a public movement for restitution, but this is for you:
Without further ado, our interview with Ms. Susan Larson:
Us: The alums in your case have gained media attention, critical mass with the petition, legal counsel and are on the verge of an inquiry–how does it feel? Are you surprised at your own power?
Susan Larson: It feels very productive! This was a challenging process involving many points of view among the ASIJ family. I am feeling more battle-scarred than powerful, but pleased that we’ve made so much progress as a group. It was important for us to cut through all the aspects to find a collective focus, and the ASIJ abuse survivors provided that focus. Despite many opinions about what our process should be, or what the school should do, most of the alumni who have spoken up or added their name were doing it for the survivors – in a mass show of support. A few of the survivors helped us a great deal by letting us know we were helping. Without that encouragement, there were times when it looked like we could have stalled out. They kept us together, and they kept us going.
Us: In the event that old cases cannot turn up concrete evidence proving the victims’ cases, would this exercise still have meaning for the 700+ alums supporting the petition for the inquiry?
SL: I can only speak for myself, but I would say yes. There is meaning in getting so many people on the same page to do this collectively. I’ve been told there is also meaning in that for the survivors, and that our support has made them feel more empowered to take action. Whatever happens from here on out, I believe our collective efforts will help make ASIJ a safer place today and tomorrow.
Us: In Japan, the concept of “saving face” is huge–especially for institutions. There seems to be almost no way out for parties on the defence (in court case or investigation) except to deny and fight, even though they have a moral responsibility to concede and show humility if they are accountable. What is your take on this?
SL: Wow, big question. I haven’t looked at this from a cultural perspective. I am concerned about certain aspects, such as the insular nature of the expat community in Tokyo, which may have contributed to a lack of resources in how to report these crimes. As for how ASIJ has handled this over the years, sometimes I think they started down a path of denial very early on and couldn’t backtrack later. And if so, perhaps that was where face-saving became very dangerous indeed. (This is just a theory on my part.)
Us: What one piece of advice would you give to a sister school who may be going through very similar issues?
SL: Expect people to be divided in how to handle it. Don’t walk away from the fight, but try to understand the other person’s perspective. I have learned much by listening to concerns that I could not understand at first. There will also be personal attacks. Ignore them. This is not about any individuals or how they feel about each other on a given day. Your objective is much bigger than that. It’s a difficult discussion, so it’s only natural that people will get upset at times. Just try to stay on the path. You will need many people involved, in many different roles.
Us: You’re just beginning a challenging road ahead as a group of alums supporting each other–is there a message you’d like to say to your group? To others observing you?
SL: Every single person in the group has made a big difference already, whether they actively campaigned or signed their name to the petition. Everyone has a role to play. Right now, the most important thing is for people to report what they know, saw, or heard to Ropes & Gray, the firm conducting the independent investigation. At times, ASIJ alumni have been telling each other to exercise caution in saying what they know. Now that we have third party investigators, this is not the time for caution. Talk to the attorneys in confidence and let them sort out what is actionable or helpful to their findings.
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Contact information for Ropes & Gray is now on the home page at ASIJ’s website
. Despite being hired by the school, they are meant to be a reputable third party. The Japan Times had also posted:
Readers who have information related to Jack Moyer’s abuse — or abuse committed by other ASIJ employees — can contact Ropes & Gray by phone on 03-6259-3566 (in Japan) or 617-235-4397 (U.S.), or by email viaASIJReportline@ropesgray.com
As mentioned above, abuse survivors from Portland, Oregon have themselves enlisted the help of separate attorneys for independent investigation of sexual abuse. If you are a victim in the ASIJ case, the telling of your case is free. Tell both law firms! Anonymity is respected, but you’ll still have to identify your year and enough information to know that you were indeed a student. The investigators will decide on which accounts and details to use, so you don’t have to worry about what they need to hear or don’t–just know your case is welcome to be heard as is.
Here are the latest developments in the media about how the ASIJ case has been brought to the investigative stage:
And news from the Japan Times:
You can still sign! (Click the image!)