School Sexual Abuse Survivors End Decades of Secrecy

Horace Mann Sexual Abuse Survivors Speak Out
Jon Seiger, Steve Fife (standing), Ed Bowen, Joseph Cumming (standing) and Ron Klepper
Mary Ellen Mark

09/24/2014 AT 10:00 AM EDT

Jon Seiger was just a month into the seventh grade the first time it happened. On an overnight trip to Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1972, a teacher-chaperone put his hand in Seiger's pajamas shortly after the 11-year-old had gone to bed.

"I said, 'I don't like this. I'm not comfortable,' " Seiger recalls. "He said, 'Just be a good boy and relax.' "

Between that night and Seiger's 1979 graduation, he would be molested or raped, he says, "hundreds of times" by eight faculty members at Horace Mann, an elite 127-year-old New York City private school that counts members of Congress, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, scientists and leaders of industry among its alumni.

Even decades later, Seiger, 53, says: "Sometimes I can't help but think, 'What the hell is wrong with me that they all picked me?' I thought it was me alone."

In reality, Seiger was one of at least 63 students (five of them female) who say they were sexually abused by 22 former Horace Mann staff members between 1962 and 1996, according to a new report looking at both the abuse and its cover-up, the full findings of which are expected to be released in October.

"This was not like the horrible one person at Penn State. This was a whole network," says former Manhattan sex-crimes prosecutor and judge Leslie Crocker Snyder, who led the independent investigation for the Horace Mann Action Coalition, an alumni group formed in the wake of the revelations.

The five men featured in PEOPLE's latest issue are among the first to speak publicly about surviving sexual abuse at Horace Mann. They represent a fraction of the victims, but their recollections, as well as their lives since, present a portrait of a pattern of abuse and the damage that can come from it.

"I can see secrecy benefiting only the abuser," says the class of 1971's Steve Fife, 61, whose memoir of those years, The 13th Boy, came out this month.

To learn more about talking to your kids about sexual abuse and the warning signs, go to Enoughabuse.org.

To read more from the survivors, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

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