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Merson Law Leads Fight Against Sexual Abuse at Solebury Boarding School

Merson Law Leads Fight Against Sexual Abuse at Solebury Boarding School

A woman who claims she was sexually abused by her gym teacher at Solebury School filed suit against the Bucks County boarding school Friday and said she would be willing to cooperate with prosecutors.

The woman, 29, is the only one of six victims identified in a Feb. 1 grand jury report detailing sexual abuse at the school whose case was within the statute of limitations.

On Friday, her attorneys announced she had filed suit in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court naming the school and the gym teacher for alleged abuse between 2003 and 2005.

The suit claims negligence, battery, sexual exploitation of children, corruption of a minor, endangering the welfare of a child, and childhood sex abuse.

“What happened while I was a Solebury School student I’ve buried for so long, yet it has deeply impacted my relationships, my education, my family and friends, my self-worth, my trust in others, my entire life,”

“By the school not taking true responsibility for its actions, each victim will continue to carry the weight and guilt of these crimes as I have and will continue to feel they were at fault. Please let the victim-shaming stop.”

The lawsuit claims Solebury School allowed the relationship, as well as retaliation from employees against the woman, and did nothing, even when her mother complained to administrators. The suit — filed by her attorneys, Jordan Merson, Tom Kline, and Marci Hamilton — also alleges the school has not adequately addressed abuse allegations.

Her abuse “was common knowledge at Solebury School. No one at the school did anything to help this woman,” Merson said at a news conference Friday.

The woman graduated from Solebury in 2005. She described a relationship with the then-gym teacher and athletic director, Lyle Hazel, that allegedly began in her junior year and continued into her college years.

Dinners, Drinks, and Sex-Shop Visits:

The suit claims that Hazel’s wife, a secretary at the school, and other school employees threatened and harassed the girl over the relationship. She filed the suit in Philadelphia because Hazel would take her to the city on dates, her attorneys said — dinners, drinks, and sex-shop visits.

Hazel pleaded the Fifth Amendment in front of the grand jury, citing his right to protect against self-incrimination. He could not be reached for comment Friday; his only listed phone number was disconnected.

The grand jury’s report blamed school administrators and an informal culture at the school that blurred boundaries between teachers and students that allowed sexual contact. The report included testimony from six alleged victims, describing sexual contact and relationships between students and faculty at the elite New Hope school from the 1950s on.

Solebury School Headmaster Tom Wilschutz said in a statement to The Inquirer on Friday that he had not read the complaint and would not comment further because the case is going to court.

“I and the members of the faculty, administration and staff at Solebury School have made extensive efforts since my arrival as Head in 2008 to strengthen our policies, procedures and training,” he said. “As I have said previously, we strive to move forward with openness and integrity for the victims of abuse, for our entire community and for this institution that we care for so deeply.”

Wilschutz has said the school would “review” 18 recommendations made by the grand jury for reform at the 220-student school.

The woman’s attorneys claim the school has not made changes.

“Instead of accepting responsibility, meaningfully improving its policies to ensure full protection of children or helping students heal… Solebury, led by Mr. Wilschutz, has engaged in a misleading public relations blitz in a feeble attempt to distance the school from, and downplay, the sexual abuse and the permissive culture that made it likely,” the complaint reads.

The suit claims the woman’s life course was “completely derailed” as a result of the school’s negligence and describes the campus as allowing staff to have sex, get drunk, and use drugs together, and sometimes including students.

According to the lawsuit against Solebury School:

The relationship between Hazel and the woman began when he was 35 and she was 15. Hazel began taking her out on errands, bringing her coffee in class, and texting her all day and late at night. While supervising study hall, Hazel talked to the girl on the phone in front of the class, according to the complaint.

Afterward, he took her to Condom Kingdom to browse sex toys…

Hazel took her to a first date at the Philadelphia restaurant Copacabana, where he ordered them margaritas, which she refused, and tried to touch her thigh and hand. Afterward, he took her to Condom Kingdom to browse sex toys. Back at her house, she became “frozen in fright” when he touched her thigh and refused to kiss him good night; he called her to tell her to come back to kiss him and waited outside her house in his car before giving up.

…the girl was too scared to say no to him when he forced her to perform various sexual acts…

He continued to take her away from the school on “dates,” the suit alleges, and the girl was too scared to say no to him when he forced her to perform various sexual acts.

She was “stunned and intimidated” the first time he raped her, it says.

Meanwhile, Hazel’s wife began calling and harassing the woman, and created a MySpace page about the girl that called her a “whore,” the suit claims.

After graduation, the woman went away to college, but the Hazels allegedly called and emailed her every day. After she transferred to Drexel University, he continued to contact her.

Hazel was fired from Solebury in 2008 for embezzling funds.

The woman never graduated from college. She was confined to her bed and home with depression for many years and still “struggles every day,” Merson said Friday.

She decided to testify before the grand jury and file a lawsuit in the hopes of preventing future abuse, Merson said.

“She carries a burden for all the victims of abuse at Solebury,” he told The Inquirer earlier this month. “The mantle has really been passed to [her] … to hold this school accountable and responsible for what’s gone on for the past 50 years, and that is not lost on her.”

Original story can be found here.

Sexual abuse is a life-scarring, traumatic event that has no place in our society. It is an extremely sensitive matter for anybody who has ever been victimized by someone they thought they could trust — by someone they rightfully should have been able to trust.

Have you ever experienced sexual abuse or assault by a person whom you should have been able to trust as a child? Merson Law can help you regain your stolen dignity and take back the power in your life.

Merson Law’s Principal Jordan Merson has successfully represented and consulted individuals who have been subjected to sexual abuse, with a breadth and depth of experience that includes going up against the largest organizations, top law firms and at the biggest corporations in the world.  We are understanding of how hard it is to come forward in situations like this and do everything possible to give you the protection that you deserve.

Merson has successfully assisted in recoveries of millions of dollars to victims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse.  Call today for a free and confidential case evaluation.

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