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Three women accuse ex-private school teacher of sexual abuse

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Three women have accused their former Brooklyn private school teacher of sexually abusing them over five decades ago when they were just 12 years old, new court papers show.

Nancy Smahl-Syrop, Jane Bedell and Sara Smahl all claim that Robert “Bob” Rusch sexually abused them on multiple occasions in the late 1960s and early 1970s while he was a seventh-grade teacher and extracurricular advisor at the Woodard School in Brooklyn, a Bronx Supreme Court lawsuit alleges.

Bedell and Smahl-Syrop also allege Rusch raped them, the court papers filed Thursday say.

During Rusch’s tenure — which spanned from 1965 to 1973 — he “sexually abused and assaulted multiple children in addition to the above-named plaintiffs, a fact known to defendant Woodard … which fired defendant Rusch in 1973,” the court documents allege.

The three women claim that their abuse separately began in a dark room at the school while Rusch was teaching photography. But Rusch allegedly abused them in other places too, the court filing says.
Smahl was also sexually assaulted during gym class and her younger sister, Smahl-Syrop, was made to sit on Rusch’s lap in the classroom while he groped her, the court papers allege.
Smahl-Syrop was allegedly raped by Rusch on a school trip over the summer in 1971 and would continue to be “repeatedly thereafter,” the court papers claim.
Similarly, Bedell claims she was also made to sit on Rusch’s lap and was groped “during class time in front of other students.” She says she too was raped by Rusch at a campground when she was in the eighth grade, the court documents allege.
Bedell, now-64, said during a Zoom press conference Thursday with the other women, that “For years I kept this a secret … I felt shame and guilt and I felt I was alone in this suffering.”
Smahl-Syrop, 62, said that school officials knew about Rusch’s behavior but did nothing until one parent forced them to fire him — and even that wasn’t enough.
“The principles were permissive and witnessed his verbal manipulations and groping behaviors and did nothing,” Smahl-Syrop said. “Eventually he was fired because a parent reported him but the school chose not to file a police report because they cared more about their reputation then the health and safety of the students.”
Smahl, 64, said, “My seventh grade teacher Bob Rusch was a pedophile and I was one of his many victims…the horrors of his actions from 50 years ago continue to haunt me.”

Rusch, 77,  who made a second career as a jazz journalist and record producer, admitted to some of the “allegations” and apparently expressed “remorse” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in June 2014, the court papers point out.

“Without a doubt, it has been the thing I am most remorseful about, or confused as to where my ethical compass was or what happened to it,” Rusch told the outlet at the time. “I spent the last 41 years trying to be a better citizen.”

“The allegations in the complaint demonstrate that Rusch sexually abused our clients in a way that was open and obvious, and apparently acceptable, to the school,” their lawyer, Jordan Merson, said in a statement. “Our clients have lived with the horrific effects of this abuse every day since it happened.”

The women are suing for unspecified damages in the Bronx since Bedell lives there now.

They were able to bring their lawsuit under New York’s Child Victims Act which opened a look-back period for victims of childhood abuse to bring claims that had already passed outside of the statute of limitations.

Poly Prep Country Day School — which took over the Woodard School in 1995 — did not immediately return a request for comment.

A woman, who identified herself as Rusch’s wife, declined to comment when The Post called a number for him.

Original article written by Priscilla DeGregory and published in the New York Post.

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