Shattuck-St. Mary's victims silent on abuse, until one was charged with his own crime
It took a new sex crime for police to learn that a Shattuck-St. Mary's School teacher might have molested male students at the Faribault boarding school more than a decade ago.
One of those alleged male victims waited until he was facing 10 years in prison for his own crime to make accusations against former drama teacher Lynn Seibel. Eight months later, Seibel is in a Minnesota jail facing 14 felony counts of criminal sexual conduct and three related counts.
The former student, now in his late 20s, in November asked a Minnesota judge for a lighter sentence for having a 16-year-old girl send him sexually explicit photos of herself. Given the former student's past history of abuse, prosecutors and the judge agreed that he should not serve time in jail and instead should have a chance to have his record wiped clean if he met the terms of his probation.
The story of how police worked with that man to build a case against Seibel demonstrates the power of the criminal justice system in breaking through the silence that shrouds many sexual abuse cases.
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The former student, whom MPR News is not identifying because he is an alleged victim of sexual abuse, accused Seibel of inappropriately touching him while the two were alone. He also accused Seibel of leading group masturbation sessions in another student's dorm room. He led Faribault police detectives to five other male former students who raised similar allegations between 1999 and 2003.
• Charges filed against Lynn Seibel: Read the complaint
• Seibel was previously accused of misconduct
• Police, school differ on whether abuse was reported
• Faribault residents react to allegations
• School profile: News reverberates far beyond elite campus
• 2nd Shattuck teacher charged with assault
• Second charged teacher subbed in St. Paul
• Former teachers say school knew of abuse by Seibel
• Timeline of the Shattuck-St. Mary's case
The criminal complaint hints that there might be more victims: "You could just get the roster of the dorm when I was there and everyone was involved in this," one of the victims told detectives. But the phones have quieted at the Faribault Police Department, police said.
Shattuck-St. Mary's is a private Episcopal school with about 400 middle and high school students. Given the school's national reputation as a hockey powerhouse, as well as a general reluctance among victims of sexual abuse to talk about their past, the six victims listed in court documents might be the only ones who come forward. And for those six, the process for some has involved finally realizing that they were victims of sexual abuse, investigators said.
"Some of the victims just felt this was normal and didn't realize it wasn't — until they weren't in that school anymore, until they became adults, until they talked to other students about their high school experiences and what they used to do and started to figure out that there were just some lines that were crossed that probably shouldn't have been crossed," said Faribault Police Detective Brandon Gliem, who interviewed several of the alleged victims.
The school has said administrators were unaware of the specific allegations against Seibel until he was charged in October. Seibel left the school in 2003, after being confronted about child pornography found on his computer according to the criminal complaint filed against him.
VICTIM BECOMES PERPETRATOR
The alleged victim in the Shattuck-St. Mary's case who was the first to come forward is not alone among offenders who discuss their past as part of legal proceedings.
In this case, the man was being interviewed as part of an investigation that happens before sentencing. Those investigations, as well as conversations with defense attorneys, often unearth possible explanations for the individual's behavior, including whether they've been crime victims themselves, said John Stuart, the state's chief public defender.
"Everybody has a story," he said, "which is important for us to understand, because then maybe we can keep the next person from having that experience."
Studies have shown a higher rate of childhood sexual abuse among sex offenders than the general population, a reality that has led many offenders to seek therapy for their own suffering while serving out sentences for harming someone else.
A person's abuse history can help explain behaviors ranging from violence to substance abuse, said Mic Hunter, a Twin Cities psychologist and family therapist who works with the national advocacy organization Male Survivor.
"The more we're able to talk about this and the more people can get help, we're going to be preventing crimes — not just child sexual abuse, but other crimes as well," he said. "If we were able to reduce child sexual abuse, we'd be affecting positively every problem we have in society."
Victims of child sex abuse often wait years before revealing they were abused, as was the case in most of the clergy abuse incidents and the scandal involving former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky. Sexual abuse victims and experts who work with them say coming forward often coincides with struggles the victims face in adulthood, as well as a realization that they're not alone.
"Everybody kind of comes to their own place in their own healing process and has to find a time when it feels safe for them to share their story," said Cindy McElhinney, program director at Darkness to Light, a national organization working to reduce the incidence of childhood sexual abuse.
While one alleged victim in the Shattuck-St. Mary's case came forward while dealing with his own struggles in June 2012, the others gave statements to police knowing they weren't the only ones making allegations. None of the men has come out publicly to tell his story, but court documents show another high-profile sexual abuse case was on their minds.
Faribault police received the first report about the alleged abuse at Shattuck-St. Mary's just three days after Jerry Sandusky's trial began. When police interviewed that first victim a couple of weeks later, he told investigators that things had changed regarding "sexual predators" and that he believes Seibel would be in jail if the abuse had happened today.
Two of the other victims told investigators in the weeks and months that followed that the Sandusky case reminded them of their abuse.
Media coverage of the Seibel case prompted a male victim of another alleged incident at Shattuck-St. Mary's during the 1980s to come forward. Charges against his teacher, Joseph Machlitt, were filed in November.
But media coverage isn't the only trigger. Some victims, after years of contemplating what happened to them, come to realize that what they experienced as a child was abuse, said William Seabloom, a certified sex therapist who has worked with sex offenders and victims for more than 30 years.
"They change their position to being a victim, where they didn't feel [they were] a victim at the time. That can create all kinds of future problems for them," he said.
Gliem, the Faribault police detective, said he believes Seibel took advantage of his position to persuade the victims that his behavior was appropriate.
"Mr. Seibel himself is a drama teacher, a very educated man, very charismatic, very forward thinking, and the children at that school were at the mercy of his charismatic and convincing attitude," he said.
If no one else comes forward in the case, it might be because their needs have already been met, said Pat Marker, who became an advocate for victims of sexual abuse at St. John's Preparatory School in Collegeville after coming forward in 1989 about abuse he suffered there. "For a lot of people, all they need to do is just have their story validated," Marker said. "But those people who then come forward and validate the stories of others by making their stories public, those are important pieces to getting the help and the healing."
Marker said the reluctance among some victims to come forward isn't surprising given Shattuck-St. Mary's reputation. In the case of St. John's, many victims didn't want to bring shame to their parents, who paid thousands of dollars to send them there, he said. Boarding school tuition at Shattuck-St. Mary's is about $40,000 a year.
"If the school is well-known, that's to the advantage of the perpetrator. Nobody wants to be the person to tarnish that school's reputation," Marker said.
(MPR reporters Elizabeth Baier and Madeleine Baran contributed to this report.)