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Lunch was late yesterday, thanks to Dave: updated

May 24th, 2005 · 6 Comments

I’m setting a pattern of assigning blame to someone else. First it was Doc’s fault I burned the soup. Then it’s due to Dave that I didn’t make lunch on time yesterday. Next I should blame our architect for designing a desk in my kitchen so that I developed the habit of checking aggregators while preparing meals.

Yesterday Dave Winer linked to the New York Metro’s article on Lawrence Lessig titled The Choirboy. I don’t know Lawrence Lessig. I’ve never met him although I’ve been in the same room with him. [at BloggerCon III…I might have gone to his session if it hadn’t been opposite mine.] I don’t know him yet at the same time I admire him for his work with copyright law and Creative Commons. His book Free Culture inspired me. Yet after reading the New York Metro article, I feel I know him better and admire him more.

In the piece, Lawrence Lessig revealed he was molested while a child at a boychoir school. The first paragraph read:

As head boy at a legendary choir school, Lawrence Lessig was repeatedly molested by the charismatic choir director, part of a horrific pattern of child abuse there. Now, as one of America’s most famous lawyers, he’s put his own past on trial to make sure such a thing never happens again.

I clicked on the link from Dave’s blog, and as I started through the pages, I ached. I forgot about making lunch, only wanting to finish the article to its final page. Lessig’s story became relevant when he decided to take a case and represent John Hardwicke, another student from the same school who had also been abused by the same man.

I know many people who have been sexually abused. It’s not a fact shared in casual conversation. “How are you?” “Fine. Did you know I was raped as a child?” Sometimes it’s not even whispered between close friends or family members. It’s often a secret kept under lock and key.

Lessig is by nature a shy, intensely private person. The fact of his abuse is known to almost no one: not the reporters covering the case, not the supreme-court justices. The fact of his abuse isn’t even known to Larry Lessig’s parents.

Yet I know from statistics I’ve read and stories I’ve heard that there are many others out there like Lessig and Hardwicke who were abused in both one-time incidents and chronic patterns that lasted years, across generations. Extend the description of abuse in principle to include people who have been dominated, deceived and oppressed by those in authority and power over them, and the circle of those included in the same category widens. I imagine it might include a majority of humanity.

An interesting aspect in the article detailed the difference between the two men, their responses and lives, even though they were both abused by the same man.

Lessig described his perspective:

…For a kid cut off from everyone else in this weird universe, to have the most important person in the world give you love and approval is the greatest thing you can imagine. What else is there?”

Hardwicke’s insight is powerful imagery:

“Within 24 hours after Hardwicke told Samuelson about being raped by the school’s cook, Hardwicke’s mother was killed in a car accident, propelling his paranoia to imponderable heights. His daughter was in the car, too, but she “walked out unscathed,” he says. “And I got to thinking later it was a metaphor for molestation. Some are killed, some are scarred, some are crippled. Others walk out untouched. It all depends where you were sitting in the car.”

When I read stories like John Hardwicke’s and Lawrence Lessig’s, I wonder why abuse has to happen. I wonder where God was. If God exists, why does He allow children to be molested? I have an ideology and theology that can intellectually explain the existence of evil. I could write a thesis and argue it with logic. I’d draw a diagram and point out God’s position: X marks the spot. But it is as I enter into the emotion, as I imagine the reality of repeated rape, as I see the scars and wounds left behind in lives decades later, the warped and twisted wreckage of pedophile sex, I don’t have an easy answer. I’d be lying if I denied the doubt.

One of the memes going through blogs recently is a survey of world view. One of the questions asked is There are no more heroes like there once were. I strongly disagreed. There are plenty of heroes. Lawrence Lessig was a hero of mine before I read the article. Now he’s more of a hero to me. Few people are brave enough to do what he did.

Who is responsible for abuse? From what I understand, that is the question of the law suit. Why won’t the school claim responsibility? Lessig: It’s this failure to take responsibility for what they did that just began to make me furious.”

“It is real,” Hardwicke says. “There’s a snake that was put inside me, and it coils through my intestines and has become mixed up in my whole being.

I’m joking about assigning responsibility of my actions to others, blaming Doc and Dave for my kitchen errors. But I wonder where I can assign the general blame for abuse. Who put the snake inside? Surely, the child is innocent. Is it the pedophile? The larger society? Humanity as a whole? Devil? God?

In the world view survey, I said that I agreed with: In the end there will be a togetherness (or oneness) of all things. I believe there will be a day when all things will be made known. All secrets will be said. All closets opened. On that day, even more stories like Lawrence Lessig’s will be revealed. My heart aches in anticipation. I can only imagine the pain and sorrow, the stories hidden, the raw realities. But I have to imagine too that there will be purpose and explanation, redemption and reason revealed along with the secrets, healing and beauty beyond what I can believe. I have to hope.

In the meantime, there are glimpses of goodness amidst the mess. Sometimes our situations shape us, guide us and make us even better people than we might have been in an easier life.

This thing happened to me,” Lessig says, “and I can see how it changed me. But to be too angry about it would require me to kind of hate myself. Now, there are certain things I did hate about what it did to me: the way I would destroy relationships and the pain I would inflict on people when I did. But there are other parts—the weirdness of me and my relationship to the world. Being deeply reflective about institutions, responsibilities, and my role. Spinning deeply from the age of 14 about issues. And it’s like, well, if this hadn’t happened to me, who would I have been? Maybe I would have gone to work with my dad and run the steel plant and become a Republican congressman from Williamsport. I would have been a totally different person.”

Liza Sabater pointed out her in post that Lawrence Lessig has been a crusader for freedom from oppression:

What Lessig is doing with this case is more than letting loose his demons. He is getting at the core what we do on a daily basis that allows a culture of domination of control to thrive and go unchecked.

As evil as the abuse may have been, it may have made him the hero he is today.

Perhaps another purpose of pain is to bring us out of ourselves and into each other, to let our lives intersect in surprising simple ways that speak of mystery and meaning. As we connect and communicate, as the secrets slither into the sunlight, we know we’re not alone any longer. We find ourselves bound to other human beings with new depth, wiping away one other’s tears with compassion and hope. Thank you, Larry, for your courage to connect us together. Thanks to Dave and to Doc and many others for being a part of the connecting too.

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lisa Williams // May 24, 2005 at 12:22 pm

    Reading this made me wonder: How would I keep my own kids safe from something like this? The key to a pedophile’s success is getting the kid to keep the secret. How do you get a kid to be “secretproof”?

  • 2 Kai Jones // May 24, 2005 at 4:38 pm

    Lisa, you can’t. You can’t control everything; you can’t painproof your kids. Shit happens, then you deal with it somehow. Better to focus on good coping strategies, on flexibility, on learning to recover from hurtful experiences so they don’t define your life. Living well is the best revenge.

  • 3 John Hardwicke // May 25, 2005 at 6:15 am

    I am the plaintiff in the case against the American Boychoir.

    Professor Lessig is truly very courageous and a real hero.

    We’ve been fighting in New Jersey to be heard in the state’s courts, but New Jersey is one of three states that seems to protect non-profits from lawsuits by virtue of the state’s Charitable Immunity Act.

    Victims have been waging a parallel battle in the legislature to have a bill posted that would end charitable immunity in cases of child sexual abuse, but we can’t get the Assembly Speaker, Albio Sires, to post the legislation.

    It would be very helpful if we could flood Mr. Siries’ office with e-mails asking him to post the legislation for a vote. PLEASE e-mail the Assemblyman at:


    For more information:


  • 4 errorlevel // May 27, 2005 at 3:25 am

    Larry Lessig is someone whom I greatly admire. One day, too, I would love to be able to stand before the Supreme Court and argue the Constitutional matters of my passions (which include Copyright law).

    On the subject of “where was God?”, as an agnostic atheist, I don’t have much of an answer for you. However, my fiancée, a fairly devout Christian, who is a veteran of a childhood rape has a site where she has written about her experiences and also has a note from her pastor about the subject. You might be interested since it might address some of your questions: http://www.river-crossing.org/Jnote.php

  • 5 mobile jones // May 28, 2005 at 7:45 am

    Lisa W., your question is a critical one. You must talk to your children in a way that they can understand. There are 2 events from my childhood in which communication was absolutely critical. In one case, it set me up to be physically abused (not sexually). And in the second case, it saved my life.

    My parents were good people who wanted me to be a good person. I was a head strong and precocious kid. My parents warned me that if I got into to trouble at school I would be in trouble at home too. Taking this communication literally, I never reported to my parents that a mentally ill woman, my 2nd grade teacher, had began to exercise her anger at being “demoted” to teach 6 year olds from teaching 4th graders by hitting me everyday of the school year. She said I was bad, and my punishment became part of the school day: morning lessons, lunch, recess, hit me, afternoon lessons, then go home. See, it became normal for the whole class. A daily occurance.

    Fear of being hit twice per day (hadn’t my parents promised it?) I never told anyone. You may think the other kids might have told, but we were all in fear, and the other kids said to me more than once, “I’m glad it isn’t me.” I think they were afraid that if something made her stop hitting me that she would pick out of them, instead. The teacher was an adult. She was “in charge” of us. We were six years old, and didn’t possess knowledge of bad adults much less what to do about them.

    My mother recalls one morning when I begged her to come to school with me. I wouldn’t stop asking and seemed to her to be desparate that she go with me. She felt something was wrong, that I was fearful, but couldn’t figure it out. My mother asked me why I wanted her there. I only resumed my pleading. She thought is was a separation thing. Once at school, I again begged her to stay and cried when she left. I never asked again.

    A year later at a parents open house night I was outted. One of my classmates came up to say hi to me and my parents. He introduced himself and laughed. He said, “Remember last year when Mrs. Malloy hit you everyday? Guess you’re glad that’s over.”

    Of course, my parents were horrified. They explained too late that when they warned me of getting into trouble at school meant getting into trouble at home was reserved for those instances when my punishment was deserved. They made the mistake of thinking my six year old mind understood an adult distinction. To be fair, I believe they thought a teacher doing such a thing was unimaginable.

    What happened to the teacher? She had already left the school before the night I was outted by my classmate. So, nothing happened to her.

    The second instance was being informed of danger before it showed up on a summer day.

    I was 12 and on my bicycle headed to the neighborhood baseball park. I stood outside a convenience store drinking a soda when a man drove up. He explained that he was lost and asked for directions. I provided them, and he explained that he would feel safer if I could go with him to show him the way. He said he was afraid, and that he might get lost. He asked where I was going, and I told him. He promised to bring me back to the ball park afterwards, and buy me a soda.

    I looked at his truck, and at this large man and wondered how he could feel afraid. I asked where he was going. There was already a sense that something wasn’t right, and when he responded to my question I experienced a huge rush of adreneline. The neighborhood he said was his destination was the subject of a movie all girls in my class were shown 2 years earlier.

    The movie was about stranger danger. Two girls age 9 and 10 were abducted and taken to “that” neighborhood, Bayview. They were murdered. They had been beaten to death. I can still recall the shocking image of their bloodied and unrecognizable faces on little girls bodies.

    I ran inside the store and got the owner telling her that a man had tried to pick me up. By the time we got back outside, he was gone. The description of his truck was the same as the one the police were searching for in connection with the murder of those girls. I’m convinced that seeing the horrible and shocking images in that movie saved my life.

    So what am I saying? Make sure that your children know that not all adults are good people. Make sure that your children know that you will protect them. Make sure that your children know you will always listen. Let them know that nothing they tell you can hurt you (whether this is true is beside the point). That it is the right thing to do to tell you when someone hurts them. Tell them more than you are comfortable with, and always speak to them in language that a child can understand. Communicate with them often and openly. I’m convinced this is your best weapon against those who would prey on children.

  • 6 Julie // May 30, 2005 at 10:18 am

    Wow, thanks everyone. I’ve continued this conversation and responded to the first four comments on this post:


    Thank you, mobile jones, for sharing your story and wisdom.

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