An Elite SoCal Boarding School Acknowledges Decades of Sex Abuse Allegations

Ojai’s Thacher School commissioned a lengthy report on incidents of alleged rape, groping, and inappropriate remarks dating back to the 1980s

Nearly a year after former students at the Thacher School launched a social media campaign to expose a decades-long history of sexual misconduct against students by faculty members, the $64,700-a-year Ojai boarding academy has admitted wrongdoing.

In a 91-page report published on the Ojai high school’s website Wednesday, lawyers from the L.A. firm Munger, Tolles & Olson, who were hired by the institute, detailed incidents of alleged rape, groping, and inappropriate remarks dating back to the 1980s. The report also describes attempts by former administrators to conceal the incidents and blame the victims, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Six former faculty members are accused of misconduct.

One student who attended Thacher in the 1980s says she was repeatedly raped by her English teacher through her sophomore and junior years, starting when she was 16. In one incident, the teacher allegedly threw her across a room so violently that she was knocked unconscious.

Rather than calling the police, the administration assigned an assistant headmaster to look into the allegations. He reportedly asked the victim is she “enjoyed” the sex and the school referenced her “unfortunate involvement with a faculty member” in a college recommendation letter.

A psychologist who spoke to the girl at the time reported a case of possible child abuse to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff cleared the case, stating that the “complainant refuses to participate.”

In a letter to the then-head of Thacher, Willard Wyman, the psychologist said that he and some administrators convinced the victim’s mother that it would be in her daughter’s “best interest not to press charges, as it would further isolate her from her peers.”

Wyman was also investigated by outside lawyers in 1992, who found 17 incidents in “a pattern of offensive verbal conduct and improper touching” toward female students and staff. He retired that year, without mentioning the allegations in his resignation letter, and died in 2014.

Another student claims that she and her roommate were assaulted by two male students who came into their room when she was a senior in the 1990s. That student told Munger, Tolles & Olsen that she and her roommate reported the incident to Michael Mulligan, who had replaced Wyman as the head of the school, and that she recalls Mulligan telling them to think “long and hard” about referring to the incident as rape.

Mulligan recalls conveying the gravity of the allegations to the students, but also told Munger, Tolles & Olsen that he never would have intentionally silenced a student. He said: “any time a Thacher student told me that he or she needed help, I did everything I could to help that student. That was my number one priority in dealing with students throughout my time at Thacher—and I feel the same way today.” He added, “I would never put the school before a student, or intentionally cause any student to suffer. I did not and would not ever attempt to silence a student from reporting any kind of abuse or nonconsensual act.”

The report also says Mulligan also supported the hiring of a soccer coach in 1987, although the coach admitted to having an inappropriate relationship with a female soccer player at a New England boarding school when the men had worked together there. Mulligan reported the incident at the previous school when it came to his attention.

In 1997, three former students reported unwanted touching by the coach to Mulligan. The report states that a student said Mulligan told them that the coach in question had been “lonely and confused.”

Mulligan asserts that he told the coach to resign and that someone at the school reported the accusations to law enforcement, although the report’s authors say they found no record of a police report having been made regarding the coach.

In a letter to parents, alumni, and faculty earlier this month, Mulligan said, “I particularly regret situations where certain decisions I made contributed to this suffering, and I fully accept that criticism.”

No one mentioned in the report—which includes an apology from the head of Thacher’s board of trustees and promises to establish a “comprehensive protocol” for allegations of sexual abuse by faculty—has been charged.

“We are going to look into [the allegations] on a case-by-case basis,” Sgt. Hector Macias of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office tells the Times. “We are going to continue to work with the school and their law office in order to vet some of this out and see if the victims are willing to cooperate.”

This story was updated to more accurately reflect certain scenarios described in the report. 

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