More than a half-dozen young women lined up Monday night at a Long Island school board meeting to share stories of alleged abuse a week after another graduate, Brittany Rohl, posted details on social media of her own experience of grooming by a teacher at Babylon High School.
Ms Rohl, 28, sent a letter last week to the school board and posted it to Instagram, alleging a trusted teacher had groomed her for sex and waited until days after her 18th birthday to take her virginity – leaving her with PTSD and other trauma.
She flew from her home in Florida on Monday to speak at the school board meeting, where officials began by announcing they’d hired a private outside investigator following her claims and were implementing sensitivity training.
When the meeting was opened to questions or speakers, they were limited to three minutes – but Ms Rohl stood at the podium and insisted she would speak for as long as she wanted as at least seven women lined up behind her.
While outlining her experience, demanding a culture change and naming other school staff she believes should be investigated, at least seven other women lined up behind her to share their stories.
At various times, the meeting erupted into chaos. One woman shouted “Shut up” at Ms Rohl, while chants of “Let her speak” reverberated when attendees voiced opposition. At least one person was removed from the meeting as the night progressed and outbursts of shouting and cursing interrupted proceedings.
Following Ms Rohl’s initial testimony, emotions ran even higher as the queue of women behind her took their turns at the podium.
The first was the mother of Jaycee Angello Lawson, who said she was appearing in her daughter’s stead to share her story. In the days following Ms Rohl’s posts, Jaycee shared her own on Instagram - detailing how two different teachers had allegedly groomed her and she went on to develop an eating disorder, depression and panic attacks.
Other women followed - two of them breaking down, barely able to get through their stories, one of them a serving police officer.
Their experiences varied but struck a similar chord: They were young and vulnerable when close relationships with male teachers and coaches crossed a line they were too juvenile to fully understand.
Darcy Bennet, who graduated in 2009, spoke about how one coach had touched her in ways that made her uncomfortable and tried to kiss her when she was 16.
“Luckily, I was able to move my face in time so that he only kissed me on the cheek,” she said in front of the school board on Monday, her delivery intermittently choked with tears. She later began drinking heavily, became addicted to drugs and “spiralled into a deep depression,” she said.
More than one woman who has come forward mentioned being questioned by school authorities regarding possible inappropriate student/teacher relationships - with no ultimate outcome.
Another speaker, now working as a public defender, was a 2011 graduate along with Ms Rohl and said she felt hesitant to come forward because her own story was so similar to the others being told - but that in itself should indicate what the culture was like.
“This was just so common that it became ... it was so normal,” she said, adding that, in her work, forcible touching would warrant a misdemeanor and a spot on the sex offender registry.
“In Babylon, you get a giant pension,” she said to applause.
Babylon is a close-knit beachside town and village about an hour east of Manhattan on Long Island.
Yet another woman, who said she hadn’t planned to speak, named a different adult who left her traumatised after she heard the other experiences but no one shared his name.
“I haven’t really been in close contact with this person, but since the allegations of other teachers have come forward, this guy has had the nerve or audacity to text me or meet repeatedly,” she said, adding: “He is nervous.”
Ms Rohl’s story involved a staff member who no longer works at Babylon High School. She outlined a long campaign of grooming and manipulation that ultimately led to a controlling sexual relationship.
“I want this to get as much awareness as possible,” she told The Independent last week, adding that friends and family who found out years later could recognise the signs in hindsight.
“Our understanding of this has just changed so much,” she said. “And we grew up, and we’re approaching the age that he started doing all this. So I think a lot of people looked back and they’re like, “Oh my gosh - of course. I can see it now.”
Ms Rohl told The Independent she finally came forward after another teacher - who she says had been the subject of rumours for years - resigned earlier this month after unspecified allegations were made against him.
She said she believes problematic behaviour by authority figures is “everywhere.
“I think whenever, unfortunately, children and adults are in the same place, it’s something that we have to keep a really keen eye out for.”
Towards the end of the meeting, one speaker surveyed the audience of nearly 100 to stand if they were alumni. If they felt safe during their time at the school, she said, stay standing. Nearly everyone sat down.
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