Lara St John accuses Curtis of ignoring her abuse

The violinist, who gave an account in July of historic sexual abuse by her Curtis professor, has written to the head of the institute demanding to know why nothing has been done.

It’s a tough letter (you read it here first).

Mr. Roberto Díaz President Curtis Institute of Music

1726 Locust Street Philadelphia, PA 19103

October 30, 2019
Dear Roberto:
While I appreciate your note, I have some fundamental issues with the way you and your Board of Directors have approached my letter to you, dated August 12, 2013, and your collective response to the subsequent revelations in the press of my past abuse.

When I first shared the information of my abuse and rape at the hands of a pedophile in the employ of Curtis with you and your Board of Directors, you pledged to diligently investigate. Both Elizabeth Warshawer and the Institute’s attorney indicated that a report would be rendered following the investigation and that a copy would be shared with me.

While we now know that a report was written, when Stephen Judson asked you to share it with me, you at first denied knowledge of a report and after a number of subsequent written requests, acknowledged the existence of a report which you declined to share with me. I now know why you declined to share the report, having read it in the Philadelphia Inquirer in July. Your, and the Board’s commissioned investigation was designed not to arrive at the truth nor to safeguard the children and other students currently attending Curtis, but rather, to understand what liability existed for the school as a result of the criminal activity there which was both condoned and facilitated by members of your staff.

This was disappointing to me.

Since the day the public revelations of these crimes were revealed in the media, no one from your office or Board has:
1. articulated any regret for how I was victimized;

2. investigated the events of 1985 and 1986; 3. contacted witnesses to Robert Fitzpatrick’s meeting with me in which he refused to protect me from Curtis’ employee, a pedophile; or 4. explored the numerous other cases of rape, sexual abuse and sexual coercion, which occurred with the knowledge of employees of Curtis.

You and the Board have failed both this venerable institution and the Curtis community.
Serious crimes were committed and we now know that dozens of other children and women were affected by this pattern of abuse, neglect and negligence by senior Curtis staff.

So, to address your initial question, several things would need to occur before I meet or speak with you on the telephone:
1. You and your Board of Directors would need to publicly acknowledge Curtis‘ failure to protect me as a minor from a pedophile;

2. You would need to engage a law firm such as Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP in New York; the law firm which acted for The Cleveland Orchestra in its recent investigation of sexual misconduct within the orchestra’s ranks; to conduct a full investigation free from interference from either you or the Curtis Board of Directors;

3. You would release the report publicly making it available to all Curtis Alumni, Board of Directors, staff, students and the public;

4. You would speak to RAINN (Rape And Incest National Network) about establishing a hotline run by them, instead of the current service you have engaged which call center staff are inadequately trained in trauma and sexual abuse, victims are encouraged to be very brief about their abuse, and are advised that their anonymity will likely be compromised and cannot be guaranteed.

Once you have met these conditions, I will be pleased to speak with you and members of your Board to discuss ways in which Curtis can better meet its responsibility to its students and stakeholders.
Sincerely,

Lara St. John


photo (c) NPR

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  • Herr Doktor says:

    Wow, good for her. Lara, I’m sorry for what you have gone through. No one deserves this. You are an amazing person for your courage and perseverance. Thank you for doing the right thing.

    • I agree. In my view, your efforts are a service to the professional community.

    • Leonard Quinn says:

      I agree that her position is commendable. Reading her account of what transpired it is quite obvious that this was handled extremely poorly by Roberto Diaz. The first question that needs to be asked is what kind of lawyer does Curtis have working for them? Such a sensitive affair needs to be handled with extreme legal prowess and skillful public relations, something that it appears Curtis is seriously lacking. Curtis has an obligation to face this matter and react with professionalism and dignity towards the victim, something that has apparently not been done by Mr. Diaz. Who gives legal advice to this man?

  • Murdoch says:

    Just one quick correction: This article states, “you read it here first.” I actually read it first directly from Ms. St. John’s professional Facebook page immediately after she publically posted the full text of this letter nearly 48 hours ago.

    • Bill says:

      Adaptistration had it yesterday. But those who only read SD might have read it here first. Doesn’t sound nearly as impressive that way, does it?

  • Bill says:

    She wants a meeting, and demands that he come to her? Did I miss the announcement of her obtaining subpoena power? Pretty sure she isn’t dangling a major contribution!

    • Ladies and Gentleman, the neanderthal of the year award goes to Bill! Congrats!

      • Bill says:

        Pragmatist, you mean.

        I’d love to show you how mistaken you are about me. Please book a flight and come see me. What, you’re not going to do that? You say you’re busy?

        When you want to speak truth to power, you usually have to go to where the power is.

        • Funny…there’s very little power left…mostly just whimpers.

          Y’all continue to push the chauvinistic agenda of the industry so it shouldn’t be a surprise to watch how many more ensembles shrink and fold and a conservatory or two close in the near future.

          But sure…she should go to the power.

        • Blair Tindall says:

          Roberto’s in NY constantly. And he’s a decent guy. Consult. Map, dude how bout?

      • Blair Tindall says:

        Hahaha beat me to it.

    • Tiredofitall says:

      F***g kidding me that you think only major donors deserve respect and justice?

      • Bill says:

        Not a matter of my thinking that, just that if you aren’t a major donor or customer, or someone in a position to compel the other party to do your bidding, the likelihood that the CEO of some institution will drop everything and come to visit you upon demand is very small. Most people with exposure to the real world understand this. Really has nothing to do with the righteousness of the cause.

        Don’r believe me? Try it and report back. The way things should be and the way things are have always been different throughout human history, and I don’t expect that to change this week or next.

        Train travel between NYC and Philly is cheap and easy enough that Ivan Galamian’s Curtis students took the train every week to his NYC apartment for lessons. If taking the meeting is really what she’s after, I’d be very surprised if she couldn’t get one at Curtis. Wrapping it up in a big power play (insisting that Diaz come to her after meeting a bunch of other conditions) is a tactic that may keep her in the news, but will probably stiffen the resolve of Diaz and the Board of Overseers, and in the end do more damage to everyone involved.

    • Bruce says:

      Bill, where did you get the “demands that he come to her” part?

  • Paul Brownsey says:

    So far as I can see, she was 15 when the abuse of which she complains took place. Bad stuff indeed; but is it right to call him a pedophile?

    • Tiredofitall says:

      The precise psychiatric diagnosis is not really relevant here. She was under age. Period.

      • Paul Brownsey says:

        She was under age – yes. And no-one should do what she alleges. But “pedophile” evokes a degree of revulsion that isn’t to the point here, as well as being inaccurate.

        • Truth says:

          1. She was 14.
          2. I’m trying to imagine the kind of person who comments on a story like this to defend the honor of ephebophiles vs. pedophiles, and I can only assume you have or wish to have sex with children.

          • Paul Brownsey says:

            “I can only assume you have or wish to have sex with children.”

            You can’t ONLY assume that.

            That is where your nasty mind leads you.

            I have no interest in sex with children.

            I am not interested in defending ephebophiles.

            But I do like truth and accuracy. Don’t you? Well, no, you don’t, because you made a false and groundless accusation against me.

        • Sasha says:

          LSJ seems to have been 14 when this happened, and perhaps younger still when it started. That makes Brodsky a hebephile. Just like Humber Humber in Lolita. Or Elizabeth Smart’s captor Brian David Mitchell. Or Jaycee Dugard’s captor Phillip Garrido. Or the guy in my home town who did the same thing to one of his junior high students and went to prison for 6 months, lost his teaching licence and is a registered sex offender. Have we found the appropriate degree of revulsion in “hebephile”?

        • V. Lind says:

          All the legalistas should be onside here — underage is underage. Makes it statutory if the sexual act is completed, and pedophilia for various other acts.

        • MG says:

          Well in this case the term is “rapist,” which should provoke plenty of revulsion on its own, as we are all (presumably) human beings here.

          You’re actually taking time out of your day to write words on a page saying that raping a girl who has started puberty isn’t technically pedophilia according to a very strict interpretation of the dictionary definition, as if this was all a theoretical thought experiment and not a real crime committed against a real person. Why, in the name of whatever you may find holy, is this what you’re choosing to do with your time?

        • Blair Tindall says:

          Yea it is. Legal definition and I endured it too,
          at 15. It’s a horrible thing.

    • Someone 15 years old is still recognized as a child.

      pe·do·phile
      /ˈpedəˌfīl/

      noun
      a person who is sexually attracted to children.

      • SMH says:

        Ruth, words matter. You should know.

        “Pedophilia (alternatively spelt paedophilia) is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children.[1][2] Although girls typically begin the process of puberty at age 10 or 11, and boys at age 11 or 12,[3] criteria for pedophilia extend the cut-off point for prepubescence to age 13.[4] A person must be at least 16 years old, and at least five years older than the prepubescent child, for the attraction to be diagnosed as pedophilia.[4][5]
        Pedophilia is termed pedophilic disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and the manual defines it as a paraphilia involving intense and recurrent sexual urges towards and fantasies about prepubescent children that have either been acted upon or which cause the person with the attraction distress or interpersonal difficulty.[4] The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) defines it as a “sustained, focused, and intense pattern of sexual arousal—as manifested by persistent sexual thoughts, fantasies, urges, or behaviours—involving pre-pubertal children.”[6]”

        In the same way that James Levine was not a pedophile, hover repugnant has actions were.

        • Sasha says:

          Ok cool so I guess we should all band together and demand LSJ correct her letter to remove the term “pedophile” and substitute it for “predatory sexual assaulter of underage peripubescent children over whom he was in a position of authority”? Much more accurate.

        • Blair Tindall says:

          Age of consent in the US is 16-18, depending on the state. It was illegal. You seem to like children very much.

          • David says:

            So someone who has sex with a 16 year old can be a pedophile in one state but not another? What an interesting distinction. Very scientific.

      • Mark says:

        Actually, the legal/psychiatric definition of pedophilia is sexual attraction to prepubescent children (See, e.g. (2013) Gavin, Criminological and Forensic Psychology, SAGE Publications, p. 155.)

        Generally speaking, one hopes that Ms. St John can get over herself and stop issuing demands.
        The world doesn’t revolve around her and her accusations.

    • Bill says:

      The medical definition of pedophilia does specify pre-pubescent children, which LSJ was unlikely to be. The colloquial usage drops the pre-pubescent restriction. This being SD, the more sensationalist reading fits right in! Surprising that it didn’t make it into the headline.

      Nothing I say should be in any way taken as a defense of the alleged actions by Brodsky.

      • Milica Paranosic says:

        one thing you should know is that this initiative is not going anywhere. meaningless elaboration on details that are meant to blur the focus are useless. there are people around Lara, lots of people: men, women, young and old, joining forces to not only support her, but to build a system of solidarity and protection for others that were, are, or can possibly become victims. so my guess is, you will eventually get tired of trying to maintain your point. which is, well, pointless. cause really, we’ve just only started.

      • Bruce says:

        “Nothing I say should be in any way taken as a defense of the alleged actions by Brodsky.”

        Okay. But when you veer away from the main point of the story — what happened allegedly happened to her, and what happened, or failed to happen, as a result — to nitpick about words — and yes, arguing about the medical vs. legal definition of a word is nitpicking, since both versions are true — then it starts to look like you’re saying “Yes yes, it was terrible of course, but do we have to call it that?” As if the victim’s post-pubescence makes the crime not quite as bad.

        Just saying what it looks like, not trying to say what you’re thinking

        By the way, since you say she was not a child at the time — again, depends on the medical vs. legal definitions — how would you describe her (or any 15-year-old female, for that matter)? I know there are a few different possible answers, but I’m curious to know what yours would be.

        • Paul Brownsey says:

          “to nitpick about words”

          It’s a standard move against those who like accuracy to complain that they’re ‘nitpicking about words’.

          Words are important.

          • Bruce says:

            I agree, words are important.

            Sasha, below (or above?), makes my point better than I was able to.

          • Sasha says:

            Paul: pretend LSJ is asking you for advice on her letter before she sends it, and the word “pedophile” jumps out at you as being inaccurate. What word or words do you counsel her to use instead?

        • Sasha says:

          Exactly. The three dominant comment threads on this story are

          1) taking issue with the language choices of the author (“pedophile”), and questioning whether the use of this word is “fair” to Brodsky considering it is “serious” and “not accurate”; the initial poster claims this criticism flows from a commitment to accuracy, the truth, and the fact that words mean things

          2) taking issue with whether the letter was truly reprinted here first; this reminds me of the people who take the time to write “first” in the comment threads to articles like this one

          3) taking issue with the author’s demand that Curtis officials travel to meet her, which I could not find anywhere in this letter; this one truly mystifies me

          We could all be having a conversation about the duty institutions like Curtis should have to future, current and former students when abuses are uncovered, or the pitfalls of allowing institutions to self-investigate. We could be talking about the powerful forces in this insular and rarefied community that can, and have, hurt our children. This is, as I read it, the main thrust of LSJ’s letter. Curtis said they’d investigate, but they hired a law firm to investigate their exposure to liability. The report was an analysis of their exposure, which seems to be why they refused to disclose it.

          Sharing excerpts from the DSM-5 and collaterally attacking the semantic choices of LSJ when she expresses her disappointment with Curtis is a distraction at best. At worst, it’s an attempt to derail this devastating story and the important conversations it should be provoking. I think we can do better, guys.

    • Disgusted says:

      According to Wikipedia: “In law enforcement circles, the term pedophile is sometimes used informally to refer to any person who commits one or more sexually-based crimes that relate to legally underage victims. These crimes may include child sexual abuse, statutory rape, offenses involving child pornography, child grooming, stalking, and indecent exposure.”

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedophilia#Definitions_2

    • Marya Berry says:

      What else? She was 15. That is enough.

    • anon says:

      “Well, actually, he’s an ephebophile” is the absolute worst take in response to someone sharing their story of surviving abuse and rape as a young teenager.

  • Nora Charles says:

    1. What happened to this child (and she was, indeed a child) was horrible, tragic and reprehensible. There is zero mitigation, no positives, no excuses.
    2. If Brodsky we’re still alive, he should be thrown in the coldest, darkest, foulest slammer in the nether regions of earth. No statute of limitations, no allowance for age or health, no mercy. Abusers of children deserve the slowest, most painful death we can bear to imagine.
    3. Curtis’s lack of action at the time of the incident should have resulted in the immediate termination of the then-President and Dean, followed by multiple lawsuits and a full criminal investigation. (It bears mentioning that these are the only two living accomplices in this crime, and yet neither seems to be under as much scrutiny as the current regime).
    4. The initial response by the current administration was awful, insensitive, ham-handed, tone deaf, and unspeakably cruel. The person responsible for crafting that response strategy, and who instructed that the PR director issue it, should be terminated without delay. The writing style of that communication does not match that of the current President.
    5. After that firing, Curtis needs to immediately open itself and invite open dialogue and institutional soul-searching. Restoring the trust of its students, their families, and its network of proud alumnae needs to take precedence over trying to seal foundational cracks and attempt to push this aside.
    6. Finally, Curtis needs to determine what Ms. St. John needs. Is it a meeting? An apology? A settlement? All these options should be on the table. None of that, of course, will undo the damage done. And though the current regime didn’t start the fire, they allowed the coals to reignite. It’s their mess to clean now. Time to swallow their pride and humble themselves.

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