Sexual Abuse Survivors from Syracuse Seek to Change A Law

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — After months of video calls and group emails, Robert Druger and Robert Bender agreed to meet for the primary time on Memorial Day and revisit the locations that had precipitated a lot parallel anguish, 4 a long time in the past.

Here, Druger mentioned, was the loading dock on the rear of a Syracuse University residence corridor. This was the place an enthralling graduate pupil who occurred to be a former Olympic hurdler had sneaked highschool athletes like Druger into his suite, solely to groom and molest them later.

There, Bender pointed, behind the glass doorways, was the elevator that he rode up to his room, the day he arrived on campus in 1980. This was the place that very same Olympian, upon studying Bender was a gymnast, had promised elite coaching, solely to molest him later, as properly.

“We’re part of a fraternity that we never wanted to be a part of,” Bender mentioned.

Separate fraternities, really, within the eyes of the regulation.

The again entrance and loading docks at a Syracuse dormitory.Credit…Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times

While each males have been born in 1962, a mere 230 days aside, Bender had simply turned 18 when the abuse began, and Druger was nonetheless 17. So below New York’s Child Victims Act, Druger has been ready to sue Syracuse and different establishments, however Bender has not — though they accused the identical predator of abusing them in comparable places, beginning on the identical time.

Now they’re teaming up to urge passage of the Adult Survivors Act, which might set up a one-year “look-back window” enabling grownup victims like Bender the chance to file civil lawsuits in New York, even when any statutes of limitations have run out.

If the Adult Survivors Act passes, New York would be part of New Jersey as the one states giving survivors who have been abused after they have been 18 or over an analogous look-back window, mentioned Taylor Rayfield, a lawyer for Druger and Bender.

The State Senate handed the invoice final week. And whereas no organized opposition has emerged, the Assembly has not made it a precedence, and the legislative session in Albany ends on Thursday.

Bender has tried to generate assist for the invoice by showing in a public service announcement produced by Safe Horizon, a sufferer advocacy group. He has additionally given interviews to native publications and written an opinion piece with Druger.

Druger and Bender on Syracuse’s campus.Credit…Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times

“The distinction between child and adult is arbitrary at best, and exploitative at worst, because in the end, it serves no real purpose except to let perpetrators walk away without facing any consequences for their actions,” the 2 wrote.

Since the Child Victims Act was enacted in August 2019, greater than 5,800 lawsuits have been filed in county courts throughout New York in opposition to people and establishments just like the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America and faculty districts. The window for claims — which was prolonged one other yr due to the pandemic — closes on Aug. 13.

Sports coaches are named in a whole lot of these lawsuits. One was Conrad Mainwaring, who competed for Antigua within the 1976 Montreal Games and later coached achieved observe stars, together with a gold medalist.

ESPN reported in 2019 that Mainwaring allegedly molested a whole lot of younger males: at a summer season sports activities camp in Massachusetts, the place Mainwaring labored as a counselor; at Syracuse and Colgate, the place he studied and labored; at Caltech and U.C.L.A., the place he informally coached athletes.

Most of the incidents occurred in jurisdictions, like New York, the place the statutes of limitations had lengthy since expired. But Mainwaring, 69, was arrested in February in Los Angeles after being accused of abusing boys at Camp Greylock within the Berkshires after Massachusetts prosecutors contended that the statute froze when Mainwaring left the state.

Dean R. Manuel, a Massachusetts-based lawyer for Mainwaring, didn’t return a name requesting remark.

Mainwaring was arraigned in March on the Berkshire County Superior Court in Pittsfield, Mass.Credit…Stephanie Zollshan/The Berkshire Eagle, through Associated Press

In New York, no less than one case apart from Druger’s has been filed in opposition to Syracuse naming Mainwaring. The plaintiff, John Doe, was a 17-year-old highschool athlete who was given a campus tour by Mainwaring, then abused, the grievance alleges.

To say that Druger bled Syracuse Orange can be an understatement: His father, Marvin, is an emeritus professor of biology and science training who has taught over 50,000 college students. An astronomy middle in Holden Observatory is called after his late mom, Patricia. He met his spouse on campus.

So Druger, now an ophthalmologist close to Syracuse who additionally owns an aikido dojo, reluctantly sued the college in June 2020 for negligence.

“That’s where I was born,” he mentioned, pointing to Crouse Hospital. “It’s conflicting — you love S.U., it’s in your blood.”

Bender, a local of Cherry Hill, N.J., began a yr earlier than Druger and studied illustration. He and his spouse, Christina Bothwell, are glass artists in rural central Pennsylvania; till Memorial Day, he had not returned to Syracuse in 25 years.

After Druger and Bender, who’re each married fathers of three, acquired to know one another over slices at a Marshall Street pizzeria, they set out for the Brewster Hall dorm, accompanied by Kat Thomas, one among their legal professionals.

Bender and Druger at a pizzeria earlier than heading to campus.Credit…Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times

Mainwaring, a graduate pupil who labored in pupil housing, lived on the bottom ground. Arrayed on his espresso desk have been psychology journals and books similar to “Manwatching: A Field Guide to Human Behavior,” by Desmond Morris, Druger remembered.

With his British accent and exuberant persona, the 2 males recalled, Mainwaring spun tales of Olympic glory and being a black belt in karate and a live performance pianist. Then he pretended to shove his palm into the scholars’ chests. You can’t flinch, he informed them, as a result of physique management is essential to athletic success.

In actuality, Bender mentioned, “he was trying to deprogram us,” in order that they wouldn’t react when he touched them inappropriately.

Next cease: Manley Field House and Syracuse’s athletic amenities.

Druger ran observe, and Mainwaring confirmed up to his meets, practices and even group conferences, because the abuse continued for a number of years.

“How much you let him do means the level of your trust,” Druger mentioned, choking up.

Druger in entrance of the fieldhouse the place Mainwaring watched him follow.Credit…Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times

Mainwaring additionally hovered over Bender, watching him follow gymnastics at Archbold Gymnasium, and taking him to a pool to watch him dive.

Bender recalled Mainwaring, a Black man, sometimes breaking down, recounting racism and discrimination.

“One hundred percent an acting job,” Druger interjected. “It’s all fake.”

“Oh, interesting,” Bender mentioned.

Mainwaring accomplished a grasp’s in steerage and counseling, although he didn’t end his doctorate, a Syracuse spokesman mentioned. But the college wasn’t knowledgeable of any allegations in opposition to him till early 2019, at which level regulation enforcement officers have been notified.

The closing cease: Nottingham High School, Druger’s alma mater, the place he was first abused.

Mainwaring saved workplace hours as a counselor, although it isn’t clear what his association with the varsity may need been. In the autumn of 1980, Mainwaring began manipulating Druger, a senior who was additionally on the swim group, by calling him an “underachiever.” With higher coaching, nevertheless, he might change into an Olympian.

Not lengthy afterward, Mainwaring pressured Druger to take away his pants and underwear, then molested him, in accordance to Druger’s grievance.

Nottingham High School, the place Mainwaring apparently labored.Credit…Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times

A lawyer representing the Syracuse college district didn’t reply to emails requesting remark. But the varsity informed ESPN that they’d not discovered any data indicating that Mainwaring had been an worker or approved volunteer.

As Bender and Druger mentioned farewell, they mentioned they hoped the Adult Survivors Act would encourage different former athletes — be they at Nottingham, Syracuse, Colgate or elsewhere — to come ahead.

“I want to create a good imprint and help other people,” Bender mentioned. “Here I am, 59, and I couldn’t have done it when I was 20, 30, 40.”