Hawaii’s storied Kamehameha School will pay $80 million to settle allegations that it enabled a psychiatrist to sexually abuse dozens of former students.
Described by The Washington Post as a ‘one of a kind’ facility, the school offers education at all grade levels. Spread out across a 600-acre campus on the island of Oahu, the Kamehameha has a multi-billion dollar endowment larger than most universities’.
But the school, writes the Post, has spent years covering up what 32 former students described as “decades of monstrous sexual abuse” against male boarders.
For some 27 years, between 1958 and 1985, Kamehameha’s administrators forced its young wards into the care of psychiatrist Robert Browne. Citing a need to provide behavioral and psychological therapy, students were threatened with expulsion if they tried refusing.
Browne drugged them, raped them, and subjected them to ‘psychological abuse’ over the course of ‘weekend sleepovers’ at his home.
Attorneys for the former victims of abuse – mostly men – said two years of negotiations have finally paid off, with the school agreeing to a massive $80 million settlement. On top of the pay-out, administrators agreed to implement a hotline service and take other steps to ensure the past doesn’t repeat itself.
“After a bitter battle,” said Mark S. Davis, attorney for one of the plaintiffs, school trustees “began to understand that in this ‘MeToo’ world, transparency and accountability is a lot more valuable than concealment.”
In a statement reprinted by The Washington Post, Kamehameha Schools said it “took into consideration the needs of survivors, the impacts on our organization and its mission, and the recommendation of mediators who have overseen thousands of cases.”
“Most importantly,” the school said, “it has been about bringing closure to the pending litigation so that we may move forward and begin healing together.”
The school is purportedly preparing its own suit against St. Francis Medical Center, where Browne was employed as a psychiatrist until the scandal broke.
The Post reports that the Kamehameha School didn’t deny responsibility in recent years. Its governing board issued an apology as the case gained wider exposure, while several officials admitted they knew what Browne was doing but didn’t take action.
Browne’s abuses, recounted in court, spanned decades and targeted boys as young as 10 and 11 years old. At his Oahu home, the psychiatrist sodomized students with inanimate objects, forced them to watch pornography and masturbate, and coerced them into engaging in oral sex.
He told students that nobody would believe them – that nobody at Kamehameha or the world cared about their well-being like he did.
Several students who tried to report Browne were ignored. Complaints went nowhere. Tips were ignored and teachers tried to placate abused boys with quick trips to local restaurants.
Browne continued his employment with Kamehameha until 1991, when a grown-up survivor of his abuse confronted him over the telephone.
The next day, Browne was found dead of a single self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Only relatively recently, writes the Post, did Brown’s victims start coming forward – speaking first among themselves, and then to attorneys and the press.