Marist Brothers 'ignored' complaints about sex abuse

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By a Broken Rites researcher

Marist College in Canberra allowed one of its Marist Brothers to continue working with boys even after the school learned that he was molesting students, a court has been told.

Marist Brother John William Chute, aged 75, whose "religious" name is "Brother Kostka", pleaded guilty in the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court to committing indecent acts with pupils between 1985 and 1989 when they were aged 13 and 14.

On 22 June 2008, Kostka was sentenced to a total of six years jail, with the first two years in full-time prison, the third year to be served by weekend detention, and the remaining three years to be fully suspended.

An agreed statement of facts (submitted to the Supreme Court jointly by the prosecution and the defence) revealed that the parents of at least one victim reported Brother Kostka Chute's abuse to the Marist College headmaster in 1986, but Kostka remained at the school until the end of 1993.

Kostka Chute's background

According to statements made in court, John William Chute was the youngest of ten children and came from Lismore, New South Wales. In 1944, at the age of twelve, he was recruited to attend a Marist Brothers "juniorate" (a secondary boarding school for boys "aspiring" to become brothers) in Mittagong, southern New South Wales. It was there — within the Marist Brothers culture — that Chute became introduced to the practice of sexual abuse in his teens, the court was told.

At the age of seventeen, he took his vows as a Marist Brother. He then adopted the name Kostka, a practice which was customary in the Marist order. (There was a "Saint Stanislaus Kostka" in the 16th century.)

It was stated in court that Kostka taught at 11 other Marist Brothers schools in Australia between 1952 and 1975 before moving to Canberra’s Marist College in 1976, where he stayed for 27 years.

The offences

At a pre-sentence hearing in the A.C.T. Supreme Court on 9 May 2008, Kostka pleaded guilty to 19 incidents of indecently touching six teenage boys between 1985 and 1989.

The 19 admitted incidents represented only a fraction of the sexual encounters he had had with the six boys, according to the agreed statement of facts. [The charges were representative of Kostka molesting some victims on a daily basis.]

The offences happened in various places around the school, including including: in Kostka's office; in his on-campus residence; in the theatrette where Kostka hosted movie nights; in a gardening shed; and even in a food van that sold pies at football games on weekends.

How the case began

Kostka was represented in court by a Sydney lawyer who frequently represents Catholic Church personnel in sex-abuse court cases. The Marist Brothers were paying for Kostka's legal costs.

Originally, in the Magistrates Court on 17 January 2008, Kostka was charged with incidents of indecency extending back to 1981. However, at a second hearing on 21 February 2008, the A.C.T. Director of Public Prosecutions dropped some of the earliest charged incidents because these incidents had allegedly happened before 1985, when charges relating to sexual indecency had to be made within a year.

The school ignored complaints

Documents tendered in court on 21 February 2008 revealed that a teacher and one headmaster at the school were told by victims that Brother Kostka had molested them, but the school allowed him to teach for several more years.

One alleged victim, whose complaint was dropped in the 21 February 2008 hearing because it related to an incident in 1981, told police in August 2007 that he had reported Kostka's assault on him to a teacher in 1986 because he was concerned that Brother Kostka was spending a lot of time with another young student. However, the teacher, John Doyle, told him the next day that "nothing was going to be done regarding his allegation and concerns".

Several years later, in the early 1990s, the alleged victim went to the school and told the then-headmaster of the assault. But when he spoke to the headmaster soon after, he was told that Brother Kostka had denied assaulting him and the investigation had been passed on to Kostka's "superiors" [that is, to fellow Marist Brothers]. The alleged victim told police he had been intent in preventing Kostka from having further contact with children. He had a meeting with a senior Marist brother, Brother Alexis Turton [who was the Australian head of the Marist Brothers from 1989 to 1995]. However, the alleged victim was merely asked "what he wanted" from the Marist Brothers, and was offered counselling.

Brother Turton later informed the alleged victim that Kostka had been moved to a Mittagong farmhouse in southern New South Wales for retired Marist brothers, the Hermitage, where he remained until his arrest in January 2008.

The alleged victim's brother went to the farmhouse in 2002 to visit another Brother, where he discovered that Brother Kostka was running a youth drop-in centre for boys.

[By 2008, Brother Alexis Turton had become the Marists' professional standards officer, with the responsibility for dealing with complaints about sexual abuse. He accompanied Kostka to court during the 2008 proceedings.]

The offences

According to court documents, victims told police that Brother Kostka would win their trust and confidence before developing a pattern of systemic abuse. Some boys were molested on a daily basis over more than a year. Kostka would often put his hands down the boys' pants, sometimes in classrooms with other students in the room. Other times, he would expose himself and force the boys to touch his penis, with two victims recalling vividly the expression that came over Kostka's face when he was molesting them "He would raise the outer edges of his eyebrows and his tongue would be out the side of his mouth," one boy recalled.

The victims told police that Brother Kostka befriended lots of boys through a movie club he ran, in which a film would be screened at the school's theatrette on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

One victim, who was molested in 1986 in the theatrette, recalled how Kostka sat next to him and put his hand on his groin. When the boy moved away, Kostka followed, and did so about three times before finally giving up.

The boy told his parents the next day and they made an appointment to see the headmaster, Brother Terrence Heinrich. Brother Terrence told them they could either go to police or the school could handle the matter "in-house". They opted for the latter. However, Kostka taught for a further seven years.

[After being the headmaster in Canberra, Brother Terrence Heinrich moved to Marist College, Ashgrove, in Brisbane, where he was the headmaster in 1990-96. A Marist website says that Brother Heinrich later went to Cambodia to live in a mission that was "caring for disabled children in the suburbs of Phnom Penh".]

Another victim, to whom six of the admitted 11 offences relate, said Kostka abused him between 1985 and 1987 "almost daily" and sometimes in the classroom while other students were present. In turn, Kostka "showered him with kindness". On one occasion, he threatened another victim to whom another four of the offences relate with expulsion if he told anyone.

After Kostka's guilty plea on 21 February 2008, the magistrate released Kostka on bail pending sentencing proceedings in the ACT Supreme Court on a later date. While on bail, he was to live with Brother Turton in Sydney.

Parents were kept in the dark

After Brother Kostka's guilty plea in February 2008, Canberra Times journalist Victor Violante uncovered further information about the Brother Kostka affair, which was published in the newspaper on 1 March 2008.

The Canberra Times said that, after a former student reported having been abused, Kostka was told to leave the school by his superior in 1993 but parents and students were never told why.

The former Australian head of the Marist Brothers, Brother Alexis Turton, confirmed that he met an alleged victim at Canberra Airport in September 1993, prompting Brother Kostka's removal at the end of the school year.

However, it is understood that neither the school nor Marist Brothers made efforts to identify any other potential victims, and they did not refer the matter to police.

Brother Alexis told the Canberra Times: "Basically [the alleged victim] made a complaint about Brother Kostka. I spoke to Brother Kostka and after a discussion we decided that the best course of action would be for him to leave Canberra...Basically, after the discussion [with Kostka] I asked him to leave."

Students and parents were not told at the time why Kostka had been removed from the school. Instead, the 1994 college year book suggested that Kostka had accepted an invitation to transfer to Sydney, and he was praised for his invaluable contribution to the school during his 18 years of teaching.

"During the holidays last Christmas, in a belated transfer which is usual enough in religious congregations, Brother [Kostka] accepted the invitation to bring to a close his long ministry in Canberra and moved to Sydney," the entry said.

"The lateness of the transfer meant we could not pay tribute to him in the 1993 Blue and Blue [year book], so here it is one year later, but no less genuine or sincere because of that."

The alleged victim who met Brother Alexis at the airport, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Canberra Times that he had approached the school's headmaster more than a decade after the assault because of concerns that Kostka was allegedly grooming other children.

Brother Alexis, who in 2008 is the professional standards officer for the Marist Brothers in New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT, also confirmed that Kostka was not removed from the school until three months after he met the alleged victim. He said an "assessment" concluded "no-one was in any danger" if Kostka remained at the school until the end of the term.

Another alleged victim said he had reported an allegation of sexual abuse to the school in December 1993, days before Kostka was removed. On that occasion, the school again allegedly arranged for Brother Alexis to meet the boy's parents in Canberra. He assured them Kostka would never work with children again. Brother Alexis has denied any recollection of this meeting.

The admissions come on the back of allegations contained in civil and criminal court documents that various headmasters and teachers knew of allegations of sexual abuse against Kostka as early as 1979, and against other brothers and teachers at the school as early as 1970, but failed to act.

Pre-sentence hearing

Kostka appeared in the ACT Supreme Court again on 9 May 2008 for pre-sentence submissions.

At the pre-sentence hearing, Kostka pleaded guilty to 19 counts of indecently touching the six teenage boys between 1985 and 1989. This included 11 counts, relating to four boys between 1986 and 1987, to which he had pleaded guilty in February 2008. It did not include seven other charges the prosecution was forced to drop because they had allegedly happened before 1985, when a statute of limitations of one year applied in the Australian Capital Territory for such offences.

The court heard that Kostka, the youngest of 10 children, had been separated from his parents in Lismore, New South Wales, when he was 11 to attend a Marist Brothers ''juniorate'' (a secondary boarding school for boys aspiring to become brothers) in Mittagong, southern New South Wales. It was there — within the Marist Brothers culture — that Kostka became introduced to the practice of sexual abuse, the court was told.

A psychiatrist, Dr Chris Canaris, who had been treating Kostka since 2002 for what he called a "psychosexual disorder", told the court that Kostka had disclosed he had been sexually abused by an older boy while at the juniorate between the ages of 11 and 13 and also by "a member of a religious order".

When Kostka appeared in court again on 5 June 2008 for further pre-sentence submissions, the Marist Brothers' lawyer (Greg Walsh) asked for a non-custodial sentence. Mr Walsh said that Kostka had sought treatment for his offending behaviour by at least 1993, but Marist Brothers did nothing for almost a decade.

"The Catholic Church, and in particular this order, have a lot to answer for," Mr Walsh said.

[It was not until late 2002 that Kostka was given psychological counselling for his "psychosexual disorder".]

Kostka sentenced

Sentencing Kostka on 22 June 2008, Justice Malcolm Gray condemned the abuse as a gross breach of trust.

The judge said several character references from friends and former colleagues had to be viewed in the context of Kostka's offences.

"Such testimonials are not irrelevant to my approach but must be weighed against the gross breach of trust that you perpetrated," Justice Gray said.

"That trust which was reposed in you as a teacher of young children and as their custodian in place of their parents as well as that trust reposed in you as a representative of your religious order."

Justice Gray sentenced Kostka to a total of six years jail, with the first two years in full-time prison. The third year would be served by weekend detention, and the remaining three years were fully suspended.

Although Kostka pleaded guilty to 19 individual incidents, most of the charges were representative of years of daily abuse. Justice Gray said he had taken into consideration that the admitted charges were not isolated offences.

Civil actions against the Marist Brothers

Meanwhile, a larger number of Kostka's alleged victims initiated a civil action, through a Canberra solicitor, Jason Parkinson (of the legal firm Porters Lawyers), seeking compensation from the Marist Brothers and the school authorities for breach of the school's duty of care. Some of the ex-students in the civil action allege that Kostka was abusing them as early as the 1970s. They say that various lay teachers, as well as religious brothers, knew about what the offenders were doing to boys but did nothing about it.

The Marist Brothers order has indicated it might use a legal loophole to escape liability in this compensation case. On 23 June 2008, immediately after Brother Kostka Chute was jailed, a press release was issued by Brother Alexis Turton for the Marist order. Turton apologised to victims but he encouraged victims to go through the Catholic Church's private mediation process, known as Towards Healing, rather than legal action. Turton said: "What is at issue in the current [civil] actions in the ACT Supreme Court is whether it is appropriate to sue the particular legal entity named in the suit, given earlier court decisions involving other church bodies." After Turton's statement, the Marist Brothers' solicitor (Howard Harrison) confirmed to the media that the Marists planned to rely on a NSW Court of Appeal decision known as the Ellis case in a bid to avoid legal liability. The Catholic Church successfully fought the Ellis case, obtaining a judgment that priests were not agents of the church and therefore it could not be sued for their actions.

Therefore, in June 2008, Porter Lawyers filed papers in the ACT Supreme Court seeking the names of former principals, deputy principals and senior teachers who worked at Marist College from 1970 to 1994. The firm claims that administrators of Marist College had knowledge of sexual abuse inflicted by some teachers, but failed to act. It is possible that Porters Lawyers might take civil legal action against these individual teachers and administrators.

  • For the civil lawsuit against the Marist Brothers organisation, see the Broken Rites report here.

More background

After the jailing of Marist Brother Kostka Chute, the Canberra Times published an interesting feature article, giving more background about sexual abuse at Canberra's Catholic boys' schools:-

Sins of the Brothers
Canberra Times, 28 June 2008
by Victor Violante

It's 7.30 on a cold winter morning, and the first of Canberra's Marist College students are filtering in to the school. A 12-year-old boy makes his way towards the monastery, where the school's resident Brothers live.

The Brothers' residence is strictly out of bounds to all students at all times. About 20 Brothers live here at any given time in the dormitory-style accommodation. Although located on the school premises, between the secondary and primary buildings, the monastery is their home, and students are promptly ushered away if they even loiter near it.

But this boy has special permission: it's his job to wake up Brother Kostka Chute. Most people would use an alarm clock, but Brother Kostka prefers one of his Year 7s to greet him first thing in the morning. It seems unusual, staff think, but then Brother Kostka does have a special bond with the boys. There's nothing sinister, right?

It would take more than 20 years after this boy innocently knocked on Kostka's door for the truth to emerge that Kostka was a paedophile, and that he molested some of his victims almost all of them Year 7 boys who passed through his classrooms in that very dormitory where students were supposedly forbidden from attending.

Was that boy molested? How many boys were tasked with waking Kostka up during his 17 years at the school? Did the other brothers know the boy was even there?

Perhaps the most important question that remains unanswered by the school and Marist Brothers, however, is whether any staff at the school knew, or ought to have known, that Kostka was preying on boys, prior to his arrest in January this year.

The gross violation of the boys' innocence and trust would eventually cost Kostka his freedom. On Monday he was sentenced to two years' jail, followed by 12 months' weekend detention. By now, after five days behind bars, he has no doubt resigned himself to the fact that he will spend the next two years in a NSW prison for his sins.

It doesn't sound like much for what he pleaded guilty to last month: molesting six boys between 1985 and 1989, when they were aged between 12 and 16, some of them on a daily basis over a school year, amounting to a token total of 19 counts of acts of indecency. But at 76, and suffering a long list of ailments almost as long as his newly-acquired criminal record, two years in jail will take their toll.

Kostka is adjusting to life in prison, according to Marist Brothers spokesman Brother Alexis Turton, who was head of the Marist Brothers in 1993 when he flew to Canberra to meet with a victim, and then removed Kostka from the school. Turton says Kostka remains a brother in the order, and his future is a matter for consideration of the Governing Council of the Brothers.

Throughout the court proceedings numerous references were made to Kostka's requests for treatment that were not granted until 2001, when he entered a program funded by the Catholic Church to treat brothers and priests who have "psychosexual disorders". It was not clear when he first sought treatment, but a comment in a psychiatrist's report suggested it was well before December 1993, when Marist Brothers concedes it removed Kostka from the school and ordered he never work with children after an allegation was made to the highest level.

Dr Chris Canaris's report says, "I note also a recurring theme in [Kostka's] history; specifically, that he asked for help and he received none until very late in the piece. These factors, sadly, contributed substantially to his history of offending behaviour."

Kostka's trail of child abuse appears to have extended well beyond the six boys he pleaded guilty to molesting. Three civil claims have already been lodged in the ACT Supreme Court against the school, represented by the Marist Brothers Trustees, and an additional 22 are ready to be filed. Most of these relate to Kostka. Two relate to a former colleague of his, lay teacher Paul Lyons, who committed suicide in 2000 shortly after he was charged with molesting a student in 1989 at Daramalan College, in Dickson, Canberra, where he taught next (three claims relating to Lyons' time at Daramalan have already been filed). Five of the 22 claims relate to alleged victims who say they were molested by both Kostka and Lyons an unfortunate coincidence, or a coordinated, cunning scheme in which they worked together to identify the vulnerable?

Almost all of the several former colleagues of Kostka and Lyons contacted by The Canberra Times denied any knowledge of their predatory behaviour. Few had even questioned Kostka's unusually close relationship with the Year 7 students at the time. But some did. As one former teacher recalls, some staff were aware of the boy Kostka had hand-picked to be his alarm clock.

"We always thought it was a bit odd that he always had boys waiting outside his office, it was too much," the teacher, who taught at the school between 1976 (the year Kostka started) and 1987, says. He asked not to be named, as he still lives in Canberra and is involved in teaching.

"There were some students who appeared too close to him. They had open access to his office, it was odd behaviour. A few of the staff had their suspicions. I wasn't totally shocked by the news reports [of his arrest]."

Suspicions were one thing, but nothing strong enough for him to act, back then at least. In hindsight, and in the wake of greater awareness among schools and the clergy about the potential for child abuse, the former Year 9 teacher admits he would act now if he saw the same thing. It was Kostka himself who told him one morning about the Year 7 boy who had woken him up. Kostka was cursing the boy's name, half-jokingly, explaining he was late to work because the boy had been late in attending his dorm. Other staff were well aware of this habit too. "That was a conversation I'd had with staff members, we thought it wasn't right. If I'd seen something more concrete I would have said something myself."

John William Chute was born on June 13, 1932, the youngest of 10 children, along with his twin sister. He grew up in the northern NSW town of Coraki, a small farming town that sits where the Richmond and Wilson rivers meet. His father died when John Chute, as Kostka was known before he took his religious name, was nine years old. Already he was on the path towards a Catholic lifestyle, attending the local Catholic primary school. When he was about 10 or 11 he befriended a Marist brother whom he grew to admire.

At age 11-12, perhaps inspired by his Marist Brother mentor, Kostka left his mother and siblings to attend a Marist Brothers "juniorate" (a boarding school where boys were prepared to be brothers) in Mittagong, in the NSW Southern Highlands. By all accounts it was an unusually young age, even then, to attend a juniorate. Here his life was to change irreversibly...

At age 18, Kostka became a novice, and after 18 months, without any formal teaching qualifications, he was sent to his first school to teach. Over the next 24 years, before arriving in Canberra, he taught at 11 Marist Brothers schools in NSW, including Marist Primary in Queanbeyan (here he taught Paul Lyons and his brother Ray Lyons, who also taught at Marist and Daramalan, and remains a good friend of Kostka's). It's not known whether he molested any boys at these schools...

One victim, that Kostka pleaded guilty to molesting throughout 1986, when he was in Year 8, says he had also been molested by Lyons that same year. He never reported it to the school because Kostka had threatened him with expulsion if he did, and later in life he tried unsuccessfully to forget it.

"You just put it in the back of your mind for your whole life, and every now and then you get a flashback of Kostka and Lyons, and you just try to put it away where it was, buried deep in your mind."

It was only in July 2007, when a story in The Canberra Times called for Lyons' Marist victims to come forward, that he went to police. "I saw Lyons on the front page, and it was like 20 years of my life just flew back at my face, and I thought, 'Now is the time to talk about it'."

Back in 1986 Kostka taught Year 7 and Lyons Year 8. It's tempting to conclude that Kostka would feed victims to Lyons as they progressed to the next grade, but this victim says he never heard one talk about the other in that context. Looking back, though, he suspects the paedophile pair did cooperate to some degree.

"It was Kostka at the start, Lyons in the middle part of the year, and Lyons at the end again. Reading about things now it seems that they were quite close as well, they did a lot of stuff together."

The victim, now in his mid-30s, is convinced some staff and brothers at the school knew about Kostka's molesting. It was too indiscrete not to notice, and many of the students even saw him fondling fellow students in class.

"He would come up behind someone in the class and put his hand down there, and only a few students would see, but it was quite obvious. Nobody would say anything, but then at the break people would start talking about it. And I guess that's when rumours started to fly of 'Be careful of Brother Kostka, don't get caught in his office because he'll touch you up'. At the time I didn't know it was wrong, that's just how it was."

Victims say that towards Kostka's later years his abuse was more brazen and frequent. His office was a popular place to abuse the children, luring them in with the promise of warmth on a cold winter's day, or a video they could watch in the lunch break.

By the early 1990s, Kostka's molesting was "common knowledge" among most students, especially the older boys. One teacher, who does not wish to be named, says she was frequently asked by students, "Does Brother Kostka bum-f--k?"

Lyons, similarly, became more indiscrete the longer he got away with abusing boys. While several former students now allege they were molested by Lyons at Marist College during his 12 years there that ended in 1987, many more alleged victims from Daramalan have emerged. At Daramalan, Lyons allegedly ran rampant for more than a decade, luring students to his home and on shooting trips with the promise of food, alcohol and guns until his arrest, confession and suicide in late 2000.

Conspiracy theories abound about whether Marist College knew or suspected Lyons was molesting students. One of his alleged Daramalan victims suspects Marist did know, and is angry the school did nothing more than off-load him to Daramalan. He says he was molested in 1989 during what he thought was going to be a shooting trip with Lyons one weekend. After Lyons had fondled him, he took him to McDonald's and then they went back to Lyons's flat in Queanbeyan. Although an isolated incident, the wounds of the betrayal are still fresh in his mind...

Kostka's admission of guilt, and Lyons' admission to Queanbeyan police in November 2000 during a recorded interview that he had molested a 15-year-old student in 1989, are but one hurdle that has been cleared in the path towards compensation for their alleged Marist College victims. As solicitor Jason Parkinson, who is representing the alleged victims, says, it needs to be shown that the school knew or ought to have known about Kostka's and Lyons' abuse.

Parkinson's allegations go further. In the civil claims already lodged with the courts, he outlines what can be only described as a paedophile ring at the school decades of covering up child molesters, including Kostka, and of giving alleged victims and their parents who did come forward false assurances their complaints would be taken seriously.

Even without the civil claims there is already substantial material to support inferences that all was not right at Marist College in the 1970s and 1980s. Kostka was not the first Marist College brother to be convicted of molesting a student. A little-known fact is that in 1996 Brother Peter Spratt pleaded guilty in Cooma Local Court to two counts of molesting a 14-year-old boy from the school. The incidents occurred in 1979 at a Marist Brothers residence at Wategoes Beach, Byron Bay, and at a holiday centre in Jindabyne, NSW.

Spratt was placed on a $2000, two-year good-behaviour bond. It's unclear when he left the school, but he was long gone by the time he was charged.

When combined with what we know about Kostka and Lyons, there would have been three child molesters at the Canberra school working side by side in 1979.

Among the allegations in the statements of claim is that in about 1979, the mother of a child at the school complained to the headmaster that Kostka was showing pornography to students in class, taking children into his office and having them sit on his lap, and masturbating under his cassock in class. The mother asked that Kostka be removed from the school, but was allegedly told by the headmaster at the time that ''he was aware of Brother Kostka's behaviour as [she] described'', and he had informed the provincial (the head of the Marist Brothers organisation in the region) of Brother Kostka's behaviour.

Another claim is that in 1970 the parents of an alleged victim informed the school headmaster that another brother had forced their son to sit on his lap and touched the child's genitals.

The road to compensation won't be a smooth one. Parkinson would be well served by the golden bullet that enabled him to settle two civil claims a couple of years ago against Daramalan College relating to Lyons: former teachers willing to testify that they knew Lyons was behaving inappropriately, and that they had reported it to the principal without any action taken.

One such teacher, Terry O'Brien, says that he and another teacher, Peter Cuzner, told one principal that they believed Lyons's practices of taking students home was inappropriate. The principal, Father Bob Irwin, called a staff meeting and told staff that the school did not allow unauthorised extracurricular activities with students, but when Irwin left for another school the following year, it's believed Lyons reverted to his old ways, if indeed he had ever stopped.

[Broken Rites understands that Terry O'Brien (born in 1936) and Peter Cuzner were originally Marist Brothers. Terry O'brien, whose religious name was Brother Sylvester, ceased being a Brother about 1977 after 25 years.]

O'Brien says he regrets not doing more, but had no knowledge of Lyons molesting boys to justify anything more than bringing what he perceived to be unprofessional conduct to the principal's attention.

"My disappointment is that I was concerned, I passed it on and the authorities [at the school] did not act quick enough for my satisfaction," O'Brien, who retired from teaching in 1999, says. "I wish I had done something more at the time, but at the time it was not criminal, if it had been criminal I would have gone to the police directly."

The Marist College victims are crying out for staff and brothers at the school to come clean with what they know, so that they can get at least financial compensation for what they endured.

For others, it is believed to be too late, with at least five suicides of boys in the past 15 years attributed by family, friends or former classmates to suspected sex abuse by Kostka and Lyons.