Alumni from the American School in Japan are demanding an independent inquiry into whether school officials covered up knowledge of sexual abuse committed by teacher Jack Moyer.
The former students claim that ASIJ staff, including past head teachers, were notified of Moyer’s abuse on numerous occasions during his employment with the school in Tokyo between 1963 and 2000, but the school ignored the complaints and allowed Moyer to continue working with young children.
Alumni also worry that current ASIJ administrators have failed to share information on Moyer’s alleged crimes with the Metropolitan Police Department or the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). Moyer is believed to have worked with Japanese elementary school and junior high school students from the mid-1980s until 2003. He committed suicide in 2004.
The alumni’s demands come in response to an admission in March from ASIJ head Edwin Ladd and Stephanie Toppino, chair of ASIJ’s board of directors, that Moyer had abused students while working at the school. In a message to alumni reported by The Japan Times on March 20, Ladd and Toppino suggested that the school had only learned of Moyer’s alleged molestation in November 2013.
Now, 12 alumni groups have penned letters to ASIJ urging it to come clean.
One petition organized by Class of ’79 graduate Susan Larson charges the school with failing to protect former students and continuing to brush aside complaints from survivors of Moyer’s abuse.
To quote from the petition: “We are calling for an independent third party investigation that accomplishes the following: 1. To redress the wrongs committed against so many of our classmates, in our class and in other classes. 2. To understand how and why this could have continued for decades without any full investigation by the school.”
At the time of publication, the petition — posted on Change.org under the heading “We are calling for an independent third party investigation” — had garnered 365 signatories, including many former ASIJ students and faculty.
Another letter sent last month by students who graduated in 1992 reads: “Those trusted with the protection of vulnerable children have already failed multiple times — first with Moyer’s direct abuse, again with the administration’s lack of action to protect and heal its students, and then once again with the modern administration’s stonewalling in response to repeated requests for action.”
ASIJ bills itself as “Tokyo’s leading international school,” with 1,500 students attending campuses in Chofu and Roppongi. Its board of trustees includes executives from Delta Air Lines, Goldman Sachs (Japan) and Bank of America — as well as Kurt Tong, the U.S. Embassy’s deputy chief of mission in Japan.
Revelations of abuse at ASIJ coincide with recent child sex scandals at other international schools overseas. Last month, the FBI revealed that a former teacher, U.S. native William Vahey, had abused at least 90 boys while employed at international schools around the world, including the prestigious Southbank International School in London. Meanwhile in February, a 5-year-old student was raped by cleaners on the premises of Jakarta International School. The current head of that school, Tim Carr, served as ASIJ head between 2003 and 2010.
In these incidents, the schools where the suspected abuse occurred are working closely with local authorities to investigate the allegations.
The Japan Times asked ASIJ head Ladd whether he had alerted Tokyo police or MEXT of Moyer’s suspected abuse, and if ASIJ was reaching out to possible Japanese survivors of Moyer’s abuse.
In an email reply received on May 11, Ladd wrote, “As a matter of the school’s normal course of business, we are in regular contact with all the relevant regulatory authorities. We have no further comment.”
While employed by ASIJ, Moyer is believed to have abused as many as 32 female students — some as young as 9 years old — at his home in Tokyo and during school excursions to Miyake Island, 180 km southwest of the capital.
Some alumni also claim that Moyer arranged parties on Miyake for Japanese businessmen where they attempted to molest ASIJ pupils.
Former students, including those who were abused by Moyer, maintain that ASIJ was informed of Moyer’s abuse on at least nine occasions between the mid-1970s and 2003.
For example, in 1977, parents of one abused girl apparently complained to ASIJ about Moyer but the school failed to act.
In 1985, another student allegedly suffered an attempted attack from Moyer. However after notifying the school authorities, she was reportedly threatened with expulsion if she didn’t keep quiet.
Janet Simmons, a former ASIJ student who was abused by Moyer in the early 1970s, led efforts to alert ASIJ to Moyer’s abuse while he was still alive. She chronicled her struggle in a blog titled “Thank You For Holding My Hand” in 2009.
According to Simmons, she first tried to tell the school in 1990 but was ignored.
“Much to my disappointment they did not contact me, nor did they cease to elevate Moyer’s stature in the community,” Simmons told The Japan Times.
Simmons repeated her complaint in 2000 and, this time, the school assured her it would act. But then, in 2003, at an event in San Francisco to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of ASIJ, Simmons discovered that the school had published a book titled “The American School in Japan: A History of Our First Century.”
The book praised Moyer’s work at ASIJ and included photographs of Moyer with students. After Simmons confronted school staff, they agreed to withdraw the book and destroy all remaining copies.
However at the same time, Simmons discovered that Moyer — then 74 years old and living in Tokyo — was still working with young children as president of The Oceanic Wildlife Society.
Fearing that ASIJ’s apparent failure to notify Japanese police about Moyer’s suspected sex crimes was placing Japanese children at risk, Simmons — together with another former ASIJ student, Michele Connor — decided to take action.
In late 2003, after persuading ASIJ to put them in contact with Moyer, Simmons and Connor engaged the teacher in a series of email exchanges. At first Moyer — who Simmons describes as “deranged and narcissistic” — was reluctant to discuss the allegations. But he eventually confessed to having abused 13 ASIJ students.
According to alumni, the actual figure is likely much higher.
In his email correspondence with Simmons and Connor, Moyer also dismissed allegations that he had organized a pedophile ring for Japanese men.
“Many Miyake males are notorious for that kind of conduct,” he wrote in late November 2003 in an apparent attempt to assert his innocence.
Following Moyer’s suicide in 2004, ASIJ did not make public what it knew about its late teacher — nor did it reach out to those who had been abused.
It appears what prompted ASIJ to break its silence in March this year was a letter written by Class of ’68 alumnus David Bruns in 2012. In the letter, he asked ASIJ to reveal what it knew of Moyer’s abuse so as to encourage potential Japanese survivors to come forward.
His letter was followed by one written by another survivor of Moyer’s abuse, Jennifer Laurie.
“By the time I was abused by him in the summer of 1982, the ASIJ administration had been notified at least two times of his actions. How could that be true? It’s hard for me to come to grips with the fact that a school that was so loved by myself and my family actually KNEW that they had a pedophile on their faculty and didn’t deal with it,” Laurie wrote in November 2013.
Apparently this letter prompted ASIJ officials to act. In March, the school made sent out the email announcement that implied it had only recently learned of Moyer’s abuse.
On April 11, Ladd wrote a follow-up mail to parents and alumni which included the comment that some former students “feel that we have not done enough, are intentionally covering up the failures of past administrators, and are insincere in our remorse.”
Another mail to parents and alumni from Ladd, dated May 2, announced that ASIJ would introduce criminal background checks for new and current staff. He stated that the school would also implement further measures — some based upon a guide developed by the Association of International Schools in Africa — to ensure the safety of students.
Many alumni believe these assurances are inadequate and that nothing less than a full independent investigation will suffice.
“Although I commend the current administration’s decision to finally come out in the open, it is apparent they still don’t understand the implications of what the school did. As an institution they are as culpable for the abuse of scores of girls as the perpetrator because they chose to do nothing for so long. It’s no longer about Jack Moyer — it’s about those who knew but did nothing,” Simmons told The Japan Times.
Class of ’68 alumnus Bruns shares her anger.
“ASIJ’s failure to rein in (Moyer’s) pedophilic behavior allowed him access to hundreds, if not thousands of Japanese school children in his education programs,” Bruns said. “The school has a moral obligation to get help to these Japanese youth. It needs to partner with the Ministry of Education and the police to develop a strategy for finding the victims.”
The public face of a serial pedophile
Born in Kansas in 1929, Jack Moyer first arrived in Japan at the age of 22 as a scientist with the U.S. Air Force. Following his military service, he specialized in marine biology, and in particular, life in the waters around Miyake Island. His work made him a minor celebrity in Japan.
A frequent guest on TV, Moyer wrote more than 20 books, including one co-authored with anthropologist Jane Goodall. He helped Prince Akihito — the current Emperor and a keen amateur scientist — to review at least one scientific report, published in 1983, and he received a doctorate in marine biology from Tokyo University in 1984.
ASIJ employed Moyer as a middle school teacher between 1963 and 1984, where he taught a course called “Japan Lands and People”; additionally, he coached one of the girls’ basketball teams.
Until 2000, Moyer worked as a consultant to ASIJ’s science programs and the school sent students on annual field trips to Miyake to study with Moyer. These trips continued for 31 years, only ending after a volcanic eruption on the island forced Moyer to move to Tokyo in 2000. While on mainland Japan, Moyer coordinated marine activities for schoolchildren throughout the country.
When Moyer killed himself in 2004, many commentators attributed his suicide to depression caused by his evacuation from Miyake.