New Documentary Chronicles Cover-Up of Teacher’s Sexual Abuse and the Damage Done
There has been an assortment of stories of sexual assault in the past year since the beginning of the #MeToo movement, ranging from the alleged violent nastiness of former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) towards several women and the alleged fondling of Kevin Spacey toward a myriad of males, including those in their teens.
But it is the story chronicled in the new documentary “What Haunts Us” that is the most disturbing and saddening story of abuse to date, as it explains how a teacher’s sexual abuse of male teens at a school in Charleston, S.C. was allowed to run rampant for years. Several of his victims have since committed suicide.
Paige Goldberg Tolmach, an alumnus of Porter-Gaud school, was disturbed by the news of her former classmates committing suicide, prompting her to delve deeper into the case of Eddie Fischer, who was a physical education teacher at her school from 1972 to 1982.
Fischer was regarded as the suave, hip teacher who epitomized what it meant to be part of the “in” crowd in high school. It was easy for him to use his status and charisma to prey on vulnerable male students with fantasies about how he could arrange them to have sexual intercourse with scores of older women – a dream for many hormonal high school teens.
Baited by this story, various male students would come over to Fischer’s house to receive their “training,” which turned out to be Fischer engaging in a variety of sexual acts upon these underage students. During his abuse, Fischer would tell his victims that it didn’t matter who was performing sexual actions on them, as sex is all about “touching” and “feeling.”
Fischer’s actions were an open secret in the school, but nothing was done when complaints about Fischer’s behavior came in. Fischer eventually resigned from Porter-Gaud, but top school officials gave him a good recommendation to continue his career at other schools, allowing his sexual abuse to continue. The community at large knew about it too, but nothing was done.
Fischer was eventually arrested in 1997 for his sexual abuse and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1999. He died in prison in 2002. Porter-Gaud paid millions of dollars to the families of the Fischer’s victims as part of a settlement in a civil suit.
In total, Fischer had as many as 50 victims, with at least 20 being students he abused at Porter-Gaud.
But the damage done by Fischer and his enablers continues, as six of Tolmach’s classmates have committed suicide as a result of the scars of Fischer’s abuse, including two during the filming of her documentary.
What’s most distressing about the documentary is how it shows that once the lurid headlines and cameras fade away, victims of sexual abuse are continually haunted by the trauma. For some, it’s simply too much to handle.
“What Haunts Us” can be seen in theaters on May 11 and will be featured on Starz on May 14.