Kamehameha Schools’ Shameful Legacy of Sexual Abuse

A towering symbol of Hawai‘i pride, Hawai‘i’s Kamehameha Schools has educated some of the Hawaiian Islands’ leading lights since 1887. Named for the monarch who united the Hawaiian Islands, Kamehameha’s boarding school on Oahu provided families of native Hawaiian descent the opportunity to educate their children on a campus with more than 70 buildings, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, an athletic complex that seats 3,000, and a resources that rival those of the world’s most-elite private schools.

The school’s storied history, however, belies a dark secret that has only recently come to light. For generations, school administrators covered up what lawsuits by more than 30 former students have described as decades of “monstrous sexual abuse” perpetrated largely against male boarders who were entirely in the trust and care of Kamehameha Schools.

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Abuse Disguised as Therapy

From 1958 to 1985, the school forced children with mental health needs to see psychiatrist Robert Browne. Rather than tend to the children’s behavioral and psychological needs with sound psychiatric practices, however, school officials now acknowledge that Dr. Browne sexually assaulted them at weekend sleepovers in his home.

The school has reached a series of settlements with abuse victims, including an $80 million settlement with a group of victims in 2020.

In addition to the monetary payouts, the school has agreed to take steps to ensure such abuses are not repeated, including establishing an independently run hotline to ensure outcries are properly investigated.

Additional Sex Abuse Survivors Step Forward

By 2020, at least six new lawsuits involving at least 16 victims had been filed. They included new claims against Dr. Browne, who killed himself after being confronted by one of his victims in 1991, as well as against several teachers, an administrator and dorm advisors. In some cases, teachers and staff have been accused of giving students alcohol or illicit drugs. Plaintiffs say the school was aware of the abuse but did nothing.

In 2023, trial lawyers at Hawai‘i-based Galiher DeRobertis & Waxman reached a record settlement in 2023 on behalf of a former student who was abused at the boarding school starting in 1978. According to the lawsuit, the school failed to protect him from abuse by multiple adults that began when he was in seventh grade.

Adult Abuse Survivors Endure Lingering Impact

Sexual abuse experienced at Kamehameha Schools has had a lasting impact on victims. Some suffered deep depression in later years, committed suicide or died of overdoses from drug habits acquired as a form of self-medication in response to the emotional toil they endured

Kamehameha Schools is a private charitable trust endowed by the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate, which is now worth about $12 billion. Aside from the lawsuits against the school, attorneys have also filed medical malpractice claims against St. Francis Medical Center which employed Dr. Browne.

While the school has taken important steps to reconcile with its past, concerns remain that additional victims have not yet come forward.

How We Help Sex Abuse Victims

Our Hawai‘i sexual abuse lawyers work one-on-one with survivors, offering a direct, personal level of care and discretion. We use our decades of experience battling big organizations to fight on behalf of survivors, aggressively taking on those responsible for the pain and suffering they’ve caused. Our results of obtaining justice for victims speak for themselves. If you are a survivor of childhood or adult sexual abuse, we can help.

Category: Child Sex Abuse


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