"Lessons Learned"
SVU, Episode 14.08
Production number: 14009
First aired: 21 November 2012
  th of 432 produced in SVU  
th of 432 released in SVU
  th of 1185 released in all  
Teleplay By
Ed Zuckerman & John P. Roche

Story By
Julie Martin & Ed Zuckerman

Directed By
Alex Chapple


When reports of sexual abuse surface at an elite private school, Detective Benson and A.D.A. Barba face off against a powerful administrator to expose decades of secrets.


Detectives Benson and Amaro investigate the apparent suicide of an elderly man, Harold Lassiter. A letter addressed to Lassiter is found on his desk. The letter, which accuses him of sexual abuse, is signed by someone named Curt. It is discovered that Lassiter formerly taught as a teacher at Manor Hill Academy, a private all-boys school, and that Curt is most likely one of his former students.

With the help of a former student at Manor Hill and friend of Tutuola's, the detectives find Curt, who now works at a dog hotel. Curt seems genuinely surprised by Lassiter's death and denies any involvement, but does express anger towards Lassiter for traumatizing him and ruining his life. Benson asks Curt to find other victims at the school that she can talk to.

Curt assembles a meeting of Manor Hill alumnae who have been molested by Lassiter. However, at the meeting, the victims name three other teachers who were also abusive during their time at Manor Hill. Benson realizes that the abuse is much more widespread than she had initially thought.

When the detectives approach the school board and ask them to acknowledge the abuse, they are harshly rebuffed. Benson enlists A.D.A. Barba to help reveal a massive cover-up as more and more victims emerge. During the investigation, a former teacher named Mr. Tompkins reveals that he had sex with students too, but didn't see it as rape and is long past the statute of limitations. When asked why he came forward, he expresses fear that he may have partially fueled a culture of abuse and neglect at the school.

The case goes to the grand jury where things seem to be going well, until the main witness is found overdosed in a hotel room with a prostitute, ruining his credibility and his ability to testify. This leaves Barba with no solid evidence or witnesses to build a case off of.

Barba then decides to use the victim's gonorrhea, which he claims he contracted from Mr. Strepek (a former teacher), as evidence in the trial. After receiving Strepek's medical records, it is revealed that he did have gonorrhea. However, Barba is not allowed to use this evidence in the trial as it disgraces the memory of the deceased and is therefore illegal to release to the public. Barba then tries to convince the judge that the evidence is not disgraceful by bringing Mr. Tompkins to the stand, who argues that his relationships with students were consensual and even loving. However, the judge still does not allow the evidence to be released.

The school then uses Tompkins as a scapegoat for all abuse at the school in order to give a phony apology. Upon hearing of this, another former student comes forward, saying that he had a relationship with Tompkins but it was completely consensual. He credits Tompkins with helping him accept his homosexuality, but says that Strepek found out about their relationship and used it as an excuse to sexually harass him. His mother had sent a complaint to the school board, and received a letter back from Brett Forrester, one of the members of the school board who had claimed to know nothing. In the letter, Forrester denies any wrongdoing on Strepek's behalf, contradicting his claims that he knew nothing about sexual abuse at Manor Hill before the trial.

When Benson and Amaro confront Mr. Forrester, he says that he didn't remember the letter he sent, and continues to deny that the allegations are true. However, Benson notices a picture of Forrester and his family, including his son Nathan. She recognizes Nathan from Curt's alumnae meeting and asks Brett to speak with him. Nathan is defensive at first, but eventually lashes out at his father and admits that he was abused by Strepek but didn't say anything out of fear that his father would protect the name of Manor Hill before his own son.

Later, the school holds a public assembly in which they apologize for the abuse and mistreatment of students in the past. During the school board's speech, Barba tells Benson and Amaro that he must drop the charges, as he'll never be able to convict anyone without solid evidence. Benson agrees, and happily watches as the victims finally get what they wanted: an apology.


Main cast

Recurring cast

Guest cast


Episode references


Episode quotes

Background information and notes

  • The story involves multiple abusers and many more victims with the photos of the survivors in suits and ties, so the clearer match is the Horace Mann scandal in NYC: a prestigious private school, an investigation stonewalled by the school board, a massive cover-up, decades of secrets, more and more victims emerge. Unlike Penn State, the Board of Trustees at Horace Mann has refused to conduct an independent investigation, despite evidence of more than 15 abusers among the faculty, more than 30 victims and over 60 reported incidents of sexual abuse. In addition, the administration misled and intimidated those who reported abuse to the school.

Episode scene cards

1 2 3 4

Manor Hill Academy
Riverdale, Bronx
Monday, October 15

Murray Hill
Community Center
124 East 42nd Street
Monday, October 15

Manor Hill Academy
Riverdale, Bronx
Wednesday, October 17

Grand Jury
Number 5
Thursday, October 18

5 6 7

Dover Hotel
142 Hester Street
Thursday, October 18

Office of
ADA Rafael Barba
1 Hogan Place
Friday, October 19

Superior Court
Part 21
Monday, October 22

Previous episode:
"Vanity's Bonfire"
"Lesson's Learned"
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Season 14
Next episode:
"Dreams Deferred"
Seasons 123456789101112131415161718192021