Abuse Case Against Former Swim Coach Will Proceed

Courtesy of Harvard Archives

Former Harvard swimming coach Benjamin Merritt poses for a picture in 1959. Two men have now accused Merritt of sexually abusing them when they were teenagers in the late 1960s.

A lawsuit against the University alleging sexual abuse by a former Harvard swim coach four decades ago will be allowed to proceed in court, following a legal extension of the statute of limitations on child sex abuse cases in Massachusetts.

Stephen M. Embry, 57, who claims that he was sexually abused and photographed nude in the Harvard swimming pool by a University coach between 1969 and 1972, filed a lawsuit in June 2012 against the University to seek compensation. His case was dismissed by a court on the grounds of having exceeded the statute of limitations, which grants the victim three years to sue after having realized that he or she has been abused.

This June, however, Massachusetts lawmakers extended that period to seven years. Embry’s lawyer, Carmen L. Durso, had appealed the initial ruling in January. The new legislation was applied retroactively, prompting a judge in Middlesex Superior Court to rule that the case can go forward, according to Durso.

Embry claims that the University not only denied having any knowledge of such events, despite a similar lawsuit having been filed against the former assistant swimming coach, Benjamin Merritt, in 1996, but also that it misinformed Embry about the statute of limitations on such cases, which discouraged him from suing promptly. Embry first wrote Harvard about the alleged abuse in 2008.

Merritt committed suicide in 1996 after the first allegation against him was made.


Durso described Harvard’s attitude on the issue as “disappointing,” saying that even high schools that are notified about sexual abuse having occurred in the past do not adopt the “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” approach that he said the University has.

University spokesperson Jeff Neal stated in an email that "the acts that Mr. Embry says that he suffered at the hands of his neighbor can only be described as despicable, but there is no basis to suggest that the University had any knowledge of these events when they allegedly occurred more than three decades ago."

—Staff writer Jessica Kim can be reached at


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