An Esteemed Doctor, Child Sexual Abuse
Claims and a Hospital That Knew for Years
For almost 30 years, parents sought out Dr. Reginald Archibald when their children would not grow. They came to his clinic at The Rockefeller University Hospital, a prominent New York research institution, where he treated and studied children who were small for their age.
He also may have sexually abused many of them.
The hospital sent a letter last month to former patients of Dr. Archibald asking about their contact with him. Ten days later, on Oct. 5, it posted a statement online saying it had evidence of the doctor’s “inappropriate” behavior with some patients and that it first had learned of credible allegations against him in 2004. The letter went out to as many as 1,000 people, said a former patient who spoke with a hospital administrator.
Dr. Archibald, an endocrinologist who spent most of his career at Rockefeller, died in 2007. His son, Larry, declined to comment. “This doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.
The New York Times spoke with 17 people, most of them men, who said they were abused by Dr. Archibald when they were young boys or adolescents. Most of them learned of the possibility of other victims for the first time when they received the letter. A few, however, said they had filed complaints with the hospital or authorities in the past, but their allegations were not investigated.
“To know that they knew about this in 2004 and didn’t reach out to people, it’s absolutely outrageous,” said Matt Harris, now 58, a former patient of Dr. Archibald.
The men all described similar experiences with Dr. Archibald, who would tell them to disrobe when they were alone in his examination room. He would masturbate them or ask them to masturbate, sometimes to ejaculation.
The doctor took pictures of them, while they were naked, with a Polaroid camera, and measured their penises both flaccid and erect, the men said.
Some of the former patients said they saw Dr. Archibald only once and some went back annually for many years as subjects in his studies.
Their stories paint a picture of an esteemed doctor who wielded great authority with parents desperate to help their children and patients too young to know the difference between legitimate medical practice and molestation. The alleged abuse would have occurred in an era in which few safeguards existed for those patients.
“You are robbed of knowing what’s real and what’s not real. That’s the real cost of this thing,” said Mr. Harris, who, like many of the patients who spoke with The Times, has talked to a lawyer.
In response to questions from The Times, the hospital said in a statement Thursday that after the letters were sent, it heard from many former patients alleging abuse. The hospital said it has set up a fund to provide counseling for the victims.
“We are appalled to hear those accounts of Dr. Archibald’s reprehensible behavior. We deeply regret pain and suffering caused to any of Dr. Archibald’s former patients,” the statement read.
A hospital spokesman declined to answer questions about when the hospital first learned of the allegations and why it did not try to contact a wider array of former patients earlier.
In its earlier statement, the hospital said that in 2004, it received an allegation of “impropriety” during Dr. Archibald’s physical examinations, which it did not specify.
The hospital said it informed the Manhattan district attorney’s office, the state office that oversees medical conduct and a federal research agency. It also hired Debevoise & Plimpton, a law firm, to investigate. The inquiry turned up two additional reports dating to the 1990s.
The hospital did not say where the allegations from the 1990s were filed and what the response to them had been. A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., could not immediately confirm whether the office had received the allegation from the hospital in 2004.
Earlier this year, separate allegations against Dr. Archibald were reported to the hospital, which again hired Debevoise & Plimpton.
Based on its investigation, the law firm concluded that some of Dr. Archibald’s behaviors involving these patients were inappropriate,” the statement said.
The hospital said it has scrubbed Dr. Archibald’s name from its web pages and rescinded his emeritus status.
The possibility of a large number of victims could pose a serious financial threat to the research institution. Under current New York law, the statute of limitations for victims to sue the hospital has long passed.
But a proposed change to the law, supported by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, would lengthen the statute of limitations for filing criminal charges and civil suits in child sexual abuse cases, and crucially, create a one-year window in which all victims could sue, regardless of when the abuse happened. The legislation has been held up in the State Senate and is vigorously opposed by institutions, including the Roman Catholic Church, which has argued that the one-year window could lead to catastrophic financial damage.
Dr. Archibald worked as a doctor, researcher and professor at The Rockefeller University Hospital from 1941 to 1946 and again from 1948 to 1980. He kept his affiliation with the institution, as an emeritus, until 1987.
His former patients remembered him as avuncular and authoritative, with white hair as he grew older. They also remembered his strange methods. Their allegations suggest a pattern of sexual abuse from the 1950s through the 1970s among patients as young as 6 and as old as 17.
Michael Manfre, now 57, recalled Dr. Archibald asking him to masturbate when he was about 12 years old and then doing it himself. “Keep trying,” Mr. Manfre, of Massapequa, N.Y., remembered Dr. Archibald saying, encouraging him to ejaculate.
Mr. Harris, who now lives in Port Washington, N.Y., said that during a visit in the 1970s, the doctor massaged the area between his testes and anus, asking if it felt good.
Many of Dr. Archibald’s patients were short for their age, and their parents worried about the teasing and shame they might experience in school if they hit puberty years behind their peers.
Dr. Archibald was known as a growth specialist who administered hormones, such as testosterone, which he hypothesized could help spur puberty and increase the height children would reach. To better understand children’s growth and create a control group, he often had siblings come to the clinic, former patients said.
Taking measurements of boys’ genitals when doctors were concerned about delayed puberty was considered normal until the 1980s or 1990s, said Dr. Howard Markel, a professor of medical history at the University of Michigan. But doing so when they were erect, asking them to masturbate, particularly while the doctor was present, was not considered acceptable, even at that time, he said.
Nearly every victim remembered having to strip naked, stand against a wall and hold their palms out facing forward while Dr. Archibald took photographs. One patient provided a copy of a release signed by that person’s mother giving Rockefeller permission to photograph her child “for the advancement of medical science.”
At least two articles published by Dr. Archibald contain pictures of naked boys in the stance described by these victims. One of those articles also contains close-ups of the boys’ genitals.
While almost every alleged victim said the abuse occurred in the doctor’s examination room, one described a dark encounter far away from the hospital. A 58-year-old Brooklyn man said he believed Dr. Archibald raped him on a trip to the doctor’s Canadian summer home.
The former patient, who asked to be identified only by his first name, John, because of the nature of the alleged assault, said Dr. Archibald watched him masturbate during examinations at the hospital. But one summer, when he was about 13, the doctor convinced his parents to let John accompany him to the house.
One of Dr. Archibald’s former neighbors in Pelham, N.Y., who visited the lake, recalled that every year Dr. Archibald would take a young boy to help prepare the wooden cabins for his family’s visit.
John said Dr. Archibald tried to shower with him at a motel on the two-day trip to the house but he ran out of the bathroom. Once they arrived, John said, he believed Dr. Archibald drugged and raped him. He angrily insisted on being taken home, he said.
Dr. Archibald spent only two years of his career away from Rockefeller when, in 1946, he took a job at Johns Hopkins University.
It is unknown how many children participated in Dr. Archibald’s studies.
He maintained records of an estimated 9,000 patients who visited him and other doctors at Rockefeller, according to one victim who said she met with a hospital official and three attorneys representing the hospital in September.
That victim said those attorneys and Dr. Barry Coller, the hospital’s physician in chief, told her that the hospital sent letters to more than 1,000 former patients they were able to identify and locate.
The hospital would not comment on how many former patients received a letter.