Inside the Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against Folk Legend Peter Yarrow

The singer was pardoned in 1981 for "taking indecent liberties with a child," but that's not the only allegation against him

Peter Yarrow
Peter Yarrow performs as part of the "Voices on The Hudson" series at City Vineyard on January 12, 2020 in New York City.
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Peter Yarrow’s 1981 pardon from President Jimmy Carter for “taking indecent liberties with a child” should have been a much bigger deal, but it was quickly overshadowed by the freeing of the American hostages in Iran just hours later. But now, decades later, a new Washington Post piece revisits the controversial pardon of the folk singer (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) and reveals that Yarrow may have preyed upon other underage girls.

On Aug. 31, 1969, a 14-year-old girl named Barbara Winter and her sister went to meet Yarrow at his hotel. When they arrived at his door, he was nude. According to the Post, “Within minutes, she told police, Yarrow made her masturbate him until he ejaculated.” Yarrow was convicted and sentenced to one to three years in prison, but he wound up only serving three months. On the day of his sentencing, he admitted to molesting Winter, saying,  “I am deeply sorry. I have hurt myself deeply. I hurt my wife and the people who love me. It was the worst mistake I have ever made.”

But Winter isn’t the only person who claims to have been molested by Yarrow as a child. On Feb. 24, 2021, a new lawsuit was filed in New York by a woman alleging that the “Puff the Magic Dragon” singer raped her when she was still a minor.

The lawsuit claims that the girl ran away from her home in St. Paul, Minn., in 1969 and traveled to New York, where Yarrow told her to meet him at a hotel, then raped her and bought her a plane ticket back to St. Paul the next morning.

The suit — which claims the woman, now in her 60s, suffers from “severe and permanent physical and psychological injury” as a result of the rape — also names the band Peter, Paul and Mary as co-defendants, claiming that Yarrow’s bandmates “knew that Yarrow liked to have sexual intercourse with and perform other sex acts on minor children.”

“It breaks my heart to know that he was still doing it. It’s just horrible,” Winter said of the new lawsuit. “And I know what she’s going through. I do. And at least she had the courage to now come forward.”

The Me Too movement has added new weight to the claims against Yarrow. In 2019, he was slated to headline a folk festival in New York before his appearance was canceled when his sex crime was brought up.

“I fully support the current movements demanding equal rights for all and refusing to allow continued abuse and injury — most particularly of a sexual nature, of which I am, with great sorrow, guilty,” Yarrow told the New York Times at the time. “I do not seek to minimize or excuse what I have done, and I cannot adequately express my apologies and sorrow for the pain and injury I have caused in this regard.”

It’s unclear exactly how many other claims against Yarrow were brushed under the rug more than 50 years ago. But a Cincinnati Enquirer article about Yarrow’s 1970 sentencing makes reference to at least one more: “A similar charge against Yarrow in Cincinnati was ignored about three years ago by a Hamilton County grand jury,” it reads. “The father of a 15-year-old girl had signed a complaint charging Yarrow took indecent liberties with his daughter when the singer appeared at the Music Hall October 27, 1967.”

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