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NY TIMES: R.I. Prep School Expresses Sorrow Over Sex Abuse

posted by HM Action at 2015-12-25 16:57:00

Rhode Island Prep School Expresses ‘Sorrow and Shame’ Over Sexual Abuse


BOSTON — An investigation by St. George’s School, a prestigious prep school in Rhode Island, has found that 26 students were sexually abused by school employees in the 1970s and ’80s, and that while the administration at the time fired the employees, it failed to report the abuses to the authorities.

In an 11-page report on its investigation, which it released to alumni on Wednesday night, the school said it “failed on several occasions to fulfill its legal reporting requirements,” adding, “we believe the school could have done more to keep its students safe.”

It also expressed its “regret, sorrow and shame that students in our care were hurt” and said it was taking responsibility for trying to heal their wounds. Victims have reported an array of problems brought on by the abuse, including depression, difficulty with intimacy and relationships and attempted suicide.

The episodes at St. George’s, in Middletown, are part of a pattern of sexual abuse at elite schools, many of them in New York and New England, that took place decades ago but have come to light or been acknowledged only in recent years. They include the Horace Mann School in the Bronx, Yeshiva University High School for Boys in Manhattan, Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, the Hackley School in Tarrytown, N.Y., and Deerfield Academy in western Massachusetts.

Most of the schools have issued apologies and some have negotiated settlements with the accusers.

In the case of St. George’s, a coed boarding and day school for grades 9 to 12, officials said in the report that after a nearly yearlong investigation, they had received 26 “credible first-hand accounts (as well as other corroborating evidence) strongly suggesting that three former employees of the school engaged in sexual misconduct with regard to multiple students.” In addition to those three, the report said that three other former employees had one victim each and that some students had engaged in sexual misconduct, including, in one case, the rape of a freshman.

The school so far has named one perpetrator, Al Gibbs, the former athletic trainer, who was fired in 1980 and died in 1996. It did not name the other employees, whom the school also failed to report to the authorities at the time. Having learned of their actions during the current investigation, the school has referred them to the Rhode Island State Police, which is carrying out its own investigation.

The report said the school would pay for therapy for victims, which could begin immediately. The school has established a victims’ support fund to provide reimbursement for past treatment. It has also set up telephone numbers for victims and said it was forming a victims’ support advisory group. It also plans to conduct education and training programs for all employees and students. In addition, the board of the school is considering whether to rename a dormitory that had been named in honor of Tony Zane, who had been the head of school during the time of the abuse.

Anne Scott, a 1980 graduate who has said that Mr. Gibbs molested and raped her, said Thursday that she was disappointed in the school’s investigation because it was not independent. She noted that the chief investigator, Will Hannum, was a partner in a firm in which another partner represents and advises the school.

“If he had been truly independent, he would have looked deeper and harder at the roles that the leadership has played in this,” Ms. Scott said. “He would have looked more actively at the scope of the perpetrators, which goes beyond three. And he would have drawn lessons learned. There’s nothing about the enormity of that and the depth of change that will be required.”

She is among former alumni who began circulating an online petitioncalling for more action and a new, truly independent investigation. It contains nearly 500 signatures and numerous comments about sexual assaults at the school.

Eric MacLeish, a lawyer who is representing victims at St. George’s, said he planned to present a detailed response to the school’s report early next month. He said the school’s report omitted important information, like whether, after officials fired the employees, they told their subsequent employers of their sexual misconduct at St. George’s.

The report sought to address the question of Mr. Hannum’s independence, saying he was an experienced investigator who had led dozens of such inquires for other private schools. It also said that he had not provided any legal advice to St. George’s and that he had listened to victims with compassion and professionalism.

In a statement Thursday, Eric Peterson, the current head of school, said: “Going forward we hope to demonstrate our commitment to victims, and others, and earn their confidence and support through our actions.”

posted at: 2015-12-25 16:57:00, last updated: 2015-12-25 16:59:51

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