When I read that Connecticut boarding school Hotchkiss investigated multitudinous, decades-spanning reports of sexual assault, my first thought was finally. I attended the school from 2002-2006, and while I was spared sexual abuse, the place fostered an oppressive boys’ club culture where hazing and misogyny were quietly accepted as heritage.
Hotchkiss’s report, released Friday, partially attributes its negligence to the school’s blind-eye policy of “in loco parentis,” Latin for “in place of a parent”: a phrase which it admittedly used as a cover to do nihil. The report, combined with a rash of similar cases throughout the prestigious New England prep school system, suggests that maybe we should ditch the very concept of boarding schools—to dispense altogether with the practice of entrusting random adults with 24/7 access to your child’s bedroom under a creepy surrogate parent guise.
Hotchkiss finally released this internal investigation at a point when publicity was imminent. A lawsuit was filed in 2015; the Boston Globe started making “inquiries” in 2016, notes the report, around the time its Spotlight team ran a feature on sexual assault in prep schools. Last year, the class of 1977 formed a sexual assault task force, called Hotchkiss Alumni for Reconciliation and Healing, after its 40th reunion. The report, based on an inquiry conducted by law firm Locke Lord, draws from earlier internal investigations into several teachers as recently as 2016 which were never made public. The allegations here concern 19 students, as well as unnumbered “others” whose claims Locke Lord says it could not sufficiently corroborate.
Classics teacher Leif Thorne-Thomsen’s case, as detailed in the investigation, demonstrates that an alleged sexual predator was reportedly allowed to violate students with the school’s full knowledge for decades. Throughout his Hotchkiss career, which spanned from 1964 to 1992, Thorne-Thomsen “abused girls who were vulnerable, a number of whom had experienced other sexual abuse earlier in life, and virtually all of whom felt they were outsiders of sorts,” according to the report. (Thorne-Thomsen married two of his former students.) Their inquiry into his case focuses on seven students as young as 14 whom he is alleged to have molested at motels, fondled at his home and in his car, and groomed for years-long serial sexual relationships. Thorne-Thomsen declined requests for comment to the law firm conducting the report. Jezebel has reached out to Thorne-Thomsen and will update this post if we hear back.
Over a period of two decades, reads the report, Thorne-Thomsen was approached or reported by a dean, five faculty members, a health services member, a father, and a mother. After a student’s parents found their daughter in a motel with him in 1979, Thorne-Thomsen was placed on a few months’ leave (“paid,” according to the New York Times). He returned with a letter of praise from the head of school who called his intentions “honorable” and stated that Thorne-Thomsen’s “honesty and naiveté have perhaps blinded [him] to the importance of appearances.” In 1992, Hotchkiss fired Thorne-Thomsen after an investigation. The following year, Thorne filed a $750,000 personal injury suit against Hotchkiss; the parties settled in 1997.
Predators operated in every area of school life, according to the report. Just to name a few accusations against faculty members who have since died: English teacher Christopher Carlisle (1963-1982), who allegedly had intercourse with a 17-year-old student weekly in his house. Music teacher Alberty Sly (1950-1970) allegedly “propositioned” a student and is quoted as telling the then-head of school, “They said I raped him, whatever, I guess I raped him.” Dr. Peter Gott (1972-2005) allegedly performed “gynecological exams” with his fingers, fondled students, and made them remove their clothes when unnecessary.
Among the former faculty members who were accused in the report and are still living, all declined Locke Lord’s request for interviews.
Some administration and faculty attempted to intervene, says the report; they spoke with the accused, reported them, and testified to Locke Lord and other investigators throughout the years. Others still made light of the alleged abuse. “Several people reported an old ‘joke’ that if you went to Dr. Gott for any reason, he would ask you to remove your shirt,” the report says.
Various other “unsubstantiated” stories do not name specific faculty members but describe accounts of faculty and staff entering students’ dorm rooms, sending them porn, touching genitals, hanging out in the girls’ locker room while they were showering, asking for photos, and even posting sexual photos on students’ social media pages.
Craig Bradley, the current head of the school, and Jean Weinberg Rose, the president of the board of trustees, put out an apology along with the report:
To the survivors of abuse, we apologize from the bottom of our hearts. The School did not live up to its commitment to protect you. We apologize with humility — understanding that words cannot measure our sadness and regret or erase the harm that you endured.
As an alumna of Hotchkiss, I recognize this portrait of an institution of adults who would ritually sweep its secrets under the rug and ignore epidemic bullying. In my time there, girls were shamed for carrying trays in the dining hall because it signaled that we ate too much, a tradition supposedly held over from when the school went co-ed in 1974. “Medical leave” was code for students sent home to recover from mental breakdowns. Eating disorders were so common in one dorm that girls joked about the shower drains backing up with vomit.
For Martin Luther King Day, a group of white students started a “mock” white supremacy group. Boys jokingly described sexually abusing younger ones in a Jackass-inspired stunt, while gay rumors were akin to social leprosy. Two “odd quad” (a label for queer, POC, or artistic) students were said to have attempted to walk the 13 miles to the train station in hopes of escape and were later caricatured in the school paper. My headmaster’s tenure ended soon after an all-school assembly at which I recall him reading aloud a letter from a student’s father, alluding to male students who had abused her and left her irreparably traumatized. (I have reached out to this individual, the dean, and the former headmaster, and will update this post if I hear back.)
Jezebel has reached out to the dean and head of school for comment. As of publication time, they have not responded.