The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Investigation Team has published a report unearthing a disturbingly large number of sexual abuse cases from private schools throughout New England. Since 1991, over 200 students attending roughly 67 different schools have come forward with accusations of sexual abuse or harassment perpetrated by teachers, administrators, and staff.
According to the New York Times, these “allegations, going back decades, include claims of rape, fondling, molestation, and oral sex by trusted adults in positions of authority, including, in one case, an admissions officer.” Although The Globe found that “at least 90 lawsuits or other legal claims have been filed on behalf of the alleged victims,” in approximately 11 cases, the accused simply “went on to work at other schools.” However, about 37 private school employees have been fired for their conduct and “nearly two dozen eventually pleaded guilty or were convicted on criminal charges of abusing children or related crimes.”
Peter Upham, executive director of the Association of Boarding Schools, acknowledges to the Times that the vastness of this problem is unsettling. “The Globe’s tally is sobering,” he writes. Yet he continues: “I don’t think it’s the quantification of the problem that moves most administrators. It’s the heartbreaking stories.”
Historically, elite private schools like Phillips Exeter Academy and St. George’s School have not addressed the sexual assault or harassment cases brought forward. Or, if a student does take legal action, the school might “intimidate” them into “dropping the suit.” But thanks to The Globe’s investigation, there will be increased pressure to take seriously students’ allegations when they involve a figure of authority. From The Times:
“This year at least eight New England private schools have started or disclosed investigations into sexual misconduct. At least five of those inquiries—at St. George’s School in Rhode Island, the Taft School in Connecticut, Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and Thayer Academy and Concord Academy in Massachusetts—have led to staff members being placed on administrative leave or fired, [The Globe] said.”
St. George’s School emerges as one institution that, over the years, has seen—and purportedly concealed—a large swath of sexual abuse cases. Over 40 alumni have “reported multiple cases of molestation and rape.” Most cases occurred in the 1970s and 80s, although one is as recent as 2004. Eric F. Peterson, head of school, may be forced to resign “for either covering up allegations of sexual misconduct or failing to take them seriously.” However, St. George’s board of trustees stands behind Peterson, so it remains to be seen whether he will face repercussions.
Meanwhile, Upham regards these investigations as a sign of significant progress. “Over the last 10 or 15 years, there’s been a growing openness to acknowledge and investigate past abuse in all kinds of youth-serving institutions,” he writes. “That’s a healthy development, even if it means that today’s school leaders must grapple with abuse cases—and organizational missteps—from the past, when norms and expectations across society were different.”
Image via AP.