Is there no end to it?
Fifteen years after the clergy abuse scandal broke open, we are still confronted with shocking revelations of abuse in places that are supposed to nurture and protect our children.
On Thursday, Choate Rosemary Hall released a report on abuse at the elite Connecticut boarding school. It details a shameful history of predatory misconduct by a dozen former teachers between 1963 and 2010. It lays bare all of the ways in which abusers were enabled by the school, avoiding real accountability.
The Choate report goes into detail on the claims of two dozen victims. Unless you believe every abuser got caught on his first offense, many more surely suffered at their hands. It is such sickening reading, you have to wonder how parents could ever again entrust their children to this school — or any boarding school.
“Do these schools have the moral authority to continue to exist?” asks Roderick MacLeish, who has represented clergy and prep school sex abuse victims for decades.
Faced with allegations that teachers had kissed and groped students, and used their powerful positions to coerce teenagers into sex, the school chose to deal with the incidents quietly, or not at all.
In 1982, the parents of one student confronted the school about the fact that their daughter had contracted herpes from sex with an English teacher. The teacher was allowed to finish the school year, and went on to work at another prep school in Colorado. Another teacher remained at the school for 10 more years after a student said he had tried to kiss her in 2000. Recently, another student came forward to say this same teacher had coerced her into sex in the mid-1990s by threatening to give her bad grades and withhold college recommendations. A Spanish teacher was fired after allegedly groping a 15-year-old and sexually assaulting a 17-year-old, but the crime was not reported to the police. He was the principal of a high school in Litchfield until this month. Choate’s repeated failure to act decisively and openly, and to follow mandatory reporting laws put other students at risk, both at the prep school and in the unlucky places where abusers landed after they left.
How did this happen? The same way it always has. Victims think they’re the only ones, or that nobody will believe them. They’re afraid to come forward. Their abusers are powerful and often popular. (In 1993, one victim said, he was shouted down at a Class of 1963 reunion when he described his abuse at the hands of John Joseph, a storied classics teacher for whom a building and scholarship had been named.) The institutions abusers work for want to avoid conflict, and bad publicity. They enlist students and faculty in attempts to keep abuse secret.
Amazingly, the private schools seem to have learned little from the horrific abuses of children by Catholic clergy — who likewise traded on their positions of power, counted on their victims’ shamed silence, and were protected by the church hierarchy. Only now have the many prep schools’ victims emerged, after more relentless advocacy by their attorneys, and another Globe Spotlight investigation.
“It’s the same story over and over again,” MacLeish says. “There is no decrease in the number of predators out there. Unless we come out of this really reflecting on what more we can do, and make it a permanent part of our culture, it will happen again.”
What more we can do: Zero tolerance for teachers and others who cross lines, immediate notification of authorities, protection for victims who come forward, consequences for leaders who fail to protect kids in their care.
The Choate report, depressing as it is, is the way forward. To its credit, the prep school has finally embraced its responsibility here. Rather than issuing some vague and euphemistic report, Choate has laid it all out in nauseating detail, finally risking the reputation for which so many victims were sacrificed over the decades.
Only daylight can protect others.Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.