Last month, St. George's School, a prestigious Rhode Island prep school for grades 9 to 12, disclosed that a year-long internal investigation had uncovered "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."
The school "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," by offering to pay for therapy and establishing "a victims' support fund to provide reimbursement for past treatment."
Some of the victims quite reasonably did not feel that an internal investigation, done by the very institution that had concealed and abetted the abuse, was sufficient.
Anne Scott, a 1980 graduate who has said that [Al Gibbs, the former athletic trainer, who was fired in 1980 and died in 1996] 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.Naturally, further reports have confirmed that the abuse did not end in the 1980s. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that the scope of the investigation had "widened substantially on Tuesday as lawyers reported that at least 40 former students had made credible reports of sexual abuse, and in some cases rape, by seven former staff members and four students over three decades. ...Lawyers for the victims said that the abuse took place from 1974 through 2004."
"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 petition calling for more action and a new, truly independent investigation. It contains nearly 500 signatures and numerous comments about sexual assaults at the school.
At least seven former staff members have been named. Four of them are still alive and "in at least two cases appear to be working in settings with young people. None have been charged criminally."
Which is because the school dealt with reports of abuse the way that we have seen institutions deal with reports of abuse over and over over: They prioritize their reputation, refuse to make criminal reports, and, if they take any action at all against the perpetrators, it's merely to terminate their employment in such a way that they can be hired elsewhere and continue victimizing children.
The familiar culture of silencing was enforced by the school, who refused to meaningfully address, or even acknowledge, students' reports of being abused by staff, thus abetting continued abuse. What resulted is one of the most vast private school sexual abuse cases on record. And, as more victims come forward, it may eventually be the largest. A grim record.
My friend and colleague Mustang Bobby of Bark Bark Woof Woof emailed me, which I am sharing with his permission: "I was a student at St. George's for one year (1967-1968) as a freshman. I knew first-hand about physical abuse by senior prefects (dorm monitors) on freshmen, and I heard much later about sexual abuse by one senior on a freshman; he told me about it over lunch in 1985. I left after that one year and returned to my old school in Toledo. My brother was a student there from 1971 to 1974 and knew many of the victims and perpetrators firsthand. I have been following the stories in the media with a mix of anger, sadness, and dread. Anger that the school has desperately tried to sweep it under the rug; deep sadness for the victims; and dread that this is only the beginning."
I have previously written about the costs of disbelieving survivors—the cost to individual survivors, the secondary trauma disbelief can cause, the disincentive communicated to other survivors who fear they will be disbelieved, the empowerment of predators, more and more victims.
The survivors of abuse at St. George's were not necessarily disbelieved, but simply ignored. They weren't cared about enough by the institution tasked with caring for them to address their abuse and prevent their fellow students from being victimized.
St. George's cared more about its reputation than it did its students. And then they used that reputation to bring more students (and their parents' money) into its space, with no regard for their safety.
What a breathtaking betrayal.
I take up space in solidarity with the survivors of sexual abuse at St. George's. I believe them, and I will not ignore them.