Monday, May 9, 2016

Article Details Widespread Claims of Sex Abuse at Private Schools

Since 1991, more than 200 students from at least 67 private schools across New England have accused teachers, administrators or other staff members of sexually abusing or harassing them, according to a report on Sunday by The Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigation team.

These and other 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.

At least 90 lawsuits or other legal claims have been filed on behalf of the people who have made the accusations, and at least 37 school employees have been fired or forced to resign because of the allegations, the newspaper said. In addition, nearly two dozen employees eventually pleaded guilty or were convicted on criminal charges of abusing children or related crimes.

The Globe’s tally of abuse claims at New England’s private schools, many of them among the nation’s wealthiest and most prestigious institutions, appears to be one of the first efforts to quantify the extent of the problem. There is no central database of allegations against private school employees. A 2004 analysis of the scant research on sex abuse at the nation’s public schools estimated that 9.6 percent of students between kindergarten and 12th grade had experienced some form of sexual misconduct by an educator, ranging from offensive comments to rape; there is no comparable research on private schools.

The Globe said that even its report most likely underestimated the incidence of sexual abuse at these schools; because they are private, they are exempt from public records requests. The Globe sent surveys to 224 private schools about their experience with sexual misconduct allegations, but just 23 — about 10 percent — responded. The article is based on an examination of court cases and interviews with alumni, relatives, school officials and lawyers.

Still, The Globe found 11 cases in which private school employees who were accused of sexual misconduct went on to work at other schools — “an echo of the Catholic Church scandal, in which abusive priests were often moved to other parishes,” the newspaper said.

Allegations of sexual abuse have been emerging in recent years as survivors have slowly gained the confidence to tell their stories publicly after decades of grief, dysfunction and difficulties with intimacy. Many came forward after the 2011 scandal at Penn State, which has paid $92 million in settlement costs related to Jerry Sandusky, an assistant football coach who was convicted of abusing 10 boys over 15 years.

The private schools have generally been loath to acknowledge problems when their students or alumni have reported them, at least in the past. But The Globe’s report could add urgency for administrators to be more responsive and transparent in these cases as they seek to protect their students, assuage parents and satisfy alumni and donors.

“The Globe’s tally is sobering,” Peter Upham, the executive director of the Association of Boarding Schools, wrote in an email. But he added, “I don’t think it’s the quantification of the problem that moves most administrators: It’s the heartbreaking stories.” [...]

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