Lawyer: More Sexual Abuse Victims Likely to Come Forward

May 23, 2017

An investigation into sexual misconduct at St. Paul’s School in Concord has found substantiated claims of abuse involving 13 former faculty and staff. NHPR’s Peter Biello spoke with Cambridge attorney Eric MacLeish, who has experience litigating against institutions accused of sexually abusing children, and has been in touch with three alleged victims of sexual misconduct by St. Paul’s faculty and staff.

What do you make of the report issued by St. Paul’s School?

The good news is that it’s part of an emerging trend from some prep schools to release detailed reports giving names of former faculty and staff who abuse children. Now, that usually only happens when there’s some corroboration, but it’s a very welcome change. You saw that in the St. George’s report, the Choate report, at Emma Willard, and now at St. Paul’s. Some of the other private schools in New England have just produced two-page summaries of the findings of investigations.

You’ve been in touch with three people who are alleging they were victims of sexual abuse at St. Paul’s. Are you able to tell us anything about their experience?

Yeah. They’re from the 1970s, and I think something that may develop is that there will be reports of other faculty members at St. Paul’s in the weeks ahead who were involved in sexual misconduct.

What you see in many cases, is these reports come out and that spurs other victims to come forward. So I think you’ll see some other names in the weeks ahead.

One of the people I represent is actually going to speak to the director in the next couple of weeks. He would prefer to have it go through St. Paul’s before it comes out in the news media, but there will be some other names.

Are these three people among those who contributed to the report?

Yeah, one did and two didn’t. Again, that’s not unusual. It’s hard, when you’re a victim of abuse, when you’re being asked  to give information to an investigator—many times victims of abuse want nothing to do with the school that they went to where they were abused, so they’re very reluctant to talk to anybody who might be affiliated with the school.

That was certainly the case here, and it’s the case at many other schools.

Then of course there are people who aren’t going to talk to anybody under any circumstances. There may be people who are deceased. So the full story about what went on at St. Paul’s, the number of people involved, and the number of faculty involved, is probably a small fraction [of those reported].

How does the nature of the report released by St. Paul’s compare to the actions taken by other schools in response to similar allegations?

I’m not sure that St. Paul’s has taken much action yet, but the report is similar to St. George’s  and similar to Choate. It’s dissimilar to Milton Academy, which just had a two-page summary. Some of these schools really don’t want the details released. And I think that’s very, very short-sighted. What that says to victims is you’re not entitled to the truth—people want answers. They want the truth to be told.

So I think St. Paul’s did the right thing by joining those other schools in releasing a lot of details. They didn’t have to do it that way. And again, it’s not clear what Exeter is going to be doing. Andover did not release a copy of their independent investigation.

So it’s a positive step forward, but we need to be cautious about the scope of everything that went on at these schools, and the failure to take prompt action to rectify the situations. This was a real horror story.

If there’s one thing I would like listeners to be aware of, it’s the fact that this caused life-altering damage for the people I represent. This is something that, even if it happens just once, can totally transform a child’s attitude about how he looks at the world, about whether adults can be trusted, and whether they’re safe.

There are really unfortunate, tragic consequences from this. That can range from substance abuse to the inability to be intimate with others, to have close relationships, people who are unable to deal with individuals in positions of authority like their boss at work. It’s absolutely tragic what happens when children are abused.

What changes might these alleged victims want to see in the future?

Everybody wants for this to never happen again. I think it’s unlikely, in the foreseeable future, for any of these schools to fail to comply with the New Hampshire child abuse reporting laws. I think it’s inconceivable that anyone would be hired who had a history of child abuse, and also that anybody would be let go who has abused a child, and be given a positive letter of reference that would allow him to re-offend.

So I think those are all good things, but it’s also the climate that exists at some of these schools. People feel that very poor judgment was shown.

Some of my clients fear peer-on-peer violence, which is something that’s been happening. I think that’s a shift from the old days.

So there are a variety of objectives, but I think making sure that the truth is told and survivors are supported—one of the things St. Paul’s can do is offer free mental health care to individuals who lack health insurance and can’t afford to see a therapist. I’m hopeful St. Paul’s will do that.