Sexual Assault In New England's Private Boarding Schools

Jul 19, 2017

New Hampshire's Attorney General Gordon MacDonald recently announced a criminal investigation into sexual assault allegations at St. Paul's School, in Concord. We discussed recent local stories involving private schools such as St. Paul's, as well as the broader culture in elite boarding schools that may contribute to this issue.  And we talked with a N.H. lawmaker who says she'll be working on changing laws to better protect victims of sexual violence.  


GUESTS:

  • Debra Altschiller - Democratic Representative from Stratham and community liaison for HAVEN, southern NH's domestic and sexual violence crisis response center.  

CONVERSATION HIGHLIGHTS

Sexual assault is prevalent across all demographics and occurs in every state within the nation. However, New Hampshire has recently been ranked highest in the nation for sexual assaults.

Debra Altschiller: What we know in the state of New Hampshire is that one in three women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime and one in 20 men will experience sexual assault in their lifetime. … Just this past May, the CDC released a report saying that New Hampshire is the leader in sexual assaults in the nation, and that’s not a place where we want to be a leader.

At the start of the investigation by The Boston Globe, the Spotlight team believed that there were 67 or maybe 70 schools that had been touched by sexual assault scandals. Now, a year later, the number has risen to more than 100 schools involving 300 students over the past 25 years at private schools in New England. Saltzman and Dandrea attribute the higher number to a delay in people coming forward.

Jonathan Saltzman: I spoke to some expert psychologists and it is not uncommon, in fact it’s almost two of four [victims], who carry [the history of sexual abuse] around with them for decades. So, I just think things are kind of in the pipeline that we don’t even know about.

Alyssa Dandrea: A lot of [students from the 60s and 70s] expressed concern at the time about what the response would be in the school community. They felt like coming forward wasn’t an option for them [and] they felt the school community would turn things back on them - there would be a lot of victim blaming, potentially they would have to leave the school and wouldn’t be able to pursue their own dreams. They were afraid to report on campus and they were also afraid or didn’t have the understanding that going to law enforcement was available to them.

Sexual assault victims are often nervous about coming forward, fearing they will be ostracized by the campus community.

Dandrea: [Victims] feel that they don’t have a safe space to be able to come forward and they’re just afraid of what potentially could happen in terms of outing who they are. They don’t feel that they’ll be able to maintain that anonymity in the community. 

Brian, a listener from Concord, shared his personal story and asked about the status of the statute of limitations.

I am a clergy abuse survivor from New Hampshire and I was lucky enough to be able and ready to go file a criminal complaint before I was 40. But, not many people are in our state. Is there any indication that the statute of limitations will be extended or even eliminated? 

Representative Altschiller said she plans to work on the statute of limitations so that victims will not face unfair obstacles in pursuing their abusers.  

Altschiller: We will be bringing forward legislation that will lift the statute of limitations so that survivors are able to receive justice. There should not be an expiration date on justice, because we know that it is really hard for survivors to come forward on a judicial timeline. The long term impacts that survivors face – depression, anxiety, chronic health and mental illness, etc., - these are things that we need to put supports in place for survivors. We need to let [victims] know that when their healing is at a place where they are ready to come forward and seek justice [that] justice is available to them. 

From Rep. Altschiller, some phone numbers for people needing help or wishing to report a possible crime:

For people who have experienced sexual assault, you can call the state hotline and connect with an advocate: 800-277-5570.

If you suspect abuse or sexual assault of a child, you can make an anonymous call to: 603-271-6562.