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Prep school Choate owns up to decades of abuse allegations

April 14, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
Decades of sexual abuse have been uncovered at one of the nation's elite prep schools. A new investigation details the experiences of 24 adult alumni of Choate Rosemary Hall who, between 1963 and 2010, allegedly suffered offenses such as kissing, groping and rape. Hari Sreenivasan discusses the report with Paul Mones, a sexual abuse attorney, and Jonathan Saltzman of The Boston Globe.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now an investigation that uncovered decades of sexual abuse at one of the nation’s elite private preparatory schools, and the extent to which the school hushed it up.

Hari Sreenivasan has that story from our New York studios.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The report released last night focused on a dozen former teachers at the prestigious boarding school in Connecticut, Choate Rosemary Hall.

It recounts the experiences of 24 adult alumni who were allegedly abused between 1963 and 2010. Investigators said the offenses ranged from kissing to groping to rape.

Choate hired a law firm with no previous ties to the school to lead the investigation.

Jonathan Saltzman was part of The Boston Globe Spotlight team that helped break the story. And Paul Mones is an attorney who has represented sexual abuse survivors at private schools and other institutions. He is not involved in any of the Choate cases.

Jonathan, I want to start with you.

You and your team launched this series a while back about this happening at elite prep schools in the Northeast. What did this report reveal to you?

JONATHAN SALTZMAN, The Boston Globe: Well, we had reported on about 110 private schools in New England that had faced allegations of sexual abuse over the past 25 years.

And we mentioned Choate. But this report was initiated in response to that story, and it laid out in extremely graphic detail the accounts of about 24 survivors of abuse.

And as you said in your introduction, some of these are extraordinarily graphic descriptions of abuse, rape. And, to me, the most startling thing about the report was that, first, the school named 12 teachers that they said had abused kids. That’s an extraordinary number, and we haven’t seen that before in other schools.

And then what they also did was they essentially owned up to the fact that they had never reported these cases of abuse to child welfare authorities in Connecticut, even though it had been required.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There is an incident that was mentioned in the report of what would likely qualify of at least attempted rape that happened in a swimming pool on a field trip in Costa Rica.

But the headmaster to the board of trustees essentially labeled it — pointed to heavy drinking and inappropriate behavior. And then we find out that the teacher in question was still employed as a principal at a different school until last week.

JONATHAN SALTZMAN: That’s right.

Choate got in touch with that public school in Litchfield, Connecticut, very recently. And I spoke to a lawyer for that school district in Litchfield last night. And they said that they had — that when this teacher applied, he used a slight variation of his name, and that he never mentioned that he’d worked at Choate.

And that’s a running theme that we found in a number of our stories, this whole passing the trash syndrome, which is that schools let teachers go quietly, they hush it up, and the teachers resurface somewhere else.

PAUL MONES, Sexual Abuse Attorney: What I found particularly, if I could just comment quickly on it, particularly interesting is that the school only acted, only acted after the Boston Globe story. They would have been comfortable sitting on their hands if The Boston Globe didn’t call.

This is typical of the behavior of large institutions wherein sexual abuse happens among their ranks. And so they follow the same pattern as the Catholic Church.

There is one interesting part of the report, in fact, where, in the summer of 2012 — 2002 — I’m sorry — it was reported that they received reports a teacher had molested a student. They called that teacher back to the school and basically let this teacher quietly leave, in fact, even say — and I’m sure you remember this — where the teacher would then get a recommendation to go work at a boys school.

You have to remember that the Boston Globe stories on the Catholic Church, where this identical behavior was happening, was — started the criminal — the review of the criminal cases in January or February of 2002.

And so it’s not like this happened many years ago. Sometimes, we say, oh, in the Boy Scout cases I have had or the church cases, oh, it was the ’60s or the ’70s. These are, like, super smart people in an elite institution, and you only have to — you have to believe they never read The New York Times or The Boston Globe or listened to the TV or had any knowledge whatsoever of sexual abuse to act in such an opprobrious way to the welfare of the children even as late as 2002.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Paul, you have taken on — your clients have taken on a lot of different types of institutions. And you have described child abuse as almost a perfect crime. Explain.

PAUL MONES: Right.

It’s a perfect crime because the victims remain silent. The perpetrators — we underestimate the perpetrators, because these are very smart people. In the cases of private schools, we know that private schools survive or they are best known for congeniality, conviviality, informal relationships, calling the teachers by their first name, coming over to the teacher’s house for studying, maybe for a glass of wine, you know, when the kid is 16 — 15 or 16 years old.

And so it’s this breeding ground. But these people are very — perpetrators are very smart, and they know how to take advantage of a place that doesn’t have many boundaries.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Jon Saltzman, we asked Choate if they would appear, and they said they would not.

But they did send us a statement. It says: “We profoundly apologize. The conduct of these adults violated the foundation of our community, the sacred trust between students and the adults charged with their care. We honor and thank the survivors of sexual misconduct who came forward.”

That is part of their statement.

Considering that this report only goes until 2010, what’s happening now at the school? And how are they trying to prevent this from happening again in the future?

JONATHAN SALTZMAN: Well, it’s a good question.

The school says that they are — they have heightened awareness about this, that in one of the cases they reported — there was one case that they reported to child welfare authorities. And this was around in 2010.

They discuss greater training, things like that. And I should point out that some other attorneys that I spoke to who said — agree with Paul that this is a litany of horribles, did give the school credit for being as frank as they were in this report.

I spoke also to one of the alumni, and — who is the only one identified as being abused, because she came forward to us, and she gave them credit for being as frank as they were.

And I will give you an example of how frank they are. This report — I have never seen this in another report from a school — has a label on the top of it saying that it contains graphic material and is not suitable reading for children.

That’s a pretty telling thing to put on a report.

PAUL MONES: Right.

And I read that and I thought, really? You know, it was good enough to sweep under the rug. And I understand that, but I thought — I was turned of by that. I thought that, yes, it was that graphic, but now they’re saying you have to have — you know, keep it away from unwanted eyes.

I viewed this as being a — the only reason, as I said — I will have to reiterate this — if The Globe didn’t come knocking, if there wasn’t a rising march of voices of students from private schools yelling for relief, Horace Mann School, St. George’s School around the country, they would have done nothing at all.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, gentlemen, we will see you on TV tonight. Thank you very much.

PAUL MONES: OK. Thanks a lot.

JONATHAN SALTZMAN: Thanks, Hari.

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