'Did this community lose a generation of boys?' Victims unable to report abuse, suffered alone for decades

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Editor's note: This story contains strong language that may not be suitable for some readers.

ADAMS — "Frank" said he was molested about a dozen times over the two months that he was working for Clement St. Hilaire in 1976.


Frank said he wanted to report the abuse he endured while a student at Adams Memorial Junior High School, but living in a small town where most folks knew each other made that especially difficult.

"I wanted to go talk to my parents, but it just never seemed right. In fact, one day I went to my dad's [business] and I walk in and I'm going to talk to dad. Who's standing there? Clem St. Hilaire, talking to my dad, my dad's buddy," he said.

For Frank, who spoke with The Eagle on the condition his real name not be used, and William Howcroft, the abuse by a school employee they thought could be trusted instilled in them feelings of shame intense enough to keep that secret for decades.

They kept it from their families, the school and from each other.

In the intervening years, both men exhibited signs of trauma, which affected them in different ways, according to them.

In the late 1990s, after doing his best to distance himself mentally from the assaults for years, Howcroft said he began to unravel.

He had an affair with a woman he'd met online, while he was married to his pregnant wife, he said.

"My marriage was actually very happy, that's the sad thing. I was working on my Ph.D. that all came to a crashing halt," Howcroft said.

An unsuccessful suicide attempt around 2000 and a stay in a mental health facility eventually led him to counseling around 2001 and 2002.

He said he started engaging in self-harm, including beating his head against brick walls until he knocked himself unconscious.

"My head was completely black and blue and swollen," he said. "I had to wear sunglasses to work during the day."

"That's when the counseling got really intense," he said.

Frank said it was difficult, back when he was a student at Adams Memorial Junior High School, to keep going to school every day after the abuse and his school records reflected that.

Paperwork from his teachers said he was "extremely distracted," and would have a hard time paying attention, instead sitting at his desk and relentlessly chewing his fingernails and his grades dropped from As to Cs and Ds the following year.

"It was a difficult time. I was skipping school, pretending to be sick," he said. "I skipped classes, I got numerous deficiency notices."

"I think it was the shame, the self-guilt of I let this happen to me, this is my fault. I let this happen to me. I did this. The shame was so great I couldn't even say it, I couldn't speak it. I just couldn't. I just buried it."

Fear of burdening his family with the news and feeling they couldn't afford legal action also held him back from disclosing the abuse.

"I never talked to my dad and I wanted to talk to my mom, but I knew it would kill her. I knew she would kill him. And my mom and dad are hard-working blue collar folks. They couldn't afford to get my teeth cleaned. It was a pretty blue-collar existence," Frank said.

"So, I stopped working for Clem and I just tried to put this behind me."

When the opportunity to leave Adams for his new home came along in 1983 via a friend who was heading that way, Frank told his family he was moving away. He quit his job and left.

"That was the biggest relief ever. That was the biggest life-changing event for me. I got to look in the rear-view mirror as we left Adams, Massachusetts, and I literally was thinking, `F--- this place, I'm never coming back here ever again.'"

The trauma, however, has never left him, he said.

"It's like a gunshot wound. Do you heal? I guess you heal, but the trauma of that wound, you feel that forever. It just doesn't go away."

"I want the public to know. I want other victims to know, when [Howcroft] reached out to me and told me that this happened, I was on the sidewalk talking on the phone, I burst into tears, because I'd never spoken [about the abuse] my entire adult life to anybody until six years ago."

"If this happened today, that type of behavior would have been noticed on his part. Back then, you know what? I know the staff knew what was going on, they just turned the other way. And I think that's shameful, it's affected people's entire lives," Frank said.

"How many victims are there and did they all leave [the area]?" he said. "Did this community lose a generation of boys? I don't know."

Reach staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-624 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter.


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