Ex-students of St. George's School reach pact on sex abuse accusations
BOSTON >> More than two dozen former students of St. George's School, an elite boarding school in Rhode Island, have reached a financial settlement with the school over accusations of sexual abuse, much of it from decades ago.
In a joint statement released Wednesday, representatives of the former students and the school said they had reached the agreement, but they did not disclose the terms or the amount of money involved. So far, 28 former students have confirmed that they will participate, their lawyers said. Most of the cases took place in the 1970s and '80s.
"St. George's has done something meaningful and important for survivors," Anne Scott, an alumna who was raped at 15 in the 1970s by an athletic trainer at St. George's, said in a statement. Her decision to tell her story publicly to The Boston Globe in December led to Wednesday's announcement.
"It's hard to put into words what it feels like to receive this kind of validation and support, after all these years," Scott said.
Leslie B. Heaney, the head of the St. George's board, said in a statement that while the settlement was a "significant step," it can "never express adequately our regret and sorrow that some in our St. George's family were harmed in the past by the very people who were supposed to nurture and protect them."
The settlement may help bring the curtain down on a tumultuous period for the prestigious boarding school at a time when accusations of sexual abuse, much of it from decades ago, have rocked several of the nation's most elite and moneyed educational institutions. They include the Horace Mann School in the Bronx, the Fessenden School in Newton, Massachusetts, and, most recently, Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
The St. George's settlement appears to be one of the largest in the recent spate of sexual abuse cases. Another of this size was at Horace Mann, where 32 students initially settled. Perhaps the biggest in terms of dollars has been the $92 million in settlement costs related to Jerry Sandusky, an assistant football coach at Penn State who was convicted of abusing 10 boys over 15 years.
The St. George's settlement was reached through the mediation efforts of Paul Finn, a Boston-based lawyer and arbitrator with extensive experience in settling such cases. In 2003, he helped reach a settlement of $85 million for 552 victims in the clergy sexual-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.
Finn is to hear from each of the St. George's victims about their experience and will determine the amount of financial awards for each, based on "the nature and degree of harm suffered," Heaney said in a letter to the school. If the archdiocese case is any guide, the largest individual payments will go to people who were raped or sodomized, with lesser amounts going to those who were molested or groped.
The accusations at St. George's has kept the school's campus, in Middletown, Rhode Island, in considerable turmoil over the past several months. They have led to a flurry of investigations and to the departure, as of next year, of the head of school, Eric F. Peterson, who announced in June that he would not seek to renew his contract, which expires June 30, 2017.
The charges first surfaced publicly in December, when Scott went public with her accusations of being raped and molested by Al Gibbs, an athletic trainer at St. George's. Her story prompted other alumni to come forward and led to an investigation by the school that found that six employees had sexually abused 26 students, mostly in the 1970s and '80s. Most of the employees were fired, but the school did not report the incidents.
At the same time, lawyers for an expanding group of accusers said they had received at least 40 credible reports of sexual abuse, including rape, that took place from 1974 to 2004.
The former students charged that the school's investigation was not independent, and both sides subsequently agreed to a second investigation, to be conducted by Martin F. Murphy, a Boston lawyer. His report is expected this month.
An investigation by Rhode Island state police into some of the accusations, including failure to report abuse, ended in June without any criminal charges being filed. Some of the accusations involved incidents that had taken place before 1979, when failure to report abuse was not defined as a crime. In other cases, the three-year statute of limitations had expired.
Eric MacLeish, a lawyer for the former students, called the settlement negotiations a model of their kind. He said Scott was in the room and had played a central role in reaching a resolution. "Her experience and temperament and wisdom made it so she was essential to the process," he said.
Still, he said, the settlement did not necessarily end the trauma for many of the victims.
"You don't suffer for decades and reverse that in a matter of months," he said. "But the process has been incredibly helpful." He said that victims were helping the school search for a new head and that many were in therapy thanks to a fund set up by the school.
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