They Trusted You

Monday, April 24th, 2017

In story after story, the headlines tell us that abuse knows no typical child and has no boundaries.

This month, Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn., and the Emma Willard School, Troy, N.Y., both released reports that detail decades of alleged sexual abuse of students.

Choate Rosemary Hall hails President John F. Kennedy, actor Michael Douglas, and first daughter Ivanka Trump as graduates. Tuition can be nearly $50,000 per year for boarding students.

Between 1963 and 2010, at least a dozen former faculty members at Choate school allegedly abused students. The abuse either went unreported or was handled quietly. The 48-page report was completed by an outside investigator hired by the school’s board of trustees.

In what ways did the school fail to protect its students? According to the report:

  • Former students described Choate faculty and staff engaging in acts with students that included intimate kissing, intimate touching, and sexual intercourse. Some graduates reported contact that they recognized as abusive at the time, including forced or coerced intercourse, as well as other incidents of unwanted contact that led students to feel betrayed by faculty or staff they had trusted and admired.
  • Many of the Choate graduates expressed the view that the culture made it difficult to report and that, at the time, they could not identify an administrator whom they believed would be sympathetic to a report.
  • In nearly all the incidents described in the report, when a faculty or staff member who was still employed by Choate was found to have violated school policy, that individual was required to leave, usually by way of resignation. However, often the school was slow to respond and allowed the faculty member to remain at the school. On at least one occasion, a faculty member remained until his voluntary retirement, some 10 years after a student reported an incident of sexual misconduct.
  • When reports of sexual misconduct were substantiated by the school administration, sexual misconduct matters were handled internally and quietly. Even when a teacher was terminated or resigned in the middle of the school year because he or she had engaged in sexual misconduct with a student, the faculty was told little or nothing about the teacher’s departure. When told, they were cautioned to say nothing about the situation if asked.
  • Since 1965, Connecticut has had a statute designed “to require the reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect” to the Connecticut Department of Children and Families by certain individuals who care for or interact with children (mandated reporters). Teachers have been mandated reporters since 1967. Choate did not make any reports to DCF regarding adult sexual misconduct prior to 2010.

As Child Abuse Prevention Month comes to a close, it is time to bolster your programs with screening AND training. Your commitment to protect children and youth should include:

  • Provide training
  • Provide safe spaces to report
  • Provide help after an incident

In these ways, you can solidify that commitment—both to the children and youth in your programs, as well as your staff and volunteers.