|Credit Suzanne Kreiter/Boston Globe|
40 Alumni Assert Sexual Abuse at a Rhode Island Prep School - The scope of the scandal at St. George’s School in Rhode Island expands with reports covering three decades.
BOSTON — The scope of a sexual abuse scandal at St. George’s School in Rhode Island widened substantially on Tuesday as lawyers reported that at least 40 former students had made credible reports of sexual abuse, and in some cases rape, by seven former staff members and four students over three decades.
At the same time, a spokesman for the school, which had made public its own investigation late last month, now characterized that investigation as “preliminary” and said that it would soon name who would be carrying the investigation forward. “The work remains ongoing,” the school said in a statement.
Lawyers for the victims said that the abuse took place from 1974 through 2004. Four of the seven former staff members are still alive, and in at least two cases appear to be working in settings with young people. None have been charged criminally.
“The magnitude and scope of this is already approaching the largest private school sexual abuse case that we’ve seen, which was at Horace Mann, where 62 victims came forward,” said Eric MacLeish, a lawyer who, with Carmen L. Durso, is representing some of the victims. The accusations at the Horace Mann School came to light in 2012.
Capt. Matthew Moynihan of the Rhode Island State Police confirmed an investigation into accusations forwarded by the school and by the lawyers, and said the police were encouraging anyone to come forward who was either a victim or a witness. The school is an Episcopal boarding and day school for boys and girls in grades 9 through 12.
The lawyers and three of the victims said at a news conference here that the school’s report presented a sanitized version of sexual abuse at the school, which they likened to that of the Roman Catholic Church; although some of those accused of the abuse were fired, the school has acknowledged that it did not report suspects to the authorities or alert their subsequent employers.
“Sexual abuse in education is the clergy-abuse crisis of this decade, if not this century, and you’re going to see more and more of it,” Mr. Durso said.
He and Mr. MacLeish predicted that more victims would come forward, but said that just as the clergy abuse scandal unfolded over many years, some victims may take a long time reacting to events that were disturbing and in some cases life-changing.
Mr. Durso said the Massachusetts legislature was considering what is commonly called a “pass the trash” bill. It refers to schools passing on problematic teachers to new schools without reporting problems, including those that might put others in jeopardy. The bill would make it a crime to fail to report a complaint of sexual misconduct in public and private schools.
There is no evidence of continuing sexual misconduct at St. George’s, the lawyers said, but some of the victims are calling for Eric Peterson, the head of school, to resign. They say he did not take seriously the complaints from some alumni who came forward.
One of the victims, Harry Groome, 52, a 1982 graduate who said he was raped by another student in front of other students, said at the news conference that he wanted Mr. Peterson to resign because he had been unresponsive to complaints.
“Eric Peterson has been covering this up since 2004, my issue as well as others,” Mr. Groome said.
In a statement, the school indicated that Mr. Peterson would not resign and said that he had supported a “vigorous investigation of alleged sexual abuse” and had demonstrated compassion and empathy to those who had come forward.
In a separate statement, the school apologized for the harm done, adding that “the way in which the school addressed these incidents has served to compound this harm.”
The school’s report identified only one of the accused by name. He was Al Gibbs, an athletic trainer, who was fired in 1980 after multiple reports of sexual molestation and at least one rape.
The school’s report referred to two others as “employee perpetrator #2” and “employee perpetrator #3.”
But on Tuesday, Mr. MacLeish, matching victims’ accounts with the school’s report, identified them as the Rev. Dr. Howard White, a former assistant chaplain, who left the school in 1974 after reports of sexual contact with at least three boys, and Franklin Coleman, a former choir director fired in 1988 after accusations of sexually molesting several boys.
Mr. MacLeish said it was important to identify them because he believes they still had access to minors. The names were given to the state police, and neither has been charged.
The school’s investigation said that Tony Zane, then the head of school, confronted Mr. White, whom it called “employee perpetrator #2, and that he “admitted to the misconduct” and abruptly left in 1974.
Another student, William MacNamara, told the lawyers that Mr. White had repeatedly molested and raped him.
Reached on Tuesday at his home in Bedford, Pa., Mr. White said: “I don’t have any response. It’s news to me.” Asked if he was fired because of accusations of sexual misconduct, he said, “That isn’t really true.”
Asked again if he had faced accusations of sexual improprieties, he said, “I’m not saying anything.”
The school’s investigation of Mr. Coleman, whom it called “employee perpetrator #3,” said he was fired after reportedly engaging in sexual misconduct with at least three students, including groping them.
Mr. Coleman was met Tuesday by a reporter in Newark as he left his home. He repeatedly answered “no comment” when asked about the accusations. Asked if he had abused students at the school or if he denied the accusations, he said, “No comment.”
Asked specifically about accusations made by a former student, Hawk Cramer, he said, “Talk to my lawyer.” He did not provide the lawyer’s name.