Boston Globe's Investigation Into Widespread Sex Abuse In New England Private Schools | KNKX

Boston Globe's Investigation Into Widespread Sex Abuse In New England Private Schools

The Boston Globe has a report in today's paper about sexual abuse of students in at least 67 New England prep schools. Melissa Block speaks with Globe reporter Jenn Abelson about the investigation.

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This morning, The Boston Globe Spotlight investigative team published a troubling report of sexual abuse in at least 67 private schools in New England. In their reporting, they found accusations for more than 200 victims and at least 90 legal claims. We're joined now by Jenn Abelson, one of the reporters who worked on this story. Good morning, Jenn.

JENN ABELSON: Good morning.

BLOCK: And your team is sharing student accounts that began as early as the 1950s. Where did this investigation start for you?

ABELSON: My colleague Bella English broke a story in December about widespread abuse at St. George's. And in the wake of that report, the floodgates opened. And dozens of students at private schools all across New England began speaking out. They were emboldened by this cascade of recent revelations, and they are asking for accountability and transparency from private schools.

BLOCK: We mentioned there have been 90 lawsuits and legal claims filed on behalf of the alleged victims. What was the upshot? Was anybody convicted or fired from their job?

ABELSON: We found at least 37 employees were fired or forced to resign because of the allegations. And we found that nearly two dozen eventually pleaded guilty or were convicted on criminal charges of abusing children or related crimes.

BLOCK: What did you find about these schools - made this kind of abuse possible in the first place and then allowed it to be kept quiet for so long?

ABELSON: We found that these schools were - they had insular cultures, they were prized, their reputations. And to be honest, it's not just private schools, but all schools and all of society really dealt with abuse in very different ways back in the '70s and '80s, when many of these claims are from. They were quiet. It was held quietly. People were pushed out. No one knew. Teachers went from school to school. Abuse wasn't talked about.

And so - and these schools gave access, especially boarding schools, gave access to teachers and staffers to have, you know - essentially, they slept in rooms near them. They had access. They were away from their parents from weeks and months. And so these became, unfortunately, in some places, real breeding grounds for sexual predators.

BLOCK: I was struck by something that one of the alleged abusers told you in an interview. He said if there had been any misconduct, given the situation in the world today, I and everyone else involved would be in jail.

ABELSON: Essentially. That was from a man named Bill who later went by Tony Lydgate. And he was accused of misconduct at St. George's when - by a student 40 years later. Essentially he was accused by another student in a school in Hawaii thousands of miles away. It was sexual abuse that sounded all too familiar to the St. George's victim.

BLOCK: In your story, there's a form that people can fill out online if they have their own stories of sexual abuse to share. What kind of responses have you been getting since the story was published?

ABELSON: We - within minutes of our posting, we had a number of responses. And they keep coming in. I think people feel that this is not a shameful chapter in their lives, that they feel it's important to talk about. And so we're getting lots of new accounts and expect to do more follow-ups on this.

BLOCK: And briefly, are the schools changing how they deal with cases of sexual abuse?

ABELSON: I think what we're seeing is there's a formula that's developing in some cases where when they receive allegations of sexual abuse, more schools are hiring outside investigators.

We've seen this year eight schools have already either launched or disclosed that they have started probes into allegations of sexual misconduct. We see that they - some schools today are more willing to report the abuse to authorities. Sometimes it takes some time for them to realize that that's the right thing to do. Pomfret, for example, had an allegation that it received in 2015. It was only until the St. George's story broke and one of the administrators got embroiled in that scandal that he reported his abuse at - that they had found out about at Pomfret.

BLOCK: OK. Reporter Jenn Abelson with The Boston Globe. Jenn, thank you.

ABELSON: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.