Elite R.I. school working to settle with alumni over sexual abuse
By Associated Press | May 10, 2016, 6:31 EST
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — An elite boarding school where dozens of alumni say they were sexually abused by staff and fellow students is negotiating possible settlements with lawyers for more than 30 of those victims, according to an email obtained by The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, two former students at a prestigious Massachusetts boarding school on Monday described being sexually abused a generation ago and called for a federal investigation into sexual abuse.
The news comes as several boarding schools across New England are facing pressure to reckon with sexual abuse allegations dating back decades.
Carmen Durso, an attorney representing people who say they were abused at St. George’s School in Middletown, Rhode Island, wrote in an email to clients on Friday that St. George’s wants to start individual settlement discussions in June. If agreements can be reached, he says he expects most claims could be resolved by the end of June. He wrote that the school has asked for accusers to reveal their compensation demands.
“It is still premature to know whether this process will result in successful resolution of your claim,” he said.
Durso and attorney Eric MacLeish say they are aware of around 50 people who report having been abused at the school.
A school spokesman did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment, and Durso would not comment in more detail Monday.
“We’re really not going to talk about it, because we’ve agreed that the only way we’re going to have fruitful negotiations is if we keep them confidential while they’re going on,” Durso said.
He added they are hopeful they will reach settlements.
“We are not big about exercises in futility,” he said.
Still, some accusers told the AP on Monday that they’re not sure they want to settle. Katie Wales Lovkay, who said she was abused by athletic trainer Al Gibbs, said she wants to see the school own up to what happened. Otherwise, she said: “It’s just payoff money. It’s blood money. They’re not going to pay me off.”
St. George’s has an endowment of more than $140 million, with tuition of $58,000 per year.
Rhode Island state police are wrapping up an investigation into allegations against several staff members and students. The accusations stretch as far back as decades and as recently as the 2000s, under current headmaster Eric Peterson. An independent investigator hired following an agreement between St. George’s and a group representing accusers has interviewed dozens of former students and is expected to finish his work in June.
On Sunday, The Boston Globe reported that an investigation it conducted into hundreds of private schools in New England found more than 200 students and ex-students have come forward since 1991 to say that they were sexually abused or harassed at 67 schools since the 1950s.
On Monday, two former students at the Fessenden School in Newton, Massachusetts, described being sexually abused as young children in the 1960s and ’70s.
John Sweeney said he was 12 when he was sexually assaulted by a former assistant headmaster at Fessenden. Sweeney said the man came to his dorm room one night and gave him a nasal inhaler to help clear his congestion from a cold. Sweeney, now 57, said he believes he was drugged. He said when he woke up, the man was performing a sex act on him and masturbating.
Sweeney said he told the school’s headmaster, but the headmaster told him he had a “vivid imagination.” Sweeney said he suffers from PTSD because of the abuse.
“Fessenden has known for years about the rape and the exploitation of minors,” Sweeney said during an emotional news conference at the office of his attorney, Mitchell Garabedian.
Adrian Hooper Jr. said he was sexually assaulted by a teacher at Fessenden in the early 1960s when he was 13. Hooper said he did not tell anyone about the abuse until more than 50 years later when a psychologist he was seeing asked him to write about his childhood.
“It still hurts to this day, and I’m 64 years old,” Hooper said.
Fessenden issued a statement apologizing and saying it has offered counseling to anyone who was harmed. It said it has attempted mediation, and hopes the victims will restart that process.
The U.S. attorney’s office did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the request to open an investigation.