Trustees of the prestigious Rhode Island prep school St. George’s School on Thursday agreed to conduct a comprehensive investigation into past sexual abuse at the school using a “third party independent investigator,” The Boston Globe reports. The announcement came in a joint statement by board chair Leslie Heaney and victim Anne Scott, representing assault survivor group SGS for Healing.
This is a major victory for Scott, who has been leading the charge to get the school to take actionable, concrete steps to address years of alleged misconduct.
Scott told Jim Braude Tuesday night on Greater Boston that she felt compelled to press on with her case all these decades later because she thought there might be other victims.
"Eric [MacLeish] reached out to me and he had reached out to the school in 2012 and the school kept telling him that they wouldn’t talk to him until he had his client,” she said. “So he tracked me down, and i said, if it will help other victims ... I didn’t feel that the school community was getting the full information.”
She, along with several other victims, spoke publicly about their experience in an emotional press conference Tuesday. And, as Braude pressed on, she and her attorneys, Eric MacLeish, and Harvard Law School professor Larry Lessig(@lessig), said that they have been motivated to take up this difficult legal battle once more because they share a common experience of abuse.
Lessig, who has known Anne since their college days at the University of Pennsylvania, told Braude that he has “been in Anne’s position as a victim of child sex abuse. I’ve been in Eric’s position as a lawyer litigating the rights of people trying to fight this so when I knew Anne came forward, I volunteered to help however I could.”
MacLeish, who is not only an alum of St. George but also fought the school for his first sex abuse case on Scott’s behalf in 1989, wound up being a major protagonist in the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. His legal team had a deposition from the deputy headmaster, who had acknowledged that there were other victims. He says he looked for her periodically over the years, finally tracking her down through mutual acquaintances he met at a Christmas party in 2014.
“I wrote to the school in 2012 and basically said, you know, they wanted to show me there current policies, and I said, there are alums who are lying on the battlefield and they need help," he said.
According to court documents, then-67 year old athletic trainer Al Gibbs allegedly molested and raped Scott repeatedly in his locked training room in 1977 when she was 15 years old, after she was sent to him for back treatment—threatening to get her in trouble if she told anyone.
Now 52, Scott was hospitalized several times in her early twenties between 1983 and 1987, with diagnoses including post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression, dissociative and eating disorders.
Scott and MacLeish initially filed a $10 million lawsuit against the school in 1989, but dropped the suit and moved abroad when the school’s layers accused her of lying and having consensual sex with Gibbs, who was 52 years her senior, and pushed her to reveal her name in the case.
When Braude asked what prompted Scott to bare her soul to the world all these years later, Scott said that despite having such a hard time with the first suit, she tried to overcome her initial apprehension about putting herself through the emotional wringer again. Because she says, she really wanted to see the school "do the right thing."
“This time I’m not going to give up and stop," she said. "I’m a lot stronger now then I was when before when I dropped the lawsuit."
Since Bella English's report on Scott’s renewed fight was published by the Globe in mid-December of 2015, 32 additional people have come forward, and MacLeish says that they have been contact by 50 other alums who were either witnesses or supporters.
“We were aware of eight to begin with,” he said. “So that brings the total up to 40. We’ve got half a dozen calls that we haven’t returned yet…”
There is no statute of limitation on rape in Rhode Island, and additional perpetrators could potentially face criminal prosecution.
“The things that struck me about this experience is of course the criminal is the focus— that’s the person who did something wrong," Lessig said. "But important to me was the people who were around the criminal who could have done something, but didn’t do anything because they couldn’t pick up a phone, they didn’t want to get involved. They didn’t want to ask the questions. And from that moment, my whole focus has been not to be that guy.”
“Schools have got to learn how to do the right thing—not just at the time of the criminal action, but many years later when they know something has happened and they know they need to do something,” he told Braude Tuesday.
In November 2015, the school issued a letter to alumni acknowledging the past actions of former employees, specifically “multiple credible reports of sexual misconduct at the school, ranging from unprofessional behaviors to outright sexual assault” that occurred at the school under the tenure of former headmaster Tony Zane. They also publicly named Al Gibbs, Scott’s alleged rapist, who died in 1996 at age 86, and acknowledged two other unnamed perpetrators.
Zane, who is now 85 and living in New Bedford, says he fired Gibbs in 1980 after several students came forward about him. He, however did not take the require step of reporting him to authorities, telling the Globe that he wasn’t sure if that was the law in Rhode Island in 1980.
St. George’s current headmaster, Eric Peterson, has responded to public pressure placed on the school recently; the school has publicly apologized this past fall for failing to respond in a recent letter to alumni, and in December it issued a statement saying that it would “remain steadfast in our efforts to help our alumni address any wounds from long ago.”
Still, as MacLeish told Braude, some perpetrators are still alive and within reach of children. Citing another individual linked with the case he said, “Rev. White left in 1974 and no report was made to the Rhode Island child protective services. He went on to 30 years in private education and parish ministry in Virginia and North Carolina.”