Metro

Former St. George’s student says he was abused as a freshman

A look at the St. George’s School campus in Middletown, R.I.
Stew Milne for The Boston Globe/File
A look at the St. George’s School campus in Middletown, R.I.

Harry Groome is 52 now, a successful marketing man with a wife and two kids, but his freshman fall at St. George’s School is only a bad memory away. At age 14, he arrived at the prep school in Middletown, R.I, excited to be leaving his small Pennsylvania town and settling into dorm life.

Each floor had three prefects, seniors selected by the faculty for their leadership, whose job was to oversee the floor and make sure the boys were in their rooms at night. One prefect proved more terrifying than helpful, recalled Groome.

“If he was on duty, it was mayhem,” said Groome, who lives in Arlington.

Advertisement

One Saturday night in early November, when the other two prefects were away on college visits, the third prefect called the boys into the hallway. He had a few other seniors with him, perhaps a half-dozen boys in all, Groome recalled.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

He commanded Groome to stand atop a heavy-duty plastic trashcan, pull down his pants and underwear and bend over, according to Groome. He then penetrated the boy with a broomstick, Groome said, in an assault that lasted about a minute.

Groome is one of at least three former students who have reported sexual assaults by fellow students both to St. George’s School and to lawyers who are representing victims. Some of them will speak at a press conference Tuesday, said attorneys Carmen Durso and Eric MacLeish, who say they have heard from more than 40 victims of staff or student abuse at St. George’s, most of it in the 1970s and 80s.

A second St. George’s alumnus shared a similar account last week with the Globe of being raped by his senior prefect. Now 50 and a television writer in West Hollywood, the man was a 14-year-old sophomore, new to the school in the early ’80s, when it occurred, he said. He asked not to be identified.

As with Groome, his abuse started with hazing — such as being pummelled with a hairbrush — and then got worse. “One night the prefects came in and I thought I was going to get [hit again]. I was rolled onto my side and sodomized with a lacrosse stick.” It would happen three times over a few months, he said.

Advertisement

The boy was warned not to tell or there would be worse trouble. But after the second time, he went to his faculty adviser. “When I told him what happened, that I’d been attacked, he said, ‘Well, grow up.’ I’m not sure that a man grows up with a broomstick or a lacrosse stick stuck up him,” said the man, who went on to become a senior prefect himself.

Groome, while a student, never reported his own abuse to the school. “If you reported something, you were a ‘narc’ and you got the [expletive] kicked out of you,” Groome said. He told the Globe his story while his wife sat with him in MacLeish’s Cambridge offices. MacLeish and Durso are representing both men in the rape cases, which they say the Rhode Island State Police are investigating.

The school has been mired in an abuse scandal since three alumnae recently went public with their their stories of being assaulted by athletic trainer Al Gibbs in the late 1970s. The school’s own investigation, released in a Dec. 23 report, revealed that 26 students were sexually abused by school employees and that three former students each engaged in sexual misconduct toward three other students.

Groome’s abuser is described in the school’s report as Student Perpetrator #2, and the report says that “another student corroborated this as a witness.”

Among the student body, what happened to Groome was no secret. The 1979 yearbook shows a photo of Groome, in a trashcan, with a hockey stick next to him. The caption: “It’s better than a broomstick!”

Advertisement

In 2002, Groome sent a letter to St. George’s headmaster Charles Hamblet about the rape, writing that he was motivated to reveal it after “the occurrence of a similar event at Groton, by the realization of the long-term effect this has had on me, and by my new role as father and protector of my son . . . my intent is not to name names but to make the school aware that this crime was never reported due to an unspoken code and to help make sure today’s students are protected from something like this happening again.”

According to Groome, Hamblet — now deceased — thanked him, but nothing changed. When Eric Peterson became headmaster in 2004, Groome said he forwarded him the letter. In 2011, Groome said he again contacted the school, and Peterson invited him to campus, at which time Groome named his rapist and vented his frustration that the school had done nothing about it.

“I told him that St. George’s School would get through this if it got out in front of it, owned it and moved past it. Eric Peterson turned the conversation to the systems in place and gave me the school handbook, and that was it,” Groome said.

In a statement to the Globe, released through the school’s public relations firm, the school said that law enforcement has asked the school to “maintain confidentiality” regarding the names of victims and alleged perpetrators.

On Christmas Day, on a St. George’s School alumni site on Facebook, Groome posted a comment about his assault. “I have been made aware over the past few days that in addition to sexually assaulting me, [the alleged perpetrator] also sexually abused at least three other students . . . I’m really looking foward to getting this horrible chapter over with but not until all those involved are held responsible,” he wrote.

The victim who was assaulted with the lacrosse stick recalled that his first year at St. George’s, he read “Lord of the Flies,” the William Golding novel in which a group of British schoolboys stranded on a deserted island attempt to govern themselves, with disastrous results.

“It was amazing to me that I was reading ‘Lord of the Flies’ and living ‘Lord of the Flies,’ ” he said. “For a young boy, it was very confusing.”

Bella English can be reached at english@globe.com.