Former students call for inquiry into assault claims
Two former students of the Fessenden School in Newton on Monday demanded a federal inquiry into alleged sexual assaults by staffers there in the 1960s and 1970s, saying they believe the suspected abuse extends far beyond the 17 individuals the school says have come forward.
Adrian Hooper and John Sweeney, two former Fessenden students who allege they were sexually assaulted, spoke at an emotional news conference at the Boston office of their lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian.
“Tell the truth,’’ Hooper urged the school.
The news conference came a day after the Globe Spotlight team reported that at least 67 private schools in New England have since 1991 faced allegations that at least 200 students were abused or harassed by staffers. Separately, Phillips Academy in Andover confirmed Monday a new claim of misconduct toward a student by a former English teacher.
At the news conference, Hooper and Sweeney said the state should abolish the statute of limitations that bars victims of childhood sex abuse from filing lawsuits if they are older than 53. Hooper is 64, Sweeney 57.
“This is like murder,’’ said Sweeney, fighting back tears. Abusers, he went on, “murder our souls. There should be no statute of limitations at all.’’
A spokeswoman for US Attorney Carmen Ortiz said late Monday that federal prosecutors don’t typically handle allegations of sexual abuse. Such cases are usually prosecuted by state authorities.
Sweeney alleges that an assistant headmaster, Arthur P. Clarridge, drugged him and then performed oral sex on him in his dorm room when Sweeney was 12 years old around 1970. Clarridge, who is 88 and lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has denied the allegation.
Hooper says that Claude Hasbrouck, a glee club director and dorm master, molested him when he was 13, around 1964. Hooper ran away from the school after the incident. Hasbrouck died in 1997.
Only recently, Hooper added, he realized that one of two teachers who had him and several other boys masturbate each other in what they were told was a “Mayan ritual” at Fessenden was Clarridge. He recognized Clarridge in a photograph from an online Harvard publication provided by a Globe reporter, he said, and nearly threw up.
The Fessenden School, whose famous alumni include Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Howard Hughes, has not disputed any specific allegations of abuse documented in the Globe article on Sunday. The school says that at least 12 former students have come forward since Fessenden sent a letter to the school community in 2011 reporting claims of abuse there since the 1960s. All told, the school says, 17 victims have alleged abuse by at least five former staffers.
The school reiterated an apology in a statement Monday.
Though the Globe is currently aware of claims of abuse by only 17 individuals connected to Fessenden, Garabedian and his clients believe there could be many more. Referring to the climate of abuse at Fessenden, the lawyer said, “It was a free-for-all.’’
The school has publicly named only one former employee as an abuser, Clarridge, who worked at Fessenden from 1950 to 1977, according to a spokesman.
Clarridge and another teacher, James Dallmann, were arrested in 1977 on charges of paying for sex with boys as young as 9 at a house in Revere.
Another former student featured in the Globe story, Steven Starr, said that Dallmann sexually abused him for about a year in the late 1960s. Dallmann died in 1986.
Clarridge told the Globe recently that he never had sex with boys at Fessenden but did have sex with children under the age of consent in Revere.
Hooper and Sweeney dismissed an investigation that David Stettler, the current headmaster of Fessenden, agreed to launch shortly before he took office in 2011. The two men said that no one ever contacted them to ask about abuse and that federal prosecutors should investigate.
“I never got any letter,’’ said Hooper, who struggled for years with drug addiction and now runs an online service that refers substance abusers to treatment.
“This [abuse] went on for decades,’’ said Sweeney, wearing his cap from his service in the Green Berets. “They hid it, and they got away with it.’’
The two former students called on the school to provide all records about at least four cases that Fessenden says it settled with alleged victims since the 1990s.
The school issued a statement Monday saying: “We are deeply saddened, and we apologize on behalf of the school to those who were harmed. In 2011, The Fessenden School acknowledged and apologized for abuses that took place decades ago and offered counseling to anyone who was harmed. We have acted with compassion and concern for the victims.’’
Meanwhile, Phillips Academy in Andover confirmed to the Globe that it had recently received one claim of possible misconduct toward a student by David Cobb, an English teacher who was arrested in 1995 and later convicted of trying to molest a 12-year-old boy and show pornography to another.
Head of school John Palfrey, in a letter sent Monday to the school community, said that an independent investigation into “concerns from the past” is currently underway.
“What has happened in the past in our schools must not be repeated,” Palfrey said, speaking broadly of the accusations at numerous private schools.
At The Association of Boarding Schools, executive director Peter Upham told the Globe that the group is forming a new task force “to take a 360-degree view of the issues and to develop a more comprehensive set of recommendations, resources, and programs to assist schools in their efforts to prevent sexual misconduct and to respond effectively.”
A number of schools sent letters to parents, teachers, and alumni Monday after the Globe story was published.
Concord Academy also sent out a letter to the community disclosing a sexual misconduct accusation it received earlier this year against a staffer, whom the school placed on leave. The school, which has not named the staffer, described it as an “unsubstantiated allegation” that the person “inappropriately touched the student’s buttocks” and identified the alleged victim as an employee of The Boston Globe.
The former student, who said he reported the allegation out of concern that other victims may be out there, said the school downplayed the incident, which allegedly involved touching his anus while he was wearing clothes. The former student said he was disappointed that the school did not disclose the investigation by Scott Harshbarger to parents, students, and alumni so that other potential victims could come forward.
The employee accused of misconduct, who denied the allegation, “decided not to return to the school but rather to take this opportunity to pursue new opportunities,” a spokeswoman for Concord Academy said.