Metro

Former Exeter official pleads guilty to abusing prospective student

The Phillips Exeter Academy campus in Exeter, N.H.

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff/File

The Phillips Exeter Academy campus in Exeter, N.H.

BRENTWOOD, N.H. — Lawrence Jenkens was 14 years old when he was molested by an admissions officer during an overnight visit to Phillips Exeter Academy in the fall of 1973. Jenkens and his family immediately told school officials about the abuse by Arthur Peekel, but it was not reported to police until Jenkens came forward last year.

In a courtroom Friday, Peekel — who pleaded guilty to a single count of sexual assault, resulting in a fine and a requirement to register as a sex offender — sat impassively as Jenkens described the devastating effects of the abuse on his life.

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It ended his childhood, he said. It left him uneasy with intimacy and even affection, and beleaguered by a persistent sense of self-doubt.

“Self-loathing isn’t getting up in the morning and saying to the mirror, ‘I hate you,’ ” said Jenkens, whose wife and brother accompanied him to the proceeding. “It’s a nagging sense of dissatisfaction that one isn’t doing as well as one can, a nagging sense that one hasn’t achieved what one might have achieved. It saps potential and it saps self-confidence.”

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Jenkens, who was a prospective student when he was abused, shared his story last year on Facebook, a day after seeing that other classmates had spoken out about former teacher Rick Schubart’s sexual misconduct. Exeter did not publicly disclose Schubart’s sexual misconduct until the day after the Globe inquired about the two cases from the 1970s.

Jenkens, now a college professor in North Carolina, told the court Friday he hoped his coming forward would help other victims and contribute to societal changes regarding sexual abuse. He read aloud a profane and threatening anonymous letter he received after sharing his story publicly. When he first read it, Jenkens said, it made him realize he had internalized many of its cruel insults.

“I want a change in culture,” he said. “I want society, and I want Phillips Exeter Academy, to understand that abusing children is a grievous thing, and that it isn’t right to ignore it or to paper it over.”

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Peekel, who is now 75 and was once named the 1991-1992 Illinois Teacher of the Year, agreed Friday to pay a $1,200 fine and a $288 fee, participate in counseling and sex offender evaluation, and register as a sex offender for the next decade. A one-year jail sentence was suspended.

Dozens of prep schools, including Exeter, have launched investigations into sexual misconduct since the Globe’s Spotlight Team began a series of reports about abuse on the campuses of prestigious boarding schools.

In March, Exeter disclosed it had uncovered other credible allegations of sexual misconduct against a former school psychologist and three former teachers. The school launched the investigation after hundreds of alumni threatened to withhold donations until the school took action.

Rockingham County District Attorney Patricia Conway said Jenkens in his long-ago autumn visit to the boarding school was asked to sleep in a cot next to the admissions officer’s bed on the second night of his visit. Peekel reached under the covers and molested him, then took Jenkens’s hand and stimulated himself. Jenkens froze, terrified, and pretended he was asleep.

In his statement to the court, Jenkens said that while the abuse was happening, he recalled a child who had been found dead in the woods behind an elementary school in his town, and he assumed he was going to be murdered, too.

The next morning, Jenkens called his mother in Washington, D.C., and told her what had happened. She contacted the boy’s uncle in Massachusetts, who drove to the boarding school and met with school officials. Jenkens was questioned at length in the living room of the school principal about what occurred. The police were not contacted.

Jenkens’s uncle, Hank DeSantis, told the Globe last year, “We didn’t want to do anything that would cause [Jenkens] to not be able to go to Exeter.”

Peekel, who declined to comment Friday, previously told the Globe that when school officials confronted him about the allegations, he denied them. He quietly took a leave in December 1973 and resigned from Exeter the next June. He said he had to take care of his ailing mother in Illinois.

By leaving the state, Peekel stopped the clock on the statute of limitations on the sexual assault allegations, which would normally expire 22 years after the victim’s 18th birthday. This allowed prosecutors to bring charges when Jenkens came forward last year.

In a telephone conversation last spring between Jenkens and Peekel that was secretly recorded by police, Peekel apologized for his actions, according to Jenkens. Peekel told the Spotlight Team at the time that he apologized to Jenkens but not for any wrongdoing.

Rockingham County Superior Court Judge N. William Delker said Friday he accepted the sentence because he wanted to offer Jenkens a sense of closure. Peekel had accepted responsibility, Delker added, and a jail sentence would do little to repair the grievous harm he had caused.

“I hope this plea of guilty and the sentence in this case does provide some change in the culture, as Mr. Jenkens hopes, and a message that this kind of conduct, no matter how long ago it occurred, will come back to roost,” he said.

Jenkens said he had been invited to a meeting Friday morning at Exeter with the principal and president of the board of trustees at the principal’s house. He said he would attend that meeting, where he assumed officials would offer an apology. But he won’t go to his class’s 40th reunion, which is also being held on campus this weekend.

“I wish I’d never gone to Exeter,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Western Massachusetts, a former photography teacher at the Northfield Mount Hermon School was arraigned Friday on two felony sex charges in Greenfield District Court in connection with alleged incidents involving a former student in 1974.

Jock Sturges, 70, of Washington state, pleaded not guilty to charges of rape of a child and indecent assault and battery on a person 14 years or older, according to Caleb Weiner, a prosecutor in the Northwestern district attorney’s office. Sturges was released on his own recognizance.

His attorney, David Rountree, of Greenfield, declined to comment on the allegations.

Sturges’s accuser is Jennifer Montgomery, a filmmaker who made a 1995 feature movie, “Art for Teachers of Children,” that she said was based on her relationship with him. She contacted the Spotlight Team last June amid news reports about sexual abuse at private schools and then complained to police. Her attorney, Mitchell Garabedian of Boston, said she is considering filing a legal claim against the school.

Jonathan Saltzman of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Lisa Wangsness can be reached at lisa.wangsness@globe.com.
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