Special Reports

Understanding the sexual abuse allegations at New England prep schools

Above: Buxton School in Williamstown, Mass.

Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

Above: Buxton School in Williamstown, Mass.

What’s the story? A cascade of recent revelations about sexual abuse at New England private schools has emboldened many former students to speak out about their experiences, highlighting the ways private schools handle — and don’t handle — sexual abuse claims.

How deep is the problem? More than 100 private schools have been affected by allegations of sexual misconduct by employees disclosed over the past 25 years. Those cases involve more than 300 alleged victims of sexual abuse or harassment. Since the Globe began its reporting in December, at least 22 private schools in New England have started investigations of sexual abuse by their staff or students. Some alleged victims say their schools retaliated against them after they reported abuse.

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How did we get here? The story began last fall when former St. George’s student Anne Scott spoke publicly about being molested and raped by a school employee in the 1970s. Scott sued the school in the 1980s, but when the school aggressively pushed back, she dropped the suit and signed a gag order. Last year, almost 40 years after she first arrived at St. George’s, she decided to push the school for accountability. “I wish there would be a deeper conversation about behavior, about culture, about signs of someone who is being abused and how to respond to that,” she said. “There’s an important opportunity for independent schools right now. It is not about protecting the image. It’s about using this as an opportunity to transform how we talk about and deal upfront with something that all these years we’ve buried.”

What’s the latest development? Further investigation has found at least 15 instances of apparent retaliation against students who were sexually exploited by staffers or against employees who raised concerns about alleged sexual abuse and harassment. Some cases date back decades, while others are quite recent. The retribution came in various forms, including abusers lashing out at their accusers or enlisting other students to ostracize them, and administrators punishing or expelling students who complained of being victimized.

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 The first report in this investigation details Anne Scott’s allegations. You can read it here.

 To learn more, the Boston Globe Spotlight team reached out to schools across New England and to people who contacted the newsroom with an account of sexual abuse at a New England private school. The team’s findings from May are here.

 Schools have responded to sexual abuse allegations in varied ways. Read about the unusual punishment Phillips Exeter Academy assigned to an accused student just last year.

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Is there an incident we should look into? Let us know.

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