Decades Later, Rhode Island School Settles Sex Abuse Claims

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

After being covered up by one of the most elite preparatory schools in the nation, instances of sexual abuse reaching back almost 40 years ago have finally been resolved.

St. George’s, a boarding school in Rhode Island, has officially reached a settlement with 30 former students who were victims of sexual abuse at the school between the 1970s and 2000s.  While the amount has not been disclosed, Eric MacLeish, the lawyer for the victims, said it was “very significant.”

Victim Anne Scott, who was enrolled in the school in 1977 as one of the first classes of women to attend the school, which was originally only comprised of boys, expressed that the resolution was a long time coming.  “It’s hard to put into words what it feels like to receive this kind of validation and support, after all these years,” she said of the settlement.

Only a month after coming to the school, Scott was molested and raped by athletic trainer Al Gibbs after being sent to him for a field hockey injury.  However, after she had finally worked up the courage to sue the school more than a decade after the incident, the school insisted that she was either lying or that the sex had been consensual, causing Scott to drop the case, reports Bella English for The Boston Globe.

Katie Wales, another victim of Gibbs, was molested by him and had naked photographs of her taken and distributed throughout the school.  However, when she told headmaster Tony Zane what had happened, she was told she was crazy and was sent to a psychologist.  As a result of the incident, she dealt with addiction while enrolled at the school and ultimately was expelled only a week before her graduation.

Concerning the settlement, Wales said, “This was never about the money. This was about being heard.”

The abuses performed by Gibbs was finally acknowledged by the school in a report in December.  Gibbs died in 1996.

Scott sued the school again last year, asking that the school take responsibility for what had happened.  In addition, she asked that they provide support for survivors and prevent such abuse from happening again, writes Kim Soffen for The Washington Post.

In response, the school sent a letter to alumni stating that there were “multiple credible reports of sexual misconduct” by former faculty members.

In all, close to 40 former victims came forward as a result.  An investigation conducted by the school found 26 reports with an independent investigation still pending.

The school has admitted that after students informed them of what had happened to them, the incidents were not reported to local authorities, which had been a requirement under a law introduced in 1979.  Because the statute of limitations is just three years, a police investigation resulted without any charges despite finding misconduct performed by seven former faculty members, writes Katharine Seelye for The New York Times.

While a number of students were not believed by the school, those that were resulted in the teacher in question being fired.  However, those teachers were able to find employment in other schools.

“Today’s settlement says to survivors: ‘This was not your fault. It affected your life in profound ways, it happened at our school, and we are truly sorry for what you have lost,” said MacLeish.