Rhode Island police investigate alleged decades-old sex abuse at prep school

Police investigate prep school sexual abuse allegations
Police investigate prep school sexual abuse allegations

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Police investigate prep school sexual abuse allegations 00:57

Story highlights

  • "I was threatened not to tell anyone," alleged rape victim says
  • Lawyers for alumni say there are at least 40 abuse victims at St. George's School
  • The prestigious prep school admits it "failed on several occasions" to report abuse

(CNN)Rhode Island State Police are investigating allegations of sexual abuse of more than two dozen students by employees of the prestigious St. George's School in the 1970s and '80s -- abuse the school admitted it "failed on several occasions" to report to authorities.

In a news conference Tuesday, victims of the alleged abuse and their attorneys called for an independent investigation of the abuse and criticized the school's response to the allegations.
The school, in a statement Tuesday, said it "deeply apologizes for the harm done to alumni" and for how its handling of the abuse "served to compound this harm."
    "We recognize the long-lasting impact of sexual abuse and are dedicated to working with survivors to aid them in healing from its painful aftermath," the statement said.
    But the group of alumni maintained the school hasn't done enough and said at least 40 abuse victims -- more than a dozen than the school claims -- have come forward.
    "We've been trying to work patiently with the school since March. This was never what we wanted, but we got nowhere," said attorney Eric MacLeish, who attended the school. "We got flimflammed. ... The school has spoken. The school has acted and not acted, and now it's time for the victims to speak."

    Graduate: Gag order kept me quiet

    Anne Scott, who graduated from the school in 1980, said for years a gag order stopped her from talking about her experience. She told reporters Tuesday that for two years, she was raped by Al Gibbs, a former athletic trainer at the school.
    "I was threatened not to tell anyone. If I told anyone he would come after me and I would be in trouble," she said. "I said nothing to anyone. I developed an eating disorder, I developed post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorder, major anxiety and depression."
    Katie Wales cried as she told her story to reporters Tuesday, describing how the trainer allegedly molested her and took a nude photo of her that he showed to others at the school. A school official, she said, did nothing when she reported what had happened.
    "He looked at me and he said, 'You are just a distraught young lady, you are mentally unstable,' and didn't believe me and proceeded to completely ignore what I told him," she said. "And I think that's what upset me more than anything else, was the fact that he didn't believe me and it still happened to other girls after me. Nothing was done."

    Report: School 'could have done more'

    St. George's, an Episcopalian school overlooking the Atlantic in Middletown, released the findings of its investigation to alumni last month, expressing "regret, sorrow and shame that students in our care were hurt" and saying that it "failed on several occasions to fulfill legal reporting requirements."
    "From the School's perspective today -- and as almost all victims and numerous other witnesses indicated -- we believe the School could have done more to keep its students safe," the St. George's report said.
    The school said its nearly yearlong investigation discovered 26 "credible first-hand accounts (as well as other corroborating evidence) strongly suggesting that three former employees of the school engaged in sexual misconduct with regard to multiple students, and that there were twenty-three victims of sexual misconduct by these three employees."
    Representatives of St. George's School attributed the discrepancy in the number of victims to the fact that additional victims came forward after the school released its investigative report last month.
    The lone perpetrator identified was Gibbs, a former athletic trainer at the school from 1973 to 1980. Gibbs was fired in 1980 and died in 1996.
    According to 17 "first-hand accounts" by former students, Gibbs allegedly "engaged in a range of inappropriate behavior and sexual misconduct including kissing two female students publicly, telling students to remove their clothes without reason, taking nude photos of three students (and in some cases showing such photos to other students), fondling or grabbing the breasts of seven different students, touching the genitals of three students, and in one case rape," the report said.
    Former headmaster Anthony Zane told school investigators that he fired Gibbs in February 1980 after a senior discovered the trainer allegedly taking photographs of a nude female student in the whirlpool, according to the report. Her eyes were covered as protection from a heat lamp.
    "Most victims, and some other witnesses, indicated that they believe that the School should have inquired into and taken action with respect to Gibbs in the years prior to terminating his employment," the report said. "Regrettably, the School did not report misconduct by Gibbs to any state agency at the time of his termination in 1980."

    Police investigation began in November

    In March 1989 -- after a former student identified as Jane Doe sued the school, alleging Gibbs had raped and sexually abused her -- school officials made a report to child welfare authorities.
    Child welfare authorities responded that they had no jurisdiction because the former student had turned 18 and because Gibbs was not a parent, the report said.
    Five other perpetrators who at one time worked at the school were not identified, according to the report. Three of those are accused of sexually abusing a single student each -- three victims.
    In addition, three former students, not identified by name, were accused of sex abuse at the school.
    MacLeish said the group of alumni he represents has identified seven individuals who worked at the school who are alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse; four of them, he said, remain alive and could face prosecution.
    "There's no explanation, quite frankly, for an environment like St. George's School, which allowed these predators dressed up like sheep to prey like wolves on children at the school," he said.
    The school did not report the incidents to authorities at the times of the abuses but contacted the Rhode Island State Police last fall after completing its investigation.
    Four of the six former school employees were fired, the school's report said. One staff member was fired for giving alcohol to students, but the sex abuse allegation did not surface until the school's recent probe.
    Rhode Island State Police Capt. Matthew Moynihan said police launched an investigation in November after being contacted by school officials.
    "To all victims, we are truly, deeply sorry for the harm done to you by former employees or former students of the School," the St. George's report said. "We are heartbroken for you and for the pain and suffering that you have endured."
    The school has offered to pay for therapy for the victims, the report said. It also set up a victims fund for therapy and other treatment, and to reimburse victims for past treatment.
    St. George's has about 370 students in grades nine through 12 and charges $56,000 tuition for boarding students.