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CONCORD, NH: Suit calls St. Paul's 'haven' for predators - UPDATED

CONCORD, NH: Suit calls St. Paul's 'haven' for predators
Accusations include abuse by Gerry Studds and other teachers

By Laura Crimaldi GLOBE STAFF
MAY 03, 2018

Two students who attended St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H., in the 1960s and 1970s sued the elite prep school for negligence Wednesday, accusing several teachers, including the late Massachusetts congressman Gerry Studds, of abuse and denouncing the school as "a haven for sexual predators."

Keith Mithoefer, who attended the school from 1966 to 1970, alleged that Studds and two other faculty members inappropriately touched him at different times, the lawsuit stated. He accused a fourth faculty member of making unwanted sexual remarks.

Mithoefer is one of two former St. Paul's students to accuse Studds of sexual misconduct, said Roderick Mac-Leish, a Cambridge lawyer who represents Mithoefer. The other former student is considering legal action, he said.

Studds, the first member of Congress to openly say he was gay, was a teacher at St. Paul's from 1965 to 1969. He later spent 24 years in the US House of Representatives, where he represented the 10th Congressional District covering New Bedford, the South Shore, and Cape Cod.


Alumni suing St. Paul's denounce school as 'a haven for sexual predators'

By ALYSSA DANDREA, Monitor staff
May 03, 2018

George Chester Irons says he felt sick for approximately 44 years, and until September 2014 he could not figure out why.

Even after visiting over 20 medical specialists, including doctors of hematology, neurology, psychology and psychiatry, he could not identify the root cause of his illness.

"I did not understand that I'd been sexually abused and repeatedly raped that night in New York City," Irons said of a winter night during his sophomore year at St. Paul's School.

A school administrator had escorted him to a brothel in the big city and forced him to engage in sex acts with prostitutes. He'd had no prior sexual experience.

Several years earlier, Keith "Biff" Mithoefer had left the comfort of his rural hometown to enroll at the all-boys boarding school in New Hampshire's capital. Away from family and friends, Mithoefer grew homesick. A faculty member who oversaw the school's shooting club, which Mithoefer participated in, took note.

Under the guise of providing comfort, the adviser saw Mithoefer as a target for sexual abuse. Three other faculty members did too.

"This was an atmosphere of predators and pedophiles," Mithoefer told the Monitor. "I thought that might have changed, but recent cases tell us otherwise."

Irons, who graduated in 1976, is a former president of the school's alumni association and previously served on the board of trustees. Mithoefer attended St. Paul's between 1966 and 1970. Irons and Mithoefer have never met, but they share a bond that runs much deeper: both were sexually assaulted as children and suffer from the everlasting consequences of that abuse.

Together, they are suing St. Paul's for negligence and seeking unspecified compensatory damages. In the 22-page lawsuit filed Tuesday in Merrimack County Superior Court, they allege that the school was "a haven for sexual predators," and that adults failed to protect children entrusted with their care.

Civil action

Irons and Mithoefer have brought 10 civil claims against St. Paul's including negligent hiring; retention and supervision of faculty/staff; negligent infliction of emotional distress; and vicarious liability. Additionally, Irons's wife, Barbara Irons, alleges in the lawsuit that as a result of the harm caused to her husband, she suffered loss of his "aid, assistance, comfort, society, companionship, affection, and conjugal relation."

St. Paul's had long known of the sexual abuse of students in the care of their teachers and advisers and yet chose to remain silent for decades, further augmenting the psychological harm that alumni like Irons and Mithoefer suffered, the lawsuit says.

"The Plaintiffs are in their fifties and sixties and had the School reported the abuse earlier, they would have either sought mental health assistance or become aware of the connection between their own abuse and their psychological harm earlier," the plaintiffs' attorney Jonathan Barnes writes.

Irons and Mithoefer told the Monitor they jointly filed their lawsuit against St. Paul's because the school left them with no other options. Settling outside of court wasn't on the table.

Board of Trustees President Archibald Cox Jr. wrote a letter to the St. Paul's community late Wednesday night notifying alumni, parents and current students of the new lawsuit. He apologized to Irons and Mithoefer, while calling their stories "terrible."

"We are truly sorry for the pain they experienced and for any failure of the School to protect them," Cox said.

He continued, "We are as committed as ever to facing squarely the worst elements of our past. We hope this will help those who were harmed and improve St. Paul's School today and into the future."

History of abuse

The lawsuit alleges that St. Paul's breached its fiduciary duty by rehiring and continuing to employ Coolidge Mead Chapin, who had a long-standing history of taking students off campus without their parents' permission. That included to brothels in New York City where students were sexually abused as Chapin directed them on how to engage in sexual acts with prostitutes whom he paid, the lawsuit says.

Chapin, an alumnus employed at the school for more than four decades, cultivated personal relationships with students who came from a place of wealth and influence. He was known by students as the "toad," and oversaw "The Tea and Toast Group" that included students, primarily athletes, known as "toadies," the complaint notes.

An investigation commissioned by St. Paul's in 2016 substantiated accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse by Chapin and more than a dozen other faculty and staff, dating back to 1948. The school released an initial report on faculty abuse in May 2017, which was followed by an addendum in November that included accounts from an additional 15 victims and examined abuse as early as 2009.

Not named in either report is late Massachusetts congressman Gerry Studds, who Mithoefer said sexually assaulted him on a deserted road after the two had gone to dinner in Concord. The lawsuit alleges that Mithoefer and Studds were discussing politics and civil rights when Studds placed his hands on the boy's crotch and propositioned him.

"Mithoefer felt betrayed, terrified, and trapped, and asked to go home," according to the complaint.

Studds, the first openly gay member of Congress, was censured in 1983 for sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old congressional page a decade earlier. He taught at St. Paul's from 1965-69.

In interviews Thursday, Irons and Mithoefer said that for too long St. Paul's has normalized sexual abuse by covering it up in an attempt to protect the financial welfare of the institution and those at its head. Now, they say, they're standing up to demand change.

"This is not a legal issue; this is a moral and ethical issue," Mithoefer said. "These men have to start telling the truth. They're hiding behind their lawyers to protect their finances -- and that's it."

Irons said he wants other victims and survivors to know they are not alone and that support is available to them.

"Students were sexually abused and, in many cases, blamed and made to feel complicit and threatened," he said. "There has been significant and lasting damage done to too many children who are now adults living with the consequences."


Ex-student files sexual-abuse lawsuit against NH prep school
The elite Episcopal school had a "hypersexualized environment" with a "secret history of rape and cover-up"

May 13, 2018

A former New Hampshire boarding school student says in a lawsuit the school violated her civil rights by failing to protect her from sexual assault in a "hypersexualized environment" where older students scored points for having sex with younger ones.

The lawsuit , filed Friday in federal court in Concord, New Hampshire, claims officials at St. Paul's School failed to report the sexual assault of a freshman during the 2012-13 school year. The student said she was forced to leave the school following bullying and retaliation.

The president of the school's board of trustees, Archibald Cox, said the school plans to cooperate with police and the state attorney general to investigate the matter.

"We take these allegations very seriously, but do not know whether they are accurate or not," Cox said in a letter to the school community. "In my experience this administration has taken all reporting obligations seriously and has fulfilled them."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a Jane Doe, a former student who was 13-years-old when she enrolled in 2012 and now lives in Maryland. It demands a trial and damages for severe emotional distress.

"From the time she arrived on campus, Ms. Doe experienced unwelcome sexual advances from some male students who were emboldened by formal and informal 'tradition' at the school," the lawsuit says. "Unbeknownst to Ms. Doe, older boys started to sexually target her the moment she set foot on campus."

The lawsuit says school officials failed to report, investigate or address the girl's specific reports of sexual assault to state or local authorities. It says school officials also failed to investigate or eliminate the practice of older students "scoring" with freshman girls.

In January, the school settled a lawsuit with another former student who said it failed to protect her from being sexually assaulted.

Chessy Prout was a 15-year-old freshman at St. Paul's in 2014 when she accused 18-year-old then-student Owen Labrie of assaulting her as part of Senior Salute, a competition among upperclassman seeking to have sex with younger students. Prout's parents sued in 2016, shortly after Labrie was convicted of sexual assault, child endangerment and using a computer to lure her for sex.

Prout, now 19, said this year that what began as an effort to speak up for herself in her case against Labrie grew into "standing up against a 162-year-old institution with a secret history of rape and cover-up." She said she wrote a book, "I Have The Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope," in a bid to reclaim her name.

The prep academy has denied that it could have prevented the assault and that it had a culture of sexual assault, but it said the case has led to positive changes on campus.

This month, two alumni from the 1970s filed a complaint against the school alleging they were sexually assaulted as students by former faculty members. Cox said the school was "truly sorry" for their pain "and for any failure of the school to protect them."

Most of the former staffers in the complaint were named last year in an investigation conducted by the school into its history of sexual abuse dating to 1947. The school reported allegations against 18 former staffers and shared its findings with the attorney general's office.

The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, as Prout has done.

Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vermont, is appealing his conviction.

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