Lawmakers, alumni respond to AG’s investigation of St. Paul’s

  • The entrance to the elite St. Paul�s School is seen Friday Aug. 14, 2015 in Concord, N.H., Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, Owen Labrie, a former student, goes on trial Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, for taking part in a practice at the school known as �Senior Salute� where graduating boys try to take the virginity of younger girls before the school year ends. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

Monitor staff
Friday, July 14, 2017

The attorney general’s decision Thursday to launch a criminal investigation into St. Paul’s School’s handling of past sexual abuse and misconduct has drawn wide support from political leaders and alumni.

The morning after the announcement, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu commended the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office for prioritizing the “safety, security, and well-being” of children in the state.

“I am encouraged by the attorney general’s actions to investigate the alleged abuse at Saint Paul’s School. Sexual assault will not be tolerated in NH, and I commend the AG’s office for taking aggressive action to fully investigate the matter,” Sununu wrote on social media Friday.

State prosecutors announced they’re working with the Merrimack County attorney, New Hampshire State Police and the Concord Police Department to investigate the elite boarding school. The investigation will initially focus on whether the school engaged in conduct that endangered the welfare of children. The task force will also investigate whether St. Paul’s broke a law that prohibits the obstruction of criminal investigations.

The state’s Department of Justice issued its announcement as several state lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle were calling for an investigation. Lawmakers told the Monitor they hoped the attorney general’s office would examine the circumstances surrounding sexual misconduct allegations, including sexual conquest rituals, and the actions of school administrators in the aftermath of those reports.

Sen. Bette Lasky, a Nashua Democrat, and Sen. Kevin Avard, a Nashua Republican, said Friday they are glad the attorney general’s office is moving forward.

“My hope is that it’ll be a thorough investigation, and if there are changes that need to be made at the school that they’ll be open to them,” Lasky said.

The investigation of the Concord boarding school quickly made national news Thursday night, reaching New Hampshire’s representatives in Washington and St. Paul’s alumni across the globe.

U.S. Congresswoman Annie Kuster – a sexual assault survivor herself – thanked Attorney General Gordon MacDonald for “examining the situation at St. Paul’s School” with great seriousness.

“The issue of sexual assault is one that is deeply personal to me,” Kuster said in a statement Friday. “Ensuring the safety of all children in New Hampshire needs to be our top priority and any allegations of sexual assault must be thoroughly investigated.”

Kuster had stood behind the lectern on the House floor in summer 2016 to tell the world about the sexual assaults she suffered as a young woman nearly 40 years earlier. Two months after Kuster publicly told her story for the first time, a young woman who was sexually assaulted at St. Paul’s did the same.

Chessy Prout, now 18, was sexually assaulted by Owen Labrie in 2014 as part of the now in-famous “Senior Salute,” where upperclassman would proposition younger pupils for intimate encounters, including sex. Prout and Kuster have since teamed up to advocate for legislative change and also to provide support to other victims.

In a statement Thursday night, Prout thanked the attorney general’s office for looking into the situation at St. Paul’s.

“I want to express sympathy to the other victims and survivors, and am hopeful that the process will result in justice for the victims of St. Paul’s School. I hope this, along with the courage of other survivors who have spoken up, is what leads to the major changes. To date SPS leadership has been more focused on saving face than protecting students,” she said using the acronym for the school.

Victims of past faculty sexual abuse echoed those concerns Friday, saying it’s a shame the school has consistently chosen to prioritize its reputation over students’ safety and well-being. Other alumni said the attorney general’s decision to step in could have been prevented had the school taken steps to correct past failures and support victims of assault.

Alexandra Williams, who attended St. Paul’s with Prout, said the attorney general’s decision makes clear that there must be transparency and justice for victims, and not continued secrecy.

“The attorney general’s decision, no doubt reached after great deliberation of the facts currently placed before him, sends out a clear message to private schools that the practice of covering up allegations and rounding the wagons to protect an institution’s reputation at the expense of a victim will no longer be tolerated,” said Williams, a 2015 graduate. “Inadequate responses by schools to prevent victims being bullied or ostracized by their peers for speaking up and thereby ‘bringing the school into disrepute’ are no longer acceptable.”

As the state investigation moves forward, a former adjunct faculty member at St. Paul’s said he wonders if more people previously or currently connected with the school will began speaking out. To date, R.P. Hale said he is the only former faculty member to publicly raise concern about the reoccurring sexual misconduct allegations at St. Paul’s.

“I’m still waiting to see when the school is going to stop being silent, and when other faculty, at least past, and non-victim alumni will speak up,” Hale said.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)