Ex-St. Paul’s student details assault at 15 and subsequent cover-up in new memoir

  • Lacy Crawford —Courtesy

  • ‘Notes on a Silencing’ by Lacy Crawford is out Tuesday. Courtesy

  • Lacy Crawford’s yearbook entry at St. Paul's School in 1992

  • Lacy Crawford and her brother at St. Paul's School in Concord in the early 1990s. —Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 7/4/2020 4:00:00 PM

Lacy Crawford spent years trying to find a word or phrase that would best describe what happened to her as a 15-year-old on the campus of St. Paul’s School.

“Rape” was too severe, inaccurate even, and so for a long time she refused that word to label her own assault at the Concord prep school in October 1990. The two senior boys who pinned her down on a bed did not have sex with her, at least in the traditional sense, she reasoned. But they had violated her and stolen something she could never get back.

Crawford will always remember what happened that night, but it’s not the sexual assault that demands her focus almost 30 years later. More interesting to Crawford is the silence over the decades that followed the attack and the power structures in place that kept her – a 15-year-old girl – from speaking her truth and seeking help.

“What happened to me at St. Paul’s happens everywhere,” Crawford, now 45, said in an interview with the Monitor. “I got lucky because I saw behind the curtain. I saw the notes; I got the medical records; I saw what the school did to me and the breathtaking entitlement that men had in simply making a statutory crime disappear.”

In her memoir, “Notes on a Silencing,” out Tuesday, Crawford focuses on the school’s response to silence and discredit her, which inflicted a second trauma. She also details for readers her experiences as a victim in New Hampshire’s criminal justice process.

As an adult, Crawford was steadfast in her decision not to pursue criminal charges against the boys who sexually assaulted her at 15. She did, however, agree to interviews with authorities as part of an investigation launched in 2017 by the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office into St. Paul’s handling of sexual assault and misconduct claims, spanning decades.

For a time, Crawford was cautiously hopeful that the state-led investigation would give her some sense of closure. After all, investigators found a letter in 2017 that could finally prove the school committed a crime in the 1990s by refusing to allow her back on campus if she pursued criminal charges. The recent investigation, however, has compounded old trauma and formed new wounds that to this day still burn.

“Had I not written this book, they would have succeeded again in silencing me,” Crawford said of St. Paul’s and, more generally, of the men who have used their power to make her case go away.

Seeking closure

The attorney general’s investigation of St. Paul’s did not result in criminal charges against the school but a settlement agreement that mandates three to five years of government oversight. As part of the settlement, signed in September 2018, St. Paul’s agreed to waive any claim of confidentiality in the grand jury proceedings to allow for the attorney general to release a public report at a later date. But that never happened.

A group identified only as “Doe Witnesses” in court records objected, and a judge issued last year a court order prohibiting the report’s release. Judge Richard McNamara ruled that the act of compiling and releasing a report, based on what state law clearly establishes are secret proceedings, would defy precedent and jeopardize the privacy interests of sexual assault victims and those accused but never criminally charged.

Crawford was prepared to testify before the grand jury but the call from the attorney general’s office never came. Instead, she received a mass email from St. Paul’s Board of Trustees President Archibald Cox Jr., who informed the school community about the settlement, which he said was in everyone’s best interests. For the first time, an independent overseer would ensure administrators’ compliance with mandatory reporting laws for sexual assault and other crimes involving children. That overseer remains at St. Paul’s today.

Crawford told the Monitor last week that she is disheartened and angry that the grand jury’s findings remain sealed. She also questioned why a settlement agreement ensuring institutional change could not coexist with criminal charges.

Police told Crawford back in late 2016 that her case file contained the “smoking gun” that would prove the school engaged in witness tampering. Detectives had uncovered a letter, written in summer 1991 by the school’s attorneys, that essentially said Crawford could not return to St. Paul’s for her senior year unless she dropped all criminal charges against her perpetrators.

“Once that document was discovered I thought I was finally going to have some sort of closure for the way these men and this institution had silenced me, had ignored me, had lied about me and tried to cover up what had happened to me,” said Crawford by phone from her home in Southern California. “Instead what happened is the AG’s task force refused my file, they refused my case and they severed ties with Concord police.”

Crawford details in the last few chapters of her memoir her conversations with now-retired Concord police detectives Sean Ford and Julie Curtin about the department’s investigation of her case, the discovery of the letter and the dismantling of the multi-agency task force. In separate conversations with Crawford, the detectives informed her that the attorney general’s office had severed ties with the department as it concerned the broader criminal investigation of St. Paul’s. After meeting with prosecutors at a later date, Curtin and Ford again called Crawford to report that prosecutors had refused her case file.

“They won’t include, will not include, anything from your file. They have specifically instructed us not to send them anything else. And I think what we have with your case is the smoking gun,” Curtin, who now works for the attorney general’s office, said to Crawford.

AG response

Crawford’s memoir has gone to press but her story is still unfolding in New Hampshire.

In a letter dated June 26, Attorney General Gordon MacDonald wrote Crawford’s editor to say the information chronicled in chapter 12 of “Notes on a Silencing” does not tell the full story. While a multi-agency task force was formed to look into potential crimes committed by St. Paul’s, MacDonald wrote that New Hampshire Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys required the investigation to unfold in a certain way, meaning that because St. Paul’s had legal representation all communications had to go through attorneys and not school administrators.

MacDonald explained that a conflict arose because Concord police had open and ongoing investigations, and, consequently, would need to have direct contact with school officials.

“It is imperative both that the integrity of the NHDOJ’s investigation into St. Paul’s School is maintained and that the Concord Police Department is permitted to execute properly its law enforcement responsibility,” wrote Deputy Attorney General Jane Young in a Sept. 21, 2017, letter to Concord Police Chief Brad Osgood. “Because the Concord Police Department must continue to investigate past and future crimes at the School, we have concluded the conflict cannot be resolved.”

Crawford details in her memoir her understanding of Curtin’s visit to St. Paul’s in late 2017 to request her old school file. Upon request, then-Rector Michael Hirschfeld handed over the file – which contained the 1991 letter from the school’s attorney – over to Curtin.

The attorney general’s office, although appraised of the letter, took issue with how Concord police had obtained it.

MacDonald wrote to Crawford’s editor on June 26 that Little, Brown and Company’s failure to call his office about the accuracy of the detectives’ statements is “irresponsible, if not reckless.”

By phone last week, Crawford said she did not know the letter existed until a reporter asked her about it. She said MacDonald may have intended to provide clarity but, from her perspective, the letter makes the situation worse.

“I did not contact Concord police and report my assault ever. My pediatrician did when I was 16. The second time, Concord police reached out to me after I contacted the attorney general’s office in 2017,” Crawford said. “My motivation and my actions were to show my experience of the school’s covering something up and actively hurting a student.”

She continued, “If Concord police then uncovered a document that, for some reason, the attorney general’s office says, ‘We won’t be able to use that because lawyers for the school will do something to get it struck,’ I would think that they would do everything in their power to find another way. At the very least, somebody calls me and says, ‘This is the problem we have with your story; this is how we’re trying to find justice for you and for all the students at the school.’ But none of that happened.”

Nearly two years have passed since the attorney general’s office announced the conclusion of its investigation. Crawford said Wednesday that Concord police have still not provided her with copies of her case files, despite records requests dating back to 2018. She is now working with a private attorney.

Osgood told the Monitor that he is aware of a records request made by Crawford in January 2018. Crawford said she has made more recent inquires, as well.

“At that time, the records could not be released because there was an open investigation,” Osgood wrote in an email Wednesday. “The case is currently suspended, and the City will be reviewing what if any documents can be released at this time.”

Demanding change

St. Paul’s knew about Crawford’s sexual assault accusations in 1990 but never made a report to authorities. Her pediatrician made the first call to Concord police in summer 1991 after examining Crawford.

In her memoir, Crawford describes in detail how she felt feverish and how her throat was raw and bleeding, making it painful to eat and talk. Just days before that medical exam, she disclosed the sexual assault to her mother. She did not know then that she had contracted herpes from her perpetrators.

When her parents contacted Vice Rector Bill Matthews, he questioned how they knew their daughter hadn’t given herpes to the boys. Rather than ask Crawford for her own account, the school’s story was that the encounter was consensual. Matthews warned Crawford’s father not to “go digging,” the memoir recounts.

“Trust me,” Matthews is quoted as saying. “She’s not a good girl.”

Last year, St. Paul’s Board of Trustees voted to strip Matthews’s name from the school’s hockey center after he was accused of ignoring reports of sexual misconduct and student rape while at the helm.

Matthews, who served as rector from 2005 to 2011, gave a favorable job recommendation to David O. Pook, a now-former St. Paul’s humanities teacher who authorities said had an inappropriate relationship with a student. In 2018, Pook pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for conspiring with an ex-student to lie under oath during the attorney general’s grand jury proceedings.

Kathy Giles, who last year became the first woman rector, oversaw the removal of Matthews’s name from the hockey center. Today, she is not disputing Crawford’s account.

“We admire her courage and respect her voice. And we honor her desire that the school acknowledge its failings, accept responsibility, and work, not just promise, to do better, so that all the students in our care can feel and be safe and comfortable at the school,” Giles said in a written statement.

By phone last week, she said St. Paul’s is committed to doing better by its students, and will continue to receive survivors’ stories and respect their experiences.

“One of the ironic elements of this situation is that 30 years of silence is broken in this way,” Giles said of Crawford’s memoir. “We are not going to do anything to mute that voice at this point. Lacy gets to tell this story. I have talked with her a number of times about that, and I keep saying, ‘I’m right behind you, but I’m not going to get in front of you.’ ”

Crawford said she is grateful to Giles for not challenging her memoir or her truth. She said she believes Giles is first and foremost trying to serve students in the school’s care now, and that she is working with Giles because she shares that goal.

“I don’t believe that the problem of sexual violence is caused by individuals and I don’t believe the solution will come from individuals,” Crawford said. “It’s an easy way out to say that perpetrators are bad actors or an even easier way out to say a girl asked for it.”

She continued, “The only way forward is to be a whole lot more transparent, authentic and curious about who has power and who doesn’t and about who has a voice and who doesn’t, particularly at legacy institutions like St. Paul’s.”

While acknowledging steps St. Paul’s has taken to improve its culture, she said the school still has significant progress to make.

“I am sure the school has not had the full and open reckoning it needs to have about all the ways we fail to see and talk about gender, race, class, wealth, privilege and legacy,” Crawford said. “And I don’t think we can move forward until we figure out how we got here. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Please support the Monitor's coverage

Help us fund local COVID-19 reporting in our community.

Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301


© 2019 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy