St. Paul’s hosts program on sexual violence after releasing report on faculty abuse

  • The Schoolhouse building is seen at St. Paul's School in Concord on Monday, May 22, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Prayer messages written on star-shaped paper were hung throughout the St. Paul’s School chapel in the hours after the institution released a second report containing new allegations of sexual misconduct against former staff and faculty.

Many of the messages were written by students who attended a Thursday morning service to honor survivors of sexual assault. The service began a daylong program that featured small group discussions on sexual harassment and abuse, and a presentation by members of the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire on ways to support survivors.

Thursday had already been scheduled for the school’s “Living in Community” programming, a skills-based curriculum intended to build life skills, including self-awareness, positive decision making and healthy relationships, school officials said. However, the anticipated release of the report – which includes interviews with 15 new victims – resulted in some modifications to last week’s agenda.

Paula Kelley-Wall, executive director of the Concord-based crisis center, said St. Paul’s staff reached out to advocates earlier in the week to say they’d set Thursday aside to focus on sexual violence in light of the new report. During an afternoon session, Kelley-Wall led a presentation to students, staff and faculty on sexual violence prevention, and the support services available to victims through their local crisis centers.

The Concord crisis center has provided training to some school staff in the past, but Kelley-Wall said she hopes Thursday will be the beginning of enhanced collaboration between the school and the nonprofit agency.

“We’ve had some meaningful discussions about how we can bring our comprehensive programming onto campus,” she said of recent meetings. “I think we’re headed in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to do.”

Sarah Aldag, a spokeswoman for the school, said St. Paul’s Rector Michael Hirschfeld was traveling and unavailable for an interview Monday.

Thursday’s prayer service was open to current students, faculty and staff, who wrote their prayers on yellow stars that were then hung throughout the chapel. One of the photos shared on social media showed a star that read, “I lament the fact that some victims felt that they didn’t and still don’t have a voice.”

Some reflected positively on the morning’s service, its message of hope and repentance.

Alisa Barnard, the executive director of the alumni association, wrote in a public Facebook post that confronting “the legacy of sexual abuse of children in our history ... is heartbreaking work.” But she added, “I am incredibly proud of this school. And I am grateful for the work and words of the colleagues and friends with whom I am traveling this path.”

Others, now removed from the St. Paul’s community, questioned its true purpose, especially given victims of prior adult abuse were not invited to partake or to speak with current students.

St. Paul’s graduate Biff Mithoefer, who was sexually assaulted by three faculty members, said the school has not reached out to him even though he has gone public with his story. Despite the release of two investigative reports on faculty abuse, Mithoefer said, one of his abusers remains unnamed. That man later publicly admitted to sexually assaulting a 17-year-old after his tenure at the school.

Mithoefer called last week’s chapel service “disingenuous.”

“Of course they repent after they’ve been caught. That’s the way they’ve always done it,” he said of St. Paul’s.

Nearly one week ago, St. Paul’s released a 30-page addendum to a larger report, which was published in late May and substantiated sexual misconduct claims against 13 former faculty members. The supplemental report includes allegations against four newly named faculty and details allegations as recent as 2009. The original report focused on the decades between 1948 and 1988.

St. Paul’s commissioned Boston-based law firm Casner & Edwards, led by former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, to produce both reports. The allegations reported by former students range from verbal sexual advances to fondling to rape.

The attorney general’s office cited the May report as part of its reason for launching a criminal investigation of the school. That probe will focus on the school’s response to past reports of sexual misconduct and whether St. Paul’s endangered the welfare of children or broke a law that prohibits the obstruction of criminal investigations.

Associate Attorney General Jane Young told the Monitor last week that the office will also review the supplemental report as part of the investigation, which “remains ongoing and is very active.”

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