St. Paul’s partners with crisis center to provide sexual violence prevention education

  • The entrance to St. Paul’s School is shown in Concord on Monday, May 22, 2017. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 2/1/2018 5:20:27 PM

The Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire will pilot a 10-part sexual violence prevention curriculum that focuses on peer support, mentorship and victim safety at St. Paul’s School as part of a new written agreement reached Thursday.

The first-ever memorandum of understanding between the Concord boarding school and the local crisis center outlines plans for enhanced collaboration to include staff training and on-campus educational programs for students. Local advocates have worked in more of an informal capacity with St. Paul’s in recent years, but the new agreement sets forth shared goals, including domestic violence and sexual assault prevention that includes making trauma-informed services available to victims.

For a couple of years, the school and crisis center have considered drafting a written agreement, but before that could happen they needed to have the right educational programming in place, said Paula Kelley-Wall, executive director of the crisis center. The 10-part curriculum titled “Agent of Change” will be taught to sophomores beginning this fall.

“The students are the ones building the framework for how they’re seeing and experiencing violence,” Kelley-Wall said. “We’re really trying to change the culture, and give students and staff the tools they need to respond appropriately – beyond just handing out a pamphlet that says, ‘You can intervene and here’s how.’ ”

In addition to programming, one of the main goals of the memorandum is to enhance lines of communication between the crisis center and the school to discuss general data trends on violence in the community, best trauma-informed practices and how additional services could help fill any gaps. Regular efforts will also be made to notify students of services such as the 24-hour crisis hotline, as well as 24-hour advocacy and support at police stations, hospital emergency rooms and at the courts. Informational brochures are available now in the school’s health center, but will be more widely distributed.

St. Paul’s Rector Michael Hirschfeld said the school is constantly reassessing its Living in Community curriculum and that the crisis center’s prevention education will work hand in hand. The goals of both, he said, are to give students the skills they need to respond and speak up when they see “behaviors or hear conversations that are inappropriate” and that conflict with school values.

In addition to the local crisis center, the school will also be partnering with the University of New Hampshire’s Prevention Innovations Research Center, whose bystander prevention curriculum on reducing sexual and relationship violence and stalking on college campuses is nationally recognized. The details of the research center’s partnership with UNH are not yet finalized, but the deal will include efforts to evaluate and strengthen ongoing health and safety programming at St. Paul’s, Executive Director Jane Stapleton said in a statement Thursday.

At the same time school officials have been working with prevention education experts, they have also been in ongoing talks with Concord police about updating a 2012 memorandum of understanding that spells out the protocol for reporting sexual assaults and other crimes. Concord police Lt. Sean Ford said Thursday that an “updated and enhanced” agreement is close to completion.

St. Paul’s made national headlines in 2014 when Owen Labrie, a graduating senior, was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a 15-year-old freshman as part of a game of sexual conquest known as the “Senior Salute.” The high-profile trial ended in August 2015 when a jury convicted Labrie of statutory rape, endangering the welfare of a child and using a computer to lure the girl into the sexual encounter. Two appeals filed by Labrie are pending before the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

A civil lawsuit filed in 2016 by the young woman and her parents against St. Paul’s was recently resolved in U.S. District Court.

The school claimed no liability as part of the settlement but said it has reassessed its educational programming and looked for opportunities to improve its culture since the sexual assault in 2014.

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

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