Author and rector hold online conversation about St. Paul’s School response to sex assault

  • Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford

  • Lacy Crawford

  • Kathleen Carroll Giles will serve as St. Paul's School's 14th rector. She will assume leadership of the school on July 1, 2019.

  • 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
Published: 7/22/2020 4:02:56 PM

It took nearly three decades, but Lacy Crawford has reclaimed her voice.

She reclaimed it, she said, even after others had worked so hard to keep it from her — after her junior year at St. Paul’s School in 1990, when she was sexually assaulted by two older students. After she was silenced by the school’s administration. After an investigation into her assault as a teenager resulted in no criminal charges against her attackers and a more recent investigation of the school was resolved by agreement rather than prosecution.

Now, Crawford says, it’s up to St. Paul’s to make sure survivors like her are never silenced again — and this means including them in ongoing conversations on how to address the school’s past.

“The puzzle for me, really, is, ‘How do we understand what story we’re telling, and how do we tell it in a way that allows it to matter?’” she said.

The call to action took place during a Q&A session on Crawford’s new book, Notes on a Silencing. In it, Crawford tells the story of her sexual assault, St. Paul’s’ decades-long efforts to cover it up and how investigations into the school many years later failed to give her a sense of justice.

She was joined by Kathleen Giles, rector of St. Paul’s, to discuss steps the school can take to address assault on its campus and do right by its survivors. The event, hosted online by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, was moderated by Monitor crime and courts reporter Alyssa Dandrea, who has written extensively about the school’s history of abuse. More than 270 people tuned in to the conversation, which is the largest turnout recorded by the bookstore for a virtual author event.

St. Paul’s has come under fire in recent years for its long track record of mishandling sexual assault and misconduct claims. The school has been subject to probes by independent investigators and law enforcement alike, culminating in an investigation by the New Hampshire attorney general’s office in 2017.

It was the 2017 investigation that ultimately led Crawford to come forward, she said. She agreed to interviews with law enforcement, hoping things would be different this time.

But in the end, the investigation brought no charges against the school. Instead, the two sides reached a settlement agreement requiring that the school submit to three to five years of government oversight. 

To Crawford, it was the latest in a string of investigations that had promised to hold the school accountable but failed to deliver.

“They were trying to silence me again,” she said.

This, Crawford said, is why she decided to write her memoir: to tell a story about St. Paul’s, including the rape and the aftermath, which otherwise would have remained hidden in confidential files.

Response from the St. Paul’s community has been robust, Crawford said. She’s heard from over 70 alumni since an excerpt of her memoir was published online in late June, some of whom shared their own accounts of violence and abuse they experienced while on campus.

Many current and former members of St. Paul’s administration have kept quiet, however. Crawford said Giles, who took over as rector on July 1 of last year, is one of only two school officials who have personally contacted her about the assault. The other, she said, is a trustee who wrote to her earlier this week.

Giles said the school’s effort to address sexual assault response and prevention is turning a corner — in no small part thanks to oversight from the state, she added. 

The school is working with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) to develop a new platform for students and alumni to report abuse online, which she said will be available in the fall. The platform will replace an older, less intuitive reporting hotline students weren’t using.

“The job of the school is to establish a culture that is safe enough so that the child has somewhere to go,” Giles said.

Giles said she hopes survivors will help guide the school’s next steps forward.

“We need to hear these voices to understand where we've been, and every last piece of where we need to go,” she said.

But the problem of sexual abuse and misconduct at St. Paul’s is deep-seated and pathological, Crawford said. She said the school cultivates an aura of prestige that lets students, staff and administrators believe they are above the law.

“I think there is a culture of exceptionalism that allows for some pretty atrocious behavior,” she said.

Crawford said lawyers at St. Paul’s and many schools like it pose another formidable obstacle to accountability, using hardball tactics to protect administrators and assailants at the expense of survivors.

“There is a practice of helping institutions to manage the problem of sexual assault,” she said. “What was meant to be a remedy has become a kind of industry.”

While Crawford feels the 2017 investigation fell short of justice, she said it’s given St. Paul’s an opportunity to reckon with its past — an opportunity she hopes the school takes. She thanked those who went against the interests of their own institutions to help her in her search for truth. This, she said, is what it will take to empower other survivors to do the same.

“I think we need to start breaking some things in order to put kids back together,” she said.

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