Investigation details widespread abuse at boarding school

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — An independent investigator looking at sexual abuse at the elite Rhode Island boarding school St. George’s issued a report Thursday documenting widespread abuse there in the 1970s and 1980s.

Among the findings is that at least one in five girls who attended the school in the 1970s was abused by athletic trainer Al Gibbs. It also found 10 school employees sexually abused at least 51 students in the 1970s and 1980s, and at least 10 students were abused by fellow students.

“In the 1970s and 1980s, St. George’s School betrayed the trust of the many St. George’s students who became the targets of sexual abuse when they came to the school, and likewise betrayed the trust of parents who sent those students to St. George’s with the expectation that it would be a safe place for them to live and learn,” according to the report by Boston lawyer Martin Murphy.

Murphy was hired in January by the school and the survivors’ group SGS for Healing.

Gibbs was fired in 1980 after being caught taking photographs of a naked girl in his office, but the report found that he was paid a $1,200 annual grant for “distinguished service” that continued until he died in 1996. The school acknowledged in December that he abused 17 students, but the report said that number was at least 31.

Another teacher received a recommendation from the dean of the faculty despite his firing in 1988 for inappropriate sexual contact with a student, the report said.

The report also suggested that the school’s current headmaster did not appropriately handle reports of sexual misconduct by a teacher in 2004 and should have fired him rather than put him on leave. It also criticized the current board of trustees for “victim shaming” by issuing a statement earlier this year that cast doubt on the credibility of a student who accused the teacher of molestation.

Attorney Eric MacLeish, a St. George’s alumnus who represented dozens of victims at the school, called the report the most comprehensive recounting to date of sexual abuse at an American boarding school.

State police previously conducted their own investigation and said they wouldn’t bring charges for a variety of reasons, including the statute of limitations and changes in the laws since some of the abuse occurred.

Tony Zane, headmaster of St. George’s school from 1972 to 1984, released a statement Thursday:

For twelve years I devoted all of my efforts to St. George’s and the welfare of our students. I believed that I was acting in the best interest of the school at every turn. I want everyone – my St. George’s friends, alumni, current students, and past and present Trustees – to know that I never tolerated any misconduct that I knew about. I acted quickly and threw Howdy White and Al Gibbs out of the school as soon as I found out what they did. My wife, Eusie, and I are deeply sorry to have learned that so many of our former students were put in harm’s way on my watch, and I personally apologize for the harms inflicted during my tenure as Headmaster at St. George’s.

Eusie and I have requested that St. George’s remove our name from the Zane Dormitory. We have always had the health and happiness of our students in our minds and in our hearts, but we feel that the school should take this action now in the hope that it will in some small way assist the healing process for the entire St. George’s community.

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