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Three Decades of Sex Abuse at Rhode Island Private School Come to Light

Posted on behalf of D'Amico & Pettinicchi, LLC on Jan 07, 2016 in Sexual Abuse

private schoolAt least 40 former students of St. George's School in Newport, Rhode Island have come forward with reports of sexual abuse, including rape, committed by former staff and students at the school. The victims' lawyers stated the abuse occurred between 1974 and 2004, and some of the former staff are still alive and working with young people.

St. George's is an elite private boarding school that counts Howard Dean and Prescott Bush among its alumni and charges over $50,000 per year for tuition. The scandal emerged after one former victim came forward after decades of therapy and treatment. At only 15-years-old, she was a victim of rape in 1977 by the school's former athletic instructor, Al Gibbs, who was 67 at the time.

She unsuccessfully tried to sue the school in 1989, after spending her twenties struggling with a number of psychological problems related to post-traumatic stress disorder. The school's attorneys fought back aggressively, pressuring the victim to sign a gag order, which forbids the victim from discussing the case in public.

In late 2012, she connected with another alumnus who was also abused. They were finally able to get a response from the St. George's in 2015. In April and August, the school sent letters to former students notifying them of the investigation.

Another letter, sent in November, named Gibbs as a perpetrator. Gibbs died in 1996 at 86.

Since the letters were sent out, a flood of alumni have come forward sharing heartbreaking stories of sex abuse at the school. Lawyers for the victims are calling for a third-party investigation. At least seven former staff members and four former students have also been accused of abuse.

One of the key questions in the case is how much the former school headmaster, Tony Zane, knew about the abuse and why he didn't report it. He was quoted in a Boston Globe claiming ignorance that he was required to report any abuse. However, the plaintiff's attorney, also a St. George's alumnus, said all 50 states have had mandatory reporting laws for child abuse since 1967.

Some of the former staff members were quietly dismissed by the school and urged to seek counseling. A letter written by Zane even urged one suspected teacher to "not return to St. George's until one generation has gone through, that is, not for another five years."

But their crimes were never reported to police or Child Protective Services. Many of the staff members wound up teaching at other schools and at least two are still working around young people.

Victims of sexual abuse often suffer their entire lives with psychological trauma. Institutions that attempt to conceal these crimes to protect their reputations should be held accountable.