Report: Abuse victims and whistleblowers at New England private schools faced retaliation


You've got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be carefully taught

To see how kids may learn their first lessons about unethical organizational behavior, look no further than how some schools respond to instances of bullying and abuse. To illustrate, consider the Boston Globe‘s investigation into how certain private schools in New England have handled reports and allegations of sexual abuse and inappropriate behavior:

The Globe Spotlight Team, in its ongoing investigation of abuses at New England private schools, found at least 15 instances of apparent retaliation against students who were sexually exploited by staffers or against employees who raised concerns about alleged sexual abuse and harassment. Some cases date back decades, while others are quite recent. But all of them are still raw for the people who felt the backlash.

The article begins with a story from the early 1980s about a female student who was asked to leave the tony Buxton School in Williamstown, Massachusetts, after school administrators learned of her relationship with a teacher there. The school did the right thing, in part, by dismissing the teacher. But it also asked the student to basically disappear, reasoning that her presence would be uncomfortable to others, including “the teacher’s girlfriend, who worked there”! The school included the student’s photo in the annual yearbook only because her classmates insisted on it.

As it turns out, this was among the gentler instances of exclusion or payback described by victims and others interviewed for the Globe story about student abuse in private schools:

The retribution, they say, came in various forms, including abusers lashing out at their accusers or enlisting other students to ostracize them, and administrators punishing or expelling students who complained of being victimized.

Readers interested in the Globe‘s investigation may check the articles on the newspaper’s website, but my point here is that when schools respond to allegations of abuse by retaliating against or marginalizing victims, witnesses, and whistleblowers, they also send messages to their students (victims and bystanders alike) that both the abusive behaviors and the inadequate organizational responses are cultural and societal norms, to be tolerated and swept under the rug if necessary.

Of course, private schools that depend on hefty tuition dollars and alumni/ae donations don’t want news about abusive behaviors becoming public, so the morally challenged ones will resort to intimidating and retaliating against victims, witnesses, and others to keep the lid on. One can only wonder if some of their graduates, having learned these “lessons” taught to them by such institutions, will act in the same manner when they assume leadership roles later on in life.

One response

  1. Great commentary. And from the other end of the spectrum….as an ESL teacher at a High School in Boston Public Schools, who used to wear glasses; I recall recently-arrived, immigrant students telling me while not condoned; back home, teachers dated students at school. “Oh no, not here in the United States. That is NOT okay.” What I did not understand at the time was that they were actually telling me it was going on in our school. I did my due diligence repeatedly: the sexting, the arranging of meetings, the discomfort felt by students due to looks and comments regarding their bodies by certain staff members (teachers, support staff and the school police officer), offers to go to the single mother’s home to “help her.” My comment to both the student and headmaster in one case was, “But doesn’t he have a girlfriend?”. The school “leader” viscerally responded, “Dogs will be dogs!”. Her offering to me was one hushed-up case. “That is over now” after the dating, marriage and divorce. What I did not understand, at the time, was that the headmaster actually knew of and condoned a lot of behaviors. These “insurance policies” were crucial to her survival. She formed a legion of “spinners”, “eye-witnesses,” and recruits to camouflage data at her empty, failing school which (make sure you are seated!!!) INCLUDED students who were guaranteed perks that included graduation. Similarly, The Globe has now documented, then Superintendent Carol Johnson, lied and hushed-up administrator scandals as her failures were rebranded or glossed over. One headmaster arrested for spousal abuse, was told “business as usual”, as long as the press did not find out. She may have had Boston press sewn up, but not her local hometown reporters, where her reputation was well-known. Memphis news broadcasted the story. She covered up repeatedly for Rev. Shaun Harrison’s sexual, drug and firearm misconduct until his protection plan abruptly ended when he shot a student execution style. Hopefully, Boston press washed the egg of their face (there were police reports). Ultimately, it was mwen pitit yo, mis hijos, fihlios, who had to tussle with me before finally yanking off my rose colored glasses. “Miss, I thought the US was different, but it is just as corrupt as ….” . Ironically, and yes I still can say sadly, some of them had better survival skills than I did. After the superb movie, which I have seen four times, I am encouraged that the ‘Spotlight Team’ is finding merit in reviewing stories that only paused a moment on their desk. One can only hope that the scope of this investigation widens to their own backyard.

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