JFK: Choate Prep School Investigation Uncovers Decades Of Sexual Abuse

JFK Choate Prep School

An internal investigation into allegations of sexual abuse at the elite Choate Rosemary Hall boarding school found a four-decade pattern of abuse, including a dozen former teachers who sexually molested students, at least one case of rape and a catalogue of the “deeply disturbing experiences” of two dozen students.

“The detailed content of this report is devastating to read,” the board of trustees at the blueblood Connecticut boarding school said in a letter to its community Thursday. “One can only have the greatest sympathy and deepest concern for the survivors. The conduct of these adults violated the foundation of our community: the sacred trust between students and the adults charged with their care.”

The board ordered the investigation following allegations of abuse in the 1980s and, more recently, an article by the The Boston Globe last year describing a number of alleged incidents. It follows a series of accusations in recent years of alleged sexual abuse at such prestigious private academies as St. George’s School in Rhode Island, and Horace Mann and Poly Prep in New York City.

Choate, located in Wallingford, Conn., includes President John F. Kennedy and his brother Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. among its alumni.

The 48-page report, released by the Choate board of trustees, found that none of the teachers’ actions, including “intimate kissing” and “intimate touching,” was reported to the police. In some cases, teachers confronted with evidence of their behavior were allowed to resign and, in some instances, received letters of recommendations from administrators.

In a cover letter accompanying the report, the board offered its “deepest apologies” and said it set up a fund to provide therapy for the victims, particularly those who might experience “additional stress and anxiety” as a result of the release of the report.

The investigation, which involved examining letters and school records and first-hand accounts of victims, dates back to the 1960s through the tenure of four headmasters.

“Certain Choate graduates described themselves as having been flattered, at the time, by attention the received from faculty or staff, but told us they later recognized that the conduct had been abusive,” the report said. “Other graduates told us of contact that they recognized as abusive at the time, including forced or coerced intercourse, as well as other incidents of unwanted contact that led students to feel betrayed by faculty or staff they had trusted and admired.”

The report singles out 12 teachers by name in laying out the allegations. Five of them have died. The New York Times, which covered the report extensively on its front page Friday, said it tried to contact the remaining seven Thursday evening, but none responded. Some of the seven addressed the allegations to investigators.

In one case, a Spanish teacher was terminated after he was accused of molesting a 15-year-old female student and raping a 17-year-old girl in a swimming pool during a school trip to Costa Rica in 1999. According to contemporaneous accounts, one of the students said she and the teacher were in the pool, when he “told her he and his wife were separated (and said,) ‘I have these problems. I am a man.’” He then, according to the students, began touching her intimately, removed his own shorts and forcibly engaged in sex, with other students nearby.

Investigators said the teacher, questioned by them last month, “acknowledged drinking with the students at the swimming pool that evening, but he denied engaging in any sexual misconduct.”

The report noted the administration’s response to report of incidents at the time varied widely. “When a faculty member was a long-term and admired teacher, action sometimes came more slowly,” the report found. “On at least one occasion, a faculty member remained until his voluntary retirement, some 10 years after a student reported an incident of sexual misconduct.”

The report delved into school files and found cases where reports by students of sexual molestation were apparently ignored outright by the administration.

One case involved a popular teacher, now deceased, who taught Latin, Greek and English and was a housemaster at Choate for 33 years. Three former students reported incidents of sexual molestation, the investigation found, including one member of the class of 1963 who wrote to the school administrators in 1987.

He was particularly upset because the school received accolades and a memorial upon the teacher’s death. “To many he was larger than life, a hero. I know now he was a dangerous man,” wrote the former the student, not identified by name but described as major donor.

“The activity that disturbs me much more, though, was his fondness for giving little boys backrubs in his bedroom, complete with sweet smelling lotions,” he wrote. “I know because I was there.”

Among the other cases:

• A teacher was allowed to finish the school year, including the winter and spring terms, even though a student and his parents reported the teacher made inappropriate advances toward him that had been rejected.

• A female student reported that one professor, who was the husband of a faculty member and served as an adviser to students, repeatedly kissed female students without their permission and asked one 15-year-old girl to go away with him for a weekend to have sex.

•  A male English teacher who taught and coached at the school in the 1980s regularly hosted gatherings at his apartment where he served tea spiked with rum. A 16-year-old girl told investigators that the teacher would take her off campus repeatedly for dinner and drinks and engaged in sex with her on students trips. She alleged the relationship continued when she was at college when he became “increasingly threatening, and eventually physically abuse, including stalking her at her college dorm.” Investigators said the man refused, through his lawyer, to talk to them.

Doug Stanglin , USA TODAY

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