Over a year ago, St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire published an investigation that revealed decades of sexual abuse allegations. The school is currently being sued by two alumni over faculty sex abuse allegations.
And yet they haven’t established a therapy fund for alumni who were abused, something academics, attorneys and victims believe is essential for healing.
For abuse victims like Cheyenne Montgomery, therapy has been an important piece of her recovery. Montgomery, now a mother of three in Oregon, is all too familiar with abuse. As a kid, she said she was abused by a family member, and then in 1989 she went off to Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut, where she said two teachers sexually abused her.
“Maybe the most insidious thing about it was both of them were the first and second adult that I had revealed my abuse to and that was kind of their way in,” Montgomery said in a recent phone interview. “And I saw them both as like saving me from the life I had before and fixing me.”
Montgomery said it took decades to grapple with what happened to her at Choate. In 2016, she read the Boston Globe Spotlight series about sexual abuse at private schools and realized she wasn't alone. She decided to go public with her story and confront Choate about her abuse.
At first, Montgomery said this experience was “terrible” but after some back and forth with attorneys, and a lot of support from other alumni, Choate apologized. And they also took a step Montgomery said has been really important for her recovery: Choate established an independent therapy fund for abused alumni.
“If you’ve been through a trauma like that, your likelihood of having decent health insurance goes down,” Montgomery said, “It shouldn’t be a question of whether or not you can pay for this. These schools have plenty of money to pay for this damage.”
Choate is one of a handful of New England boarding schools who have set money aside to pay for therapy for alumni. Choate and Hotchkiss have partnered with RAINN, a non-profit that runs the national sexual assault hotline, while St. George’s School in Rhode Island works with a local sexual assault and trauma center.
Phillips Exeter in New Hampshire has set up a fund that gives each alumni up to $10,000 toward counseling services, while a spokeswoman for Phillips Andover in Massachusetts said the school has set money aside for a variety of services for alumni, including counseling.
St. Paul’s School wouldn’t answer questions about why they haven’t set up a therapy fund, instead sending a statement via email:
“Supporting victims of past abuse is a major priority for the board and administration,” said Alisa Barnard, Executive Director of St. Paul’s Alumni Association.
“That process began with the independent investigation, and will continue with a number of new initiatives the School is developing, and which we hope to announce to our community in the very near future.”
When asked, Barnard wouldn’t say if those initiatives included a therapy fund.
NHPR contacted attorneys, victims, sexual abuse advocates, and academics for this story, and many of them agree: while there are many components to reconciliation between a school and a student who has been abused, offering therapy is essential.
“It’s taking responsibility for things that happened in this institution,” said Charol Shakeshaft, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who has studied educator sexual misconduct since the 1980s. “It’s saying we care about the people who come to our school. We value them and we’re sorry.”
Last year, St. Paul’s School in Concord published the stunning results of an independent investigation into abuse at the school and the current administration apologized for any past wrongdoing. But experts like Shakeshaft believe that while credit is due for those actions, it’s far from enough - especially for institutions like boarding schools who proudly advertise their strong community values.
“If you’re not willing to support the students who were harmed then it seems to me that those are kind of hollow words,” Shakeshaft said.
Boston attorney Carmen Durso sees the latest private school cases as this decade’s Catholic church scandal. Durso helped settle more than 500 sexual abuse cases with the Boston Archdiocese back in 2003, and as part of those negotiations, the Archdiocese agreed to pay for therapy for any victim who came forward with their abuse.
“That was as important, if not more important than actually getting the settlement for all these people,” Durso said. “Because not only was it available for them, but it was available for everyone who has come forward since 2003 and it continues today.”
Durso said there are many victims who keep their abuse secret - he is often the first and only person with whom his clients share their abuse. And there are many others, Durso said, who will never sue their school, but “would get therapy if someone made it available to them.”
Montgomery, the former Choate student, said she was amazed to hear St Paul’s hasn’t yet created a therapy fund.
“We can’t get our high school years back, you know? It’s really hard to figure out how to move through this,” she said.
Montgomery said offering therapy is the "least a school can do" for their alumni.