Elite New England Boarding School Fumbles Sex Abuse Case

Phillips Exeter AcademyPhillips Exeter Academy, an exclusive private boarding school that boasts a Who’s Who of alumni, has admitted it mishandled a sexual abuse claim made by one of its students last October. The admission came one day after more than 1,000 alumni pledged to withhold donations to the private school until the institution fixes how it handles sexual abuse complaints.

School officials admitted they mishandled the situation last fall when a female student told school authorities that she had been groped by a popular student athlete. Instead of reporting the alleged crime to the police, school officials asked the young woman to accept the school’s proposal that the young man bake bread for her as a penance.

[Please take a pause here for running in a circle, swearing, or just head shaking pondering over the inane inappropriateness of this response.]

After months of frustration with the school’s dithering, young woman went to police herself.

Phillips Exeter has faced more than its share of sexual misconduct scandals this year. According to a Boston Globe investigation:

In March, the Globe reported that a celebrated faculty member, Rick Schubart, was quietly forced to resign and permanently barred from campus after he admitted to two cases of sexual misconduct with students in the 1970s and 1980s. Tom Hassan, MacFarlane’s predecessor as headmaster, was censured in April by the Association of Boarding Schools for not disclosing Schubart’s behavior before the group gave him a national leadership award in 2012.

In May, a former admissions officer, Arthur Peekel, turned himself in to police in Exeter to face two misdemeanor charges that he sexually assaulted a teenager decades ago.

Philip Exeter’s problems and similar stories involving private schools across the county show an institution protecting its reputation and its donor base. But Philip Exeter’s response to a reported sexual assault – and the ridiculous idea of “bread penance” – shows a fundamental lack of lack of understanding. Sexual assault a crime and should be handled by law enforcement. Instead of calling the police, the school handled this physical assault as if it was a case of on-the-job sexual harassment or worse, just a little dormitory roughhousing that got out of hand.

The school’s behavior deserves censure by alumni and society at large. No institution that acts in such a cavalier and callous manner towards its students should enjoy the public’s trust.



Dumas and Vaughn Attorneys at Law has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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