Are Private Schools Safer?
Many parents pay a considerable amount of money for tuition to private schools, with the impression that such institutions are safer and more closely monitored than public schools. However, this is not necessarily the case, as suggested by many recent lawsuits filed by victims and loved ones who allege a number of private schools condoned various sexual forms of sexual abuse, both from staff members and between students. Actually, there are several features unique to boarding schools and private schools in general that make it particularly easy for predators to perpetuate abuse.
Prestige & Private Schools
Many private schools are well-known in their communities, with illustrious histories and traditions. Much more than with public schools, parents and students are encouraged to take pride in patronizing and attending a particular private school, to the point where being a student or alumnus of the school may become an important aspect of one’s identity.
This can make it particularly challenging to report abuse. Students may be afraid of being ostracized from the community they’ve invested so much into, as well as being linked to a scandal that may affect the fellow students and teachers that may have become as close as family to them. They may also fear that reporting could make them prime targets for resentment and bullying.
Many private schools also have longstanding religious affiliations, which can make it even more difficult for children to report abuse, due to fear of being ostracized from their religious communities or even from their families and friends.
Isolation Of Boarding Schools
Boarding schools require children to live away from their parents, rendering them much more vulnerable to manipulation and outright predation. Students also may room in dorms where teachers and other adult staff members also reside, providing dangerous access to potential predators. Since children at boarding schools may go long periods without visiting their families, parents may not notice differences in behavior signifying signs of abuse, and children may not have much chance to tell their parents about what’s happening.
Boarding schools and other types of private schools are known for having insular student cliques, which have an unspoken, often destructive culture that may nevertheless be tolerated by school officials who must avoid upsetting students whose parents pay handsomely for tuition. Prestige is a sought-after quality for such schools, and any hint of scandal can impact enrollment rates. Such schools may act more like businesses than educational institutions, leading them to neglect their duties as educators and stewards of children and youth.
Recent Boarding School Sex Abuse Cases
A number of well-known boarding schools have been under fire recently for reports of rampant child sex abuse:
- St. George’s School. This Rhode Island boarding school faces over 60 separate allegations of molestation, rape, assault, and other forms of sexual abuse. According to a recent report, over 20 students were sexually abused by 6 staff members at St. George’s. The alleged victims describe their time at the school as a “private hell” created by the accused faculty. The lawsuits provide some shocking details about former complaints as well. For example, in the period from 1972-1979, one out of every 5 girls attending the school reported being sexually abused by an athletic coach, whom the school only got around to firing in the early 80’s.
- Horace Mann. A 2015 investigation of Horace Mann, an “elite” private school located in New York, revealed that over 60 male and female students were subjected to various forms of sexual abuse at the hands of about 2 dozen staff members at the institution between 1962 and 1996. This number came as a shock to many, as it was much larger than what was found in a previous criminal case, suggesting that more victims had yet to come forward to press charges.
- Phillips Exeter. So far, a total of 8 staff members at the New Hampshire private school Phillips Exeter have been accused of sexually abusing students from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. Though all of the accused no longer work for the school, victims are seeking to hold Exeter responsible for failing to properly investigate complaints. For example, Carl Lindemann, a former Exeter employee, believes that the board of trustees for the school knew more than they let on, and turned a blind eye to many of the complaints.