A former student at New Hampshire’s St. Paul’s Prep School is suing her alma mater, claiming that the prestigious boarding academy turned a blind eye to a pervasive culture of sexual assault and harassment.
Prep School Student’s Lawsuit Describes Culture Of Abuse
The lawsuit’s plaintiff, named as Jane Doe in court documents, claims that she was assaulted repeatedly during her tenure at St. Paul’s, becoming victim to a “hypersexualized environment” in which older students, under a scheme known as the “Senior Salute,” maintained a point system to tally up their sexual encounters with younger ones, the Associated Press reports.
Student Says St. Paul’s Failed To Address Sexual Assault
Doe’s alleged abusers, the lawsuit claims, all students at the school she enrolled in at the age of 13, in 2012, were “emboldened by formal and informal ‘tradition.’ ” Doe says the assaults began during her first year at the school. The former student, now 19-years-old, says she reported an assault committed by another student, who is referred to as M.L., but St. Paul’s administrators did nothing about it.
Worse, Doe claims, a counselor at the school accused her of “making up a story about being raped.” A second administrator attempted to undermine her credibility by accusing her of stealing the clothes of wealthier classmates. Doe even went to St. Paul’s assistant dean of students, but this official, too, failed to notify her parents or law enforcement authorities, the former student claims.
Alleged Negligence “Destroyed” Plaintiff’s Life, Suit Claims
In her lawsuit, filed in a Concord, New Hampshire federal court on Friday, May 11, 2018, Doe says administrators at the school effectively “destroyed” her life, first by failing to address a culture in which sexual harassment and assault were normal and, second, by dismissing her reports of mistreatment as “fantasies.”
A “Hypersexualized Environment”
Doe’s portrait of St. Paul’s School is troubling, but unfortunately, it’s not outside the norm for private boarding schools. In her lawsuit, the young woman describes the “Mars Hotel,” a shed equipped with a sofa where St. Paul’s upperclassmen would accomplish their sexual “conquests.”
The floor of the storage shed, Doe writes, was “lined with discarded condoms,” according to ABC News. She says the students, even those as young as 13, routinely used alcohol and drugs. Doe notes heroin and cocaine abuse in particular.
But it was the reception she received from St. Paul’s administrative officials that so shocked and insulted Doe. “Overwhelmed by trauma and [the school’s] failure to do anything about,” the lawsuit continues, Doe started to “engage in increasingly risky behavior.”
Jane Doe Demands $450,000 In Compensation
After only two years, Doe says, administrators, including Rector Michael Hirschfeld, forced her out of St. Paul’s. She dropped out in 2014, then participated in a “home and hospital” program, continuing her education while receiving “extensive” psychiatric treatment.
Her lawsuit, which demands a jury trial and at least $450,000 in damages, accuses St. Paul’s of intentionally inflicting emotional distress and violating Doe’s civil rights under Title IX, the federal law that guarantees students an educational experience free of sexual discrimination.
School Representatives Stop Short At Denial
In a letter released shortly after the suit was filed, Archibald Cox, president of St. Paul’s board of trustees, said he was just learning of the young woman’s claims. “We take these allegations very seriously,” Cox wrote, “but do not know whether they are accurate or not.” Reassuring school alumni and parents, Cox continued, “in my experience this administration has taken all reporting obligations seriously and has fulfilled them.”
Cox indicated the board’s intent to cooperate with the police and New Hampshire’s attorney general in their investigation. Law enforcement officials began their criminal investigation of St. Paul’s in 2017, following recent revelations about the history of sexual assault at the school.
In a separate statement, Hirschfeld, who has served as the head of St. Paul’s since 2010, defended his innocence. “Mr. Hirschfeld vehemently refutes that he ever failed in his responsibility to report an alleged sexual assault to Concord police,” the statement says. “This statement is false. He looks forward to cooperating fully with any investigation into such claims.”
St. Paul’s School Haunted By History Of Sex Abuse
Hirschfeld will step down at the end of this school year. St. Paul’s Prep has been “under a microscope,” the Boston Globe writes, since 2015, when a senior, Owen Labrie, was tried and found guilty of misdemeanor sexual assault. Labrie had been accused of raping a 15-year-old student as part of “Senior Salute,” but was acquitted on that charge.
The floodgates truly opened, though, in May 2017, when the boarding school released a report detailing the sexual misconduct committed by former faculty members and staff between 1948 and 1988. In an uncharacteristically transparent move, the report, authored by an outside law firm, detailed evidence that St. Paul’s administrators had repeatedly ignored and actively concealed allegations of sexual abuse leveled by students against faculty and school employees.