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New allegations of sexual misconduct arise at St. Paul's

New Hampshire Sunday News

June 30. 2017 9:03PM
St. Paul's School Rector Michael G. Hirschfeld speaks during an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader in May 2017. Also pictured is Dean of School Life Theresa Ferns. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — St. Paul’s School has hired an outside investigator to look into new allegations of sexual misconduct involving students at the prestigious boarding school.

St. Paul’s rector, Michael Hirschfeld, said in a statement Friday that the school took that action earlier this month after “students came forward and alerted St. Paul’s School faculty to behaviors that were concerning to them.”

The investigator will review the allegations and talk to the students involved “to get to the bottom of what took place,” Hirschfeld said. And if it’s proven that there was any “improper behavior” or the school’s code of conduct was violated, he said, “there will be swift and immediate consequences for those students who were involved.”

It’s the latest sexual misconduct scandal to hit St. Paul’s School, which found itself in the national spotlight during the 2015 sexual assault trial of former student Owen Labrie. That case revealed the existence of a secret tradition known as “Senior Salute,” in which senior boys competed to seduce younger girls.

Labrie was convicted of misdemeanor sexual assault, felony use of a computer to lure a minor for sex and endangering the welfare of a child; he has appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

In May, St. Paul’s announced the findings of an independent investigation that substantiated 13 cases of sexual misconduct by faculty and staff involving students going back decades. In a letter to the St. Paul’s School community, Hirschfeld apologized “to survivors for the wrongs that were done to them at St. Paul’s School.”

Earlier this week, police confirmed they are investigating a report of a sexual assault by one student against another that took place on campus in May.

Concord police Lt. Sean Ford said Friday that during the course of conducting other investigations involving the school, police did hear rumors about “some sort of sexual conquest game.”

Ford said that police are not investigating the alleged game at this time, but said they plan to monitor the situation and talk with school officials to find out what happened.

And he said, “If at any point we can confirm it exists, we would then look into it more to see if any crime has been committed.”

One issue is whether any sexual activity was consensual, he said. “And if there is something where people are being manipulated or coerced and there’s some type of game, we would be reviewing those fact patterns and matching it up to see if there was a crime that’s been committed,” he said.

Amanda Grady Sexton, director of public affairs for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, called what allegedly happened this year at St. Paul’s School “Senior Salute 2.0.”

She said when school officials learned of the allegations, “they should have had an immediate public dialogue with parents, faculty and students to address and respond to the fact that this type of sexual misconduct is happening time and time again on their campus.”

She said residential schools have an even greater responsibility to create a safe environment for their students. And she called St. Paul’s culture “toxic.”

“The fact that we’ve now seen two ritualistic games of using young women ... as sexual objects to acquire and to collect and to count, and to trivialize that experience through a game, is really very unhealthy, and it goes beyond ‘kids will be kids,’” she said.

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