CONCORD, N.H. — When she first considered taking over at St. Paul’s School, Kathleen Carroll Giles admitted she had to weigh whether she wanted to confront the decades of sexual abuse claims made against the New England prep school. In the end, she felt she could handle it.
Carroll Giles started this week as the 14th rector at St. Paul’s in New Hampshire and is the first woman to hold the permanent position. She listened to abuse survivors at an event in May and acknowledged the school has work to do.
“This particular school for a number of reasons — and I don’t know them all by any stretch —has a lot of people coming forward having been injured in this way,” said Carroll Giles, a lawyer who grappled with a claim of sexual abuse while at Middlesex School which she headed since 2003. An investigation concluded that claim could not be substantiated.
“That is a lot of human pain that there is no cure for,” she told The Associated Press. “When you take on a role like this, you are taking on some responsibility for that.”
Her arrival comes more than a week after Owen Labrie, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old classmate at St. Paul as part of a game of sexual conquest called “Senior Salute,” was released from jail . Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vermont, was acquitted in 2015 of raping the female classmate. He was found guilty of a felony computer charge and several misdemeanour counts of sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child.
After the Labrie case, the school was among several in the region to take a closer look at sexual abuse going back decades.
St. Paul’s released several reports in 2017 detailing abuse by 20 former faculty members and administrators . The state attorney general’s office later announced an agreement with the school related to its own investigation of the abuse claims. In lieu of child endangerment charges against the school, a monitor will be appointed to oversee St. Paul’s handling of sexual abuse claims.
The school has apologized for the abuse. It also has bolstered its reporting requirement with local law enforcement related to sexual abuse claims and improved its training for staff and student education.
Board of Trustees President Archibald Cox said Giles was the front-runner from the start and he praised her educational experience as an administrator and teacher.
“She is terrific. We are so lucky to have attracted her to St. Paul’s,” Cox said. “She will do a wonderful job. It is what the school needs at this time.”
Rev. Valerie Minton Webster, an Episcopal priest from Montana who says she was abused as a student at the school in 1976, met Carroll Giles during the May service to address past abuses on campus. As part of an alumni group that advocates for St. Paul’s survivors, Webster believes Carroll Giles is committed to hearing from survivors, making changes at the school and working toward reconciliation.
“It’s messy work and I think she is committed to doing it,” Webster said. “I have the utmost respect for her and I’m looking forward to going forward.”
Carroll Giles said the school needed to “work harder” to ensure the school was a safe place for the 530 students ages 13 to 19.
A big part of that, she said, will be hearing concerns from survivors and understanding they are in different places. Some, she said, were still focused on the abuse and that requires patience from the school. Some want to know the school is enacting the reforms necessary to prevent abuse cases in the future. Others are still angry at the school.
“There is just a lot of anger at the way people perceive they’ve been treated. That is fair,” she said. “I can’t argue with someone’s experience. I can’t tell someone you shouldn’t be angry … No, that doesn’t work … There is no scope or scale for this. There is no timeline and frankly there is no budget for this. We are just going to do the work and see what people need.”
As part of that long-range strategy, Carroll Giles said there is no place for a statute of limitations on those abuse claims. In sexual assault cases involving a minor in New Hampshire, prosecutors have 22 years from the victim’s 18th birthday to bring charges in criminal cases, while civil proceedings must be filed by the victim’s 30th birthday.
“It takes so long for some people to articulate what happened to them and what they need,” she said, scoffing at the idea that someone’s abuse claim would be disregarded due to time limits. “Being protected from lawsuits is the least of this school’s problems. We need to treat people well. That is our commitment.”
Michael Casey, The Associated Press