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Foss: Emma Willard report troubling, all-too familiar

Foss: Emma Willard report troubling, all-too familiar

Dark history is distressing and sad, but it's not unique
Foss: Emma Willard report troubling, all-too familiar
The Emma Willard School report was ordered after a 1998 graduate came forward with an allegation.
Photographer: Daily Gazette file photo

Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut. Milton Academy in Massachusetts. The Horace Mann School in New York City. Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. The Emma Willard School in Troy.

These elite prep schools are known for their rigorous academics and distinguished alumni.

RELATED: Decades of sexual abuse revealed at Emma Willard

Now they're known for something else: Disturbing accusations of sexual abuse and misconduct by faculty.

A report released earlier this week provides a troubling window into the decades of sexual abuse and misconduct experienced by students at the Emma Willard School.

This dark history is distressing and sad, but it's not unique to Emma Willard.

In recent years, one prestigious prep school after another has been rocked by allegations that faculty and staff sexually assaulted students, engaged in romantic and sexual relationships with them and behaved in other ways that were inappropriate.

A 2016 Boston Globe report on sexual misconduct at New England private schools found that since 1991 at least 67 private schools have faced accusations that faculty and staff harassed or abused more than 200 students.

As horrifying as these numbers are, they probably only scratch the surface.

"Large as those numbers of cases and victims are, they almost certainly underestimate the problem," the Globe article explains.

"No central database exists of allegations against private school employees, who are typically not required to be licensed. And schools often keep the reports confidential, even when payments are made to alleged victims. And it can sometimes take decades for survivors of sexual abuse to find the strength to come forward, if they do so at all."

A report on the abuse allegations at Choate was released just five days before the results of the Emma Willard investigation were made available.

The Choate report reveals the same thing the Emma Willard report reveals - that a well-regarded institution can also harbor sexual predators, and that parents will sometimes entrust their children to people who don't have the students' best interests in mind.

A decade-and-a-half after the Catholic clergy abuse scandal began dominating headlines, none of this should come as a surprise.

If anything, sweeping allegations of abuse make me feel weary, because it seems like there's never any end to such reports.

After reading the Globe's ongoing coverage of sexual misconduct at private schools, I would be more surprised to learn of a prep school that hadn't faced allegations of sexual misconduct than of a prep school that had.

It's good that schools such as Emma Willard are trying to reckon with the darker aspects of their history, and investigations and reports such as the one released this week are helping shed light on a larger problem.

But it's too late for the victims, who were failed by the very institution that was supposed to take care of them.

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog can be found here.

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