Echoes of abuse

Vulnerable children. Sexual predators. Secret payoffs. They were the toxic ingredients of a generational scandal 15 years ago that was blown open by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team and one that the paper’s investigative unit thinks is repeating itself in private schools around New England and beyond.

In 2001, the Globe’s stories about clergy sex abuse was a groundbreaking effort that resulted in global change of a millennia-old institution and that was recently honored by an Oscar for the film that dramatized the work that went into exposing the cover-up of pedophile priests who were enabled by a Catholic church hierarchy bent on preserving its image at the expense of innocence.

Could it happen again? The Spotlight team on Sunday unveiled its latest expose of sexual abuse, offering chilling stories from alleged victims of sexual abuse at private schools, both in the print story and in videos online. It was a riveting read for a rainy Sunday morning but there was a sense of redundancy to the piece and not simply because of the clergy stories.

In its online database accompanying the web version of the story, the Globe lists 67 schools in New England where there have been allegations of sexual abuse. But as you drop down each of the schools, you’ll see a repeating theme under the “source” attribution: All but six of the allegations had been reported in news stories already. Many of the stories had appeared in the Globe but others are credited to papers ranging from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon, as well as the rival Boston Herald. Of the other six, five were recounted in lawsuits and one came from legislative testimony, which had been reported in local papers at the time.

That wasn’t all that different from the genesis of the church scandal, in which stories had appeared about monsters such as priests James Porter, John Geoghan, and Paul Shanley before newly arrived editor Marty Baron tasked the Spotlight team with tying the threads together.

In the current piece, while the allegations and interviews are hard to read and hear, the only ties that bind here are the victims’ stories. There’s few, if any, repeated allegations by a serial abuser and no proof that a concerted effort among the schools to protect the predators by pushing them off to other faraway institutions, like the Catholic hierarchy did in shuttling priests from one parish to another.

The reporters tried a number of avenues to shake loose information, including sending out letters to 224 private day and boarding schools in New England but only 23 responded, even with a veiled threat by the paper it may report in its stories the names of those not responding, with an implication that they must be hiding something. The story did not say what schools did and didn’t respond. (Clarification: The Globe has a link online that lists the schools that responded and those that did not as well as a selection of some of the responses.)

The Globe reporting has triggered an investigation of the elite St. George’s School in Rhode Island that attorneys say now includes as many as 50 credible allegations of sexual abuse. The Spotlight team also had reported a burgeoning scandal at the famed Phillips Exeter Academy and its story in Sunday’s paper detailed what appears to be a growing issue at the Fessenden School in Newton. But many of those had been reported prior to the lengthy piece on Sunday, including letters to the community by Fessenden officials as far back as 2011.

“It’s awfully hard to know what the next right thing to do is,’’ Fessenden headmaster David Stettler told the paper. “There’s no blueprint about how to handle a horrible history like this.’’

In the wake of the acclaim brought by the exposing of the clergy sex abuse scandal, it’s understandable that the Globe and the Spotlight team would want to replicate the effort, especially while the attention is still focused on them. It’s hard to see this one resonating like the series on clergy sexual abuse. But it doesn’t make it any less important.

–JACK SULLIVAN

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker becomes emotional during a commencement speech at Nichols College on how his parents deal with his mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. (Telegram & Gazette)

Former governor Deval Patrick and his wife Diane are leaving their longtime Milton home, holding an estate sale over the weekend. (Patriot Ledger)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Thousands to take to the streets of Boston for the 20th Mother’s Day Walk for Peace to take a stand against the ravages of urban violence. (Boston Globe) Joyce Ferriabough Bolling pens a tribute to Tina Chery, the founder of the walk, whose son Louis D. Brown, a 15-year-old honor roll student, was killed in gang crossfire in 1993 on his way to a meeting of a teen organization working to combat gang violence. (Boston Herald)

Ipswich considers a measure that would ban home gun ranges. (Salem News)

ELECTIONS

Wall Street bigwigs are befuddled over the presidential race, with some considering lining up behind HIllary Clinton rather than the follow the industry’s historical preference for Republicans. (Boston Globe)

Clinton enjoys a 24-point lead over Donald Trump in a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of likely Massachusetts voters. (Boston Globe)

James Pindell says Trump inexplicably seems more focused on continuing to settle scores with Republicans he has tangled with than on rallying the party faithful to his side. (Boston Globe)

Don’t expect the conservative National Review to fall in with those on the right lining up with Trump now that he’s the inevitable nominee: The venerable magazine’s landing page has no less than half of its stories focused on the devastation a Trump presidency would reap including a devastating takedown by Kevin D. Williamson that says, “the problem with Trump isn’t that he is less fit to serve in comparison to Mrs. Clinton, but that he is unfit to serve, period.”

An Eagle-Tribune editorial urges New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte to hit back twice as hard against rival Maggie Hassan. Hassan has attacked Ayotte for her ties to Trump, and the E-T thinks Ayotte should bash Hassan for her ties to Clinton.

Sarah Palin goes rogue, saying House Speaker Paul Ryan is going to be “Cantored,” as in ousted by a primary challenger like former House majority leader Eric Cantor, for failing to get behind Trump. (Associated Press)

The Globe poll shows voters evenly divided on a ballot question to legalize recreational use of marijuana, with slightly more opposing the measure than favoring it. (Boston Globe) Globe columnist Adrian Walker is skeptical of the measure, saying the claim that marijuana “is no more dangerous than booze” is an “especially unpersuasive” argument for legalization. The claim by advocates, however, is actually that marijuana is far less damaging than alcohol.

Joe Fitzgerald decries Mitt Romney’s flirtation with a third party run, saying Republicans should close ranks around their presumed nominee. (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A Truro woman has won a lawsuit against the town overturning a permit issued by the zoning board allowing three Habitat for Humanity homes on lots directly abutting hers. (Cape Cod Times)

Independent bookstores, believe it or not, are growing. (Associated Press)

EDUCATION

More than 200 Gordon College students send a letter of protest to the administration regarding the dearth of discussion about sexual issues on campus. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Patriot Ledger examines teachers’ wages on the South Shore and finds salaries in 17 towns in the region exceed the statewide average.

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Once unthinkable in the United States, rooms to inject illegal drugs get a serious look. (Associated Press)

The life expectancy gap between blacks and whites narrows in the United States. (Time)

TRANSPORTATION

Today could be d-day for the Green Line Extension project, as the MBTA control board meets to consider its fate. (Boston Globe) A Herald editorial says the MBTA should only approve a Green Line Extension that hews close to the project’s original budget. The Sunday Globe had a deep dive on how the project’s costs ran so far off the rails. Emily Reichert of Greentown Labs in Somerville says the Green Line Extension is really an innovation extension. (CommonWealth)

Governing examines whether fingerprinting Uber and Lyft drivers actually promotes safety.

A sea plane taking off from Boston Harbor could become the fastest way to Manhattan if the route gets approved. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund comes out against a $47 million offer from Spectra Energy seeking to end opposition to a compressor station proposed for a natural gas pipeline project. (Masslive)

A Herald editorial criticizes a measure passed by the state Senate that would ban plastic bags at farmers markets, saying it’s the first step on the way to a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The State Police and Boston police have investigated dozen of cases of domestic violence involving officers, but the number of cases probably dramatically undercounts the actual incidence of such cases. (Boston Herald)

The New Bedford Standard-Times tries to follow the money of drug proceeds seized by the local district attorneys but is stymied in requests for a detailed accounting of the millions of dollars shared between those offices and police.

The former Marlborough fire chief has been arrested and charged with arson in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, after he allegedly started a brush fire that burned 42 acres of land. (MetroWest

Daily News)

Family members mourned the loss of Vibeke Rasmussen, a 76-year-old Quincy College professor, who was found brutally murdered in her Plymouth apartment. (Boston Globe)

Law enforcement officials searched to no avail a stretch of the Connecticut River where they think the suspect, Tyler Hagmaier, may have leapt to his death. (Boston Herald)