For a long time, one of my most idyllic memories has been of the summer of 1980, which I spent in the St. Paul’s School Advanced Studies Program in Concord NH.
Now it turns out that St. Paul’s has been a hotbed of sexual abuse against students for decades, with at least 23 faculty members (and possibly as many as 34 – at a school where the total number of faculty is only slightly over 100) being guilty of everything from “clear boundary crossings to repeated sexual relationships to rape” – and with the administration having been despicably (though, alas, not atypically) recalcitrant and blame-the-victim-ish in addressing the problem for many years. Some of the named perpetrators are faculty I’d remembered with fondness from my time there.
Well, there’s that memory tainted. Ugh.
I always thought that someday when I could afford to, I’d donate money to St. Paul’s. Well, I still can’t afford to, but if I could – sorry guys, nope.
I know the feeling.
One of the named teachers asked me to come on several “school trips” with him while I was a student there, which I declined without quite knowing why I “just didn’t feel like going” (ever). He was both persistent about asking and offended when rebuffed, but I always had an excuse not to go, and never did. God knows what happened on the trips I missed.
It’s not just memories that are tainted but a whole way of dealing with people. I happen to be in Jerusalem nowadays. I told this story on Facebook: I was in a fast food place in Arab East Jerusalem the other day when a mother and daughter walked in. The mother spoke Arabic but the daughter, who was maybe 5, didn’t. The little girl couldn’t decide what she wanted to order. The items up for order were depicted in photos on the wall, but out of reach for her. She pointed indeterminately at a couple of items without being able to name the item (“I want THAT one!”). Eventually, the shopkeeper–a 17 year old boy–walked out from behind the counter, wordlessly picked the girl up, and walked her over to the photos. Delighted with the attention, she made her decision (“burger with fries!”), putting her finger on the right selection. Holding her in place, the shopkeeper then gave her a tour of the store behind the counter. The mother and shopkeeper had no prior acquaintance with one another, and the shopkeeper never asked the mother’s permission to pick up the child. And yet there was nothing invidious, much less sexual, about the interaction. It took place in an entirely untainted space.
This isn’t to say that there are no sexual predators here. It’s just to say that ordinary life hasn’t yet been tainted by the suspicion of them. The same interaction, in New Jersey, would have led to a 911 call to the police.