Eric MacLeish, the lawyer Billy Crudup portrayed in Spotlight, who defended the victims of the Archdiocese of Boston, spoke about his work that helped unveil decades of sexual abuse at the Choate Rosemary Hall private school, at The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s (NYSPCC) Sixth Annual Spring Luncheon at the Pierre Hotel.
MacLeish’ story stilled the room – which included Brooke Shields, new ACS Commissioner David Hansell, Dori Cooperman, Diandra Douglas, Jean Shafiroff, model Frederique van der Wal, and actor Tom Pelphrey. Many had sent their own children to upscale private boarding schools. It seemed unthinkable that, young and alone, they could be seduced by their teachers. Yet, besides Choate, St. George’s School in Rhode Island, and Horace Mann and Poly Prep in New York City have all been implicated in sexual misconduct against students.
Yes, abuse crosses all socio-economic borders. And The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, founded in 1875, has been on the front line of the battle to guard against it and save its victims. The agency is often the first call when abuse is discovered. Its methods are used as models across the country.
MacLeish told the story of Cheyenne Montgomery to the room. A high achieving scholarship student who had been abused by her father, Montgomery arrived at Choate in the early 90s, on a scholarship. He said, “She had the expectation that she would find the type of trusting, close, mentoring relationship that had been absolutely absent from her life. And then she met Angus Mairs. He took an interest in her. He cared what she thought. She confided in the abuse by her father. By the end of the school year [Mairs] felt he had groomed her successfully and he now could start a sexual relationship with her. She was 15-years-old at the time.” After he left the school, he continued the relationship, writing her love letters that were strangely insulting. In her senior year, a French teacher, Björn Runquist, whom she had told about the abuse she suffered at the hands of Mr. Mairs, took that as a signal and began his own relationship with her. He was 44. She was 17.
When the school got an inkling, Runquist was let go – with a strong recommendation leading to a “soft landing,” at Kent. What happened to Cheyenne? No one seemed to care. “If they had,” MacLeish said, “they would have realized that this woman had gotten a full scholarship to Reed, but she had shaved off all of her hair her freshman year because she didn’t want to be attractive to other men and she dropped out, losing her full scholarship.” Choate’s lawyer recommended, “Choate would pay for only 2/3 of the therapy because, after all, Cheyenne had arrived in the school as damaged goods. She had been abused by her father. Cheyenne took his words and posted it on the Choate alumni page. Suffice to say there was an explosion.”
“Here in New York, private schools do not have to report abuse that takes place internally to law enforcement,” said Macleish. “Right now, if a teacher sexually assaults a student in a private school, there is no obligation to report that teacher to law enforcement. There is if he or she is a public school teacher, but not in a private school.”
This is where the NYSPCC comes in. They helped author a bill to protect private school children, said Executive Director Dr. Mary L. Pulido, passed by the Senate Children and Families Committee. “In the Assembly, we’re making progress, but still have work to do,” she noted. “I urge all of you to help us get this law passed. You can call Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan who chairs the Education Committee or Senator John J. Flanagan. We want children in private schools protected!”
Maarit Glocer, Joan Granlund, Valesca Guerrand-Hermes and Elizabeth Mayhew served as co-chairs of the luncheon. Vice-Chairs were Ellen and Alan Breed, Kathe B. Dyson, Vicki Foley, Penny Grant, MD, Tania Higgins and Alex Roepers.
For more information about The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, visit www.nyspcc.org.