Groton School Pleads Guilty for Failing to Report Sexual Abuse Complaints

On Monday, Cambridge Superior Court fined the Groton School for $1,250 after the boarding school pled guilty to a misdemeanor criminal charge of failing to report complaints of sexual abuse from several students. The school entered the plea on the day that the case was supposed to go to trial. Massachusetts’s “mandated reporting” law states that school officials, clergy, doctors, and day-care workers are required to report any suspected instances of abuse to the Department of Social Services. Going to trial would have required several administrators and former students to testify before a jury. Groton Headmaster Rick Commons said, “In this instance, we believe this is the best way to put the matter behind us.” Groton was indicted last June following an investigation that began in 1999 into the alleged abuse of several boys by upperclassmen. In 1999, the parents of a student who said he had been sexually abused approached school administrators, prompting several other victims to come forward, including Cannon “Zeke” Hawkins. A Senior at the time, Hawkins said during roll-call at an assembly that he and others had been routinely hazed by upperclassmen for several years. Hawkins, who is now a 24-year-old alumnus of Brown Univerisity working as an independent filmmaker in New York City, was the captain of the tennis team and a one-time student member of the Groton Board of Trustees. Hawkins reported the abuse to the school in March of 1999, but he felt that Groton did little to address the problem. In 2001 Hawkins filed a negligence lawsuit against Groton with the Middlesex Superior Court. After Groton plead guilty this week, the Boston Globe quoted Hawkins as saying that he “took little satisfaction in the prospect of [a guilty plea].” He told the Globe, “I already know what happened; I was there. The fact that they’re pleading guilty doesn’t surprise me.” Hawkins said he felt that the school administrators involved in the situation should have been removed from their positions. In an interview with the Boston Herald, Hawkins said that Groton was “more interested in covering up the abuse to protect its repuation than in disciplining the abusers.” School officials say that they never hid any abuse and that they were unable to file a report because of a lack of reliable information from the students who came forward. As reported in the Lowell Sun, school spokeswoman Karen Schwartzman said, “In order to make a report to DSS you need some detail of the conduct that you are complaining about and that detail was to be forthcoming in a letter [from the victim].” She went on to say that the three alleged cases of abuse that had been reported by the school in previous years demonstrated this, and showed that the school “had no motive to withhold another report.” The parents of the student who brought the abuse to the Groton administration said in a statement to the Associated Press, “We can only hope that this guilty plea indicates that the school, after six years of equivocation, has finally acknowledged this responsibility to assure that such activities never again occur.”