I wish all the sexism and misogyny Hugh Hefner amplified and celebrated would die with him. Turns out, Hef gets to stalk into infinity: he paid $75,000 to be buried in the plot next to Marilyn Monroe.
It disgusts me that America (the world?) is celebrating this man.
Here’s an alumna’s comment from my fancy, I-was-so-lucky-to-attend-boarding school that many years later, was proven to be the site of numerous sexual assaults. Faulkner Fox writes:
At “Casino Night,” a required school event at St. George’s School, 14 and 15-year-old girls were asked to dress as playboy bunnies. Let’s just say it’s not one of my fondest childhood memories. All of the school’s sexism cannot be blamed on Hugh Hefner–of course not. But because of Hefner’s extraordinary cultural influence, one of the things we were asked to do–for fun–was dress as Playboy bunnies.”
Yes, we were 14 and 15. Sexism was so insidious at St. George’s and in life that all I remember caring about was how I looked in my bunny suit. I took down the yearbook pictures on Reel Girl of Casino Night and every sexist photo I had up of St. George’s that didn’t include me, because though the shame is on the school and not the girls shown, our culture is messed up and too many people don’t get that. I don’t have me in a bunny suit but I have this gem to share, a yearbook photo from St. George’s captioned: “Todd’s Toys.”
Don’t worry: I don’t blame entitled guys like you for all the sexism and misogyny at St. George’s. You were young. I’m willing to give you some leeway. Plus I didn’t overlap with you at St. George’s — I am class of ’81; you are class of ’90 — so I don’t know how you actually behaved back then. Let’s say you never said or did one sexist or abusive thing before you got on that bus with Donald Trump in 2005.
What you did on that bus in talking with Donald Trump in 2005 directly relates to what happened to your St. George’s classmates. I’m talking about the creation and perpetuation of rape culture, the entrenched belief that women and girls don’t matter the way men do, that we are here to be grabbed, harassed, raped. Whatever a guy can get away with is fair game, worthy of laughter and high-fiving from other guys on the same messed-up bus.
Hugh Hefner helped to normalize and mainstream objectification of women. His vision touched us all. Got a personal story of how this “cultural icon” helped to infect your life with sexism? Please share it on Reel Girl.
The report states that a St. George’s campus security officer, Christopher Simanski, called 911 when he saw a male climb out the window of an all girls dorm and run towards the road with no shoes on. When Middletown police officer David Hurst arrived on the scene, Simanski told him he’d chased the male but couldn’t catch him. Simanski returned to the dorm, went to the room with the window, and saw a girl sitting on her bed crying, another girl sitting next to her. He wrote that she was upset, visibly shaken, and “indicated there had been a male in her room and on her bed.”
While Simanski was recounting the events to Hurst, the dean of students, Katie Titus, came out of the dorm and approached them. What do you think happened next? She helped them investigate a possible crime, right?
Here’s how Hurst tells it:
I asked Titus where the alleged victim was and Titus ignored my question and only replied by telling me that the girl was upset. I asked Titus again where the alleged victim was and again she did not answer me. I reiterated to Titus that I was there to investigate a possible assault or sexual assault and that I would need to speak to the victim to determine the nature of the incident and obtain crucial information for any possible suspects.
Titus still refused to let Hurst investigate, insisting that she would speak for the victim. She would speak for the victim? Hurst continued to press her, letting her know that he needed vital information. Titus gave him some information of her own. She said she knew the male who ran from the window. He was student who had just graduated. But then, she refused to give the officer his name or any other facts about him.
When 911 is called and there’s a report that a girl may have been sexually assaulted, how the adults around her respond makes a world of difference. They can ensure that she gets immediate professional treatment and care, optimally provided by a team that includes a medical provider, a sexual assault examiner, and a rape crisis counselor. They can facilitate police evidence collection, which depending on the jurisdiction, needs to happen within days following the incident. This kind of rapid response leads to better health outcomes for victims and an increased chance that associated criminal charges are filed.
So what happened next?
According to the report, Titus told Hurst that she’d reached the recent graduate on her cell phone. (She had his number on her cell? Maybe that’s totally normal for a dean’s contact list in these digital days?) The nameless male assured Titus that he hadn’t been on campus. Hurst writes in his report: “Titus apparently accepted the alibi at face value.” Again, she refused to give Hurst any more information about him. I haven’t read many police reports but this seems like an odd order of events. Was Titus trying to pacify the officer at first, saying she knew the male, thinking he’d leave it all alone, let her take this mess over? Then, when Hurst asked for more information, did Titus regret telling him she knew his identity? We’ll never know because just at that moment, Titus was called away for a family emergency.
Assistant dean, Lucy Goldstein, arrived on the scene to take over. More police officers also arrived, including a lieutenant who insisted on speaking to the girl to confirm the chain of events. At that point, Goldstein went and talked to the girl for 20 minutes before allowing the lieutenant to speak with her. The girl told him that she let the male into her room, they started kissing and he wanted it to become more intimate. She “declined” and he “agreed not to press the issue and left through the window.”
The report ends with:
Having no further evidence of a crime or witnesses to come forward to contradict the series of events, all units cleared from the scene. School safety supervisor Lombardi advised that he would follow up in the morning regarding how the school staff handled the initial investigation and its cooperation or lack there of in the investigation conducted by this department.
I don’t see any information that a follow up actually happened.
SGS for Healing writes that the report raises a number of questions including: Why didn’t the SGS Dean Katie Titus immediately allow the officer to see the female student? Why did the Middletown police call Ms. Titus uncooperative? Why did Ms. Titus call the adult male? Why didn’t she help the officer talk with him and why did she refuse to give the adult male student’s name and telephone number? Sometime after the Middletown Police were on the scene, a female sexual assault officer from Newport arrived. Why did the school continue to refuse to allow her access to the alleged victim? How did the school help the student get professional treatment and care? How were the police aided in gathering physical evidence?
Last night, I saw “Spotlight,” the movie about the sexual abuse and the Catholic church that just won the Best Picture Oscar. There’s a great line: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.” This story is so much bigger than St. George’s. It’s about how when institutions (whether its the church, the government, businesses, or schools) are put before individuals, children suffer. Ultimately, we all do because this pattern of abuse happens far too often and isn’t symptomatic of the kind of world healthy people have the great potential to create.
Reel Girl’s posts about St. George’s are below. If you read them, you will see that as an alumna of the school, I started to write about the institutionalized sexism I witnessed there long before I learned about the rapes and cover-ups.
This is an open letter from St. George’s alumna Jocelyn Davis to Bishop Nicholas Knisely, the Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island and Honorary Chair of the school’s Board of Directors. St. George’s is a prep school in Middletown, Rhode Island where sexual abuse was covered up by those in power for decades.
Davis emailed Knisely on February 16, and he has not responded to her yet.
If you would like to send your own letter to the Bishop, please feel free to cut and paste from this one if that’s helpful to you. The more voices he hears calling for change, the more likely he is to take action. The bishop’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re not familiar with the St. George’s sexual abuse and rapes, you can find all of Reel Girl’s posts about the school after the letter.
Here is Jocelyn Davis’s letter.
Dear Bishop Knisely,
I am an alumna of St George’s School (class of 1980). I understand the school is chartered by the Episcopal Church, Diocese of Rhode Island, and that you are Honorary Board Chair. You therefore have an extra measure of influence over the governance of the school, and that’s why I’m writing to you.
I have learned of the past abuses with a dismay I’m sure you share. A number of my classmates were affected. My dismay deepens, however, when I read about the actions of school leaders—leaders still in place today.
Dozens of children were raped or molested over decades. School leaders have condemned the abuse and funded an investigation; well and good. But what about those leaders who until a few months ago (and in some respects up until now):
– Failed to report the abuse to Rhode Island authorities, as required by law
– Failed to notify institutions where abusers were later employed, even after being specifically asked to do so by survivors
– Quibbled about the reporting laws as a way to excuse their inaction
– Placed gag orders on survivors, telling them what they can and cannot talk about
– Were dismissive of those survivors who mustered up the courage to demand meetings
– Denigrated survivors as malcontents, gold-diggers, or substandard students
– Reacted to the news not with heartfelt apologies, self-examination, and personal ownership, but with facile reassurances that “all that was in the past and everything is fine now”
– Have been dragged kicking and screaming by attorneys and the press, every step of the way—and then have had the gall to complain about “unfair” lawyers and media
I am aware of the ongoing independent investigation, and I can appreciate that it is impossible for you to take action until it is complete. Nevertheless, I urge you to reflect on the above points. I further urge you to use your influence, as soon as possible, to help bring about a wholesale change of leadership at St George’s, so a fresh start can be made.
For a specific plan to that effect, please see the website www.rebootsgs.com , created by my fellow alums Chris and Philip Williams.
One last thought: In my senior year at SGS, we read Dostoyevsky’s story of “The Grand Inquisitor.” I’m sure you know it well. In the fable, Christ returns to earth and is arrested. The Grand Inquisitor, pillar of the Church, visits him in his cell to tell him the Church no longer needs him; indeed, that the Church rejects his message of “individuals first” in favor of Satan’s message of “institution first.”
I can’t help but wonder whether Christ is knocking at the door of St George’s School right now. Forty-plus individuals, courageous survivors of abuse, are standing at his side, calling for justice. I hope you will open the door and stand with them.
Jocelyn Roberts Davis ‘80
Reel Girl’s posts about St. George’s are below. If you read them, you will see that as an alumna of the school, I started to write about the institutionalized sexism I witnessed at the school long before I learned about the rapes and cover-ups.
When Anne Scott initially brought a suit against the school about her molestation by athletic trainer, Al Gibbs, lawyers representing St.George’s claimed she “has a tendency to lie.” They also said that if the 15 year old had sex with the 67 year old, it was consensual. Let me remind you, lawyers representing a school seemed to have no concept of statutory rape. St. George’s also sought to change the case from a “Jane Doe” to use Scott’s real name. Intimidated, Scott dropped her case. Years later, still suffering from the abuse at St. George’s, Scott demanded the school contact alumni about abuse that may have happened. Scott was certain there were other victims. She wanted the school to be accountable and to reach out to others who may need help. St. George’s started an investigation and sent out letters. According to the school, “tens of women” have responded that they are survivors of abuse. But one of the problems with the investigation is that more victims have said they are not comfortable talking about their experiences to Will Hannum, the lead investigator hired by St. George’s. Hannum is not only a lawyer but a partner of the counsel for St. George’s, not the ideal person to speak with about these experiences. I have been contacted by women who feel this way.
Here are more facts since the Globe article came out about how St. George’s continues to fail it’s alumni from the counsel for Anne Scott (’80), Joan (Bege) Reynolds (’79) and Katie Wales (’80): Eric MacLeish (SGS ’70)
Since the December 15, 2015 article in the Boston Globe we have received reports from eleven additional alumnae who were sexually molested and assaulted by former SGS athletic trainer Al Gibbs. We also have other calls to return so that figure will rise tomorrow
Virtually all of the alumnae are or have suffered psychological injury as a result of their abuse by Gibbs and some are currently in states of crisis. Two have reported suicidal ideation. We are referring alumnae to the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (which has agreed to handle calls from outside Massachusetts). We are searching immediately for a clinician to provide crisis services for these individuals and to make referrals. We have asked SGS to retain such a clinician but SGS has not responded
Based on Mr. Zane’s notes of four Gibbs victims in the Scott case and the three clients who we represent, the number of Gibbs alumnae victims that we are aware of currently total eighteen
SGS has still refused to disclose the number of victims who have come forward to the School alleging sexual assault by Gibbs. This number is likely much higher than the eighteen alumnae victims that we are aware of
Headmaster Peterson stated in his letter of November 2, 2015 to alumni that the “majority” of the abuse reports center around three individuals and that most of the reports fall in the 1970’s and 1980’s. We have received reports of abuse from alumni over the past four days, including reports from two former Trustees, regarding five SGS former employees; one report was as recent as 2004
SGS has shown a pattern of conduct since 1979 of coercing alumnae who were abused by Gibbs into silence. A student who alleged she was abused in 1979 was told that she was mentally ill and was required to see the School’s consulting psychologist. More recent tactics under current school leadership include requiring a victim seeking mental health care because of Gibbs’ abuse to sign an agreement prohibiting the victim from speaking of about the abuse publicly and, further, that she not “disparage” the School
SGS employees violated the Rhode Island Mandatory Abuse reporting law on Gibbs sexual molestation thereby subjecting other children to risks of abuse as Gibbs was alive for fifteen years after he left SGS. We have also received credible reports that SGS violated the same law in 1988, at which time the alleged perpetrator left SGS and went on to teach at another prep school for 11 years
Many alumni who came forward to report abuse to the “independent” investigator which Headmaster Peterson referred to in his April 7th letter to alumni were not told by the investigator that he was a partner in a law firm that was actually representing SGS
The School’s victim assistance package continues to contain a confidentiality clause which prevents alumni from disclosing that SGS is paying for assistance. At the same time, the agreement contains no provision that requires SGS to keep a victim’s name and assistance package confidential
SGS alumni have started an online public petition requesting that the School take immediate measures to conduct an independent investigation and provide for an alumni mental health assistance program that is consistent with what other independent school programs have done in similar situations. The petition can be foundhere
Over the past four days, we have received reports that Headmaster Peterson has been aware of Gibbs’ abuse of SGS students for many years; it was only after he was approached by Anne Scott in February of 2015 that the School sent out its first alumni letter. Mr. MacLeish contacted Mr. Peterson urging him to send out an alumni letter on Gibbs in 2012
From Counsel for Anne Scott (’80), Joan (Bege) Reynolds (’79) and Katie Wales (’80): Eric MacLeish (SGS ’70) and Carmen Durso.
If you care about helping survivors of sexual assault and protecting all kids from having this happen to them, please sign this petition
UPDATE: Eric MacLeish contacted me with this info: we retained a clinician, Dr. Paul Zeizel, who is available 7 days a week for SGS victims. He can provide crisis counseling for SGS alums that is confidential. His mobile phone is 857 472 2704. His email is email@example.com