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Report Says Faculty At Connecticut School Sexually Abused Students For Years

An elite boarding school in Connecticut is acknowledging sexual abuse by seven now-former staffers against 16 students — going back as far as 1969 and lasting until 1992.

The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn., is a private high school of about 600 students.

"For many graduates, Hotchkiss was a wonderful experience, yet a significant number of former students recounted enduring sexual abuse at the hands of faculty," according to a report from the law firm Locke Lord that was released on Friday.

The report names seven former staffers, including teachers, an athletic director, medical director and choral director. Most of those named were employed by the school for decades, some as recently as the 2000s and one in 2012. Three of them have died, the school says.

Three other adults who were "formerly part of the Hotchkiss community" are not named, but investigators found the reports of their abuse "highly credible."

Many of the instances of abuse detailed in the report focus on Leif Thorne-Thomsen, a classics teacher at the school between 1964 and 1992. He married two of his former students.

"Thorne-Thomsen abused girls who were vulnerable, a number of whom had experienced other sexual abuse earlier in life, and virtually all of whom felt they were outsiders of sorts," the report says. "Thorne-Thomsen would ingratiate himself with them by sharing personal details about his life and coax them into believing that he was relying on them for emotional support. He used the trust these students placed in him as a teacher and mentor to engage in repeated acts of sexual misconduct."

Thorne-Thomsen had sex with multiple students, the report says, including a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old, and touched multiple students inappropriately.

The law firm said that school leaders "missed opportunities" and that there was "a failure by specific individuals to act when presented with clear accounts of misconduct."

Investigators said they spoke with 150 people, including more than 90 graduates and almost 40 current and former faculty members.

The New York Times added:

"This grim accounting follows a similar pattern at schools like the Emma Willard School and Choate Rosemary Hall, which have released detailed reports of wrongdoing. Activists and lawyers who represent victims of this kind of abuse have said such public accountings are crucial to protecting students going forward and getting some justice for those harmed in the past."

"We are deeply and truly sorry for the enduring pain suffered as a result of the behavior outlined in the report," President of the Board of Trustees Jean Weinberg Rose and Head of School Craig W. Bradley said in a statement. "We cannot say that enough, even though we know that words can bring only limited comfort to those who were harmed and cannot undo the impact of these actions on those individuals and on the Hotchkiss community."

The school says it will reimburse costs for certain therapy sessions for people affected by the sexual abuse. It also says the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network is conducting a review of its "sexual misconduct education and response mechanisms."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.