Carl Monday Investigates: A school sex assault cover up?

Ohio's Mandatory Reporting Law got widespread media attention during the Steubenville Rape Case.  The law requires school employees, medical professionals and others to report any cases of suspected abuse involving a minor.  But Carl Monday and his investigative team found that no one is tracking such cases in Ohio.  And here in Cuyahoga County, Juvenile Court officials say they have no record of anyone being prosecuted under the Mandatory Reporting Law.

Monday examined one case in particular involving the prestigious Gilmour Academy in Gates Mills.  The incident dates back to 2011 during a school play on the Gilmour campus.  Then 16-year old Helen McKeon says a male classmate who sat next to her that night began putting his hands on her and rubbing her thighs and tried to touch her private parts.  "I was in survival mode.  I was trying to think what I could do to keep me from getting the most hurt."

McKeon reported the incident to four school officials the next day.  Hours later, accompanied by her dad, John McKeon, she made a report at the Gates Mills Police Department.  But a review of police records shows no contact between the school and police for the next nine days.  "Can you think of any reason why the school wouldn't want this thing out," asked Monday.  "Only if it's not true," replied Brother Robert Lavelle, in charge of Gilmour for over thirty years.

Eventually, sexual imposition charges were filed against the fellow student.  But despite a protection order, the teen remained in school, and was even assigned to a class and a retreat with her accuser.

"I started to get very angry," said Helen. "These people were supposed to protect me.  I was a minor.  They weren't protecting me at all.  They were trying to protect the person that had committed the crime."

A juvenile judge ruled prosecutors made their case of sexual imposition.  But after a probation department review of the accuser's background, the complaint was dismissed.

But the question lingers:  "Why did the school keep it quiet?"  Helen's father wants to know, and has filed a complaint with juvenile court, accusing not only school officials, but two Gates Mills police officers for violating the Mandatory Reporting Law, and not taking the case against her daughter seriously.  John McKeon says he sensed it right from beginning.  "I sensed it when the police officer, the sergeant told me, don't expect this go anywhere."

Gates Mills Police Chief Donald Whitmer won't comment on the complaint, but did say his office takes each case seriously and is co-operating with the Juvenile Court investigation.

Cleveland Rape Crisis Center CEO Sondra Miller says, "We think we've come a long way in treating sexual survivors with respect, but we still see a lot of school systems, criminal justice systems, that treat victims like they're the ones that committed a crime."   Miller says many schools are reluctant to report sex abuse allegations because they don't know what to do, or they're simply afraid of what liability they may have if they do report it.

Helen, with the help of the Rape Crisis Center is getting back on her feet, but admits her whole world has changed since the incident.  "Not just because some boy violated me," she says, "but the people I was supposed to trust wouldn't believe me."

Brother Lavelle says the school wants all kids to be safe.  And despite what appeared to happen in the McKeon case, he insists when there's a report of sexual abuse, they consult with local authorities.

Helen's dad says he and her mom had every confidence she was going to an excellent school, that she was going to be in a safe environment. "And they failed her," he says. "They absolutely failed her."

As a result of Carl Monday's story, Gilmour Academy released  the following statement:

Dear Members of the Gilmour Community, 

One of Cleveland's TV stations is promoting an "investigation" into an alleged "cover up" at Gilmour Academy that is scheduled to air this (Monday) evening. While we have not yet seen the full report, we believe the featured story relates to how Gilmour handled an incident involving two Gilmour students at a public event on our campus more than two years ago. The brief promotion for the story suggests the "cover up" of a sexual assault that occurred at that event. I can assure you that Gilmour Academy has NOT covered up, and would not cover up, a sexual assault on its campus. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

First, let me say that a report like this puts the school in a very difficult position. Incidents like this one, which involve students – who are minors – are particularly sensitive by nature. Because both students were minors at the time, we believe we have a duty to protect their privacy. Even if we knew what actually occurred that evening, we couldn't share the details with you. In any event, in this case, we still are not sure we have all the facts since the related juvenile court records are confidential and Gilmour was not a party to the proceedings. In light of incomplete information, we faced the challenge of making sure we consistently acted conscientiously and fairly on behalf of both students.

As a school community that is student- and family-oriented, I can assure you that student safety is always our highest priority. If a student reports an incident in which he/she was harmed or felt threatened, it is our duty and policy to promptly investigate all complaints and to discipline any student whose actions or words threaten another student. When and where appropriate, we promptly report incidents involving our students to the authorities. We take our reporting obligations seriously and have always strived to act responsibly and swiftly with respect to matters involving student safety and child endangerment.

To that end, as soon as the female student reported the incident referred to in the news report, we acted responsibly by first trying to gather information. In this particular case, the three members of our faculty and administrative staff who initially interviewed the female student determined that, based on the data shared, what she described that day did not rise to the level of a reportable incident. They listened carefully to her account and assured her that they would investigate further.

Within hours of that interview, the family filed a police report. Thus, there was no longer a need for the school to file its own police report. Once that report was filed, Gilmour no longer had access to information about the case while it made its way through the Juvenile Court system. As a result, we were unable to continue our own investigation. We did, however, remain in contact with the police and offered our full cooperation. We did everything we could to make sure the female student felt protected, and took steps to separate the two students until the case was resolved in Juvenile Court and the male student withdrew from Gilmour.

Because of privacy concerns, I am unable to share additional details about this incident, but I can tell you that it is very unfortunate now, two years later, to be the subject of this kind of report. Everyone at Gilmour Academy works very hard to make sure our students are safe, and that every student feels comfortable and welcome on our campus. As I have said so many times before, our Holy Cross family spirit and charisms of inclusiveness and hospitality leave no room for intolerance or unkindness, and we strive to incorporate this spirit and these charisms into our school culture and the very essence of our students' thinking and behavior.

Our goal is to create a campus environment that allows each student to live out our mission to "have the competence to see and the courage to act in creating a more humane and just society." We have adopted a strong stand against bullying in any form and work to create a culture of respect that does not tolerate bullying, harassment or intimidation of ANY student on school property, at school-sponsored events, on school-provided transportation, or outside of school.

We require our staff to take VIRTUS training, which is a program designed to raise awareness and prevent sexual abuse of children and students. Every employee is required to report ANY action that violates our school policy on child abuse or neglect (including sexual abuse of a minor) immediately to the Director of the Upper School, the Director of the Middle School, the Director of the Lower School and/or to me as Head of School. We encourage reports or complaints to be made in writing, so that we can adequately and accurately capture the situation, and we report all cases of suspected abuse or neglect to the Cuyahoga County Department of Child and Family Services or the police. We follow these policies without exception.

Finally, on a personal note, I have to say it was heartbreaking to watch even the brief promo of this young woman talking about what happened to her. It is our mission and Holy Cross tradition at Gilmour to create a culture of concern, empathy and compassion for others. I am deeply saddened by the thought that she left the Academy feeling alienated and unsupported. While there may have been better ways to have addressed this painful incident, we made every effort to act compassionately and responsibly, based on the very limited information we had available to us. We are reminded of the importance of awareness, guidance and care for all young people on their journey to adulthood. Our prayers and vigilance are steps we can all embrace as a Catholic/faith-based community.


Brother Robert E. Lavelle, C.S.C.
Head of School

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