EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 21, 2013

Victim: 'This was not my choice'

Former Pike student details alleged abusive relationship with teacher

By Mark E. Vogler
mvogler@eagletribune.com

---- — BOSTON — A former Pike School student recalled yesterday how it felt to be 15 years old and in love with one of his teachers, who was more than three times his age.

“We had visions of being married,” the former student, now 34, said of the sexual relationship that developed between him and the former Pike teacher, Judith Elefante (Judith Chapell at the time) during 1992 and 1993 at the independent, coed, day school in Andover for grades prekindergarten through nine.

But two decades later, the former Pike student said he now realizes that the special attention, gifts and sex that Elefante showered him with wasn’t love at all — but the acts of someone who “just preyed on me.”

“From what I know now and knowing that she’s done this to other people, I think she’s a monster — no different than any of the other ones that I’m sure everyone’s talked about,” he, said referring to high profile sex offenders who have generated publicity in recent years for their abuse of children.

“She’s preying on young kids,” he told the reporters who gathered in the downtown law offices of Boston Attorney Carmen L. Durso to learn the details of a lawsuit filed on his behalf as plaintiff “John Doe.” He agreed to go public, provided his face, voice and other identifying features were not revealed.

Elefante, 70, now of Newburyport; the Pike School; and three former Pike school administrators are among 16 defendants named in the lawsuit filed by Boston attorney Carmen L. Durso. The Groton School and 10 of its school administrators and teachers are also named as co-defendants. Criminal charges cannot be filed in this case, as the statute of limitations has expired.

John Doe alleged that he was “sexually abused and raped, while he was a minor,” by Elefante “because of the negligence of the administrators and teachers of the Pike School Inc. and Groton School, where he attended while carrying on a sexual relationship with Elefante, according the 21-page lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court yesterday.

Elefante could not be reached for comment yesterday. A telephone call to the Boston office of her attorney Rebecca Pontikes was not returned.

John Doe said yesterday that he was greatly influence to proceed with the lawsuit because of another alleged victim who recently came forward, claiming he had been sexually abused by Elefante about 10 years earlier. The victim agreed to go public, if necessary, to bolster John’s lawsuit, according to Durso.

“For me, that was a life changer and what prompted us to be here today,” John told reporters, at the outset of his question and answer session.

“Starting in the early 1980s, and continuing at least through 1994, defendant Elefante engaged in sexual activity with minor students who attended the Pike School, and was a serial abuser,” according to the court complaint.

“Defendant Elefante used her position and her authority as a teacher to identify, and to groom, potential victims. The professional medical literature relating to young males who are abused by adult females emphasizes that they are unable to understand that they are being victimized by perpetrators who have used them for their own sexual pleasure,” the complaint says.

A spokesperson for the Pike School said last night that school officials were surprised by some of the allegations in the lawsuit.

“The allegations included in the complaint that suggest that there was sexual activity between Judith Elefante and the student while the student was at Pike are new to us,” spokeswoman Karen Schwartzman said.

“In fact, when this matter was first brought to the School’s attention two years ago, lawyers for the student then were quite clear that the sexual activity began well after the student graduated from Pike,” Schwartzman said.

“Further, despite inquiring of a number of faculty and staff members who were at Pike during Ms. Elefante’s tenure, we have heard nothing that would suggest that she engaged in sexual activity with any other student enrolled at Pike,” she said.

John Doe told reporters yesterday that it took years before he realized he had been the victim of sexual assault by a female teacher.

“About two years ago, I realized that this was not right, and that’s when we confronted the schools,” he said of the first time that he had consulted a lawyer following a therapy session where he had talked about his relations with the teacher.

“The therapist’s impression and my initial impression were not the same,” he recalled.

“I began to understand that this was not my choice,” he said of his relations with Elefante, which ended when he was about 21.

The relationship had a lasting impact on John’s life, he contends. He was a talented student at the Pike School, with a bright future on the horizon, as he showed “significant academic potential, as demonstrated by his 800 score on his verbal SAT and 660 on the math portion, and his admission to Groton on a full scholarship,” according to the lawsuit.

But John dropped out of the Groton School, and later went to Andover High School where he graduated, and went onto college in another state, but dropped out.

It wasn’t until last October, that he received a bachelor’s degree.

“Sometimes, It feels like I’m mourning a life lost,” John said. “Things would have been very, very different if this hadn’t happened. It’s hard to find success when you have fractured relationships around you. She took my identity away,” he said.

“Going into adulthood, I keep wondering why things aren’t working and why everything is so difficult,” he said.

John said he has struggled with relationships in his personal life and at work.

He’s married, but said, while noting, “It’s been a significant struggle and it hasn’t been without its issues. I don’t think too many spouses sign up for this.” His wife wasn’t aware of his past relations with Elefante until after they were married.

John said he now realizes that the teacher took advantage of him for her own sexual desires, while abusing her role as a mentor.

“I think it left me awfully confused, because now I had to try to repiece an entire identity on my own. I couldn’t talk to anybody about what happened. I didn’t have any of these experiences that you spend your entire adolescence building,” he said. “To spend most of your adult life wondering what you did wrong and then finally figure out it wasn’t you. That’s a pretty significant thing to come to terms with.”

“Fundamentally, I don’t (know) if any of you could imagine what it would be like to be isolated completely for 10 or 15 years, because that’s what this was like. The consequences of that. There’s a whole set of skills that you haven’t developed. You don’t know who you can trust or how you should trust people. Your entire value system is skewed,” he said.

Pike officials have already confirmed part of John’s story.

“Muddy” Waters said he had fired Elefante after allegations of her involvement with the student came to light.

“Upon first hearing of this in 2011, Muddy immediately met with Ms. Elefante and she acknowledged only that she had provided advice and support to this particular alumnus while he was at Pike,” Waters and Andrew Chaban, chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees, wrote in a letter to the Pike School community last month.

“She confirmed that their relationship continued after he left Pike and that, in fact, the relationship developed into a sexual one,’’ the letter continued. “As a result, Muddy made a decision to terminate Ms. Elefante from further employment at Pike.’