Why Covering Up Sex Scandals Doesn’t Work

Elite East Coast boarding school Choate Rosemary Hall certainly wasn’t the first to be caught up in a teacher-student sex scandal. Nor, sadly, will it be the last.

What’s more, trying to cover up such situations only makes the fallout worse. Even if it’s hoped that doing so will help protect the institution, the result is always the opposite.

At Choate, at least a dozen teachers preyed on vulnerable students for half a century, but the school only admitted it this week. Instead, administrators repeatedly hushed complaints, let some teachers quietly resign, and wrote favorable evaluations to help those who were fired find new teaching jobs.

Other prestigious schools confronted similar problems — St. George’s in Rhode Island, and Horace Mann and Poly Prep in New York City. At Penn State, a football coach accused of sexually abusing his players toppled the university’s entire hierarchy. Don’t forget the Catholic church, arguably the granddaddy of all sex scandals that has paid out nearly $4 billion in settlements and reportedly forgone many billions more in lost membership and diverted giving.

Marital infidelity also seriously damaged political careers. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley recently resigned while facing the threat of impeachment, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford barely escaped impeachment. President Bill Clinton clumsily handled the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and Anthony Weiner was unable to stop sexting.

The same is true for celebrities and athletes. Bill Cosby has fallen far. Roger Ailes was unceremoniously ushered from Fox, and Bill O’Reilly may not be far behind.

Tiger Woods provided a case study of what not to do — his first explanations were flimsy and inept, and his subsequent denials prolonged the story and the damage. United Airlines seemed to be using the same playbook.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. What they share is the belief that the problem will go away if they just don’t talk about it — or deny it, if it comes to light. That’s wishful thinking, and it rarely comes true.

The longer institutions try to hide their dirty laundry, the more they appear complicit.

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