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12:13 pm
Mon July 22, 2013

Deerfield Academy Sexual Abuse Victim Speaks Out

Earlier this year, an anonymous man came forward saying he had been sexually abused by a popular coach and math teacher at Deerfield Academy in Western Massachusetts in the 1980’s. 

Now that accuser,  Whit Sheppard, is putting his name out there. Sheppard wrote a first-person account of what happened for Boston Globe Magazine and he recently spoke with WGBH’s Emily Rooney.

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Whit Sheppard was an 18-year-old senior at Deerfield Academy in the spring of 1983.  A charismatic squash coach and math teacher named Peter Hindle was Sheppard’s resident dorm advisor.

“He just had a way about him. He'd connect with people in his own way, usually through humor, sort of levity,” Sheppard said of Hindle. “I think that's how he originally connected with people. Any darker side was not out there for anybody to really glean."

"Looking back now, it seems sort of odd to me that he showered with our team. That's pretty creepy by today's standards," he said. 

A yearbook photo of Whit Sheppard when he was at Deerfield Academy in the 1980s.
Credit Whit Sheppard

But, said Sheppard, Peter Hindle was fun and adventurous and turned a blind eye to dorm room chicanery.

“It was a known fact that if you were a senior and you wanted to party and do what you wanted to do and not get in trouble, you really wanted to get a room on Barton 3,” Sheppard said. “Pretty much half of the senior class, certainly those of us that were into breaking the rules, were more than happy to want to be there.

But it was there that the abuse began – subtle at first.

“Out of left field, he started saying that I looked ‘tense’. That he thought I could really use a back rub," he said.

Sheppard said Hindle pestered him about it, asking him over and over again.

“I eventually said, ‘okay, sure’. I literally think I might have said, ‘so what am I supposed to do?’ And I don't remember exactly what he said, but essentially, ‘not much, lie down on your bed, and I'll come in, and I'll just rub your back.’”

But the next time – it was more than a back rub. And it went on for a while. 

“I knew it was wrong, on one hand, but I think, unfortunately, what happens with abuse is that part of it feels okay, feels good in a physical sense in some ways,” he said. “And that can be pretty confusing, because there's a discrepancy between how you feel in your head about it, and how you feel bodily.” 

I knew it was wrong, on one hand, but I think, unfortunately, what happens with abuse is that part of it feels okay, feels good in a physical sense in some ways

Sheppard graduated from Deerfield Academy that spring and went on with his life. He did not dwell on what happened even though he said it was always in the back of his head. Then, in 2004 he contacted Deerfield Academy and told them about the abuse, except he did not use Peter Hindle’s name.

The high school prep school did not ask for more information.

“I think part of what happens when things like this go on is that there's this certain lack of deservability, sort of a negative entitlement almost and I was sort of, at the time, glad that they responded at all,” he said.

Almost 10 years later in June of 2012 - Shepherd contacted Deerfield again. This time, he named his abuser and the new head of school, Margarita Curtis, responded right away.

“She treated me very respectfully and kindly right from the beginning,” he said of Curtis. “Treated me as making a credible allegation and has offered me support from the beginning.”

Deerfield Academy went on to do its own private investigation and confirmed that Peter Hindle had indeed abused Whit Sheppard and at least one other student. Now the Northeastern district attorney is looking into criminal charges against Hindle, who is now 78 years old and living in South Dartmouth.

Sheppard said he made the decision to write his account of what happened to him at Deerfield Academy for Boston Globe Magazine because he wanted to set an example and encourage others to come forward.

“I would think in a 44-year career at the school, it would not surprise me if there were several other, or even dozens of victims," he said. "But we'll never know unless they come forward." 

See Sheppard's interview on Greater Boston:

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