For an adolescent, the trauma of being sexually molested is often compounded by overwhelming fear, which keeps the victim from speaking out about what has happened.
But Zeke Hawkins says he could not keep silent about what happened to him and to others at the elite Massachusetts boarding school he attended. And, he says, when he came forward, the school refused to take him seriously.
Hawkins became so frustrated at what he saw as a lack of responsiveness to his allegations that he announced publicly to a school assembly that he had been molested by other students when he was a 16-year-old sophomore. His shocking story threw the 100-year-old institution into a crisis.
This week Hawkins filed suit against the Groton School, charging it failed to provide a safe environment for him. The Middlesex County district attorney's office is investigating and a grand jury has heard evidence in the case.
Hallowed Institution Disgraced?
Founded in 1884, the exclusive Groton School has powerful alumni who include senators, admirals and generals. The 32nd president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was a Groton alum.
Today parents of students pay $30,000 a year for a Groton education, which stresses moral growth and character building.
So Phyliss Hawkins says she was shocked to receive a disturbing phone call from her son during his senior year. "Mom," she remembers him saying, "I was molested when I first started at school."
Zeke Hawkins entered the school in 1996. Two years later, he told his parents that during his first months at Groton — beginning on this third day of school — other students who had been at the school longer restrained him, ripped off some of his clothes, licked him, grabbed his genitals, and digitally penetrated him through his boxer shorts. He says he was attacked 10 to 15 times in all.
Hawkins recounted this to the headmaster, William Polk, but he and his parents say they were dismayed at the school's response. "From the start, this school has done the opposite of what I ever expected it to," says Hawkins' mother.
The Hawkinses say that instead of applauding their son for his moral courage in the face of such pain and embarrassment, the school questioned his credibility and downplayed his allegations.
They suspect their son was subjected to some kind of school ritual, saying that his alleged attackers played a theme song to signal the assaults were about to begin.
"If it happened on the third day of school," says Hawkins' father, Peter. "You have to ask yourself, 'Gee, maybe this has gone on before.'"
20/20 has learned that Hawkins is not the only Groton student claiming to have been molested. At least three other students have come forward, saying they, too, were sexually abused by other students.
School officials declined to be interviewed by 20/20 on camera, but a spokesperson for the school said that despite the allegations, the accused students were "good kids" and were not a threat to anyone's safety. School officials say the accused boys were disciplined, but because of privacy laws, they cannot give specifics.
Soon after Hawkins told Polk his story, he left campus for spring break, hoping everything would be over upon his return. But after vacation, the boys he had accused of molestation were still on campus and living in the dorms.