Trigger warning for rape and child sexual abuse.
She was twelve years old. An age at which, in a perfect world, she might have been curious about sex, but years away from worrying about it. An age when, in a better world than this, she should have remained an innocent child with no idea of the dark side of people like P.E. teacher Julie Correa who manipulated and abused her for three years.
This past September, 30-year-old Kristen Lewis Cunnane brought suit against Moraga School District in Southern California in order to seek justice for what happened to her and to help ensure it doesn’t keep happening. In what they claim is one of nine defenses they have no choice but present, Moraga School District’s recent filing states the following:
Carelessness and negligence on [Cunnane’s] part proximately contributed to the happenings of the incident and to the injuries, loss and damages.
I’m going to repeat myself here, and probably more than once:
SHE WAS TWELVE YEARS OLD.
After I was raped at 12-years-old, I sat in the witness stand completely unprepared as the public defender accused me of being a willing participant in a sex act and later panicking and crying “rape” when I realized I might become pregnant. I was a child and I had no idea that all over the country women and girls faced victim-blaming daily. But I would learn.
This little girl trusted her (female) P.E. teacher exclusively with the information that another (male) teacher, Dan Witters, had abused her. Little did she know, her P.E. teacher was already in the process of grooming her as a sex slave. For several years, Julie Correa raped Kristen and used fear to control her. Kristen finally broke free and blocked the whole thing, but when it came bubbling back up again she got Correa on the phone and eventually coaxed a taped confession out of her and Correa was convicted of sexually abusing a child entrusted to her care. She got 8 years. Now Kristen wants the school district to take responsibility for the fact that multiple teachers perpetrated abuse against her and other students. And the district is fighting back.
Now assistant head coach of the women’s swim team at UC Berkely, Kristen Cunnane says she was “floored” when she read the school district’s filing. You know who else should be floored? Every single parent with children attending school in the Moraga School District. Because guess what? If teachers abuse your child, your school district will blame your child for the abuse in an attempt to avoid taking responsibility. Your 12-year-old will be held responsible for being in the wrong school at the wrong time with the wrong teacher because the school district has to protect itself. After all, as school superintendent Bruce Burns explained,
“…this is a significant case that could have serious consequences for our school district. She is demanding several million dollars in damages. As a result, at this point in the proceedings we have an obligation not to waive any potential legal lines of defense. The district raised nine possible arguments that might be used in court. Attorneys routinely insert these into Answers filed to Complaints. Ms. Cunnane and the media have seized on only one of the nine potential areas and over-exaggerated its importance.”* [emphasis added]
“It is beyond devastating that the District would blame me for the years of horrific sexual abuse I was subjected to when I was just a child. There is a critical need for a culture shift in Moraga and elsewhere when it comes to tolerance of child abuse in schools, and this just underscores that we have further to go than I even thought. I can only hope that this lawsuit will move us one step closer to zero tolerance, while also going some way to compensate me for the years of abuse I suffered.”
This culture that allows us to blame children for sexual abuse? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s called rape culture and it’s where we live. It’s bad enough that adults face this bullshit every day, but the fact that it is acceptable in a court of law to suggest ANY fault for adult-on-child sex abuse might lie with the child is a symptom of a very sick society. And the only cure is for every single one of us to fight it everywhere we see it–by writing about it, posting about it, talking about it until everyone tells us to shut the fuck up, and then we have to keep doing it. For Kristen. For me. For every girl or woman abused and then shamed for her behavior or her clothing, blamed for having the audacity to walk alone while female or trust a male friend or–God forbid!–an authority figure.
Say it with me:
*According to the San Jose Mercury News, “No dollar amount is listed in Cunnane’s lawsuit.” She believes “it’s for a jury to decide.”
6/20/15: Kristen tells her story on CBS’ 48 Hours. Via that report:
The school district paid out a total of $18.65 million to Kristen Cunnane and the three other victims who filed civil lawsuits*.
Julie Correa is eligible for parole in 2018. Her husband has filed for divorce.
*Three “Jane Does” filed suit for their abuse at the hands of teacher Dan Witters (the same teacher whose abuse Kristen Cunnane trusted Julie Correa to help her deal with).
Abuse Lawsuit: Arguments Over Timeliness – Lamorinda Patch, 4/1/13
“Statute of limitations is issue in lawsuit of Kristen Cunnane against the Moraga School District over prevention of sexual abuse from the 1990s.”
Sign this petition to tell the school district they’re out of line.