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School District Claims Student ‘Was Herself Responsible’ For Being Raped

After filing a lawsuit against the district that employed her assailants, a former middle school student finds herself pegged as responsible for her rape.
 
 
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Two teachers at Moraga middle school in northern California sexually abused Kristen Cunnane in the 1990s. One, former P.E. teacher Julie Correa, received an eight year sentence for committing multiple sex crimes against Cunnane. The other, former science teacher Daneil Witters, committed suicide after several students came forward with allegations against him in 1996.

Now an adult, Cunnane filed a lawsuit against the school district that employed these two teachers, seeking compensation for being raped and abused for several years. In response to her legal complaint, the district offered a surprising defense:

Defendants allege that Plaintiff was herself careless and negligent in and about the matters alleged in the complaint, and that said carelessness and negligence on said Plaintiff’s part proximately contributed to the happenings of the incident and to the injuries, loss and damages complained of, if any there were . . . .

[Alternatively, d]efendants allege that Plaintiff was herself responsible for the acts and damages of which she claims herein, and by reason thereof is estopped from obtaining any damages as result thereof.

Just in case this dry legal language is not clear, the school district claims that Cunnane was “herself responsible” for the fact that she was repeatedly sexually abused by her school teachers, beginning at age 12. Or, just in case a jury won’t buy that claim, that she was “careless and negligent” in the matter of her own rape.

To be fair, the most likely explanation for how the school district could have come to make such a claim is more of an indictment of the district’s lawyers than of its administrators. The school district’s legal filing is almost entirely boilerplate language of the kind that careless attorneys might copy and paste into a document without considering its implications — or its likely emotional impact on a child sex abuse victim. The district, however, is not apologizing for its claims. Instead, it released a statement claiming that “this is a significant case that could have serious consequences for our school district. . . . As a result, at this point in the proceedings we have an obligation not to waive any potential legal lines of defense.”

Ian Milhiser is a Policy Analyst and Blogger on legal issues at the Center for American Progress and the CAP Action Fund.
 
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