A ranty, funny, dead-serious intersectional feminist blog.

School District: Sexually Abused 12-Year-Old “Negligent”

Kristen Lewis Cunnane, age 12

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.

Kristen Lewis Cunnane

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]

Kristen’s response:

“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:

ENOUGH.


*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.”


UPDATES:

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.

26 responses

  1. Jason Watson

    I hate it when the victim has to basically prove they didnt enjoy it or start the process. It doesn’t matter if a 12 year old did at times enjoy the “relationship” (I heavily doubt any do, it is just confusion and pain) what matters is these kids were raped pure and simple, by adults in a position of power and trust. Kristens abuser being a teacher should have been sentenced to at least double what she got. Preferably life in prison but 20 years would have been nice. Anyone, weather it be parents, teachers, priests…anyone who murders the innocence of a child deserves nothing less than that but we as a society seem to put a cheap price tag on life and innocence. Sad.

    October 19, 2014 at 1:03 am

    • Great points. We have no control over whether our bodies experience sexual arousal. It just happens. And for many of us, this means we end up feeling complicit. Which is sad, indeed.

      October 20, 2014 at 8:11 am

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  4. What she went through was terrible, and those responsible should be punished….

    But I think taking money from the school district is wrong. The only thing thats going to accomplish is to make more kids suffer.I”m not really sure how money will fix this. A school district is not a giant corporation that can deal with this sort of thing. Wont a cash settlement just hurt the kids who have to use a school system with less money, or the taxpayers who pay for the school?

    November 10, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    • Honestly, I agree with you on that, but it seems to me to be the way our system is set up to punish institutions for wrongdoing. If it was me, I might try to think of another way they could compensate (for instance, creating a sex-abuse awareness and support program in the district), but I have a hard time judging.

      November 10, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    • Amanda, I’m from the area where this incident happened and this school district is in one of the richest areas in California. There’s no suffering for this school district as it is one that raises a lot of money every year to make sure the students have a top-notch education. I’m sure they have figured out how to make up that lost money as it is still one of the ‘best’ school districts in the country. I had an incident with my child at another top rated school district (Orinda) nearby and the district swept it under the rug. I think because of the prestige of these schools, they think they can get away with anything. I’m glad there was suit against the school district. There is enough money in that area that the money lost will be regained. Plus, sometimes it takes a lawsuit of this magnitude to bring attention (and hopefully change) to issues that might have otherwise been swept under the rug.

      November 6, 2014 at 2:56 pm

  5. Reblogged this on Nice Girls Like Sex Too and commented:
    Appalling behavior on the part of the Moraga School District. I sincerely hope she wins her case.

    November 5, 2012 at 10:32 pm

  6. When I first read about the violation of this Kristen Cunnane it was on Facebook and I felt an enormous sense of outrage coupled with an enormous sense of powerlessness. That a person, age 12, well under the legal age of whatever is considered to be a mature adult (18? 21?) be blamed for her own rape & sexual slavery by 2 adults is at the very least, a wicked cheap shot by a culture where a rape mentality is ok, the norm…. 12 years old is still a child and all our children are to be protected from this kind of abuse. Part of my outrage has to do with personally identifying with the bullying/rape story of everyone who’s story I’ve ever heard — in some way, shape or form — which also helps explain my sense of powerlessness — as an underage person I had no idea what to do about the verbal and emotional abuse I dealt with on a regular basis except to continue to blame myself, shame myself and abuse myself. I think that a way to make a change and find a way to grow in this culture of bullying/rape being OK is that we all keep on lifting the veils of our own denial, telling our stories as much as we feel safe and able, listen to others do the same and do this on a regular basis. We are not alone and the numbers of us who are becoming aware of our stories and telling more and more– are growing.

    November 5, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    • Yes. And some people will use words like “overexagerrating” to make us doubt what we know. And we have to point out that they’re full of it and carry on.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:20 pm

      • Agree: ‘overexaggerating’ is just one word; there are so many more words that are used to break a person’s spirit, keep it broken & maintain power over that person….

        November 5, 2012 at 10:37 pm

  7. Enough! I read this and was completely appalled and utterly floored. I hope they get CREAMED in court and society smacks them down so hard the lawyer never shows his face in another courtroom and the district completely overhauls its school board.

    November 5, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    • I hope parents are hearing about this and speaking out. I would yank my kids out of that school district in a heartbeat.

      November 5, 2012 at 8:16 pm

      • Me too, absolutely. In fact, I’m surprised we’re not hearing of a mass parent protest regarding this. I’d be marching with signs.

        November 5, 2012 at 10:28 pm

      • This happens all the time so I don’t think it’s just this school district. Our public education system is messed up and there is not enough protection or protocol for these issues. We think our kids are protected but no matter which school district a child is in, there’s varying personalities in each. There needs to be better ongoing evaluation of teachers.

        November 6, 2014 at 3:00 pm

  8. chatalee

    Rage.

    November 5, 2012 at 6:15 am

  9. Margaret Durocher

    First off, the notion that a twelve-year-old could participate in her own abuse is sick.

    However, at least part of the problem here is not rape culture, but other parts of our culture. I don’t know why the school district is defending against the suit rather than seeking settlement, but since it is, it truly does have to assert every possible defense. Otherwise, the school district, the school district officials and especially their lawyers, aren’t doing their jobs properly, and they can/will face legal consequences.

    It’s totally a case of CYA, and has little or nothing to do with the issue at question.

    For an alternative example, you’ll find similar language in the motorist’s Answer in a law suit brought against a motorist by a pedestrian, in a pedestrian-car collision. In many of the cases, the motorist is mostly or totally at fault. In some, the pedestrian has contributed to the problem by not crossing at a cross-walk, or not checking for on-coming traffic. And in at least one case I know of personally, it was completely the pedestrian’s fault because he ran into the side of the car while drunk. (No, really. I saw the car after the accident and the dents were on the side.)

    November 5, 2012 at 12:19 am

    • Thanks for the legal perspective. I guess I believe that the point at which the district’s legal counsel has no other choice than to present a victim-blaming defense is the point at which the district damned well ought to have settled. The fact that they would allow such a filing to move forward, defend it as necessary, and then accuse the victim of “overexaggerating” (not a word, by the way) when she expresses outrage tells me that this school district is very willingly if not knowingly participating in rape culture. Why on earth would they not settle and accept responsibility (for something that happened 18 years ago) and reassure parents and students that they take the whole thing very seriously? Yeah, I don’t know, either. Thanks again for your comment.

      November 5, 2012 at 12:48 am

      • The “possibility” of a 12-year-old contributing, aka asking, for abuse is atrocious. The school district would do better for the students, then and now, by accepting responsibility and offering a settlement. The school district has the opportunity to set an example and provide a lesson for the students and the public, but instead they are hiding as a typical narcissist would hide.

        November 5, 2012 at 3:39 pm

        • Well, they tried to hide. I don’t think that’s working out very well for them. Hopefully they’re rethinking their strategy at this point.

          November 5, 2012 at 8:17 pm

          • Florida A&M University tried to hide the same way, by declaring that Robert Champion is responsible for his own death because he knew about the band hazing ritual and entered the bus anyway. Now it’s been a year since he died, and the university can continue to blame Champion for his own death because other stories have happened over the last year and people forget.

            November 5, 2012 at 8:37 pm

            • That’s awful. I really hope there’s a more severe backlash in this case. We just have to keep writing and talking about this stuff. You haven’t forgotten. I won’t forget. And I won’t shut up about it, either.

              November 6, 2012 at 7:49 pm

  10. JackieP

    It has been a ‘rape culture’ for a very long time. It’s shameful and it doesn’t look like it is going to end anytime soon. It is always the ‘victims’ fault in rape. I should know, been there. I sometimes wonder if it will ever change.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    • I have to believe it will or I might stop getting out of bed in the morning.

      November 4, 2012 at 10:10 pm

      • JackieP

        yeah true that. sigh

        November 4, 2012 at 10:25 pm

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