Childrearing

Moraga School District Seriously Just Said A 12-Year-Old Girl Was ‘Responsible’ For Her Sexual Abuse

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moraga school districtThis just in from rape culture 101. Everyone take your seats and grab a pen because this is textbook victim-blaming. Kristen Cunnane, a now 30-year-old sex abuse victim, sought to bring the California school district that consistently ignored her suffering to justice with a lawsuit. In Moraga School District‘s reportedly “first legal response” to the woman’s allegation, they made no pretenses about wagging that classic rape culture-endorsing finger that she brought this abuse on herself.

Cunnane, who is now a swim coach at UC Berkeley, alleges that she was sexually abused over a four year period  when she was about 12 or 13 years old. Former Joaquin Moraga P.E. teacher, Julie Correa, pleaded guilty to those charges of rape and sexual battery. However, after the eighth grader told Daniel Witters, a science teacher, of the abuse, he then started molesting her as well. Once other students started speaking up about their own sexual abuse at the hands of Witters, he committed suicide.

Cunane’s lawsuit asserts that higher ups at her middle school knew what was up and failed to act accordingly:

She sued the district, retired Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School principal Bill Walters, retired assistant principal Paul Simonin and retired superintendent John Cooley in Contra Costa Superior Court, saying they repeatedly ignored allegations of abuse, allowing her and other students to be victimized. The lawsuit alleges negligence, fraudulent concealment, conspiracy to commit fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and cites an investigation by this newspaper as revealing for the first time the district’s knowledge of the alleged abuse.

But in the October 24th legal filing, the school district and three other defendants say that she “was herself responsible for the acts and damages of which she claims.” Oh, and there’s more:

“Carelessness and negligence on (Cunnane’s) part proximately contributed to the happenings of the incident and to the injuries, loss and damages,” they claim.

Needless to say, Cunnane is flabbergasted by how her middle school has responded:

“It felt like I got punched in the stomach, and I stood up and thought about how young I was when I was 12 to 13 years old at the school,” said Cunnane, whose suit was filed in September. “For them to use words like ‘negligent’ and ‘responsible’ just broke my heart.”

The school district’s attorney maintains that this type of victim blame-y language is “appropriate” and “necessary” given how much money Cunnane is asking for:

Louis Leone said “every potential defense” must be raised in such legal filings, “since failure to do so results in a waiver of the defense.”

“It is imperative that all possible defenses be raised at this point in time. As more facts become known, the district will then reassess its defenses,” the Walnut Creek attorney said.

Apparently, this would include the notion that a tween, barely teen, is responsible for her own sexual abuse at the hands of teachers. Because 12 and 13-year-old girls just have so much agency like that.

The fact that this sort of dialogue would be exchanged behind closed doors — although still completely unacceptable — is not shocking given how much we’re consistently conditioned to believe that rape survivors instigated their own attacks. Yet,  Moraga School District committing on record to such outrageous claims as an operative to many institutions that foster children should have parents in an uproar. By failing to appropriately address the victim, the school district has essentially sided with not only the abuser — but also a perception of abuse that refuses to hold abusers responsible. And we’re not talking about some fringe loon gabbing about how some girls “rape easy.”  These are now the official sentiments of an entire school district, which is responsible for three elementary schools and one middle school.

I’ve come to expect some rogue loony talking about how kids are to blame for their predator’s actions. But a school district responding in such a deeply problematic way to sexual abuse allegations takes the entire rape culture cake.

(photo: Jesse Kunerth/ Shutterstock)