The Moraga School District in Moraga, California alleged that a 12-year-old girl, who suffered prolonged sexual abuse at the hands of two different middle school teachers in the 1990s, was “negligent,” “careless” and “was herself responsible for the acts and damages of which she claims.”
Kristen Cunnane, now 30, told the Contra Costa Times on Friday, “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.”
The school district issued a statement, saying, “We certainly empathize with Ms. Cunnane and did not intend to cause her further distress in filing our formal Answer to her Complaint. However, 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. … Ms. Cunnane and the media have seized on only one of the nine potential areas and over-exaggerated its importance.”
“It’s hard to see that I’m ‘seizing on’ something,” she told KTUV, “because this is my life.” She told the KTUV reporter that she felt the school district response tells rape victims everywhere that they are the ones to blame.
Cunnane filed a lawsuit against the school district, retired Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School principal Bill Walters, retired assistant principal Paul Simonin and retired superintendent John Cooley in Contra Costa Superior Court over allegations that they repeatedly ignored reports of sexual abuse.
Former Joaquin Moraga physical education teacher Julie Correa pleaded guilty to rape and sexual battery of Cunnane over a four-year period beginning in 1996, when Cunnane was an eighth grader. The suit also alleges that Cunnane turned to her science teacher, Daniel Witters, to report the abuse, who in turn molested her. Witters later committed suicide after the allegations against him surfaced.
The school district is facing a $15 million lawsuit from two more women who alleged abuse from Witters.
The school district’s attorney, Louis Leone, defended the Oc. 24 filing, saying the school must employ “every potential defense” in such a lawsuit.
William Grimm, senior attorney with Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law, disagreed. “I think it is reprehensible to place the blame on the young girl who was victimized,” he told the Times. “The district’s defense has to be plausible … and this doesn’t even pass the smell test, in my opinion.”