Standing Up to Victim-Blaming

The beginning of the story is sad and all too familiar, but the reason for this post is the surprise at the end.

in 1996, as an 8th grader, Kristen Cunnane of Moraga, California was molested by Julie Correa, her gym teacher. She reported it to another teacher, Daniel Witters, but instead of helping her, he molested her as well. (Witters committed suicide in 1996 after several students reported being molested by him.) Kristen continued to be abused by Correa for the next 4 years. (Warning – the linked article contains potential triggers.)

It’s easy to imagine why Kristen didn’t feel safe reporting the abuse a second time. But by 2010, she was suffering from flashbacks, anxiety, and depression, and decided to report Correa and allow herself to be identified as a victim on order to begin her own healing process. After it became clear that school administrators has ignored multiple reports of abuse by Correa and Witters, Kristen filed suit against the school district and former principal, vice principal, and superintendent.

Here’s the twist. In response to the suit, the district blamed Kristen for the abuse, stating:

“(She) 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 “Defendants allege that (Cunnane) was herself responsible for the acts and damages of which she claims … “

In response to the public outcry against victim-blaming in a case in which the abuse had been proven in court, the district refused to clarify exactly what they meant in accusing Kristen of negligence and carelessness, saying only:

“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.”

But a Change.org petition inspired a change of heart (fancy that), and the school district issued an apology and directed their legal team to remove the offending language. 

Another facet of rape culture; Victim-blaming in instances of sexual abuse is so deeply socially ingrained that it’s tossed into legal documents without explanation, just as one of the defense tactics that might stick. Where else might it be showing up? I’m certainly much more attuned to it than I was before Vagina News began. (Yay?)

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