Former Student Sues Portsmouth Abbey Alleging Sex Abuse

Dave Ring provides legal insight to The Boston Globe

Former Student Sues Portsmouth Abbey Alleging Sex Abuse

Photo Credit: Boston Globe

An explosive front-page article in the Boston Globe claims that, according to a recently-filed lawsuit, the prestigious Portsmouth Abbey boarding school in Rhode Island failed to protect a young woman from sexual abuse from a teacher. The suit also claims school leaders provided the victim with poor legal advice when she sought assistance.

The Globe article, titled “Former student sues Portsmouth Abbey, claiming she was abused by a teacher and duped by the school,” describes how the teacher groomed the victim (“E.”) into a sexual relationship during her sophomore year in high school. While enrolled in Michael Bowen Smith’s humanities class, E. started spending time with Smith outside of class. According to the lawsuit, “Smith then started to flirt with (her) and eventually introduced sexual banter into their conversations. (She) had never had any sexual experience in her life up until this point in time.”

Toward the end of her sophomore year, in 2012, Smith invited E. to his apartment, where he engaged in sexual acts with her. At this point, Smith was in his mid-to-late 40s, while E. was fifteen years old. E.’s mother voiced concerns to the school which, according to the lawsuit, were brushed aside more than once.

The sexual relationship continued through E.’s senior year, which the Globe noted was something of an open secret on the small Abbey campus, yet nobody in authority looked into the rumors. Writes the Globe:

The Abbey is a small school, with about 350 students, and soon the strange closeness of Smith and E. was the subject of widespread rumors, according to E. and Mercer-Paiva [E.’s classmate]. Teacher and student could often be seen immersed in private conversations around campus, and multiple classmates, including the son of a faculty member, asked Mercer-Paiva about the nature of the relationship. At one point, Smith and E. emerged from a wooded area and ran into the entire lacrosse team, E. recalled.

Abuse continues into college and beyond

After E. left for her freshman year in college, she realized that her relationship with Smith had been sexual abuse. She revealed the abuse to her parents, who informed Portsmouth Abbey. Instead of launching an investigation, the school allowed Michael Bowen Smith to quietly resign. He took a teaching position at Siena College in New York State and began harassing and cyberstalking E. “relentlessly,” which, according to the Globe, Smith continues to do as recently as November of this year.

In 2017, E. reached out to Portsmouth Abbey for help in forcing Smith to stop contacting her. The school steered her toward a law firm who failed to tell her that she was quickly approaching the statute of limitations to take legal action against the school itself, or that it was even an option.

Dave Ring, partner at Taylor & Ring, is representing E. in her lawsuit and noted that this last part is important. “What was in it for the school was they basically dodged a very, very significant lawsuit,” he told the Globe.

Said E., “I trusted the school and the people they were connecting me with wanted to help me. I wanted to be able to move on with my life.”

Lawsuits have been filed against Portsmouth Abbey and Michael Bowen Smith in Rhode Island federal court, and the law firm Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie in New Mexico state court.

Taylor & Ring are proud to represent survivors of sex abuse like E. and others with stories just like hers. If you’ve experienced abuse at a boarding school, we want to help seek justice on your behalf. To arrange a consultation with an experienced attorney, call our Los Angeles team at 310-776-6390, or fill out our contact form.