The last statement that any parent wants to hear from their child is that he or she was sexually assaulted at school. Sadly, that is the reality for a majority of children and teenagers. Statistics from the Education Department have shown that reports of sexual assault at schools rose from nearly 9,600 in the 2015 -2016 school year to nearly 15,000 in the 2017-2018 school year, more than 50 percent.
These statistics are evidence of a phenomenon that has been happening in schools for decades. Children and teenagers have been groomed and sexually assaulted by the same adults who should have their best interests at heart.
One victim who knows all too well how child sexual abuse can ruin one’s life is Tenisha Steen. At 53 years old, Steen bravely recalled how her sociology teacher began to groom and sexually assault her when she was in the tenth grade. Her teacher, Gary Satrappe, started to forcefully hug and kiss her when they were alone in the classroom.
Gradually, Satrappe began taking her to various locations off of school grounds, giving her alcohol, and forcing her to have sex with him. Satrappe sexually assaulted Steen at least 13 times, leading to an unexpected pregnancy.
Steen’s sexual abuse began in the year 1983; in 1985, Satrappe resigned from his teaching post, and died in 2004. He was never prosecuted for forcefully engaging in sex with a minor, although the principal of the school was well aware of the nature of Satrappe’s actions.
The principal, who passed away in 2015, failed to take action against Satrappe and did not report him or his actions to the police. Even worse, at the time of the abuse, the principal and another faculty member went to Steen’s home and threatened her to remain silent, insinuating that Steen would face jail time and lose custody of her baby. Because of a recent law that California passed in 2019, Steen was able to hold her previous school district accountable for failing to protect her against her abuser.
Steen was victorious in her lawsuit against her former district; this year the district decided to settle with Steen. In a news release statement, Steen stated that she was robbed of her innocence by a predator at a place where she expected to be safe. She considers the settlement to be one step in a lifelong journey to heal.
What is the new California law, and how does it affect survivors of child sexual abuse?
In 2019, California passed Assembly Bill 218, a law that extends the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims and grants victims an additional three year window to pursue justice. This means that regardless of when the sexual abuse occurred, victims have the chance to take legal action against their abusers. Immediately following the passing of the law, Steen filed a lawsuit against Santa Ana Unified School District.
Since January 1, 2020, AB 218 has allowed lawsuits through the end of 2022 for child sexual abuse cases that exceed the statute of limitations. The AB 218 law affect child sexual abuse victims from all walks of life, from young Catholic schoolchildren to Boy Scouts members to adult survivors from all walks of life. The law allows victims to child sexual abuse either until the age of 40 or five years after the discovery of the abuse to file civil lawsuits against their predators.
The law also allows victims of all ages a time frame of three years to bring claims that would have been barred because of the previous statutes. Prior to the passing of this bill, victims had until the age of 26, or a three year time frame, after the discovery of abuse.
How are organizations and institutions responding to the new bill?
Powerful organizations that have swept child sexual abuse under the rug will now be held liable and accountable for failure to protect the youth. The new law will inform institutions such as the Catholic church and school districts that protecting predators that sexually assault and molest children is unacceptable.
Organizations will no longer be able to cover up the crimes of predators and dodge responsibility. Lawsuits filed by victims of child sexual abuse have described in detail how school faculty, youth organizations, and members of the church actively covered up allegations of sexual abuse for the predators in their organizations, allowing the abuse to continue and for the predators to continue preying on other children.
School districts were the organizations that expressed much of the opposition towards AB 218. Members of school districts argued that the law went too far and that the extended period for the statute of limitations makes it difficult to gather evidence due to the fact that any witnesses or the defendants could have passed away or moved away. Members also argued that the recent change in the legal standard for liability makes it easier for victims to win a lawsuit.
But not all the reactions have been negative. State and local governments around the country are stepping up to help survivors. In addition to California, states like New York and New Jersey have incorporated similar laws. Both New York and New Jersey have raised the statutes of limitations to age 55. New York, in particular, suspended its statute of limitations for one year, leading to hundreds of lawsuits filed against multiple institutions like hospitals, schools, and the Catholic Church.
Taylor & Ring successfully litigated many high-profile cases involving sexual abuse in schools, helping to achieve justice for victims and protecting other children from dangerous predators. We have held both abusers and the educational institutions that shielded them accountable for their actions. If your child has been sexually abused at school, contact a Los Angeles child sex abuse lawyer at Taylor & Ring today for a free consultation by calling 310-776-6390 or completing our contact form.