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Jonathan Rosenfeld

July 13, 2021

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The local community has been stunned after learning that alleged sexual abuse occurred at the elite Ojai, CA, private school. Thacher School [1], California’s oldest boarding school, was founded in 1889 by Sherman Day Thacher, remaining one of the state’s most prestigious private institutions. The all-boys boarding school began accepting girls in 1977.

The lavish 427-acre campus overlooks picturesque Ojai Valley in Ventura County, less than 30 miles east of Santa Barbara. Parents pay more than $64,000 a year for their children to attend the Ojai boarding academy.

Decades of Alleged Sexual Misconduct Involving Students

In early June 2021, school officials acknowledged decades of allegations involving faculty members sexually abusing, harassing, and crossing boundaries with their students. In addition, the Thacher School’s attorneys publicly disclosed episodes of alleged sexual misconduct.

The report, released by the Thacher School’s law firm, states that the allegations involve rape, groping, inappropriate comments, and non-consensual touching dating back four decades.

Through public disclosure, the released 91-page document names six alleged perpetrators, recounting allegations of misconduct by faculty members and the former school administrators’ efforts of allegedly covering up complaints and blaming teenage victims.

A Failure to Notify the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office of Sexual Misconduct

The report shows that female students began accusing faculty members of sexual violence and possible child abuse at the exclusive boarding school in the early 1980s, just three years after the Southern California school allowed girls to attend.

A former student who attended Thacher School in the 1980s described accusing her English teacher of repeatedly raping her, beginning in her 16th year. Documents report that the teacher had befriended her in her freshman year when she felt lost and homesick.

An Inappropriate Relationship

The inappropriate relationship between the English teacher and the freshman teenage girl allegedly turned sexual when, without her consent, he touched and kissed her.

The victim alleges that the faculty member raped her for the first time one night and her sophomore year when she was 16 years old, on the eve of a fall camping trip. The girl stated that after the incident, she was “traumatized and bleeding.”

The woman stated that when she had been raped for the first time at 16 years old and away on the camping trip, “I bled for an entire week for the first time I was raped. I was alone in the woods with my classmates with no comfort or support.”

The accuser stated that her English teacher continually sexually abused and raped her multiple times throughout her sophomore and junior years.

The woman stated that as a child, “when I tried to get away from him and showed any interest in a boy my age, he would either tell me horrible lies about the person or he would try to publicly humiliate me in front of other students to remind me who was in charge.”

The Sexual Predator Grows Violent

In her junior year at Thacher School in Ojai, her sexual abuser grew violent. At one point, he threw her across the room with enough force to knock her unconscious.

The sexual predator also introduced the young victim and other students to illegal drugs “as a way of having control over us….” The victim states that “it was a horrible, scary, hopeless time.”

The law firm’s report indicates that ultimately, the female victim told her mother of the alleged rapes and sexual misconduct and spoke to school officials through a series of interviews. Although the female victim reported her

English teacher’s sexual conduct involving alleged rape to school administrators, the school never contacted law enforcement.

The School Humiliates the Sexually Abused Victim

A male assistant headmaster reportedly humiliated the sexual assault victim by asking if she “enjoyed” the experience. The report states that her counselor later mentioned the incident in a college recommendation letter as an “unfortunate involvement with the faculty member.”

The girl’s family stated a psychologist discouraged them from pressing criminal charges against the accused teacher, who later resigned but returned to campus decades later to participate in an event.

No Criminal Charges Yet

To date, law enforcement has not filed any criminal charges against the alleged perpetrators for sexual misconduct. However, the Ventura County Sheriff’s office has begun investigating every allegation to determine appropriate steps for victims seeking justice.

Sergeant Hector Macias of the Ventura County Sheriff’s office stated that “we are going to look into [the allegations) on a case-by-case basis. We are going to continue to work with the school, and their law office [to] vet some of this out and see if the victims are willing to cooperate.”

The former head of Thacher School, Williard Wyman, faced allegations of sexual misconduct involving inappropriate touching and improper comments. The headmaster resigned in 1992 and died in 2014. In addition, administrators had learned of alleged sexual misconduct from numerous victims anonymously sharing their allegations of sexual misconduct online.

In August 2020, the chair of the Board of Trustees announced an independent probe would be conducted, encouraging any individuals with information to step forward.

In the following ten months, the independent probe interviewed 120 alumni and their parents and former and current faculty members, board members, and school staff and reviewed more than 40,000 documents.

California Revises Statute of Limitation Laws involving Sexual Assault

In 2020, the California Legislature revised the statute of limitations for California sex crimes signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in October of that year. The revisions involved two new bills [2] amending the rights of sexual abuse survivors statewide.

Assembly Bill 1510

The decades of sexual abuse involving University of Southern California students by the university’s physician, Dr. George Tindell, led to changes in California law. The USC physician reportedly sexually assaulted nearly 400 female student patients and subjected them to improper and unnecessary gynecological treatments. His abuse lasted 27 years.

A second physician, Dr. Dennis Kelly, at the university faced similar allegations of sexual misconduct in 2019 involving at least 48 bisexual and gay male former students.

At the time of the allegations, many of the victims were barred from justice because the California statute of limitations had expired in their case. In September 2018, Assembly Bill 1619 was unanimously passed by the California State Assembly, extending the statute of limitations from the original three years to 10 years.

This change allows sexual abuse survivors to seek damages through claims and civil lawsuits if the abuse occurred within the last three years after discovering the assault. While the change in the law was a monumental shift, helping many sexually abused victims hoping to resolve their case, it barred many others, especially those sexually assaulted by USC Dr. Tindell, in cases dating back to the 1980s.

In response, the State Assembly passed AB 1510 [3], removing those barriers, allowing victims who discover the assault occurring an entire decade before to seek justice by filing a claim or lawsuit for compensation.

Assembly Bill 218

Psychologists and psychiatrists understand that many childhood sexual abuse survivors are unaware of the impact of their inappropriate sexual experience for decades. Often, when the realization occurs, the statute of limitations in their cases already expired.

In response to that fact, the state Assembly passed AB 218, beginning in January 2020. The new law allows childhood sexual abuse victims an additional 14 years when they became aware of the assault to file a compensation claim or lawsuit.

The extended window will likely lead to many more lawsuits filed by previously ineligible sexual abuse victims.

The Next Step

Are you or a loved one a victim of sexual misconduct? Did the abuse occur as a child or adult, but you were previously barred from seeking justice through a civil lawsuit or claim?

Changes in the California statute of limitations now allow you to pursue legal action against the sexual predator and any organization that covered up what happened. Governor Newsom recently signed the changes into law.

The personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC specialize in cases involving sexual misconduct. Contact our law firm today at (888) 424-5757 (toll-free phone call) to schedule a free consultation. Legal representation is available now to ensure you seek and obtain the justice and maximum compensation you deserve.

Note: After the Thacher School report of sexual abuse surfaced, similar allegations have been made at nearby schools including: Santa Catalina School, Dunn School, Midland School, Cate School. Our attorneys are actively investigating these matters and stand ready to assist victims.

Resources: [1] Tchacher School, [2] California Legislative Information, [3] California Legislative Information

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