An ex-student at a private Catholic school in Rhode Island has sued her former school and a former teacher because the teacher allegedly sexually abused her while the school failed to protect her, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The student, listed as Jane Doe in court documents, says the teacher, Michael Bowen Smith, sexually abused her when she was as young as 15. The abuse allegedly took place between 2012 and 2014, according to AP. During this time period, the teacher in question was in his 40s.
“The school then engaged in a coverup to avoid scandal,” the student’s attorneys said in a statement. “And, to top things off, the school steered the victim to a law firm that represented the Catholic Church, in a scheme designed to prevent the victim from filing a timely lawsuit against the school.”
The school paid for her to be represented by a New Mexico law firm that failed to inform her that the statute of limitations to bring action against Portsmouth Abbey would soon expire, according to the AP. The lawsuit claims that this was an effort to keep the scandal contained.
“I trusted the school.” A former student is suing a prestigious Catholic boarding school in Rhode Island, claiming she was abused by a teacher and then duped by the school. https://t.co/PQldhVkvnN
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) December 8, 2020
“I trusted the school and the people they were connecting me with wanted to help me,” the student said. “I wanted to be able to move on with my life.”
Hundreds of emails were sent between the student and the teacher, the Boston Globe reported. Some of the emails between the two parties were sexually explicit.
“[She] and I were lovers,” Smith said in an email explaining his relationship with the student. “I was a married man with children and an award-winning career. She was a superstar academic yearning for some kind of freedom from her painfully constricted life. We were drawn together as rebel intellectuals …”
Even after the student broke things off with Smith and she reached adulthood, he continued to pursue her, according to the Boston Globe. (RELATED: SCOTUS Tosses Employment Discrimination Suits From Ex-Catholic School Teachers)
At the conclusion of the school year, Smith had her come to his campus apartment where he took her to a bedroom, kissed her, and did sexual acts with her, the Boston Globe reported. At this time, she was only 15, which is under the age of consent in Rhode Island. The following year, they continued to meet up and Smith continued to perform sexual acts. They also continued exchanging sexually explicit emails.
Rumors of their relationship were spread throughout the campus of about 350 students, but the school did not investigate the rumors, the lawsuit said.
“There was not a lot of desire to follow up,” the student said. “People did not want to deal with it.”
This was not the first time the Rhode Island school was involved in a case of sexual abuse as another incident had occurred over 30 years ago, the Boston Globe reported.