Five more women sue Catlin Gabel school over abuse
When 14-year-old Sarah Jones was called up to the front of the commons area of her private school during an eighth grade promotion ceremony, she expected to hear praise or encouragement from her teachers. Instead, she claims she was teased, shamed and embarrassed for "dating her way through the eighth grade" by Dale Rawls, a teacher at Catlin Gabel School.
In a room full of faculty, peers and parents, including her own, Rawls joked about Jones kissing boys, then sent her off with a gift — a pair of wind-up toy lips.
Jones said the teasing amounted to "slut-shaming," and said the incident followed her into her freshman year at the school, when a boy approached her on the first day saying, "Hi, you're Sarah, the slut I've heard about."
That was in 1994.
Rawls still teaches art at the K-12 school, but has been placed on administrative leave since Jones filed suit, a Catlin Gabel spokesman confirmed Tuesday.
Jones's experiences of harassment and abuse aren't isolated. In fact, they're among the dozens that have surfaced publicly since late 2019 — all from Catlin Gabel over several decades demonstrating a culture of abuse that persisted at the school.
Since the school publicly released an investigative report outlining claims of sexual abuse perpetrated by several of its teachers and staff, a string of lawsuits has been filed against the school totaling more than $25 million, but they don't encompass all of the documented reports of physical, psychological and sexual abuse from staff at the school.
Additionally, the Washington County Sheriff's Office opened a criminal investigation against the school.
On Tuesday, Feb. 4, Jones, along with four other plaintiffs, filed lawsuits against the school seeking damages totaling nearly $12 million. Theirs are just the latest.
In many of the instances, former students said they notified school staff about sexual abuse or other inappropriate behavior, to no avail.
"Many teachers at Catlin helped me find my voice, but others took it away," Jones said Tuesday during a press conference from the law offices of Gilion Dumas and Ashley Vaughn, attorneys representing Jones and other plaintiffs."For far too long, Catlin Gabel staff and administration have tried to cover up the inexcusable wrongs which happened to students. At this point, every victim's voice needs to be heard."
The shame she endured gave her an inexorable fear of public speaking. A couple of years after the assembly incident, Jones said she found herself backed up against a wall by another teacher — Susan Sowles — who Jones recalls putting her hands on the teen's throat and yelling at her, just inches from her face, to "shut her mouth" and respect a librarian.
Catlin Gabel declined to comment on the latest lawsuits, citing ongoing civil litigation and a criminal investigation, but noted, "student safety is our top priority."
Earlier this year, Catlin Gabel issued a statement, saying it takes the allegations of abuse seriously and said a therapy fund for survivors, handled independently by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) will go live this March.
Dumas said some of the accounts detailed in the investigative report released by Catlin Gabel were inaccurate or improperly investigated, and failed to name the people who carried out the alleged abuse.
One of Dumas's clients, identified as Mary Doe 1 in a $6 million lawsuit filed Tuesday, said she was sexually molested during her middle school years at Catlin Gabel from 1968 to 1970. According to her complaint, a man named Fred Corbett exhibited grooming behavior toward Mary Doe 1, eventually luring her into a room underneath the school's library with no windows, where, according to the lawsuit, he "kissed her, fondled her breasts, and forced her to give him oral sex." It happened at least two to three times, the woman recalled. During that time span, the student thought the teacher was her boyfriend, and even saved up her allowance money to buy the teacher a Mickey Mouse watch, according to attorneys.
Around the same time, Corbett engaged in inappropriate relationships with two other students, according to the school's investigator. By the early 1970s, he stopped teaching at the school after one family reported the misconduct to school officials, but Dumas claimed Catlin Gable has failed to keep detailed personnel records.
Another woman, Emily White, filed suit along with a plaintiff identified as Mary Doe 2. That complaint details years of grooming from 1982 to 1984 by Samuel Crawley, a Catlin Gabel teacher who was 38 at the time. White said Crawley often took her to downtown Portland after school, then kissed her when they were alone in his car as he dropped her off at home. When she turned 18 and went away to college, he visited her at her dorm room and the two had sex and maintained a relationship until she was 19.
According to the White/Doe 2 lawsuit, Crawley also carried out a romantic and sexual relationship with another 17-year-old girl during the same time period.
"He groomed her for a sexual relationship by isolating her from her friends, peers, family and other teachers at CGS and manipulating her to become emotionally codependent on him," the complaint states. "He told her that he loved her, and that she was the reason his marriage was ending."
In another case, a woman identified as Mary Doe 3 said she was molested by Richard "Dick" Shoemaker when she was in sixth grade in 2000 and 2001. On several occasions, Shoemaker touched her hips, buttocks and breasts through her shirt, the lawsuit alleges. He also used spaces like basketball practice to touch her inappropriately, placing his hands between her thighs and thrusting his pelvis at her backside, in what he called a demonstration of a "boxing out" move.
"She and her friends sat in the back of the classroom and escaped to the bathroom during class to cry about Shoemaker's abuse and comfort each other," a news release from Dumas and Vaughn states.
When Mary Doe 3 and other students reported the behavior to CGS administrators, they were advised to confront Shoemaker themselves.
Doe 3 is seeking $3 million in damages from the school.
Speaking from her attorney's office Tuesday, Doe 3 said she eventually got a job at Catlin Gabel, in hopes of implementing a culture change and preventing abuse of other students. That didn't happen.
Vaughn, one of the attorneys in the new sex abuse lawsuits, said plaintiffs generally have until the age of 40 to bring a claim forward.
"If they are older than age 40, they have within five years of making the connection that their abuse that they suffered as a child has caused them some type of psychological harm," Vaughn explained. "For some people, that doesn't happen until decades later, and maybe they've repressed the memories or they finally have gotten into counseling … there's so much research by child psychologists explaining that phenomenon and that's why we have an extended statute of limitations."
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