The Dallas Morning News reports on the testimony in the lawsuit against Episcopal School of Dallas:
The Rev. Stephen Swann, headmaster of the Episcopal School of Dallas, told jurors Monday that he reached out to the family of a girl whose parents are suing the school for failing to protect her from a sexual relationship with a teacher.
But he said the girl’s father told him, “It’s just too late.”
Swann, wearing a clerical collar for the first time during the trial, said he told the father in a telephone conversation, “I’m so sorry that [the daughter] and your family have gone through what you’ve had to go through at the hands of Nathan Campbell. He committed a sin and I am so sorry.”
…The lawsuit alleges that the girl was unfairly expelled after her relationship with the teacher came to light. The relationship was discovered in fall 2009.
Swann’s phone call to the family came much later, after the lawsuit was filed. He told jurors that he stands by his decision to force the girl to withdraw after the relationship came to light because it was best for her to “get a new start.”
The family’s attorney, Charla Aldous, pressed Swann earlier in the day repeatedly about the school’s lack of regular employee training to recognize and report sexual abuse. “I’m convinced that the sexual abuser will do the abuse, no matter the number of times we offer that course,” Swann said.
In another case, a former Episcopal school counselor at Ascension School in Lafayette, LA was sentenced to 30 years in prison for her abuse of a student.
Hargrave, who was a counselor and yoga instructor at the school, began counseling the 14-year-old female victim during spring 2009. Haik sharply criticized Hargrave on Wednesday for taking advantage of the student, who went to Hargrave for help with depression and suicidal feelings.
“You will survive,” Haik told Hargrave. “I pray to God that young lady does too.”
“This case reflects the serious consequences and fallout of individuals who sexually abuse minors,” Finley said in a news release.
“The harm done to children is long range and often irreversible. The actions of the defendant are disturbing, and the sentence is justified.”
The seriousness of harm can not be underestimated in these cases. The church and its affiliated institutions needs to pay attention to the victims rather than trying to protect itself through silence. Proactive actions beyond mere “I’m sorry” (often said too late and only when forced by the courts) must be taken.
Training for all adults and youth for awareness of signs of potential abuse needs to be done frequently. Clergy, teachers and counselors should never meet alone behind closed doors with youth or adults. Incidents should be reported and investigated promptly with offers of support and therapy for victims. In the case of minors – sexual abuse must be reported immediately to law enforcement.
Those who have been victimized should be allowed to make as many choices as possible about their future to restore agency and confidence. The church cannot allow fear of lawsuits to blind it to the needs of justice.
One hopes the leaders at the Episcopal Church Center will listen.