Marlborough School says abuse victim endangered other students by staying silent

The private Marlborough School contended a woman whose teacher sexually abused her could have prevented other students’ abuse had she come forward earlier, according to court papers filed this month in response to a lawsuit against the school.

The plaintiff is a victim of Joseph Thomas Koetters, the former English teacher who was sentenced to a year in jail on charges that he engaged in sex acts with her when she was a student from 2000 to 2002, and with another 16-year-old girl a few years later.

A lawsuit filed last April alleges that the school is responsible for letting the sexual abuse occur by hiring Koetters in 1999, when it knew that he had been accused of inappropriate sexual conduct at another school years earlier, and for the psychological trauma she experienced after the abuse ended.

The plaintiff became pregnant her senior year and suffered a miscarriage, as well as years of emotional trauma, according to the lawsuit.

The original complaint alleges that Marlborough knew another school had forced Koetters to resign in part because of an inappropriate relationship with a student in the early '90s. The woman's lawyer, David Ring, provided no evidence that this was the case or that Marlborough knew that information.

The lawsuit says that the plaintiff "was in denial for many years about the cause of her psychological distress." She realized the connection in 2014, when another student published an essay on the website XOJane, detailing her experience with a teacher at the school, the lawsuit said. The publication Buzzfeed later wrote a story connecting the dots and identifying Koetters.

But in papers filed March 8, the school's lawyer writes that in 2009 the woman told a psychiatrist about the pregnancy and "resulting psychological injury," but chose not to report the incident to police or the school.

"Thus, Plaintiff consciously exposed other girls to the risk of abuse at Koetters’ hands,” the filing said. 

However, the school admitted in 2014 that it had received a complaint about Koetters' conduct as early as 2005, and had not treated it seriously. 

“Now they have the audacity to actually blame the victim for ... the school’s shortcomings," Ring said.

The school's filing also alleges that the woman's "negligence and carelessness contributed to and proximately caused the injuries and damages alleged." 

Ring said he interprets this as the school blaming the victim for her own assault, a move that the state of California recently outlawed.

The school's attorney, Michael Swartz, denied that contention. 

"I have two teenage daughters who attend Marlborough School, and as a father there is no chance that I would ever say that a teenager was contributorily negligent for being seduced by a teacher," Swartz said in an email statement.

"The legal 'answer' we filed in L.A. Superior Court two weeks ago in no way seeks to prove that the plaintiff was negligent as a teenager," the email continued. "The contributory negligence defense laid out in the filing is a standard defense to a negligent supervision claim and will be based on events that took place when the plaintiff was an adult."

He declined to specify those events.

Reach Sonali Kohli at sonali.kohli@latimes.com or on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli.

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