Investigating Sonoma Academy sexual abuse allegations

Sonoma Academy investigation reveals sexual misconduct complaints were ignored for nearly two decades

The sexual abuse law firm of Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard is investigating reports that in June 2021, seven former students of Sonoma Academy contacted The Press Democrat to report on past instances of sexual misconduct and improper behavior between students and a teacher. The students were part of a group called The Athena Project. When news broke of the alumni coming forward to share their stories, Sonoma Academy hired Debevoise and Plimpton, a New York-based law firm, to investigate the allegations. 

For a free consultation and a confidential evaluation with an experienced sexual abuse attorney, please call 408-289-1417.

In late November 2021, Debevoise and Plimpton emailed their 49-page investigation report to the students, parents, and faculty. It revealed that not only had students been groomed and subjected to sexual misconduct by a former teacher, but that two other former staff members sexually abused three other female students. 

The investigation also found that the school administration, led by the Head of School Janet Durgin and Assistant Head of School Ellie Dwight, continually dismissed or ignored complaints and did not report the allegations to law enforcement. 

The law firm found multiple instances of the school administrators failing to act and to protect their students from these sexual predators. 

The law firm concluded that "(Sonoma Academy) administrators showed a pattern of dismissing students' concerns, at least in some circumstances implicitly blaming them for the uncomfortable interactions they reported, and often accepting the teacher's version of events without any challenge." 

The report found that the teacher in question had "behaved in an inappropriate, sexually charged way with 34 girls who graduated from 2005 and 2021," and he also groomed multiple students "for his own purposes." 

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During the investigation, it was revealed that an assistant girls' soccer coach was accused of sexually abusing an underage female student between 2002 and 2003. She formed a close relationship with a female player and spent time together outside of practice and events. She eventually had sexual relations with the female student-athlete. The girl's parents alerted Durgin and the head coach of the inappropriate sexual relationship. Although the coach was fired, there was "no evidence indicating anyone from Sonoma Academy reported the alleged criminal conduct to law enforcement at the time." Investigators also discovered that the sexual abuse continued even after the coach was fired from Sonoma Academy.  

The newspaper also reports that an Oscar-nominated filmmaker was accused of sexually abusing two female students while they were minors as well. The alleged sexual encounters occurred after his 2004 documentary filmmaking course. As with the other cases, no records of school officials reporting the filmmaker's sexual abuse to law enforcement have been found.   

The release of the investigative report was a validation for the affected students. The Athena Project said, "Our deepest empathy goes out to those who were sexually harassed, abused, or otherwise harmed while they were students at Sonoma Academy." 

Therapy cost reimbursement is currently being offered to the victims. And now, the school is facing at least one lawsuit over the sexual misconduct.

The law firm of Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard represents adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. For a free consultation and a confidential evaluation with an experienced sexual abuse attorney, kindly call  408-289-1417.