The day Allison Brown told police she had been sexually abused by her former basketball coach was life-changing for both her and Greg Marshall: he is now serving a 6-plus year sentence for repeatedly abusing Allison and she is working to recover from his abuse.
Allison was a student-athlete at Valley Christian High School in San Jose when Marshall began abusing her in the early 2000s.
Using the law for accountability
Allison decided to sue her alma mater after she realized “it's not just putting your hand out and asking for money to help with the damages that I've experienced. It's not about that at all. It's about holding the institution accountable for their wrongdoing.”
Valley Christian settled Allison’s lawsuit and agreed to make policy changes that she believes will help avoid future sexual abuse problems at the school.
She said, too, that “the lawsuit was a learning experience because I didn't know the legal system and how things work. So, every time I was receiving information, it was new information and I was trying to understand how it all operates and how it works.”
Allison warns potential litigants not to get bogged down by minutiae.
“The hardest thing is the emotional roller coaster and the ups and downs. One day you might be feeling great and thinking, ‘I've got this, I'm on top of the world,’ and then something can hit you and bring a lot of emotions up,” she said. “So, working through those ups and downs and finding a place of grounding for yourself would be the best advice I can give.”
Allison says it “took a while” for her to figure out that she is not a broken person. She is a “whole” person.
“It took time to help me understand that the person that abused me was the adult in the situation,” she said. “And when I was able to accept that and love myself, I was able to break through and not be ashamed of what happened. I was able to talk about it more freely and openly with people, and I was able to work through some tools and exercises with my therapist in order to help me tell my story in my voice and in the way that I needed to tell it.”
Even so, it wasn’t easy.
“The process is not an easy one, the process is hard, it can take a while, it can wear on your emotions,” Allison said. “It's an invasion of privacy when you have to disclose a lot of information about yourself and about your past and your current state of mind. However, the result of providing all that information to people who can help is completely worth it.”
The Dream Team
Jancy became a victim advocate after coming forward with her story of sexual abuse.
“It absolutely helped me working with Jancy and talking with Jancy and hearing that she has gone through similar emotions to what I was going through,” Allison said. “Jancy had similar fears to what I was experiencing and fears about the process. You know, Jancy made herself available to me throughout the day when moments popped up that that took my focus away. And having an advocate who has been through this process was incredible.”
She had kudos for her attorneys, too.
“You absolutely want Bob on your side – he is a fighter and he cares. He cares about you as an individual. He cares about making a difference in sports systems, school systems, whatever the institution is Bob cares about making a difference. You do not want to be on the other side of the table with Bob,” Allison said. “And Lauren is so approachable and kind. As I mentioned, there were concerns early on in the process that I was very hesitant about. And without having met Lauren in person, she gave me a call. She talked me through what the process would look like and some of my concerns. And Lauren is just brilliant and so loving and kind to work with.”
The team’s communication skills also helped Allison work through her anxiety.
“Having a dream team is what encouraged me to keep pushing forward,” she said. “They were very communicative and it allowed me to understand what was going on and allowed me to put my attention where I needed to in any given moment.”
Allison was worried how the lawsuit might impact her career, fearing she might be judged by her co-workers.
“I disclosed this in confidence to my boss and she responded with so much love,” Allison said. “I think being honest has continued to help me be successful in my job, in my career, in my social life, and with family and friends. I think it was telling my truth, so that people could understand if I was having an off day or, if I didn't show up, they could understand why.”
Allison is happy with the outcome of her case saying, “I gave it my best. I fought the fight. I voiced my truth and voiced my concerns for children in the school. I stood alongside Bob and Lauren and Jancy, who helped me through this process, and I know they gave it everything they got as well. I trusted that they were guiding me through the best solution and outcome as possible. And I trusted their process.”
In addition to trusting, Allison says sexual abuse survivors who are considering a lawsuit should “follow their heart” and understand their personal limitations.
“We can't do it all, but we can try to implement change and not let this happen to any child again. That would be my dream,” she said. “But sometimes at the end of the day, you can only do so much or you can only give so much.
Today, Allison says she feels “incredibly proud” for speaking out.
“In my experience and in my abusive past, the power was taken away from me,” she said. “I received my power back going through this process. I received my voice back.”