Authorities investigate allegations of sexual abuse at Cate school

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Law enforcement authorities are investigating reports of sexual abuse and misconduct by a former employee of the elite Cate School in Carpinteria, months after campus officials told former students they had launched their own internal investigation into potential abuses that could date back decades.

The investigation into the allegations at the private high school began on April 1, after the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office received a report from a commissioned reporter outside the school, said Raquel Zick, official. of public information at the sheriff’s office. The alleged abuse occurred while the suspect was employed at the school and on school property, authorities said.

Investigators have identified “several sexual assault survivors in this case who are both current and former students of Cate School,” according to a statement from the sheriff’s office. Authorities did not say when the alleged abuse occurred, and the identity of the person who reported the allegations is protected by state law.

In a statement to the campus community that was shared with The Times, school principal Ben Williams said Cate “was cooperating with an investigation by local law enforcement into allegations of sexual misconduct by ‘a former employee, who worked at Cate School for six months, and whose employment ended in February 2020. ”The school said it had also alerted child welfare services to ‘potential misconduct on the part of the same employee.

“At the request of the Sheriff’s Department, we are not sharing the suspect’s name in order to protect the integrity of the ongoing criminal investigation,” Williams wrote.

June 24 – a week after Thacher School in Ojai released a 91-page extraordinary report detailing allegations of sexual misconduct at the residential school – sheriff’s detectives and investigators from the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office reported served search warrants on the Cate campus to collect evidence.

The school, with an endowment of $ 111 million, is one of more than 85 boarding schools in California. With an internship fee of $ 68,150, its 150-acre campus is just minutes from Santa Barbara and offers panoramic views from its mesa perch.

Sheriff’s detectives are working with the Cate School and its legal representatives to contact named and unnamed survivors of sexual assault.

“We really want to stress that we are looking for additional survivors as well as witnesses for any sexual misconduct that has occurred at Cate School,” Zick said.

The sheriff’s investigation comes months after Cate said he launched his own internal investigation. In an email obtained by The Times from two former students, school officials said in October that they became aware of allegations of “sexual misconduct involving faculty members and students that occurred there. has several decades “.

School officials said in the email that they had hired an independent investigator and asked former students to contact if they had experienced inappropriate behavior from a teacher or teacher. ‘a member of staff during their stay at the school.

Amy Oppenheimer, whose cabinet is leading the schools investigation, declined to discuss the case.

Two former students had come forward to share the “Cate faculty mistreatment” while they were students in the 1980s and early 1990s, according to the email signed by Williams; Wyatt Gruber, Chairman of the Board; and Monique Parsons, the chair of the board.

“In both cases, we have investigated and taken action against former Cate faculty members who have engaged in the misconduct and in recognition of former students who have come forward to detail their experiences and discuss the impacts of surviving abuse, ”officials said in the email.

Wendy Ward Hoffer, who graduated from Cate in 1987, said she introduced herself to school officials. In an interview with The Times, she detailed the teacher grooming that took place in her sophomore year.

On the last day of the school year, Ward Hoffer alleges that the teacher invited her to his apartment where he kissed her aggressively, touched her under her clothes and rolled over on her.

“It was an experience being crushed under him and feeling really trapped and frozen,” she said.

Although the teacher left school after that year, she said, he continued to return to campus and went on a classroom camping trip where he continued to abuse her, a she declared.

“What were these adults doing? They should have been careful, ”she said. “They really had their heads in the sand and let me be their prey.”

When his own daughter reached high school age, Ward Hoffer decided to break her silence.

In a 12-page letter sent to the school in December 2019, Ward Hoffer’s attorney Eric MacLeish detailed the abuse allegations in a civil action – the precursor to a lawsuit – against Cate. A California law that came into effect in 2020 opened a three-year window for victims to file civil complaints that may have expired due to the statute of limitations.

“No 15-year-old should have to be in such a position with their teacher,” the letter said.

The claim was resolved with Cate in February 2020, although Ward Hoffer said she could not share details. Throughout conversations with Cate, Ward Hoffer and MacLeish said they pushed for an investigation.

Ward Hoffer said she had been following decades of reports of alleged sexual abuse at Thacher School, who posted her investigative information on the school’s website.

“I realize that people have criticized Thacher’s work, but from my observation they seem to have really acknowledged their story in a way that Cate just didn’t,” Ward Hoffer said. “I feel like the school is trying to cover it up… And in the meantime, they’re putting the kids in danger.”

In Thacher’s case, the push for an investigation arose from a social media account that detailed anonymous allegations of sexual misconduct in a manner similar to how student-run Instagram accounts launched across the county. after the death of George Floyd shared incidents of racism on campus. Current and former Cate students have drawn inspiration from the strategy.

In March 2021, an Instagram account was launched as “a safe space for the people of Cate – past and present – to share their experiences with misogyny.” The original account has since deleted his posts, which former and current students have made detailed allegations of abuse.

In April, Cate officials sent an update on the investigation indicating that Oppenheimer planned to submit a report in early June, according to the email obtained by The Times. Officials said they intended to “share a detailed summary of the results with all members of the school.” It does not appear that the report has been made public.

Cate officials have not commented on the emails or the status of the investigation.

In June, a new Instagram account was created that includes anonymous allegations of sexual misconduct and captures anonymous but growing frustration with the school’s handling of its internal investigation.

La Cate, founded in 1910, welcomes 300 students, 78% of whom are boarders. The cost of tuition for a day student is $ 53,750.

The school offers students the opportunity to surf, hike, bike, and visit national parks including Sequoia and Yosemite. Much like the Thacher School, Cate describes itself as a tight-knit community where professors often live on campus.

“Through commitment, scholarship, camaraderie and service, each member of the Cate community contributes to what our founder called ‘… the spirit of this place … all composed of beauty and virtue, quiet study, vigorous play, and hard work ‘. the school’s mission statement reads.

The allegations to Thacher rocked the community, even as alumni and students described many stories of misconduct as long-standing campus secrets, according to his internal report from Los Angeles law firm Munger, Tolles. & Olson. Ventura County law enforcement authorities are investigating the incidents alleged in the report.

Whether or not authorities determine whether an allegation constitutes a crime, Thacher and Cate could face prosecution after the 2020 law extended the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse reports.

Anyone with information relating to the Cate School investigation is urged to contact Det. Sgt. Marquez Valence at (805) 681-4150.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can reach the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-4673 or visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.


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