Ben Lippen School settles child sex abuse case under SAFE Child Act

In what is widely believed to be the first resolved child sexual abuse case under the landmark 2019 NC SAFE Child Act, an Asheville-based former Ben Lippen School graduate has reached a settlement in her claims of Years of Sexual Abuse at the Hands of Christian School Coach.

The settlement was reached June 29 in mediation in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. Rachel Howald, 51, filed a lawsuit on January 15, 2021, in Buncombe County Superior Court under the look-back window of the new SAFE Child Act, which allowed child victims of sexual abuse who had exceeded the statute of limitations a two-year opportunity to sue their attackers.

Howald, who now lives in the New York area, claimed Ben Lippen’s former teacher and coach, Pamela Kaye Herrington, repeatedly sexually assaulted her from 1986 to 1988, when Howald was 16 and 17 and that the school offered multiple opportunities to the teacher. victimize her.

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Under the settlement, in which the details will remain sealed, the case against the school is resolved, but the lawsuit against Herrington continues.

“The latest developments in my case have certainly been unexpected and a welcome step in the healing process. But it is just that – another step in what is essentially an ongoing process for any victim of sexual abuse,” Howald said in an email to the Citizen Times.

“Litigation is a tool to change the future of others, it is not a magic wand that erases the past. Although the case against the school is settled, the trauma resulting from sexual abuse will never go away. I still live with the effects.

North Carolina Supreme Court: Child sexual assault trial under SAFE Child Act to move forward

The Ben Lippen School was located in West Asheville, where the Crest Center is now located.

The case was settled just a week before a North Carolina Supreme Court ruling in another SAFE Child Act sexual abuse lawsuit, this one brought against a former coach and the Gaston County Board of Education. A three-judge panel in December 2021 found the law to be unconstitutional, but it was appealed.

In the July 5 order, the Supreme Court allowed Gaston’s case to bypass the North Carolina Court of Appeals and go directly to the Supreme Court.

Howald’s attorney, Boz Tchividjian, who is based in Florida, said the fact that the Ben Lippen school settled before the Supreme Court even ruled on the constitutionality of the SAFE Child Act is significant.

“It is unusual for these cases to be settled while the case is pending in the Supreme Court of North Carolina. Most parties pressed the ‘pause’ button until there was a decision,” said Tchividjian, who is a grandson of famed evangelist Billy Graham and has been critical of institutions, especially institutions. nuns, who seek to cover up abusers and block child protection laws like North Carolina’s.

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The case against Ben Lippen

The assaults took place in dormitories and in the Herrington campus apartment, in school vehicles used to transport student-athletes, at off-campus school sporting events, in hotel rooms during sports trips and in Howald’s own house, according to the suit. Howald’s family lived near Asheville, and she dated Ben Lippen as a day student, although most students were boarders.

According to the lawsuit, Herrington was in her late thirties and single when she was hired by the school in 1982. Among many claims, the lawsuit said the Ben Lippen school allowed Herrington to live in the one of the girls’ dormitories alongside the students, gave her unguarded and unrestricted access to the students’ rooms, and used her position to target, groom, and “sexually victimize” some of these students, including Howald.

Ben Lippen School was located in West Asheville, on a hill off Ben Lippen School Road.

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Howald sought a jury trial to award compensatory damages and punitive damages for the “serious physical and mental injuries resulting from the sexual assaults/batteries” she suffered from Herrington.

In its initial response filed March 31, 2021, the Ben Lippen School denied all charges Howald made in 43 separate defences, saying in part that Howald herself was to blame for the alleged assaults and that the school, being based on a Christian tradition, has prevented teachers from sexually abusing minors.

These defenses include that Howald was 16 when she first met Herrington, and therefore “had reached the legal age of consent before the alleged occurrence of the allegations set out” in the lawsuit and “consented to all of the allegations”. , and that Howald “created and/or caused all of the allegations she advanced”.

The school also asserted that all faculty members were required “to confirm acceptance and unqualified agreement to the school’s statement of faith, which included Christian principles of doctrine and practice”, and that the school “prohibits all faculty and students from engaging in homosexual acts, premarital sex, and abuse of any kind, including sexual abuse, of a minor child”.

Violations of these prohibitions would result in expulsion or dismissal, depending on the legal response.

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Ben Lippen School, also known as Columbia International University, was founded in Asheville in 1940 and was formerly located on Ben Lippen School Road in West Asheville, in a building now occupied by the Crest Center. He moved to Columbia in 1988, the same year Herrington left school after five years of employment.

The school also claimed in its defense that the “lookback” law under which Howald filed the lawsuit was unconstitutional.

Asheville school’s SAFE Child Act cases continue

The same ‘unconstitutionality’ defense is being used by the Asheville School, an elite private boarding school in West Asheville, in response to four lawsuits brought by five former students dating back to the 1960s who claim sexual abuse by former teachers and the school’s neglect in protecting them.

Before the SAFE Child Act was enacted, victims had only until the age of 21 to file a lawsuit for acts committed against them as children. The law opened a two-year look-back window allowing people who could not have brought a lawsuit the opportunity to seek justice and file a lawsuit by December 31, 2021.

The Department of Justice estimates that 86% of child sexual abuse cases are never reported. And those who do often suffer from “late disclosure”.

A public health study cited by CHILD USA found that the average age of women and men who reported childhood sexual abuse was 52.

Under the law, dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the Asheville-based Daniel Boone Council of Boy Scouts and numerous other councils, churches, camps and other institutions across North Carolina.

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Many of those cases are on hold pending the Supreme Court’s decision in the Gaston County case.

“I continue to hope that the North Carolina Supreme Court will uphold the law and uphold the rights of all victims with pending lawsuits to seek justice,” Howald said.

“During (my) trial, I believe many people have had their eyes opened to the fact that sexual abuse is a very real problem facing many schools in every community, and I believe survivors have had the chance to see that they are not alone and that there is broad and growing support for survivors who make the bold decision to come forward. And that, in my eyes, is nothing.

Karen Chávez is a content coach/investigations editor for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Tips? Call 828-712-6316, email [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @KarenChavezACT.

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