ARLINGTON, WA — A lawyer for a private Christian school and one of its teachers won’t be allowed to argue in court that a 14-year-old and her parents bear some responsibility for an inappropriate relationship between the girl and the school’s former principal.
Snohomish County Superior Court Judge David Kurtz earlier this week promptly rejected Highland Christian Schools’ attempt to assert an affirmative defense at trial. Kurtz said the law is clear that a child under 16 is incapable of consent and incapable of being considered for contributory fault.
“This is fairly straight forward,” Kurtz said. “It will not be allowed.”
The girl and her parents are suing the Arlington private school and teacher Steven Brown, claiming that they failed to adequately protect the girl from the school’s former principal. School officials should have known of Mark Brown’s “proclivities to be engaged with minor girls, but failed to conduct a reasonable and complete background check before hiring him and placing him in a position of authority,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit claims that Mark Brown groomed the girl, isolated her from her parents and sexually abused her beginning in mid-2008. It also alleges that Steven Brown, a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse, failed to help the girl after he found her hiding at school and kept her from her parents. Steven Brown also is accused of transporting her between hiding places on Mark Brown’s behalf.
Mark Brown in 2009 was sentenced to a year in jail after pleading guilty to second-degree kidnapping of a minor. Prosecutors believed that Brown raped the girl in 2008 after he encouraged her to run away from home and helped her hide out at the school. Detectives uncovered more than 600 text messages between Brown and the student, court papers said.
Highland and Steven Brown’s attorney argued Wednesday that an affirmative defense was appropriate to address the allegations that Steven Brown failed to assist the girl, moved her from the school and kept her separated from her parents. “The girl bears responsibility because she ran away from home and told people that she was being physically abused by a parent,” attorney Paul Buckley said.
“The girl couldn’t consent to any sexual contact with Mark Brown, but what she did and said at the time does have bearing on the allegations against Steven Brown,” he said.
“She’s not at fault for being groomed, hidden and secreted away,” Todd Nichols, the attorney representing the girl and her parents countered.
Mark Brown was hired by Highland in 2006 after he lost his previous job as a wrestling coach at Concrete High School in Skagit County. He was investigated there after allegations surfaced that he was having an inappropriate relationship with a female student. That student denied any sexual contact with Brown. She told Skagit County investigators they exchanged text messages and went to dinner together, and Brown occasionally gave her a ride home. No charges were filed.
A child is never responsible or at fault for sexual abuse. Ever. Instead, it is the responsibility of organizations to put policy in place that protects children from abuse. Implementation and enforcement of prevention, bystander intervention, and reporting policies could have prevented the environment that allowed the grooming and abuse of this child to occur.