Former Student Files Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Against Portsmouth Abbey School and Former Teacher

Posted on: April 9, 2021 Catholic Church Sexual Abuse

Former Student Sues RI School Teacher Over Past Sexual AbuseIn late 2020, a former student at the Portsmouth Abbey School in Rhode Island filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming her former school teacher sexually abused her when she was a student and the school “failed to take any measures to investigate and put an end to the misconduct and protect its young student.”

The former student, listed in the lawsuit as “Jane Doe”, accuses her former humanities teacher, Michael Bowen Smith, of sexually abusing her during her sophomore and junior years at the school. According to the suit, Jane Doe was enrolled in Smith’s class her sophomore year. Smith started “spending time with her outside of class,” the lawsuit says. “Smith then started to flirt with (her) and eventually introduced sexual banter into their conversations. (She) had never had any sexual experience in her life up until this point in time.” Towards the end of the school year, Smith invited the girl to stop by his apartment, located on the school’s campus and supplied by the school, and engaged in sexual acts for the first time with the girl. Jane Doe was 15 years old when sexual contact first occurred with Smith, and he was in his mid-to-late 40’s.

Jane Doe’s mother raised concerns with the school, however, according to the lawsuit, it felt like the school “brushed the complaints aside and just assured them there was nothing amiss.” The sexual abuse intensified during the girl’s junior year and Smith had Jane Doe visit him at his apartment by using a hallway that connected the student dorm to the building where Smith’s apartment was located. A couple of years after her graduation, Doe began to suffer emotionally from the sexual abuse and admitted what happened with Smith to her parents. They, in turn, notified the school and provided emails from Smith to their daughter which, according to the lawsuit, “showed clear proof of his sexual abuse.” The school apparently did not conduct a thorough investigation and instead allowed Smith to resign without much attention.

At age 20, Jane Doe reached back out to Portsmouth Abbey for help and the school referred her to a consultant. The consultant, however, referred Jane Doe to a law firm who focused on representing the Catholic Church as a defendant in its sexual abuse cases, and not a firm who represented plaintiffs. Instead of informing Jane Doe that she may have a lawsuit against the school and making her aware of any statute of limitations issues, the law firm “told Plaintiff she should let them pursue a ‘temporary restraining order’ against Smith and that her case was one involving “domestic violence.” At that point, her case seemed to be put on hold and when she turned 21 the law firm closed her file because, in Rhode Island, the civil statute of limitations for bringing a claim against a school like Portsmouth Abbey was prior to the victim turning 21 years of age, meaning her time to bring a claim had passed. Doe’s current attorney is asking that the court not allow the school to use the statute of limitations defense because it would be inequitable for his client. Hopefully, recent changes to Rhode Island’s statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims could help Jane Doe in her case.

The entire article can be viewed here.

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