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Cate School Sexual Abuse Allegations Spark Sheriff's Investigation

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Cate School Sexual Abuse Allegations Spark Sheriff’s Investigation

Cate School Sexual Abuse Allegations Spark Sheriff’s Investigation

Jul 2, 2021

Just a few weeks after news of the Thacher School sexual abuse scandal made headlines, another elite boarding school is in the news following similar sex crime allegations. Santa Barbara County’s Cate School, located in Carpinteria, is under investigation by the sheriff’s office after reports of sexual abuse and misconduct by a former employee came to light.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the investigation into Cate School comes months after campus officials informed alumni they had launched their own internal probe into potential abuse and misconduct that could date back several decades.

The sheriff’s office reportedly began investigating a former employee of Cate School in April after receiving a tip from a mandated reporter outside of the school. The alleged sexual abuse and misconduct is said to have occurred while the suspect was employed by the elite boarding school.

A statement issued by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office confirms that detectives from the Criminal Investigations Bureau and investigators from the District Attorney’s Office served search warrants at the Cate School campus on June 24. Authorities “sought to gather potential evidence to further the investigation” of these sexual abuse and misconduct allegations, and detectives have “identified several sexual assault survivors in this case – both current and former students of Cate School.”

The statement from the sheriff’s office noted that the investigation is ongoing, and authorities will be “refraining from identifying the suspect in order to protect the integrity of the case and ensure justice for the survivors.”

Detectives and investigators are currently working with Cate School and their legal representatives to contact the sexual assault survivors [both named and unnamed]. The sheriff’s office statement also indicates that although detectives are working with identified survivors, authorities “believe there may be additional survivors or witnesses that have not been located or contacted” at this time.

Accordingly, investigators are attempting to locate and identify any other potential witnesses to the alleged sexual abuse and misconduct.

Furthermore, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office noted in its statement that investigators are “aware that survivors of sexual assault and abuse are often reluctant to come forward for many different reasons.”

As a result, the sheriff’s office confirmed it has “many resources available regardless of your decision to participate in a criminal investigation” and confirmed the department’s detectives are coordinating closely with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, Victim-Witness Program to “ensure the needs of survivors are not overshadowed by the focus on the investigation and prosecution of the accused.

Victim Advocates are reportedly available to ensure that survivors are kept informed and supported throughout the criminal justice process. Survivors have the option of contacting the Victim-Witness Assistance Program directly at 805-568-2400 or toll free at 855-840-3232.

Anyone with information related to the alleged sexual abuse and misconduct at Cate School, or the ongoing sheriff’s office investigation, is urged to contact Detective Sergeant Mark Valencia at 805-681-4150.

In a statement to the Cate School campus community that was obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Head of School, Ben Williams, said the institution is “cooperating with an investigation by local law enforcement into alleged sexual misconduct by a former employee, who worked at Cate School for six months, and whose employment was terminated in February of 2020.

Cate School officials indicated Child Protective Services have been alerted to the potential misconduct by that same employee.

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

Raquel Zick, a public information officer with the sheriff’s office, told the Los Angeles Times:

“We really want to emphasize that we are seeking additional survivors as well as witnesses for any sexual misconduct that has occurred at Cate School.”

Cate School reportedly has a $111 million endowment and is one of 85 schools with boarding facilities in the state of California. Tuition for boarding students at Cate is over $68,000 annually.

Cate School Sexual Abuse Survivors Come Forward

Cate School officials reportedly received an email in October of last year from two alumnae who had come forward to share “mistreatment by Cate faculty” during their time as students in the 1980s and early ’90s.

The Los Angeles Times spoke with one of those survivors who reported the alleged abuse, Wendy Ward Hoffer, a 1987 graduate of Cate School. Ward Hoffer detailed a grooming process applied by a teacher during her sophomore year.

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

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

Despite the teacher leaving the school the year after that alleged incident, Ward Hoffer told the Times he returned to campus on multiple occasions and attended a class camping trip where he continued to abuse her.

What were these adults doing? They should have been paying attention,” she told the newspaper. “They really had their heads in the sand and let me be preyed upon.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that when her daughter reached high school age, Ward Hoffer decided to break her silence and report the repeated sexual abuse that occurred at Cate School.

Ward Hoffer filed a sexual abuse civil claim against Cate School in December 2019, according to the Times. A letter attached to the claim stated, “No 15-year-old should ever have to be in such a position with their teacher.”

The claim was reportedly resolved with Cate School in February 2020. Ward Hoffer told the newspaper she could not share the details of the resolution, but during conversations with Cate officials she and the other survivor who came forward said they pushed for an investigation into the decades of alleged sexual abuse and misconduct.

Ward Hoffer was only able to file a civil claim as a result of California’s recently passed AB 218 law. Had AB 218 not been put into effect, the statute of limitations would have barred her claim from proceeding.

Ready to file a claim and pursue justice through a financial damages award? Our expert attorneys are available online or by phone now.

What is California AB 218 (and Why is it Important for Cate School Sexual Abuse Survivors)?

What is California AB 218 (and Why is it Important for Cate School Sexual Abuse Survivors)?

In 2020, legislation known as California Assembly Bill 218 (AB 218) went into effect, allowing any survivor of childhood sexual abuse the opportunity to come forward and file a civil claim in pursuit of financial compensation. AB 218 was hailed as a landmark law for childhood sex crime survivors that was long overdue. After taking effect, AB 218 immediately granted an opportunity at justice for tens-of-thousands of childhood sexual abuse survivors throughout California.

As Dordulian Law Group’s (DLG) founder and president, Sam Dordulian, has said, AB 218 is analogous to a “time machine” that allows him and his team of sexual abuse attorneys to “go back in time, as far back as we need to” and prosecute sexual predators.

Under AB 218’s three-year “lookback window” clause, any survivor of childhood sexual abuse who wishes to come forward and file a civil claim may do so, regardless of the nature of the crime or how long ago it occurred. The lookback window is meant to afford survivors of childhood sexual abuse who were previously ineligible to file a claim as a result of the statute of limitations an opportunity for obtaining justice.

However, AB 218’s lookback window is only available for a limited period of time, meaning that if survivors miss the deadline to file a claim – December 31, 2022 – they will be left without legal recourse.

Due to the number of claims that could potentially be filed, survivors of childhood sexual abuse are encouraged to come forward as soon as possible. DLG’s Sex Crimes Division is available 24/7 for free consultations and to answer any questions you may have regarding the legal process, AB 218, or filing a childhood sexual abuse civil lawsuit.

How Much Financial Compensation Can I Expect to Receive Through an AB 218 Claim?

As with almost all sexual assault claims, the final amount of financial compensation awarded will likely depend on a number of factors, such as:

  • The extent of the abuse
  • The extent of liability on the part of the at-fault individual or institution
  • The age of the child at the time of the incident
  • The skill/experience/ability of the survivor’s AB 218 sexual abuse attorney

A specific clause in AB 218 may allow survivors to recover additional financial compensation. Under the treble (triple) damages clause, survivors of childhood sexual abuse that resulted from a cover-up by an individual or institution may be eligible for a financial damages award that is tripled.

If a cover-up took place, AB 218’s treble damages clause gives the courts the latitude to award up to three times the amount in a settlement or verdict. As an example, if you were awarded $1 million in an AB 218 sexual abuse claim, but your attorney was able to prove that a cover-up occurred, you could actually collect a final settlement of $3 million.

The treble damages clause in AB 218 is intended to severely punish individuals and institutions that engaged in systemic cover-ups of childhood sexual abuse. Examples of institutions that have been hit with civil claims which ultimately resulted in treble damages awards being issued to survivors include the Boy Scouts of America and Catholic Church.

DLG pursues treble damages awards in all applicable AB 218 childhood sexual abuse claims.

How Long Does it Take to Recover Financial Compensation Through an AB 218 Claim?

The time it takes to recover financial compensation in a sexual abuse civil claim can vary dramatically depending on certain circumstances. However, in many cases, a final settlement can be reached quickly.

As an example, Dordulian Law Group recently secured a multi-million dollar settlement [the actual figure is confidential due to the terms of the agreement] in just three months for a challenging rape survivor case against an ex-boyfriend.

While there is no average time that can be assigned to sexual abuse claims, DLG works aggressively to help ensure a successful resolution to your case is reached as soon as possible.

Contact our top-rated team of expert sexual abuse attorneys online or by phone today to pursue justice and secure a financial award for damages.

The Second Elite California Boarding School to Face Sexual Abuse Allegations This Year

Earlier this week, we published a blog detailing first-hand accounts of alleged sexual abuse and misconduct occurring for 40 years at another elite California boarding institution – Thacher School. Sadly, sexual abuse in schools is perhaps the most frequent subject we’ve covered throughout the past year, with accounts of alleged abuse as well as confirmed charges making headlines practically every month.

And, as we noted in a blog from earlier this week (following reports of a Texas female teacher sexually molesting a male teenage student), educator or coach sexual misconduct can impact students of all ages, genders, races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

But are the allegations of decades-old sexual abuse and misconduct at schools like Cate and Thacher indicative of a rampant problem unique to elite boarding institutions? As we mentioned in the Thacher survivor story blog, reports of sexual abuse and misconduct at elite boarding schools throughout the U.S. are actually widespread.

A 2017 report from the Associated Press (AP) outlined numerous sexual abuse and misconduct scandals at elite boarding schools over the years, many of which resulted in high-profile lawsuits and multi-million dollar settlements for survivors. Beyond the institutions we highlighted in the Thacher blog – St. George’s School in Rhode Island, Horace Mann School in New York, and Solebury School in Pennsylvania – the AP report identified three additional boarding schools with histories of sexual abuse and misconduct scandals:

  • Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts: Five former faculty members at the school were found through a 2016 investigation to have engaged in sexual misconduct. The abuse occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, and the school reportedly apologized for the harm endured by the survivors.
  • Pomfret School in Connecticut: In September 2016, the school revealed that several of its teachers had engaged in improper sexual conduct with students from the 1970s to the 2000s. An independent investigation found that four teachers had likely engaged in misconduct, while other reports of allegations reportedly could not be substantiated. The school said Pomfret officials were aware of the ongoing misconduct, but no one reported the allegations to authorities.
  • Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts: In 2016, the Western Massachusetts boarding school agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit by a former student who was sexually abused by a faculty member on trips for golf and squash matches against other prep schools. A 2013 investigation by a law firm hired by the school reportedly detailed allegations of misconduct on the part of two faculty members. Again, the school offered an apology.

Systemic sexual abuse and misconduct is certainly not unique to elite boarding schools. Over 3.5 million 8th grade to 11th grade students reported sexual contact with an adult in 2015. Moreover, a troubling Education Department study confirmed that reports of sexual violence in schools rose more than 50% between the 2015-2016 and 2017-2018 school years.

One problem commonly associated with school sex abuse is that teacher or coach sexual predators are often found to be repeat offenders. In February, we reported on yet another elite California private institution – The Bishop’s School in La Jolla – that has allegedly been plagued by systemic sexual abuse for several decades.

Since 2017, 14 alumni of The Bishop’s School have reported incidents of sexual misconduct on the part of teachers and support staff. In 2018, over a dozen alleged incidents of sexual abuse came to light at The Bishop School. The allegations dated back over the course of 30 years.

At Thacher School, the allegations date back over 40 years. At Cate, they date back over 30 years.

While sexual violence is on the rise in all types of schools around the country, does a unique culture of sexual abuse and misconduct exist at these elite boarding schools? And with the number of allegations recently coming to light, many of which date back several decades, is it possible that the abuse at these elite California institutions is related (or that cover-ups allowed such sexual abuse and misconduct to continue)?

As DLG’s founder and president, Sam Dordulian, notes, reports of systemic sexual abuse and misconduct at elite institutions such as Cate, Thacher, and The Bishop’s School are not uncommon.

“Sexual abuse impacts students at both public and private schools, but in my nearly two decades of litigating sex crime cases, I’ve seen an unusually high number of claims, mostly of a systemic nature, arise from these elite boarding schools. As a sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, I handled a number of cases against elite private institutions. And as a civil attorney in private practice representing survivors, I’ve probably seen even more – from Bishop to Thacher, Cate, and more,” Dordulian said.

Litigation against The Bishop’s School is currently ongoing, and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office is investigating allegations of sexual abuse at the Thacher School in Ojai. As local news outlet KEYT reported, it’s unclear if the abuse allegations are related, but both private boarding schools [Thacher and Cate] have a described “history of collaboration” and a storied rivalry in athletics.

How Can I Obtain Justice for Childhood Sexual Abuse Under AB 218?

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse can file a civil lawsuit under AB 218 by contacting DLG’s team of experienced and dedicated Sex Crime Division attorneys. Led by former sex crime prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, Sam Dordulian, DLG’s team of skilled professionals are here to help you secure the justice you deserve and recover maximum financial compensation.

Dordulian founded DLG’s Sex Crimes Division to offer an unparalleled quality of legal representation to California sexual abuse survivors. As a sex crime prosecutor, Dordulian helped secure life sentences against some of the state’s most dangerous sexual predators and offenders. As Deputy District Attorney, Dordulian came to understand that many survivors – particularly those impacted by childhood sex crimes – may need access to additional resources and support when navigating the legal process that goes beyond just expert legal representation.

Accordingly, when he founded his own private firm, Dordulian created a SAJE Team (Sexual Abuse Justice Experts) of handpicked professionals – comprising four tiers of unique and all-encompassing resources offered to every survivor client.

With DLG, survivors have access to an expert litigator in Sam Dordulian – one who will fight aggressively as your legal advocate to help ensure a successful resolution to your claim is reached as soon as possible. But in addition to that expert legal representation, DLG’s survivor clients can utilize all four tiers of the SAJE Team, allowing 24/7 access to often critical resources that can be invaluable (depending on one’s needs throughout the legal process).

As a DLG survivor client, you have complete access to DLG’s four-tiered SAJE Team:

Tier I: Litigation Lead, Sam Dordulian:

  • Former sex crimes prosecutor
  • Former Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County
  • Over 100 jury trial victories obtained
  • Over $100,000,000 recovered for clients in settlements and verdicts

Tier II: Investigative Lead, Moses Castillo:

  • Retired LAPD sex crimes detective
  • Former detective sergeant in the elite Abused Child Unit
  • Over 30 years of professional experience
  • In-house investigator for DLG

Tier III: Counseling/Psychological Lead:

  • Licensed clinical therapist
  • In-house access for clients
  • Over 15 years of experience supporting survivors of sexual abuse in need

Tier IV: Support Lead:

  • Two victim advocates
  • Licensed and nationally accredited
  • Devoting their careers to helping survivors

At DLG, we believe survivors of childhood sexual abuse. One of the first questions our intake specialists ask potential survivor clients is:

Who do you have in your life who will help support you through this [legal] process?

With the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department providing survivors of alleged Cate School sexual abuse the option of contacting the Victim-Witness Assistance Program (directly at 805-568-2400 or toll free at 855-840-3232), the critical need for having both a support network and 24/7 access to professional sex crime resources is better highlighted.

If you wish to pursue justice for your childhood sexual abuse, DLG offers a unique type of representation that goes far beyond mere legal expertise. We’re here to listen, to provide support and unique resources, and to help you win your claim and recover the justice you deserve.

A survivor of childhood sexual abuse should be selective when conducting a search for the best attorney available to handle their claim. Don’t put your case in the hands of an inexperienced or undedicated firm that will not give it the utmost respect and personalized attention it deserves. When conducting your research, you may notice that DLG’s dedication to each and every client has produced verifiable results, including:

Contact us today online or by phone at 818-322-4056 to learn more about what makes DLG the absolute best firm in the Los Angeles, California-area to handle your school sexual abuse claim.


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