Two of the four girls allegedly molested 12 years ago by a Boca Raton elementary teacher broke their silence Thursday to encourage other victims of sexual abuse to speak out, too.
Invoking this week’s #MeToo movement on social media — in which women who have faced sexual harrassment or sexual assault are sharing their experiences to underscore the problem’s pervasiveness — the two victims said that discussing the 2005 sexual assaults could “help other survivors too.”
“It took 12 years to close this case and get what the system calls justice,” one of the victims, now a 22-year-old college graduate, said in an interview with reporters. “We were little girls, little girls who were brave enough, strong enough” to speak out.
The two women, who each were third-graders at Coral Sunset Elementary when they were abused in 2005, discussed the case one day after the Palm Beach County School Board approved a $3.5 million legal settlement with the four victims, bringing to a close more than a decade of litigation.
Both women spoke to reporters in a phone interview on the condition that their names not be revealed.
The teacher accused of sexually abusing them, Blake Sinrod, was charged in two of the four cases and pleaded guilty to one count of child abuse.
Adjudication was withheld and he was sentenced to five years’ probation. He also agreed to surrender his teaching license.
Police said that in 2005 he fondled one girl’s private parts at the school and made another girl fondle his groin. Other girls said he required them to give him massages.
The two victims who spoke Thursday were recent immigrants to the United States at the time of the abuse, and their parents spoke limited English. Each said they believed that their families’ unfamiliarity with U.S. laws and norms was a factor in Sinrod’s decision to target them.
Sinrod’s actions were discovered after one of the girls told her parents, who then alerted the school. But it wasn’t the first warning about Sinrod that the school had received.
Two years before their complaints, another girl and her parents had alerted the assistant principal to the same behavior. In court depositions, the father later said the assistant principal told him Sinrod was a highly recommended teacher and that she thought his daughter was “lying.”
Thursday, the two women encouraged girls who find themselves in similar situations not to be afraid to report the abuse.
“I want to take that experience and help others,” said the second victim, who is now 22 and finishing up her final year of college. “Don’t be afraid to speak up.”
Both women said they were angered by revelations last week that the county school board had argued in court filings that the victims were partly to blame for their injuries.
After that legal argument was revealed in newspaper stories last week, school board members lambasted their own legal team Wednesday evening before approving the settlement.
“This shouldn’t be something that someone uses against victims,” said the second victim. “It makes me baffled and angry that they would say something like that.”
Added the first victim: “It’s clearly their responsibility, and for them to use that defense is horrific.”
Both women said they receive little support from their school after their allegations initiated the criminal investigation against Sinrod.
“I feel like they should have offered us some sort of help, like therapy or something,” the second victim said. “I feel like (school officials) didn’t care about our feelings or what we were going through. They just cared about the school.”