June Johnson Cleghorn, 59, a Kailua mother of two, is urging victims of childhood sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits against their abusers.
Cleghorn did just that — and reached a court settlement in 2016 — after a teacher allegedly sexually abused her over a six-year period beginning in 1971 when she was a 12-year-old boarding student at Hawaii Preparatory Academy on Hawaii Island.
Cleghorn and others spoke at a news conference last week with her attorney, Mark Gallagher, to raise awareness that the state has lifted the statute of limitations to allow victims of childhood sexual abuse until April 24, 2020, to file retroactive civil law suits against their alleged abusers and the organizations that allowed the abuse to continue.
Gallagher says he is glad the governor signed into law the extension, but he wishes the window was open for a longer period.
“I think for certain kinds of crimes such as child sex abuse the statute of limitations should be lifted permanently,” he said.
Gallagher says during the two earlier periods he settled 63 civil claims. He said he worked in association with Minnesota law firm Jeff Anderson Associates to reach most of the settlements with private schools and organizations that cater to youth such as the Boy Scouts of America.
But the majority were with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu, he says.
At the news conference, Gallagher and the Anderson firm released a report that they say for the first time details the extent of clerical sexual abuse in the Diocese of Honolulu dating to 1950 and why the sexual misconduct continued for so long. The report says 58 Catholic clerics with connections to Hawaii have been accused of sexual abuse, with settlements made in many of their cases either here or on the mainland.
Cleghorn and another former HPA student, Theresa Ellbogen, filed a civil claim against the former teacher, Loren Barker, and HPA during the first of two previous windows the state opened for such lawsuits.
“As a 12-year-old girl, Barker groomed and manipulated me,” Cleghorn said at the news conference. “He manipulated my friends and peers as well, and before the end of that first year as a boarder, he began having sex with me. This sexual abuse continued for the next six years.”
Cleghorn said Barker was her social studies teacher and extremely popular with the students. “He was well liked. The kids loved him. He was also, secretly at the time, a master manipulator and a pedophile.”
Gallagher sued on behalf of Cleghorn in 2014, listing her as plaintiff Jane Roe 30 and Ellbogen as plaintiff Jane Roe 40 in a civil claim against Barker and Hawaii Preparatory Academy.
The lawsuit says as a result of their upbringing, the two teenagers “developed great admiration, trust, reverence and respect for and obedience to teachers and other persons in authority including Barker.”
Cleghorn said she first met Barker and his wife soon after she arrived at HPA when she was assigned to sit at their table at one of the school’s formal Sunday dinners. She said Barker paid a lot of attention to her, which she welcomed as a lonely young student living away from her parents for the first time.
“The main part of what allowed the abuse to continue was the secrecy,” Cleghorn said. “That was what was most damaging to me. I didn’t tell anyone about it; not my parents, not my best friend, nobody.
She said she buried her shame and she only began to talk about the abuse after she sought psychological counseling in her 30s when she was suffering from depression.
“I knew I needed help but I didn’t know why.”
Cleghorn says her lawsuit was liberating.
“I urge other victims to put an end to their secrecy,” she said. “Blasting the secrecy open makes the perpetrators accountable, makes the institutions accountable. You will find your voice. The isolation and shame will start to fade.”
Cleghorn said she didn’t realize until a school reunion at HPA 20 years later that Barker had also allegedly been sexually abusing Ellbogen, a younger classmate.
Ellbogen was not at the news conference, but spoke with Civil Beat by phone from her home in Boulder, Colorado.
Ellbogen said Barker started abusing her shortly after she entered HPA as a 12-year-old eighth grader in 1977.
She said Barker’s sexual misconduct began on a school camping trip to Kilauea volcano. She said she was sleeping outside on the lava when Barker moved beside her sleeping bag and kissed her. She said she was so surprised that she froze.
Ellbogen said through the years, Barker found secret hideaways on campus for them to meet.
“He was a very popular teacher. I was the teacherʻs pet. That stoked my ego. That was part of his whole grooming thing. It was masterful on his part. It was very sick and twisted. He would let me drink beer in his apartment. He told me not to tell anyone or he would lose his job and lose his wife. And then I wouldnʻt get to see him any more and that I would be sad.”
Hawaii Preparatory acknowledged that a settlement had been reached in the case of two former female students and Barker in November 2016. Barker stopped teaching at HPA in 1991, the school said.
Gallagher said Thursday: “I can confirm that the claims brought by Jane Roe No. 30 and Jane Roe No. 40 were ‘settled and/or resolved to the parties’ satisfaction.’ The settlement agreement included both HPA and Loren Barker.”
In a telephone interview from his home in Clinton, Montana, Barker confirmed that there was a settlement.
“This is ancient history,” Barker said. “There was a settlement. This happened a long time ago. This is over and done with. We went through arbitration. I went to Hawaii for it. It was settled. I am not permitted by the terms of the settlement to speak any more about it. This happened in the 1970s at HPA.”
After Barker left HPA, he moved to northern California and continued to teach. He moved to Montana after he retired as principal of Windsor Middle School in Sonoma County in 2007.
Barker acknowledged to Civil Beat that Cleghorn and Ellbogen were the parties to the settlement.
Ellbogen says seeking legal redress has meant everything to her.
“The window provided an opportunity for accountability I never thought I would get. It was empowering. The secrecy can be paralyzing. It was a chance to unload a burden I had been carrying so long. I feel so much lighter now.”
She urges others to come forward.
“Unless people know what happened to you, it is difficult for them to love and support you. The support out there is so much stronger now due to #MeToo and community awareness. You donʻt need to keep carrying your burden.”
In an emailed statement to Civil Beat on Wednesday, Hawaii Preparatory Academy Head of School Robert McKendry said, “Our highest priority is to protect our students, and we are confident that the environment on our campuses is a safe one. Our school has procedures for students, staff and faculty to report any cases of suspected sexual misconduct. As part of our desire for a safe environment, our school conducts rigorous background checks on all new hires.”
Cleghorn said HPA invited her and Ellbogen back to the school last August to meet with all school employees to tell them what happened to them and how to protect students in the future.
The Catholic Diocese of Honolulu says it has paid millions of dollars in damages for about 100 civil claims regarding alleged sexual abuse. The diocese declined to say exactly how much money it has paid in the settlements.
In an emailed statement, Vicar General Monsignor Gary Secor said, “The concern of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu with the legislative lifting of the statute of limitations for reporting sexual abuse of minors does not diminish our commitment to taking responsibility and providing justice and support for those who were abused.”
Secor says Hawaii is the only state to legislate multiple re-openings of its statute of limitation for child sexual abuse claims. Other states have lifted their statute of limitations only once.
“Many of the incidents date back 50-plus years, making it extremely difficult, as most accused abusers and potential witnesses are deceased, recollections are cloudy, evidence is lost or destroyed and testimony is limited to the accuser,” Secor said.
At the news conference, attorney Gallagher said, “Hawaii became a kind of dumping ground for troubled clerics. The church in Hawaii was always short of clergy and so was willing to accept priests with past problems from the mainland and other places as far away as Ireland and Peru.”
One of the accused, the late Father Joseph Henry was a serial sexual abuser. After he was assigned to Hawaii, where he served at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Kailua he was accused of sexual abuse by 18 people.
Settlements were reached in all the cases against the late Father Henry during the two previous windows to sue.
John Michael Pedro Jr. of Kailua received a legal settlement for his abuse at St. Anthony’s by Father Henry and another priest, Father Edward Meuth. Pedro urged others to come forward during the new window.
“I hope and believe the church in Hawaii will continue to try to make changes,” he said
But this story does not always end with hope as it has for Cleghorn, Ellbogen and Pedro — who say they have had their burdens lightened by the kindness and compassion they received from supporters after they sued and then spoke publicly about what happened to them.
Honolulu attorney Randall Rosenberg has settled 50 claims during previous openings, He believes new plaintiffs will seek legal redress during the new window, but he thinks many other victims will decline to take advantage of the new opportunity.
“There is a cultural barrier here, an Asian sense of shame; people don’t want to put shame on the family,” Rosenberg said. “Some will continue to suffer for what was not their fault, and let the pain eat away at them and never get closure. It is a horrible way to live.”
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