Woman uses new Colorado law to sue over alleged sex assault in 1977

The Denver Post [Denver CO]

January 7, 2022

By Shelly Bradbury

Lawsuit filed under state’s new Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act, which took effect Jan. 1

A Colorado woman on New Year’s Day sued a former schoolteacher and alleged he raped her when she was a teenager in the 1970s in what appears to be the first lawsuit filed under a new state law that opens up past sexual assaults of minors to civil liability.

Kate McPhee, 60, contends in the lawsuit that she was repeatedly raped by a then-teacher at Colorado Academy during the summer of 1977. McPhee was 15 and 16 at the time of the alleged assaults, according to the lawsuit.

She alleged in the lawsuit that the teacher, who was around the age of 30 at the time, raped her on the campus of Colorado Academy in Denver, then continued a series of assaults during three weeks of a river trip to the Grand Canyon that summer.

McPhee was not a student at Colorado Academy and met the man outside of the school. He worked as a teacher at the school between 1972 and 1977, spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery said. She declined to comment further except to say the school takes allegations of sexual assault seriously.

“When current administrators first heard of this, they immediately acted to address the allegations,” she said in a statement. Colorado Academy is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

The former teacher did not return requests for comment Thursday. He was not criminally charged in connection with the allegations made by McPhee.

McPhee claimed she and another teenage girl joined the man and other adults for the river trip, and that the adults, who were supposed to be acting as chaperones, provided the girls with drugs and alcohol, and encouraged the girls to disrobe for various activities, like swimming and massages.

At night, the adults allowed the man and McPhee to be separate from the rest of the group, the lawsuit says, which allowed the assaults to happen.

The complaint names several other adults on the trip as defendants in the lawsuit, a legal maneuver that McPhee’s attorney, James Avery, said would push the “boundaries” of the new law.

McPhee said she hopes the civil claim will bring her a measure of “justice” after a decades-long saga in which she for years buried the experience before beginning to look back at it more recently and examine the long-term toll it took on her life.

“There were the chaperones on the trip who knew it was going on,” McPhee said. “I confessed it to a priest, I was a devout Catholic at the time, and he told me to do a few ‘Hail Marys’ and ‘Our Fathers,’ and he didn’t show any concern that it was against the law or tell me to go to the police.”

The lawsuit was brought under the state’s new Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act, which took effect Jan. 1. The new law allows for people who were sexually assaulted as children to bring lawsuits against both the attacker and, in some cases, organizations that ran youth programs.

The law creates a three-year window in which victims can bring civil claims for assaults that allegedly happened between 1960 and 2022. There is no time limit on future claims for assaults that happen after Jan. 1, 2022.

McPhee advocated for the new law after she reported the 1977 assaults to police but was told they were unable to take action because the statute of limitations had passed, she said. The Denver Post does not usually name victims of sexual assault, but did so in this case both because McPhee filed a lawsuit and because she agreed to be named.

“It’s not just about money,” she said of the lawsuit. “It’s about feeling like you matter, and what happened to you mattered, and you weren’t just some throwaway human being where nobody cared.