A FORMER ALL-AMERICAN SWIMMER KEPT QUIET ABOUT YEARS OF SEXUAL ABUSE BY A TRUSTED FEMALE TEACHER - CAN SHE NOW GET HER TO ADMIT TO HER CRIMES?
“48 Hours: Kristen’s Secret” – Saturday, June 20, 2015
Captions (L-R) Julie Correa and Kristen Cunnane; Kristen Cunnane.
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Tormented by horrific memories of being sexually abused years before by a middle school gym teacher, Kristen Cunnane thought about killing herself. But then she decided to fight back. In 2010, married and a college swim coach, Cunnane reached out to police to report the abuse.
The decision to fight back would change her life and, as she would soon learn, the lives of others. Tracy Smith and 48 HOURS report on Cunnane’s quest to put her life together and track down her abuser in this updated encore of “Kristen’s Secret” to be broadcast Saturday, June 20 (10:00 PM ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
“It was a big and scary secret that I had been able to block out for more than 10 years,” Cunnane told 48 HOURS. “I had to break that silence,” she added.
Little did Cunnane know, she was not alone and, by speaking out, she gave three other women at the same school the strength to come forward. All three had been sexually abused in the same time period in the mid-1990s by a different teacher. One of those victims spoke with 48 HOURS. “Kristen’s story opened up a door to everything that has happened to me and so many other girls,” said Jane Doe, who agreed to speak provided neither her name nor face be used.
Cunnane’s story started in 1994, when she was a student at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School in Moraga, California. Cunnane caught the eye of gym teacher Julia Correa. They became close friends. Two years later, 28-year-old Correa began her abuse of the 14-year-old Cunnane with a kiss. Cunnane said she was repulsed, but felt powerless to do anything about it. The awkward kiss was the start of years of abuse by Correa, who introduced Cunnane to sex, she says. The coach became increasingly obsessed, so much so that the teacher would slip into Cunnane’s home before the youngster got home and hide for hours in the closet or under her bed. “I just felt this grab around my ankles,” Cunnane recalled of one incident. “I like lost my breath and shook, like shook. She abused me in like every way she could of – I was just paralyzed with fear.”
Cunnane estimates there were hundreds of incidents of sexual and mental abuse during her first three years of high school. But as a senior, Cunnane’s life changed when she began dating classmate Scott Cunnane. Thanks to Scott’s love, she felt empowered enough to tell Correa to get out of her life. Correa tried to contact her a few times after that, but ultimately moved to a different state and had two sons.
Cunnane moved on too, marrying Scott, now a prosecutor, and suppressing the memories until she could suppress them no longer. That was in 2010. The memories returned with such an intensity that Cunnane knew she had to share her long-buried secret with her husband. “He said, like, ‘I love you. We’re going to get through this, and we have two options,’” Cunnane said. “‘We can find her and kill her or we can go to the police.’”
Cunnane went to the police who asked her to call Correa and attempt to get her to confess to the abuse on recorded phone conversations. Could Cunnane pull off the sting? And could she get past the memories that have haunted her?
Because Cunnane broke her silence, the Moraga School District paid $18.65 million to her and three Jane Does who filed civil lawsuits. The administrators at the Moraga School District also apologized to the women who were abused, and they gave 48 HOURS a statement noting they had learned from past mistakes and the district is fostering “a new culture.”
Smith and 48 HOURS tell the story through interviews with Cunnane and her husband, Cunnane’s mother, a childhood friend, attorney Dave Ring and others. 48 HOURS: “Kristen’s Secret” is produced by Paul LaRosa. Deanna DiMuro is the field producer. Bruce Spiegel is the producer/editor. Kate Harrington is the update producer. Suzanne Allen is the senior coordinating producer. Peter Schweitzer is the senior producer. Susan Zirinsky is the senior executive producer.
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