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UNCSA grads sue over sexual abuse claims

The graduates claim faculty at the university sexually abused them in the 1980s.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Several former students claim faculty at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts sexually abused them and administrators did nothing to stop it.

A lawsuit filed against the UNCSA was made public over the weekend. Court documents lay out the victims' claims in excruciating detail. Now, they want the school to pay thousands in damages.

WFMY News 2 was given details about the suit Monday during a virtual press conference.

Several victims from Monday’s call said they attended the school in the 1980s. National Attorney Gloria Allred will represent the seven former UNCSA students.

Five victims shared their stories Monday, including two men and three women. The five did not go into deep detail on their specific experiences but talked at length about the impacts the abuse had on them throughout their lives.

"Through the sexual and psychological abuse that I suffered at UNCSA, I am broken and I have been for decades," Christopher said.

Attorneys asked that victims in the case be identified only by their first names.

Attorneys said they have not investigated any cases of sexual abuse in the 2000s but these former students said they are coming forward to ensure no students go through what they did.

“This top-ranked art school is facing seven lawsuits and a class-action lawsuit alleging childhood sexual abuse suffered by high school-aged children attending the school,” the law group representing the legal team wrote in a statement.

The legal team has filed individual seven lawsuits and a class-action lawsuit against the UNCSA alleging sexual abuse over a 20-year span.

Administrators knew the abuse was happening and did nothing to stop it, according to the legal team. Complaints included victims being "fondled" and "groped" during class.

"My instructors regularly touched me in sexually provocative ways under the guise of correcting my technique," Elizabeth said.

The team alleges the inappropriate behavior was known among the school and was not limited to the dance department but also included students in the drama department.

Complaints also include claims there were sexual relationships between teachers and underage students, with "deliberate" nonintervention.

Victims will testify in court when the time comes. They were all middle and high school students who were minors at the time of the abuse.

Seven former administrators and faculty members have been named as defendants.

The legal team said they can bring this lawsuit due to a 2019 law called the SAFE Child Act, which opened a two-year window for victims to bring their cases forward even if the statute of limitations has passed.

The Senate bill which was signed into law in November 2019 was created to update sexual abuse laws as well as strengthen enforcement and protection for children who have been abused.

Suits are filed in Forsyth County Superior Court and with the state Industrial Commission.

UNCSA released a four-page statement condemning the reports of abuse. 

"It is our intent to respond to this litigation in a manner consistent with our institutional values," Chancellor Brian Cole said. "Make no mistake about it. UNCSA is not the same institution today that it was in the 1970s and 1980s. UNCSA has invested in and implemented an infrastructure to protect its community against abuse of any kind."

The chancellor also said that some of the allegations in this lawsuit were investigated by the UNC Board of Governors in 1995, leading to policy changes across the system.

If certified as a class action suit, the North Carolina co-counselors believe others that come forward could be allowed to join the suit.

The legal team said they have spoken to other witnesses but declined to reveal the exact number of people they have talked to.

The team would not comment on conversations they have had with UNCSA.

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