Last week, a survivor who was abused by a former Servite High School teacher and vice principal Richard C. Cotton was finally able to break his silence.
A new lawsuit filed under California’s Child Victims Act exposed how Cotton blackmailed and coerced the survivor into multiple incidents of sexual abuse. Cotton, who was also a vice principal, passed away in 2007. The survivor lived in shame and silence for decades.
Why is this case— and the brave survivor who came forward—so important?
The power of public disclosure – The survivor who came forward to hold Cotton accountable was able to do so because of recent media reports surrounding a former priest predator who worked at Servite. In fact, what started as a single allegation against Fr. Kevin Fitzpatrick, Servite’s swimming and water polo coach, has now exploded into numerous allegations against the now-deceased coach. According to the survivor abused by Richard Cotton, hearing about other survivors coming forward is what gave him the courage to take action.
How predators manipulate kids – In both the cases, Fitzpatrick and Cotton used coercion and blackmail to force survivors into sexual abuse. Unfortunately, this is a very common practice—predators will often exploit “taboos” such as drugs, alcohol, pornography, cheating, or other forbidden activities to shame and blackmail a child into abuse and then into silence and shame.
The power that predators hold over victims, even years after the abuse is over – In the lawsuit, the survivor recounts how Cotton paid for an abortion when the survivor impregnated his girlfriend, and then how Cotton used the abortion and leverage to continue the abuse. After the abuse ended, when the survivor was arrested on a DUI, it was Cotton who bailed him out.
While this may seem odd to someone unfamiliar with the dynamics of child sexual abuse, this kind of power is very common. We have seen predators who have officiated weddings of survivors, baptized survivor’s children, and performed survivor’s parents’ funerals. It’s a way—just like posting bail on a DUI—of saying that no matter what, the predator will always have their eye on the survivor and will always be in a position of power. It’s a way of saying, “Now, if you come forward, no one will ever believe you.”
The Mater Dei & Servite culture connection—The allegations against Servite’s faculty are not unique to the school, nor is the connection between Santa Ana’s Mater Dei High School and its long-time sports rival. Not only did Cotton teach at both schools, but the current president at Mater Dei, Michael Brennan, was a 15-year administrator at Servite. In addition, the former athletic director at Servite, Joel Hartmann, moved to Mater Dei as executive director of athletics in light of recent hazing scandals that have rocked the school. Hartmann was an athletic director at Servite for 32 years. These men played a huge role in creating a culture that shamed Fitzpatrick’s and Cotton’s survivors into silence.
Importance of legislative reform—These Servite survivors—and survivors across the state—were only able to come forward and expose what happened to them because a California law that gives survivors more time to use the civil court system. Although we believe that both Fitzpatrick and Cotton have more survivors suffering in shame and silence, many of those survivors only have until December 31, 2022 to come forward and use the civil courts to expose the abuse.