On July 28, 2021, music teacher Da’Jon Tyrik James, the suspect in an ongoing Santa Barbara County, California, child sexual abuse investigation, was arrested in Colorado on charges for allegedly sexually abusing Dawson School (Lafayette, Colorado) students.
What do the locations of James’ alleged crimes have in common? They happened at elite preparatory schools: Cate School in Carpinteria, where the Santa Barbara County investigation is ongoing; and Dawson School, another private campus outside of Boulder, Colorado.
James taught music at both schools.
James’ arrest and the Santa Barbara investigation are examples of two major public safety issues: the predator hiding in plain sight and institutional cover-up. In fact, it’s the same pattern we have seen at other expensive and exclusive schools such as The Thacher School in Ojai, California, (where dozens of former students have come forward to expose sexual abuse and cover-up).
Private institutions, like Cate School, have something to protect that appears to take precedence over the well-being of victimized students—their reputations.
School administrators often believe that allegations of child sexual abuse are devastating for enrollment, fundraising and development. So instead of rigorously rooting out and exposing abuse—thereby creating a deterrent—many choose to keep allegations quiet in the hopes that victims will move on, and predators will “quietly leave in accordance with their contract.” It’s very similar to the dynamic we see in institutions such as the Catholic Church—but instead of priests being “shuffled” from parish to parish—predatory teachers find positions in other private schools where teaching credentials are not always required, background checks are minimal, and predators know that reputations trump the truth.
The culture of these schools speaks for itself—a substitute teacher job listing for Dawson School lists “Maintain strict confidentiality in all matters” as one of its professional qualifications. All matters? That is a siren song for anyone looking to exploit students because they know that “strict confidentiality” comes before “obey the law” or “protect student safety.”
What steps should be taken?
- The first thing we can do is SUPPORT survivors and those who are currently being victimized. Believe them, validate them, and aid them in getting help and reporting to law enforcement. Encourage them to reach out to other survivors. Show them how by speaking out, they are keeping other kids safe. Laws have changed in both Colorado and California to allow survivors of child sexual abuse to hold institutions and predators accountable, so be sure to check the laws in your state to see if the survivor(s) has new legal rights.
- Demand serious accountability from schools that minimize and cover up abuse. Refuse to allow schools—or any institution—to minimize and revictimize survivors by using phrases like “a few outspoken students” or “allegations from decades ago.” One victim is too many and no time is long enough to mute the crime of child sexual abuse.
- Demand strict adherence to reporting laws and work towards strengthening laws that punish institutional officials who do not report abuse to police. Check the laws in your state that govern private education and demand that child safety ALWAYS be the top priority.
- Talk to kids about abuse and engage communities. One of the best ways to prevent abuse is to inform and empower kids.