A SURVIVOR WAITS 12 YEARS FOR JUSTICE Alex Harrison Wins Case Against School District that Ignored Abuse
ABOUT OUR SURVIVORSHIP SERIES This is the second post in our new Survivorship Series, which amplifies the voices of abuse survivors who are now working to protect other children from abuse. The National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (NAASCA) estimates 50-60 million American adults were sexually abused as children. We honor those adults who are stepping up and sharing their abuse stories in order to change flawed systems, institutions, and laws.
Alex Harrison recently won a suit against the Tamalpais Union High School District in Mill Valley, California after alleging that the district failed to protect him from sexual abuse from a gym teacher and tennis instructor when he was a high school student there 12 years ago, The New York Times reports.
Despite complaints by other students against the popular coach and teacher Normandie Burgos to school authorities, and despite Harrison and another student bringing a case against the abuser a few of years later, that case ended in a mistrial and Harrison received nothing but mockery from his community, which rallied around Burgos and shunned Harrison.
Cayce Clifford/The New York Times
It was not until many years later that Burgos faced real repercussions in a case where he was finally found guilty of 60 counts of molestation. After abusing Harrison and other students at Tamalpais High School, he had gone on to molest additional young tennis players and is now in prison.
Meanwhile, Alex Harrison had gone to law school, and despite suffering trauma from both the abuse and the community's abandonment of him, he took on the work of protecting others from abuse: he joined the Orange County DA's Office, where he now works to prosecute sex crimes. He is well-known for being a particularly empathetic—and tough—prosecutor.
“I wanted to help victims of crime not be as traumatized by the criminal justice system as me. And I thought that maybe...if I got other sex offenders convicted, it would help me move on with my life.” —Alex Harrison
It's only after more recent revelations about the prevalence of abuse—and successful cases against notorious abusers like Larry Nassar and Jerry Sandusky—that sexual abuse cases in youth, college, and national sports are being taken more seriously. And it's only recently that statutes of limitations are being lifted in order to facilitate justice being served.
“In California, a law that went into effect in January 2020 and expires at the end of 2022 has resulted in thousands of claims alleging sexual abuse by coaches, teachers, clergy and others,” writes David W. Chen in The New York Times. The lifting of that statute allowed Harrison to bring the case against his former school district.
Daniel Dreifuss—The New York Times
Alex Harrison has been a warrior—for justice for himself and for others. Winning the suit against the district sets a strong precedent about the need for adults to stand up for children. The school district had a responsibility to take complaints of misconduct seriously, and they neglected to do so. To ignore such an injustice because it took place in the past would be to make it more likely to happen in the future.
We are so grateful to Alex Harrison and to all survivors who speak out in order to seek justice and protect others from abuse.