‘A slow dive into utter hell’: A Sonoma Academy sexual abuse survivor tells her story
“I started a slow dive into utter hell.
“I could not eat. I spent days crying. I was under 100 lbs. I eventually regained some health by living off of adult formula solely for two months.
“At this point my nervous system is so fried from carrying everything I've had to carry with this that I react to just about everything. It often feels nearly impossible to live this way. The physical toll of this trauma is immense.”
That is how a Sonoma Academy graduate describes her life today after sexual abuse by a former teacher 17 years ago.
She was 14, and a freshman when they met.
He was 34, a new teacher at the school who was unlike any instructor she’d had before. He was a filmmaker invited by Sonoma Academy administrators to teach a single short class on his craft.
Before coming to the private Santa Rosa college-prep school, Adrian Belic had walked on red carpets, been nominated for an Academy Award for his documentary work and rubbed elbows with a who’s who of Hollywood glitterati.
But to the student, who graduated in 2007, Belic’s legacy is darker: He sexually abused her, she said, when she was 15 and 16, not long after the two were introduced as teacher and student.
The woman is 32 now, and she agreed to speak to The Press Democrat after her experiences were revealed in a 49-page investigative report released Nov. 29 by Sonoma Academy.
The report was commissioned after an investigation by The Press Democrat in June exposed allegations of misconduct by former humanities teacher Marco Morrone spanning much of his 18-year tenure at Sonoma Academy.
One section of the report, titled “Sexual Abuse by Adrian Belic,” details the abuse that the 32-year-old graduate said she suffered from the teacher.
Investigators found “Belic sexually abused the female student on multiple occasions after the intersession course and before the student graduated from SA, including one instance of sexual intercourse to which the student was unable to consent,” the report reads.
“(Investigators) also conclude that Belic sexually abused a second SA student on one occasion, during the same period as his abuse of the first student,” the report states.
The second student mentioned in the report also spoke with The Press Democrat, both to corroborate details of the first graduate’s story and to share her single experience of sexual abuse by Belic. The two graduates were friends as students.
Belic has not been charged with a crime. Sonoma Academy officials confirmed on Dec. 10 they had recently made a report to local law enforcement, with the consent of the first graduate. She told The Press Democrat she has not yet given a statement to law enforcement, however.
Attempts to reach Belic by four Press Democrat reporters since Nov. 29 have been unsuccessful. He did not return numerous calls or texts to his personal cellphone, nor did he respond to emails sent to his personal accounts. Reporters also left messages on a cellphone believed to belong to his brother but received no response.
Messages left with Wadi Rum Films, his production company, were not returned. Belic could not be reached through Ramro Global, a documentary film company that lists him as a contributor, and attempts to reach him through a producer who worked with him on his most recent film, “The Wisdom of Trauma,” were also unsuccessful.
The Sonoma Academy report was prepared by the New York law firm Debevoise and Plimpton, which spent several months investigating students’ and graduates’ experiences. The investigation was launched after The Press Democrat reported seven female graduates of the exclusive $48,000-a-year prep school had made allegations of inappropriate behavior, sexual harassment and grooming by Morrone.
The allegations against Belic had not been previously reported. The Debevoise report also named another former employee — an assistant girls soccer coach in 2002 and 2003 — as having sexually abused a student who was on the team at that time.
The Press Democrat generally does not name sexual assault survivors. The 32-year-old graduate and her family agreed to speak with the paper on the condition of anonymity to protect their privacy.
In more than five hours of interviews over several days, the graduate said she and Belic formed a relationship that led to multiple instances of sexual contact, including intercourse, over a year and a half. She cut off contact with him when she was 16 and he was 35.
The student said at least three Sonoma Academy staff members indicated they were aware of the inappropriate nature of her relationship with Belic while she was still in school, and that it had crossed ethical and legal lines. She also informed another school official in 2020 about her past relationship with the onetime teacher.