Hanna Boys Center abuse survivor speaks publicly after $6.8 million settlement
He left his abuser behind when he departed Hanna Boys Center, a graduate at 18, onto another life.
But the anguish of what happened - six years of sexual abuse at the hands of his case worker at the Sonoma Valley residential facility for troubled boys - nearly took him down anyway.
“It was a very, very dark feeling,” said Robert Kennedy, 25, identified until Wednesday in civil and criminal court proceedings only as a John Doe.
His abuser, Kevin Scott Thorpe, who was promoted to clinical director at Hanna months before his June 2017 arrest, is now serving 21 years in state prison in the San Joaquin Valley. Kennedy, one of his victims, kept his story to himself until coming forward two years ago, detailing his claims to law enforcement and later filing a civil suit against Thorpe.
“I felt like I was suffering in silence, and if I did speak that it wouldn’t even matter,” Kennedy said. “That’s what I kept telling myself.”
On Wednesday the Santa Rosa man spoke for the first time outside of court about his experience, standing at a press conference outside the Hanna Boys Center and later in an exclusive interview. The account he shared followed news on Tuesday that he and his brother, another of Thorpe’s victims, had reached a $6.8 million settlement in their pair of lawsuits against Hanna Boys Center and the affiliated Santa Rosa Diocese of the Catholic Church.
The settlement, confirmed Wednesday by Brian Farragher, Hanna’s chief executive officer, involves the highest payout of any sex abuse case publicly reported in over a quarter century involving the Santa Rosa diocese, according to Santa Rosa attorney Dan Beck, who represented the brothers.
The size of the award reflected what Beck called “the enormous harm” inflicted on the siblings, as well as a “tone” and “culture” at the boys home in which such abuse was allowed to flourish.
In a voicemail Wednesday, Santa Rosa Bishop Robert F. Vasa, who sits on the board of trustees for the boys center, declined to comment, deferring to Hanna Boys Center.
Vasa said in May the diocese had paid out at least $31 million in settlements to clergy abuse victims since the early 1990s.
The settlement is the latest development in a painful and tumultuous period for the venerable 74-year-old boys center, which has struggled after a wave of troubles linked to Thorpe’s misconduct, a related whistleblower case and ensuing turmoil in the ranks of staff and board leaders. The facility is on three years of probation after nearly losing its license in the wake of Thorpe’s arrest, a second staff misconduct case and the whistleblower suit that resulted in a $1.1 million jury award. A state licensing agency said Thorpe had as many as seven young victims at Hanna, but his criminal case focused only on four, including the two brothers.
In the past two years, the boys home has taken mandated steps, including extensive staff training, adoption of new campus and travel protocols and improvements like more mirrors and windows at the site, GPS tracking on vans and other measures to enhance protections for the residents entrusted to its care.
“We’re moving forward, trying to do the best we can with a very difficult situation, and I’m actually very grateful that this issue came to light so that we could deal with it,” Farragher said Wednesday. “So that’s what we’ve been doing.”
The settlement, reached through a private mediator, includes a standard clause stipulating that it does not constitute an admission of guilt, according to Irvine attorney Vince Finaldi, who along with Beck represented the brothers. “But I’ve got $6.8 million admissions of guilt, in my opinion.”
Beck said the settlement figure includes attorneys’ fees, though he would not disclose details.
Finaldi said his side was never informed how Hanna Boys Center and the church would divide up responsibility for the settlement award. Attorneys for the boys home and the diocese did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment Tuesday and Wednesday.
Kennedy is the only victim of sex abuse at Hanna to so far to speak outside of court about his experience. He said his life hit “rock bottom” two years ago. He had left school at Sonoma State University, was drinking heavily and had no place to live, without local family or any supporters to turn to.
Then he began to question all the ways Thorpe had rationalized the things they had done together “and realized it was just wrong,” he said.
His silence about Thorpe broke when he spoke to another former Hanna resident and they talked about Thorpe’s habit of making “sexual remarks disguised as jokes.” Kennedy took a chance and told the former resident what he had been through. The friend believed him and encouraged him to tell someone else.