|Laura Adams with her attorney, Jeff Anderson,|
left, during a news conference at his St. Paul
office on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015.
(Courtesy of Jeff Anderson and Associates)
But now, two former students, who claim they were abused by adults at the institution, have come forward.
On Tuesday, a joint lawsuit was filed by Laura Adams and Doe 84 against the Children's Theatre and the two men they say abused them. Adams claims she was raped in 1983 by former actor/teacher Jason McLean, 61, who now owns the Loring Pasta Bar and Varsity Theater in Minneapolis. And Doe 84 claims he was sexually abused by Donahue in about 1977.
The lawsuit, similar to others filed against organizations (like the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis or the Boy Scouts of America), claims the Children's Theatre had a duty to protect the children but was negligent in its oversight of the men.
There were many child victims, Adams said Tuesday, and there was a culture that allowed the abuse to occur and that stopped people from speaking out 30 years ago.
"It's time to tell our stories," Adams said. "We -- there are a lot of us -- have held this secret for far too long."
In a prepared statement, Doe 84 said, "I've suffered greatly, not only at the hands of my abuser but also by an organization that didn't do enough to protect children who participated in Children's Theatre's plays and programs.
The Children's Theatre issued a response on its website Tuesday, signed by artistic director Peter Brosius and board chair Jeff von Gillern.
"While this development is unwelcome in the sense that it returns to the forefront events from a difficult chapter in our history, we stand with any victim of abuse in his or her desire to see justice done," the statement said. "The crimes and misconduct of Mr. Donahue and the allegations against Mr. McLean date back to the 1980s, but there is no time limit on our abhorrence of such actions. Any abuse of a child is a terrible act; it goes against everything we believe in as professionals and as human beings."
However, the statement said, theater leadership believes the allegations are "misdirected" and the theater was not negligent.
"We will advocate for ourselves and our point of view as this case proceeds, yet we will do so being ever mindful that people in pain are at the heart of this matter," the statement said.
This is the first time anyone has made a public claim against McLean.
McLean issued a statement Tuesday.
"Mr. McLean is very surprised that allegations made against him 31 years ago when he was an actor at the Children's Theater have been raised again in 2015," said the statement, which was sent by attorney Jon Hopeman of the Minneapolis-based firm Felhaber Larson. "These same allegations were made in 1984 and were investigated by the BCA and by the Children's Theater (sic) at that time. After the allegations were investigated in 1984, he resumed his work as an actor at the Children's Theater.
"No complaint of any kind has ever been brought against Mr. McLean," the statement continued. "Mr. McLean had no involvement in or knowledge of the activities for which John Donahue was convicted in 1984. Mr. McLean intends to defend against this lawsuit with all his might and to clear his name."
This is the first time Adams has levied an accusation against McLean, said attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents Doe 84 and Adams, in response to McLean's statement.
"It was brought up, but not by this particular survivor," Anderson said. "But there's more to be said about that: I think the survivor was pressured by some folks to recant."
A man who answered a number listed for Donahue, 77, said, "John doesn't speak with the press. I'll let him know that you called."
The sexual-abuse scandal in the 1980s was widely reported in local media and led to major changes in child-protection protocol at the theater.
Donahue pleaded guilty to three counts of criminal sexual conduct in 1984. He was sentenced to 10 months in the workhouse, with work release, and resigned from the Children's Theatre. Within a few years, he was rebuilding his career in the local theater circuit.
During his time at the helm, Donahue was heralded as a creative genius who guided the theater to national prominence.
But below the surface, he had created a culture at the theatre that was "perverse and promiscuous," Anderson said.
That culture is what led to the abuse of Adams, who claims she was raped at age 15 by McLean, and Doe 84, who claims he was abused at age 15 by Donahue.
The lawsuit claims that Donahue sexually abused at least 17 children from the 1960s to the 1980s and that McLean sexually abused at least three girls in the early 1980s.
Many of the alleged victims were disclosed during Donahue's criminal proceedings in 1984, Anderson said, though others have come forward to the attorney recently.
Adams said she met McLean in 1982 when they were cast opposite each other in a production of "Mr. Pickwick's Christmas."
She said McLean groomed her, coerced her and raped her. Adams looked older for her age, she said, and welcomed McLean's advances because boys her age weren't asking her out. But, she said, "I was a child."
"When Donahue was arrested, several people around me had been abused, but we weren't talking," Adams said. "Nobody was encouraging us to come forward."
She said she's been in touch with others and hopes they will come forward as well. "So all of the stories can be heard, because there are many of them."
Adams and Doe 84 filed their lawsuit under Minnesota's Child Victims Act, which suspended the statute of limitations and opened a window for lawsuits to be filed for child sex abuse, no matter how long ago it occurred. That window closes in May.
Minnesota, you need to leave that window wide open and completely remove the statute of limitations on child sex abuse. So many of us have no cognitive awareness of the fact that we were abused until 30 or more years later. Their rights need to supersede the rights of pedophiles and perverts.
Elizabeth Mohr can be reached at 651-228-5162. Follow her at twitter.com/LizMohr.