All too often, we hear stories of molestation accusations swept under the rug by schools or churches, and perpetrators allowed to go free. But Sean Lanigan's story is the opposite — a false accusation has come close to destroying his life.
According to ABC, the northern Virginia gym teacher's troubles started in 2010, when a 12-year-old student accused him of lying on top of her and saying he was going to "treat her like a queen." Lanigan was charged with abduction and aggravated sexual battery, felonies that could have brought him up to 40 years in prison. But in court, his accuser admitted that the molestation never happened. She said that she had always disliked Lanigan, and that the accusation was "a joke."
Lanigan was found not guilty after a four-day trial, but his problems didn't end there. His school district transferred him to another school, where he was soon downsized. And although he incurred $120,000 of legal bills, the district only agreed to pay half. His family is now struggling financially, and friends say the accusation has also taken an emotional toll.
Obviously none of this is an argument for brushing aside molestation allegations, or for assuming that students who make such claims are liars with an ax to grind. It is an argument, though, for having policies in place to help those who have been found innocent get back on their feet again. School districts are morally obligated to keep their students safe, but they also can't afford to lose good teachers who have committed no crime — and that's what happened in Lanigan's case. In a way, he was lucky — his friends and neighbors never believed he was guilty, even after police released his mug shot. So his reputation in his community remains relatively intact. But reputation won't pay the bills — and his school district and all others need to understand that part of prosecuting molestation claims is being able to make amends if they turn out to be wrong.