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School district to pay $9M to trainer’s sex assault victims

November 6, 2019 GMT
FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2019, file photo, James Jensen, left, waits alongside his attorney Garret Wilson during a court hearing in Miles City, Mont. Jensen has been sentenced to 20 years in prison on a state child pornography charge and 12 years in federal prison for using the internet to entice male athletes into being sexually abused. (Ashley Wise/Miles City Star via AP, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 13, 2019, file photo, James Jensen, left, waits alongside his attorney Garret Wilson during a court hearing in Miles City, Mont. Jensen has been sentenced to 20 years in prison on a state child pornography charge and 12 years in federal prison for using the internet to entice male athletes into being sexually abused. (Ashley Wise/Miles City Star via AP, File)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — An eastern Montana school district has reached a $9 million settlement after 32 men sued saying they were sexually abused by an athletic trainer under the guise of improving their athletic ability, the school and the plaintiffs announced Wednesday.

The lawsuit filed in September 2018 accused the Custer County school district in Miles City of not doing enough to protect the student-athletes from James “Doc” Jensen, who was a trainer from the 1970s to the late 1990s.

The men said Jensen promised to enhance their strength and testosterone levels through participation in “The Program,” in which he performed nude massages and sexual acts on the boys. The deception was aided by the team winning five state football championships in 16 years, the lawsuit said.

Attorney Dan Rice, who represents the plaintiffs, has described Jensen’s actions as a “sophisticated system of ritual sexual abuse.”

After the last of Jensen’s victims turned 38 — running out the statute of limitations for prosecuting child sex crimes at the time — Jensen started contacting the men via social media and adding his victim’s children as friends on social media, while living across the street from a middle school, Rice said. The men decided to sue.

Jensen acknowledged some of the abuse during a conversation with The Billings Gazette and KULR-TV. Both prosecutors and Jensen’s public defender say there were many more than 32 victims.

By stepping forward, the men prompted a federal criminal investigation on an enticement charge and led a home health worker to report having seen child pornography on Jensen’s apartment, leading to state child pornography charges, Rice said.

Jensen, now 79, is serving at least 20 years in prison.

The case also helped prompt legislation that eliminated Montana’s statute of limitations for prosecuting child sexual abuse.

The school district said it was outraged by Jensen’s horrific actions and regretted the pain and injury the men experienced. The settlement is being paid by the district’s insurers.

The district has adopted and will continue to adopt policies and procedures to prevent and report sexual abuse or harassment, attorneys for the district said.

The Gazette spoke with four of the men who sued the school district. Each said they were glad the lawsuit prompted the criminal investigations that sent Jensen to prison and changed laws protecting victims of child sexual abuse.

“If us going through the hell we did is what it takes to ensure that the current children in school and future generations are safe and protected from soulless, child hunting, sexual predators like Jim, then it was worth every bit of hell and pain that we endured,” one man said. The Gazette did not name the men as they are victims of abuse, which is in line with The Associated Press’ policy.

Another plaintiff said he hopes the settlement money can help many of the victims get the psychological help they needed.

A third man described the lawsuit process as awful, having to drag up nightmarish memories, seeing Jensen in court and having to give detailed testimony under oath.

“Not one of us went through this for the money. It’s not worth it,” he said. “We went through this to get things changed, to have people take responsibility, to make it better for other kids. We wanted to get (Jensen) criminally investigated. We got those things done. I can sleep better at night.”