7 On Your Side: New developments in 21-year-old sex assault case at Va. church school

7 On Your Side: New developments in 21-year-old sex assault case at Va. church school. (ABC7)

The 7 On Your Side I-Team is revealing a new development in a 21-year-old sexual assault case involving three teenage girls at a school run by a church in Fairfax, Virginia.

Memories triggered by a recent Facebook post prompted the survivors of the assaults and other former students to speak out for the very first time.

Justin, Lisa and Cortney, are all former students of the now closed Bethlehem Baptist Christian Academy in Fairfax, Virginia. They were all strangers until social media brought back memories they've struggled with over the years.

Referring to the fond memories of the school many posted on the Facebook page, Cortney said, "A lot of people don't have that feeling and they have a completely opposite feeling. They enjoyed their time. That is foreign to me.”

Justin, who was not sexually assaulted, remembers being paddled with his pants down by a school official. His father was listening on the phone. It was punishment for a school prank.

"When I turned around and looked at him, he was in a backswing and knocked something over on a counter behind him and the look in his eye I would describe as crazed,” says Justin.

Two years ago, hours before his death, Justin's father apologized for sending him to the academy.

"I didn't realize that day bothered me as much as it did. Let alone realize how much it bothered him too,” adds Justin.

Cortney is one of three girls, only 14 at the time, who was sexually assaulted by a teacher.

She is talking publicly about the case for the first time.

"After it happened, I didn't say anything. I didn't say anything for months because I was afraid and I didn't think that people would believe me,” says Cortney.

The former teacher confessed and served eleven months in prison. He must register as a sex offender. He and the church have no comment.

Here is more of our interview with former students of the academy:

Bethlehem Baptist Christian Academy was a member of the Old Dominion Association of Church Schools. Old Dominion officials tell ABC 7 it doesn't recommend the use of corporal punishment and student counseling matters are left up to individual schools.

“Somehow I found the courage enough to say something because I couldn't keep it in inside anymore. So, I told a friend of mine. Come to find out it happened to her too,” adds Cortney.

A second survivor, who asked us not to reveal her name, says she believes 21 years ago the school's staff wasn't prepared to handle the aftermath.

"The isolation that I experienced afterwards. I had a teacher pull me into a room and showed me the Bible where it was absolutely also my fault. Blamed him as well as myself,” she said.

Lisa, who wasn’t sexually or physically assaulted, says she still struggles emotionally with how some teachers interpreted the Bible.

"They would go into detail about how your skin is going to burn. It was so scary. It was like a horror movie,” says Lisa.

Cortney wants to help other survivors share their story too.

We were innocent children. We didn't know anything about anything back then. When you take an innocent adolescent who is vulnerable and trustworthy and you take a male in a position of power and a male who you look up to, who you trust, who you respect, who you think is a good human being and someone who you feel safe with and who you feel you can go to if you have a problem and he takes that trust and safety and uses it against you to violate you in the worst way... that is the most despicable thing that a human being can do and that is what I experienced. I want people to understand why we are doing this. I want the message to come across as this: If you are going through something like this, speak up. It is not your fault. You may feel it is your fault. You may feel ashamed. You may be scared. I felt ashamed and scared when I was 14. I was fearful of other’s opinions, judgments and reactions. I didn’t speak up at the beginning. I waited several months. I waited until I couldn't hold it in anymore and told my friend. I found out at that time that I wasn’t alone. It had happened to her too. At that point, I decided to say something. I couldn't allow him to do that anymore. So, I told my parents who in turn told the authorities and the school and the church. Was I afraid? Yes. But, I did it anyway and I stopped him. You see it going on today. People aren't believing victims and survivors. Despite that, you must speak up because this is the only way it is going to stop,” Cortney said.

The random Facebook post that triggered all these memories included pictures of the school's gym being torn down.

Many former students reacted with positive thoughts, others posted bad memories. Those negative posts are now the genesis of a new Facebook support group.

It's designed for survivors to realize they're not alone.

"It's worth it to me if one person... just one person finds enough courage to stand up and say something and help themselves. Then it's worth it,” says Cortney.

If you feel you have been a victim of abuse and need help there are resources available to you:

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE

Safe Horizon is the nation’s leading victim assistance organization. Its mission is to provide support, prevent violence, and promote justice for victims of crime and abuse, their families and communities.

Child Help’s goal is to meet the physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual needs of abused, neglected and at-risk children. Child Help will focuses its efforts on prevention, intervention, treatment, and community outreach.

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