Woman Sues Wellsville School District Over Being Raped on Campus at Age 12

Joanne Schoonmaker says a janitor sexually attacked her on and off campus

Tom Puckett
August 14, 2019 - 2:46 pm
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Irvine, CA (WBEN) A woman who attended Wellsville Schools in 1980 claims she was raped repeatedly by a janitor and the principal at the time did nothing to stop the attacks. Joanne Schoonmaker is now suing the Wellsville Central School District.

Schoonmaker alleges rape by Robert Alexander Wade who was employed as a janitor at the Wellsville Middle School / High School attended by Ms. Schoonmaker. According to the Complaint, Ms. Schoonmaker was 12 years old Wade began sexually abusing her. "Wade asked me to help put a bed in his van. As I helped him, he stroked my hair and told me how beautiful I was. When I was in 7th grade, Wade told me to skip school and meet him in the park, which was directly across from the school. He told me to get into his van and into the bed we put in. He asked me if I was a virgin and if I was ready for this. I said no, and I screamed for my mother, and blacked out as he raped me," says Schoonmaker.

She says Wade raped her nearly every day both on and off school premises. "The abuse would occur in his van, the park, the Wellsville roller skating rink, even at the home of another man who worked for the school, who he left me with and also raped me," says Schoonover. "Wade exerted control over my social life. If I went to the 8th grade dance, he would kill my mother. If I talked to another boy or looked at another boy, he would kill me, and he would kill my family."

Schoonmaker says it came to a head when she got into a fistfight with Wade's sister, one of her classmates, when she claimed Wade was raping her. "She accused me of lying, so we got into a fistfight, and I was brought to the principal's office. The principal was Joseph Backus. I told him Wade was raping me, and he just told me to stay away from him and don't meet up with him that day. At the end of the year, Prinicpal Backus, who never reported the abuse or took any action to protect me, wrote a note in my handmade graduation notebook and said, take care of the boys next year and be good to all of them. No employee ever reached out to discover the extent of the abuse, or what the district knew about Wade's prior acts of abuse," says Schoonover.

Schoonmaker says the rape continued until she dropped out of school in 10th grade and moved with her father.

Wade was subsequently convicted of third-degree rape of another woman and served 4 years in prison between 2002 and 2006. In 2007 Ms. Schoonmaker reported her own abuse by Wade to the police and was told that they could not act because the statute of limitation had lapsed.

Schoonmaker says because of the Child Victims Act, she will finally be able to find out what the district knew about the abuse and when they knew it. "If the principal protected and believed me, I wouldn't be here," adds Schoonmaker.

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