A violin teacher who once taught at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNSCA) has been sentenced to five years in prison by U.S. District Court Judge Denise Hood as part of a plea deal.
United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Dawn N. Ison announced the sentencing in a press release.
Stephen Shipps, now age 69, was arrested and charged in the fall of 2020 with two counts of coercion or enticement of a minor female. At that time, the charges were a result of an investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
A former student told federal investigators that when she was 16 years old, Shipps had taken her to New York twice in 2002 and sexually abused her. Shipps was employed at the University of Michigan at the time.
In November 2021, Shipps pleaded to one count of transporting a minor girl across state lines with the intent to engage in sexual conduct. He could have received up to 10 years but the plea deal agreed upon was a sentence from 57 to 71 months.
Shipps will also have to pay restitution to the victim in the amount of $120,000.00.
Sex abuse allegations against Shipps first arose at the University of Michigan in 2018 when the student newspaper began digging around into past accusations about the professor, including those when he was employed at UNSCA. Shipps resigned from the University of Michigan but federal authorities had already launched an investigation which resulted in his October 2020 arrest.
With Shipps being sentenced, UNSCA is now facing a civil case filed by graduates of the school who allege abuse, neglect, and predatory behavior went on at UNCSA and that administrators either condoned or ignored it.
Shipps was one of 25 former UNCSA teachers named in the initial suit filed Sept. 29, 2021, by the Lanier Law Group and co-counsel Gloria Allred, known for taking on high-profile clients.
“For many years, the Defendant Administrators and faculty at UNCSA knew or should have known of the dangerous culture that permeated the institution and that permitted and condoned the sexual abuse and exploitation of students attending the school,” the complaint reads.
The complaint continued, “Despite this knowledge, the Defendant Administrators and faculty at UNCSA turned a willful blind eye to the egregious conduct suffered by so many of the school’s students, specifically including each Plaintiff in this action.”
UNCSA issued a lengthy response statement to the suit which included stating “The allegations in the complaint are deeply disturbing and run counter to UNCSA’s institutional values,” and that the school intends to respond.
The statement also admits that some of the reports in the current lawsuit “surfaced in 1995.” The statement goes on to say that the UNC Board of Governors has formed “an independent commission of North Carolina citizens to review and respond to the concerns vocalized at the time about culture, climate and potential abuse.”
By the end of December 2o21, some 56 plaintiffs had joined the civil suit accusing UNCSA school leadership who either condoned or participated in a “culture of abuse and neglect.” The allegations in the amended lawsuit so far range from 1969 through 2012.
Some of the new plaintiffs came forward and were able to join the suit as a result of the SAFE Child Act, a law passed in North Carolina that opened up an opportunity for victims who were abused as children that may not have been able to previously file a claim due to the statutes of limitations.
Prior to the SAFE Child Act, once a person turned 18 years old they have 10 years to file their case. The act contains a provision that expanded that window of limitations but that provision expired on December 31, 2021.
The SAFE Child Act also includes other modernizations of sex crime laws and victim’s rights.
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