Content warning: this story contains language that pertains to sexual assault.
Former Whitman social studies teacher and crew coach Kirkland Shipley was sentenced to three years in prison at a court hearing yesterday afternoon for sexually abusing an 18-year-old student and possessing sexually explicit materials of a 17-year-old former student. Shipley must also register as a sex offender for life and serve two years of probation.
Police arrested Shipley in August of 2021 on three first-degree and two second-degree counts of sexual abuse of a secondary education student. In March, prosecutors offered the former teacher a plea deal that would require him to plead guilty to sexually abusing a high school student and possessing sexually explicit material of a minor, in exchange for dismissing the other charges. Shipley accepted the plea offer on June 3.
The former crew coach sexually abused one of the victims at his apartment in D.C. in May 2018, when she was a senior in high school, and possessed explicit videos of a 17-year-old former student performing sexual acts. Prosecutors added that Shipley engaged in a pattern of “grooming” behaviors during his time coaching Whitman’s womens varsity crew team, according to court documents.
At the hearing, a community representative delivered a statement detailing the impact of Shipley’s actions on the D.C. rowing community. The statement, consisting of stories from rowers affected by Shipley, further detailed alleged abuses of his power as a teacher and his methods of grooming students.
“Some of us have had experiences that we knew were inappropriate, but which haven’t warranted legal consideration,” the statement read. “Being hit on repeatedly — despite refusing his advances — being invited out in a launch in the evening, encouraged to go skinny dipping and ogled throughout and in some severe instances, drinking at a team or post-race party, only to wake up with Kirk Shipley on our beds not knowing how or why he was there.”
The statement also described how Shipley carried his behavior into relationships he developed with graduates.
“These stories cover interactions that have spanned from high school, through college and into post-college rowing,” the statement read. “We have borne witness to our friends, teammates, sisters, being targeted and falling victim to the same cycle of manipulation and abuse, feeling helpless to stop it.”
Network for Victim Recovery of D.C. (NVRDC) attorney Matthew Ornstein, who represented the victims, also read out individual statements submitted by the two victims.
At the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Caroline Burrell said that Shipley’s sexually abusive behavior was not limited to isolated incidents, but instead reflected a pattern of inappropriate behavior. She said that years of manipulation and grooming didn’t simply constitute a “lapse in judgment.”
“He is sorry that he got caught, and he is sorry that he is now facing consequences,” Burrell said at the hearing. “But he is not sorry for manipulating and grooming the girls that he has coached — including the victims — and for the harm that he has caused, because that is a choice that he made over and over and over again for years.”
Shipley’s attorney Thomas Key declined to comment on the outcome of the hearing.
At the hearing, Raffinan said that the court had received letters of support for the former teacher. Some of the letters came from former crew members, according to Key.
In a statement after the hearing, Ornstein wrote that the court’s sentencing was successful in holding Shipley accountable.
“NVRDC and our clients are truly grateful for the outcome of the hearing today,” the statement read. “We are grateful the Court saw Mr. Shipley for what he truly is and held him accountable for abuse and manipulation he inflicted over the last two decades.”
Prior to delivering Shipley’s sentence in court, Raffinan stated she had considered the former coach’s background, the facts of the case, impact statements and letters of support in her decision.
“Any sentence that I impose, I know cannot restore the losses that you and your families have suffered,” Raffinan said.
She added that she was “puzzled” by Shipley’s acceptance of responsibility at the hearing.
“The most disturbing aspect of this conduct is the position that Mr. Shipley held in relation to these students,” Raffinan said. “He was their teacher, he was their coach. These women looked up to him for support and guidance, and he took advantage of them.”