An Albany woman has filed a sexual abuse suit against a Troy church.
Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act into law in 2019. It opened a one-year window for abuse victims to bring claims. That window for victims to file lawsuits was extended to August 2021 owing to the pandemic.
Cuomo's Deputy Press Secretary Abigail Barker says she is one such victim. Barker says in 1998 she was sexually abused by a Sunday school teacher and deacon, Mark Rhodes of Wynantskill, at Victorious Life Christian Church in Troy.
"I was 5 years old. Mark would often babysit me and my younger brother, and it happened on those, occurred on one of those occasions. After I had been abused, he never babysat for us again."
Barker's lawsuit includes claims of negligence and cover-up against the church as well as its Pastor and Presiding Elder Dominick Brignola, who is also a local attorney.
"The trauma of the abuse and the scars that it leaves, you know, it goes throughout your entire life, and 22 years later I'm still dealing with the ramifications of that one time, 22 years ago. And it irrevocably changes your life in ways that you don't expect."
Barker told her parents what happened and they brought it to the attention of church leadership. According to Barker and her attorney, Brignola said the church bore no responsibility and eventually decided Barker would not be allowed on church grounds for any reason.
Attorney Melanie Wolk of the Rochester-based firm Trevett Cristo represents Barker. She says the complaint was filed Monday evening and papers are in the process of being served.
"So from that point they'll have 20 days to supply an answer, which is their response to the complaint. A judge will be assigned. And we'll proceed through our discovery and getting information, and that's kinda the general path of all litigation. I think this one may be significantly more difficult, significantly more a struggle, based on one of the defendants being a lawyer. I think it's gonna cause some problems. It may cause some representation issues to them and whether there's actually any insurance coverage as well."
Attempts to reach Rhodes and Brignola were unsuccessful. Victorious Life Christian Church did not return calls seeking comment. Brignola, in a statement to Spectrum News, said “The legal word games that attempt to create some type of culpability where none exists is sheer nonsense and actually poorly done.”
"One of my greatest goals in this is to help create a better atmosphere, a better culture and a better future for survivors to share their stories, to be heard, to get justice if they decide to pursue it. Especially in the Evangelical church. We're in a really kind of exciting time for survivors. People are being heard, people are being brought to justice, institutions and people in places of power are being held accountable and the time is now for people to share their stories, come forward. These things are happening. There are stories that have been silenced, there are voices that have been snuffed out and I don't want to live in that world anymore."