WHAT: Abigail Barker filed a lawsuit against Mark Rhodes for alleged child, sexual abuse and against Victorious Life Christian Church and its Pastor, Dominick Brignola, for alleged negligence and cover-up.
CONTACT: Melanie Wolk of the firm Trevett Cristo, cell (585) 755-3827
NOTE: Abigail Barker is available for interview through counsel Melanie Wolk
(Albany, N.Y. – August 4, 2020). According court papers in Albany County, Abigail Barker filed a claim against Mark Rhodes of Wynantskill, NY, for child sexual abuse stemming from his position as Sunday School teacher and Deacon for Victorious Life Christian Church (VLCC) of Troy, NY, in 1998 when she was five-years-old. The lawsuit includes claims of negligence and cover-up against VLCC and its Pastor and Presiding Elder Dominick Brignola, who is also a local attorney.
The lawsuit claims Rhodes removed “Plaintiff’s pajama bottoms and underwear, bringing his face up to her vagina and anus and touching her vagina with his face . . . When Plaintiff disclosed the abuse, Defendant VLCC, its Pastor and Presiding Elder Defendant Dominick Brignola and Defendant Rhodes revictimized Plaintiff emotionally in an effort to silence Plaintiff and cover-up the abuse.”
I filed a complaint under the New York Child Victims Act with detailed allegations about my abuser and the institution and individual who hoped I could be intimidated into staying silent. The Evangelical church is not immune from the crime of child sexual abuse, and I hope that my coming forward will give courage to other survivors to share their story. For far too long survivors like myself have been silenced, intimidated and ignored. It is time those in power are held accountable for who they are and what they have done.
New York’s CVA allows child sexual abuse survivors to come forward with claims of abuse to file lawsuits for damages, no matter when the abuse occurred. Barker’s attorney, Melanie Wolk of the firm Trevett Cristo said, “The CVA opened the courtroom doors to adults with claims of child sexual abuse no matter when the abuse occurred. This law is especially important because child victims are often silenced and struggle to gain their voice. This case involves claims of revictimization and cover-up. The CVA gives Abigail the right to speak-out with the power of the law.”
Attorney Leander James, who assisted in drafting New York’s CVA, also represents Barker. “Abigail is a brave and courageous woman, willing to break the shackles of an insular religious community to speak out. This case is fundamentally no different than the many Catholic cases we have filed where a victim silenced in a religious community finds their voice under the CVA.”
Minnesota-based attorney Patrick Noaker, who also represents Barker, declared, “By coming forward and filing her lawsuit, Abigail has already won a victory for herself and all survivors. The message is that they will not be silenced.”
Melanie Slaughter Wolk is a widely experienced trial attorney with a practice that extends across Upstate and Western New York. Her expertise includes complex litigation and child sexual abuse cases. She has filed many cases against Catholic Diocese and other entities in Upstate New York under the CVA. Through her extensive community involvement, Melanie is keenly aware of the need for institutions to enforce policies and procedures for the protection of children. Her work under the CVA is aimed at holding abusers and those who harbor them accountable to bring justice to her clients and to protect future generations of children.
Leander James is a founding shareholder of the law firm of James, Vernon & Weeks P.A. He believes legal empowerment transforms lives. He helps sexual abuse survivors reclaim their lives. Mr. James was a principal architect of the $166 million Northwest Jesuit sexual abuse settlement that included non-monetary terms for protection of children. Mr. James is licensed to practice law in New York, Minnesota, Washington State, Idaho and numerous federal courts. His current cases include Catholic abuse cases in New York, Minnesota and other states. He testifies before legislatures, and he has assisted in drafting key legislation, including New York State’s Child Victims Act. His practice is national in scope.
Patrick Noaker is an attorney licensed to practice law in New York, New Jersey, Minnesota and Missouri, with offices in Minneapolis, New York and Chicago who has represented hundreds of survivors of sexual assault across the country. Patrick is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and has won multiple jury verdicts and settlements exceeding a million dollars.