Woman Awarded $11.3 Million in Abuse Case

The Hartford Courant
Friday, April 5, 1996
By Mark Pazniokas, Courant Staff Writer

The file is sealed, the details sketchy. But a Superior Court judge in Hartford has awarded $11.3 million to a Connecticut woman who suffered a "systematic barrage of sexual abuse" as a child, her lawyer says.

Her tormentor was a suburban neighbor, who raped her when she was 12 and then terrorized her into remaining silent during years of further abuse, said her attorney, Mark Swerdloff of West Hartford.

"She spent the next five years, until she was 17, under a systematic and constant barrage of sexual assaults, physical assaults, threats of physical assaults, threats of death," Swerdloff said.

The neighbor carried out the assaults with the help of his handicapped housemate, whom the little girl had befriended, Swerdloff said.

"They just stole her childhood," he said.

The dramatic case was known by the pseudonyms Doe vs. Roe. Swerdloff declined to identify his client, the defendants or the town where the assaults took place.

After three days of testimony this week, Swerdloff said, Judge Michael Sheldon found the man who had committed the sexual assaults liable for $12.4 million, including $11.3 million in damages and about $1.1 million in attorney's fees.

"The judge made a specific finding that the psychic prison these guys constructed was more powerful than any physical prison that's been built," Swerdloff said.

The attorney for the defendants could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The woman, suffering from deep depression, called a battered woman's shelter for help several years ago and was referred to rape crisis counselors at the YWCA, he said. She filed suit in 1993.

The woman is 26 now. It is unclear how much of the award she ever will collect. The defendant has some assets, but Swerdloff expects further litigation will be required to collect on the judgment.

His client wanted a day in court, more than a damage award, Swerdloff said. Rape has a five-year statute of limitations, and she had come forward too late for criminal charges, he said.

"She just wanted to come forward so somebody in a black robe, or a jury, would believe her," he said. "It was really important for someone independent to find, 'This is what happened.'"