Woman sexually abused by school chaplain awarded €210,000

A 28-year old woman who was sexually abused by a school chaplain and teacher in the South East over a period of two years has been awarded €200,000 by the High Court, writes Ann O'Loughlin.

Mr Justice Robert Eagar also commended the bravery of the woman in bringing her claim as he awarded a further €10,000 in aggravated damages.

He found the former chaplain had wrongfully physically and sexually assaulted, falsely imprisoned and sexually abused the woman who was only a transition year student at secondary school when the abuse began.

Mr Justice Robert Eagar said the medical evidence in the case was consistent with the woman's account and she was groomed by the man who was a chaplain and teacher in her school.

"This grooming consisted of sexualised behaviour . This court accepts her evidence that the relationship between them developed into a sexual relationship whilst at all material times she was a schoolgirl."

The judge added: "The mental trauma suffered by the woman is not confined solely to the tortuous acts of assault and false imprisonment but also arise from the consequences of the breach of trust by the man who played such an important role in her schooling and local community," the judge added.

Woman sexually abused by school chaplain awarded  €210,000

In the case which lasted 34 days the woman gave evidence of how between 2005 and 2007 she was abused and subjected to sexualised behaviour by the Catholic chaplain and teacher in her secondary school.

She said on a school trip to Gambia when she was 16 years of age, the chaplain invited her and another student to sleep in his bed with him. She said the chaplain first kissed her after she turned 17 and the sexual element between them progressed and they had oral sex about 35 times.

On a youth trip to Cologne, Germany to see the Pope, she said they had oral sex and also in the chaplain's school office, his bedroom, car and the school oratory.

The woman had also sued the school in the South East where the man was a chaplain at the time.

She also sued the local bishop.

Mr Justice Eagar, finding the school vicariously liable, said the failure of the school to adequately monitor the behaviour of the chaplain allowed for the inappropriate relationship to develop into an abusive relationship.

Finding the school negligent and failing in its duty of care to the woman, Mr Justice Eagar said on the balance of probabilities her injuries would not have occurred but for the negligence of the school.

The school, the judge said, should have foreseen the intimacy and privacy of the chaplain's role had the potential to create risk for students.

"There is no evidence of any system of checks being put in place to monitor the behaviour of the chaplain," the judge said.

Making a finding that the bishop was not vicariously liable in the case, the judge said in absence of the direct employment of the man by the Roman Catholic Church in the school as chaplain and teacher, the court could not find the bishop vicariously liable for the acts committed by the chaplain against the schoolgirl.

The judge said the case turned largely on the court's assessment of the accuracy and truthfulness of the witnesses.

He said the woman's evidence was coherent, consistent and credible and he accepted her evidence that she felt no one would believe her. The judge said he accepted that is why she found it difficult to report to the authorities for a year after making a disclosure to her family.

The proposition of the former chaplain that the woman had brought the case out of a lust for revenge for him refusing to 'go with her' or have sex with her was the judge said, in his view "wholly unconvincing."

Mr Justice Eager also found the evidence of independent witnesses on behalf of the woman to be cogent and convincing. In contrast the judge said evidence of the former chaplain to the court was "inconsistent and unconvincing".

The woman he said following her disclosures to her school had been subjected to the denial by the man of any sexualised conduct having occurred between them and he also filed a counter claim that her account was malicious lies.

"The court is cognisant to the fact that this was a case run over 34 days. The woman's stated this was the hardest thing she has ever had to do. She was challenged on her evidence by counsel for the man and the school and repeatedly accused of not telling the truth. The court commends her on her bravery in bringing this claim," the judge concluded.

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