DOVER, Del. (AP) — A woman who said her father, a former pastor of a Delaware church, sexually abused her as a child and trafficked her to other men, was awarded $1.5 million by a federal jury on Friday.
Alicia Cohen, 41, said in her civil lawsuit that Ronald Cohen began sexually abusing her when she was three years old at the family home in Newark, then started selling her to other men for sex about two years later, when they were living in Oklahoma.
She also said her father filmed and sold videos of her being raped and used his “religious facade” and “ministries,” including the nondenominational Miracle Tabernacle, as a cover for child sexual abuse and child sex trafficking.
Ronald Cohen, who has also used the names “Rafi” and “Raphael,” has denied the claims as “false, frivolous, and defamatory.”
“Ron was shocked at the verdict,” defense attorney Dan Boyce said Friday. Boyce said Cohen has asked him to file a motion for judgment in his favor, despite the jury verdict, or a motion for a new trial.
He also said Cohen, who now lives in North Carolina, is in his 70s and depends on Social Security, and that he is “judgment proof” based on his finances.
Alicia Cohen’s attorney, Dan Stephenson, said the case was not about money, but about holding Ronald Cohen accountable.
“The central issue in the case was whether the defendant raped his daughter repeatedly for years as a child. The jury clearly said ‘yes’ and awarded both compensatory and punitive damages,” Stephenson said in an email.
According to the lawsuit, Alicia Cohen repressed the memories of her abuse for years.
“Due to the actions of defendant, plaintiff has suffered extreme mental, physical, psychological, and emotional trauma,” the lawsuit states. “She has spent an enormous amount of time and money seeing doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, and other therapists.”
The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they have been victims of sexual abuse, unless they go public, as Alicia Cohen did.
The seven-member jury found Ronald Cohen liable, by a preponderance of the evidence, for various offenses under Delaware law, including incest, sexual extortion and continuous sexual abuse of a child. They also found him liable under Delaware law for assault or battery, infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment.
But the jury ruled in Ronald Cohen’s favor regarding allegations of human trafficking under federal law and the state laws of Delaware, New Jersey and Florida. They also ruled in his favor regarding various other alleged offenses under federal, Florida and New Jersey law.
“There was no direct or circumstantial evidence that supported her allegations,” Boyce said, adding that the plaintiff’s case relied on experts who “hypothesized” that she had certain characteristics of having been sexually abused.
Boyce also said the judge refused to allow an expert defense witness to offer an opinion that Alicia Cohen’s memories from 30 years ago were false.
Stephenson, the attorney for Alicia Cohen, rejected the notion that it was a “he said-she said” case.
“We brought a mountain of evidence including objective, medical, and admitted facts,” he said. “We had treaters, treater records, and expert witnesses supporting what Alicia said.”