Victims need to speak out, says lawyer

May 12, 2010

Donna Dempsey credits lawyer Deborah Ditchfield for the settlement of her lawsuit.

"I know I would not be here today without her," said Dempsey, 55, of Simcoe, who launched the lawsuit in 2002.

The suit, which remains unproved in court, claimed $3 million in damages for sexual assault and battery, harassment, mental and emotional suffering, breach of fiduciary duty plus punitive damages over Dempsey sexual relationship as a teenager with now deceased Catholic priest Patrick Mackan.

Years ago, the Brant- Haldimand-Norfolk Catholic School Board and the Hamilton diocese of the Roman Catholic church were dropped from the suit after an agreement. Each had filed statements of defence pointing the blame toward the Congregation of the Resurrection, of which Mackan was a member.

After what Ditchfield calls a "long and arduous" discovery process, which focused on Dempsey for five gruelling days of questioning, an 11th-hour deal was reached.

"It's such an adversarial process," said Dempsey. "The defence counsel has to advise his clients against getting to know the plaintiff on a personal level, so, even if the defendant wants to apologize at an early stage, they're advised against it."

An apology would have gone a long way in Dempsey's case.

It's the one thing she's waiting for before she can start closing the door on her lawsuit.

Ditchfield said the suit could be ongoing if not for a last-minute mediation that led to an agreement.

She also said female victims of abuse are all too often dismissed by the public as having "an affair" instead of being abused.

"One of the reasons I think it's important for Donna to speak out is the way we perceive abuse by the clergy and coaches and teachers differently when it involves a male.

"No one would call the situation with (hockey player) Sheldon Kennedy and (coach) Graham James an affair, yet he was roughly the same age as Donna was."

Ditchfield also said victims erroneously believe it's too late to come forward about old cases of abuse.

She said the legal statute of limitation on launching a lawsuit for abuse is within two years of victims realizing they were abused.

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