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  Rape Counselor Alleges Sex Abuse

By Maggi Martin
Plain Dealer [Cleveland, Ohio]
September 29, 1993

Twenty years after she graduated from high school, a Cleveland rape crisis counselor is suing a former guidance counselor/librarian, alleging he sexually molested her while she was a student at Lake Catholic High School in Mentor.

Mary Hammond, 37, an employee of the Rape Crisis Center in Cleveland, filed the lawsuit yesterday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. The lawsuit was filed against Jerry Bals, a former Lake Catholic librarian and guidance counselor and a deacon in the Cleveland Catholic Diocese. Also named in the lawsuit are Lake Catholic High School and the diocese. Hammond, of Eastlake, says that she entered Lake Catholic in 1971 and that Bals began to sexually abuse her during the summer of 1973. Hammond said she did not file any complaints with police or school officials until 1984 because she feared retribution from him.

"I don't think I was capable of telling anyone any sooner," Hammond said. "I was very much under his power. He used God and the church, he used his religious power over me."

The lawsuit alleges that Bals "coerced" her into "conduct intended to provide him with sexual excitement and gratification."

The lawsuit also alleges that Bals used "intimidation, coercion and other threats and duress" to ensure that Hammond kept the sexual abuse a secret.

The lawsuit does not seek any specific amount for damages but says Hammond paid medical expenses for treatment, medication and psychological therapy.

Bals left Lake Catholic in 1983 to work at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland for several years before joining North High School in Eastlake as a librarian in 1988.

Bals was not available for comment. A woman who answered his phone said he would not comment.

Hammond said Mentor police told her in 1984 that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the case. When Lake Catholic officials were told of the allegations, Hammond said, they said they would move Bals to an office with a window so he could be monitored. School officials could not be reached for comment.

It wasn't until another alleged victim came forward in recent months that the case was reconsidered and presented to a Lake County grand jury, she said.

Hammond said she testified before the grand jury last week.

County Prosecutor Steven C. LaTourette said he couldn't disclose grand jury proceedings but that allegations by Hammond and another person were being checked.

Feliciano Santiago, spokesman for the Catholic diocese, questioned why Hammond waited so long to bring forth her allegations.

"It does raise a question in my mind," Santiago said. "I'm not trying to invalidate her claims, but she has had contact with police over the last several years and no legal action was taken. If she has gone to the appropriate legal bodies and there has been no follow-through, that does raise some serious questions."

"I've been working on this for nine years," Hammond said. "It took me that long to be brave enough to come forward. I think there are a lot of victims who suffer silently. I think there are often survivors of rape who have to stay quiet because society does not support them coming forward."

 
 

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