Woman suing over sexual abuse wants church ruled liable for damages

Logan Daily News [Logan OH]

October 11, 2022

By Jim Phillips

The attorney for a young Athens County woman who is suing her parents and other parties for years of sexual abuse at the hands of her family has asked a federal judge to rule that a Waverly, Ohio-based church, which has already lost its part of the lawsuit for failing to respond to it, is liable for money damages.

These would include, says attorney Michael L. Fradin, compensation for the “deep and irrevocable” psychological and emotional damage his client has suffered, and for the intensive counseling she has undergone and will need to continue to receive for the foreseeable future.

The plaintiff, once known as Serah Bellar, has legally changed her name, and is pursuing her lawsuit under the pseudonym “Jane Doe” to keep her new name a secret. In her suit, filed in February 2022 in UlS. District Court for Southern Ohio, Eastern Division, she alleges that her parents, Robert and Deborah Bellar, forced their children to attend the Dove Outreach Church, run by her uncle, James Bellar. She claims that the church taught that siblings should procreate with each other, and that in line with this doctrine, she was abused sexually by family members from age 5 to 12.

Defendants in the suit include her parents, Dove Outreach, Athens County, and former Athens County Sheriff’s Deputy Jimmy Childs. The suit claims that Athens County Children Services knew about the abuse going on in the Bellar household but did not intervene to stop it – a claim the county has denied.

Robert and Deborah Bellar are both in prison, having pled guilty in March 2022 to charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and endangering children. Two of the plaintiff’s brothers have also been convicted of criminal charges in connection with her abuse. Childs, who faces claims in the suit including negligence and sexual harassment, has pled guilty to disorderly conduct, and agreed to leave law enforcement.

On May 17, the federal court granted default judgment against Dove Outreach, because the church had failed to file a response to the legal complaint as required by law. On Wednesday the plaintiff’s attorney asked the court to go a step further, and rule that the church is by default responsible for paying damages.

To give some idea of what these would look like, Fradin reports in his motion for default judgment that the plaintiff has been in therapy since August 2019, presenting with significant symptoms of anxiety, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Major Depression Disorder (MDD), including nightmares, difficulty trusting others, hyper-arousal, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and a history of self-mutilation, mostly by cutting. She has also struggled with alcohol dependency as a way of coping, the motion says.

The motion, which includes a report from a licensed social worker who is treating the young woman, states that “Although Plaintiff has made commendable progress in reducing the severity of her anxiety, PTSD and MDD symptoms, she continues to suffer from all these conditions daily and is likely to continue to suffer from these conditions for the foreseeable future.” It notes that she has been advised to work on these problems in therapy for up to 10 to 15 hours each week.

The licensed social worker with Integrated Services for Behavioral Health, whose report accompanies the motion, states in the report that “In my clinical opinion, (the plaintiff’s) past and current PTSD and anxiety symptoms are directly rooted in the abuse she experienced from her biological family and that her trauma symptoms exacerbate her major depressive disorder symptoms.”

Fradin has asked the federal court to enter a default judgment as to liability against Dove Outreach, and to hold an evidentiary hearing within around 120 days to determine the size of the damages. In the alternative, he asks the court to hold a damages hearing after it rules on the liability of the other defendants.

Deborah Bellar, meanwhile, has filed a motion asking the court to stay proceedings in the lawsuit until she is released from prison. Her husband Robert Bellar had already made a similar request.

In her motion, Deborah Bellar suggests being imprisoned puts her at a serious disadvantage in defending the suit. She says she does not reliably receive court documents in a timely manner; that she is representing herself because she cannot afford an attorney; that in prison she does not have sufficient opportunity to investigate and prepare her defense; and that her mail and phone calls are monitored, making it impossible for her to have confidential discussions.

She adds that her prison sentence (four years, with credit for 10 months of jail time served) is “not a lengthy amount of time.”

Email at jphillips@logandaily.com