Church Abuse Victim Receives $45,000

By Geesche Jacobsen
Sydney Morning Herald
December 31, 2007

A WOMAN has been awarded compensation for repeated sexual assault by a former pastoral assistant and youth leader at a Baptist church more than 20 years ago.

Louise Audet, 41, was awarded $45,000 for the abuse that started in 1982 when Cheryl Groth, 51, was her year 10 teacher at Picton High School.

The abuse continued for about four years when Groth introduced her to Baptist churches where Groth had become involved in music and youth groups, and later as a pastoral assistant.

She first complained to the church 20 years ago, but believes it failed to act. When she was later told the case could not proceed in the criminal courts, Ms Audet took civil action against Groth, which concluded last month.

The District Court found Groth sexually assaulted Ms Audet and attempted to digitally penetrate her while she was allegedly falling in and out of consciousness.

Ms Audet, who came from a dysfunctional family and had been sexually abused by family members, confided in her teacher and told the court Groth told her she was "special" and encouraged her to call her "mum".

Judge Anne Quirk found Ms Audet was "a vulnerable, lonely and abused young person".

"Given the knowledge which [Groth] possessed of [Ms Audet's] background, of her physical and psychological abuse, [she] should have been on notice that [Ms Audet] was one of a class of persons particularly vulnerable to psychiatric damage in the event of further abuse "

In about 1987 Ms Audet complained to a young pastor and meetings were convened with church elders, but no apparent action was taken by the Baptist Union until 1999, when its Sexual Abuse Complaints Committee considered several complaints against Groth.

By that stage Groth worked as a missionary in Indonesia.

The committee recommended Groth write letters to those she had harmed, receive counselling and "that appropriate safeguards be established regarding her future ministry".

"The ultimate aims of the recommendations are, by God's grace, to assist in the healing process of those who have been hurt and aggrieved and to restore Cheryl to fruitful ministry," the letter said.

Groth wrote to Ms Audet: "I have and am experiencing deep sorrow because I abused you I am sorry that the care and support of our friendship in the past crossed the boundaries into sin."

Ms Audet said yesterday she felt justice had not been done. While her fight was not about money - and she does not expect Groth will ever pay the compensation awarded by the court - she felt the amount was a slap in the face.

She has been unable to sue the Baptist Union because each congregation is autonomous and said she believed the Baptist Union had failed to support her.

"I would like some accountability from the Baptist Union They brushed it under the carpet. I really believed they were going to do the right thing. I looked at my church family as my family even though they weren't kind and loving but they didn't protect me."

Alan Soden, general secretary of the Baptist Union of NSW, said he was deeply saddened by the case and the church had learnt many lessons, and was still improving its processes.

Groth was never an employee of the Baptist Union, he said. "We do the best we can to make our churches safe places."

It was the job of the abuse complaints committee to "look after the needs of the victim while ensuring there's a correct process so that the person on the other side is treated fairly".

Groth denied exercising control or influence over Ms Audet, and alleged the relationship was consensual and did not start before Ms Audet's 16th birthday.

Ms Audet, who experienced further dysfunctional relationships and sexual assault, now has four autistic children, and is diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder.

Judge Quirk ruled the abuse by Groth was responsible for about one-sixth of her problems.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.