A woman who claims she was sexually abused by her now-deceased adoptive father throughout her childhood is suing her mother, the Seventh-day Adventist Church and two of its schools, alleging they knew about the abuse but failed to protect her.
Alicia Koback, who was adopted shortly after her birth in 1964 by Bob and Constance Heitsman of Aldergrove, says in a statement of claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court that the abuse began when she was a toddler and continued until she left home at 16, pregnant and traumatized.
Her mother, church officials and teachers at two schools — Fraser Valley Adventist Academy in Aldergrove and Cariboo Adventist Academy in Williams Lake — knew about the abuse but did not try to stop it or report it to authorities, she claims.
The statement was filed Friday by lawyer Jim Poyner, but the allegations have not been proven in court and the four parties named in the lawsuit have yet to file a statement of defence. Contacted by The Vancouver Sun at her Aldergrove home on Friday, Connie Heitsman reacted with surprise but declined to comment.
The church also wouldn’t comment on the case, saying it had no information as of Friday.
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church does not condone any type of abuse of children or, for that matter, any individual. Our position with regard to alleged acts of molestation of a child is to report all such allegations to the appropriate authorities and to cooperate with the investigation conducted,” communications director Stan Jensen said in an email.
The two schools did not respond to The Sun’s request for a comment.
Koback, 49, said her parents were deacons of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and she was raised in a devout household with two brothers, also adopted, and a younger sister who was the Heitsmans’ only biological child. Family and religious rules were plentiful and included obeying elders, not questioning authority and distrusting non-believers.
The abuse began with sexual touching when she was two or three years old and advanced to rape several years later, the court document says.
“Constance was aware of the many occasions on which the plaintiff was raped and sexually abused in many other ways by Bob but took no steps whatsoever to report or prevent the continuation of this behaviour,” it states.
Furthermore, officials and employees of the two schools and the church became aware of the many times Heitsman abused his daughter but “failed to take any steps whatsoever to stop, prevent or report this unlawful behaviour,” the statement of claim says.
Some of the abuse occurred on a school bus after her father, a driver with the Fraser Valley independent school, had dropped off other students, it says.
Koback was born in California but taken to Kersley by her adoptive parents and lived on a farm there for several years, attending the public elementary school for a time before her parents withdrew her in favour of home-schooling using church lessons. She said she felt isolated, was often scared and hid in her room a lot. Through it all, she said, “I loved God and I was trying to be a good little girl.”
Later, she attended Cariboo Adventist Academy and, after her family moved to Aldergrove, the Fraser Valley Adventist Academy. But whenever she timidly confided in Adventists about her unhappy home situation, she said she was called a liar and a troublemaker and told to pray for forgiveness for making derogatory comments about her father, a devout Christian man.
She concluded that she was to blame for everything and, desperate to leave home in her teens, she became pregnant by her boyfriend, married him and had a baby a few months later. “I was a 17-year-old lost, sick mother,” recalled Koback, who had a second son 14 years later.
The death of her father in 1998 didn’t ease her troubled mind or end her self-loathing, she said, and in 2012 she decided to take action. “I was so angry,” she told The Sun. “I had thought it was all my fault because that’s what they told me. But I didn’t feel like that anymore.”
Poyner said he knows of no other lawsuit in Canada linking sex abuse to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, although there have been cases and settlements in the U.S. Koback, who claims post-traumatic stress disorder and is seeking unspecified damages, said she is going public because she doesn’t want any other child to have her experiences and she isn’t confident Adventists have done enough to stop sex abuse.
In 1997, the general conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church issued a statement, noting the community “is not immune from child sexual abuse. We believe that the tenets of the Seventh-day Adventist faith require us to be actively involved in its prevention. We are also committed to spiritually assisting abused and abusive individuals and their families in their healing and recovery process, and to holding church professionals and church lay leaders accountable for maintaining their personal behaviour as is appropriate for persons in positions of spiritual leadership and trust.”
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
This is a sad story and yet it happens all too often. It seems the normal human reaction to a child claiming he/she was raped is to assume the child is lying. Because of that, most molestations go unreported. I believe we should all take these claims seriously.
That being said, I don't believe there are any laws that hold those who have been told accountable. I mean anyone individual is entitled to his or her doubt. Suing the church as a whole seems odd. At best I'd say sue the schools, since the counselors chose not to take action. But it would be up to the judge to decide whether or not they are guilty.
All things considered my prayers go out to this young lady who endured so much.
This is definitely a tragedy and God will deal with those involved by the acts and also for not doing something about the information that she shared as a child to certain individuals.
The church nor the school is to blame. It is obvious that even long after the death of the accused, it took a long time to go public with the issue as I am sure it was a horrific event. Vengeance is the Lord's and these issues are to be dealt with at the church according to scripture if among believers.
I hope no one takes my message out of context saying that I don't understand but the bible gives counsel on how to deal with this issue. This is not an issue that is between a believer and a worldling that doe not respect the church but between an SDA against other SDA's including the church and some schools. This should first be brought before a local church and involve the conference or higher up if needed but should not go to be judged by the world.
Lawsuits Against Believers
6 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous rinstead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that sthe saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, twhy do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 uI say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. vWhy not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even wyour own brothers!1
Ms Steffenhagen is the reporter I believe however I am not sure if the plaintiff is a committed Christian anymore or even SDA so if that were the case, I agree with you that the Biblical model would not work. I am sure in the end God will work things out. I hope she gets peace and that those that may be unjustly charged will not be found guilty.