See Something, Say Something!

See Something, Say Something

This simple motto can save so many people from so much harm.  I heard the Boston Police Commissioner say it on the news last night in reference to the two young women who were recently abducted after leaving two local bars in Boston.  It applies in so many areas of life, however. An example of a recent case handled by HBMH Law comes to mind.

In a recent case in Worcester County a female parishioner at the St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church sought marital and spiritual counseling from the parish priest, Father Charles Michael Abdelahad (Fr. Michael).  Over the course of the treatment Fr. Michael, abusing his position of authority and dominance over the parishioner, convinced her that she was possessed by demons and that she was repressing memories of having been sexually abused by her father.

Fr. Michael required her to come to the church and meet privately in his office for “counseling” twice a week.  These “counseling” sessions lasted for between 3 and 5 hours each.  Fr. Michael told her that he was her “spiritual father” and that god spoke through him.  When she questioned him, Fr. Michael told her that she needed to obey him.  Fr. Michael told her that she needed to stop all contact with her family until her father admitted his abuse of her.

In order to “help” her recover her repressed memories of the abuse (which had never really happened) Fr. Michael did the most vile things to her.  He slapped her, he kicked her, he bit her all over her body, and he sexually abused her – all, in his words, to “trigger” the memories of the non-existent abuse.  When she questioned his methods he responded that it was “spiritual warfare” and that her body was the battle ground.

The abuse was loud.  The abuse was obvious.  The abuse was heard by members of the church.  The youth minister, Greg Abdalah, who has an office in the church as well, hears the yelling coming from the office during the “counseling”.  He hears loud banging coming from the office.  He hears Fr. Michael yelling at the woman “Get on your belly worm!” coupled with the sounds of slapping.  Members of the parish council come to him on 4 or 5 occasions to ask him what is going on in these “counseling” sessions.

If Greg Abdalah had simply followed the motto “see something, say something” the abuse would have been stopped.  But rather than speak with either the higher ups in the Antiochian Orthodox Church or the police, Mr. Abdalah speaks with Fr. Michael who tells him not to worry, that the woman is possessed by demons.  Abdalah then tries to avoid being in the church during the counseling sessions.

The church secretary, Maureen Butler, whose office sits right next to Fr. Michael’s, also hears the slapping, banging and yelling, as well as profanity.  She hears Fr. Michael yell at the woman “I am your God and you will listen to me!”.

If Ms. Butler had simply followed the motto “see something, say something” the abuse would have been stopped.  But rather than speak with either the police or the higher ups in the Antiochian Orthodox Church, she leaves her office to get away from the sounds and goes to sit with Greg Abdalah where they talk about what they are hearing.  She then asks to change her work hours so she doesn’t have to hear the abuse.

Because neither Abdalah or Butler says anything the abuse continues for two more years – twice a week – in the church.

Finally, after 3 years of the physical and sexual abuse – after 3 years of no contact with her family –  the woman breaks down and confides to a fellow parishioner what has been going on.  That parishioner speaks up and brings the matter to the attention of the Church higher ups and gets the woman to the police.  Fr. Michael stands trial in Worcester District Court and is convicted of assault and battery and assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon.

HBMH Law represented the woman in her claims against the people in the church who saw something but said nothing.  After years of litigation and on the eve of trial, the defendants and their insurance companies agreed to pay a substantial settlement to the woman.

See something. Say something.