Delaware woman sues father for alleged child rape, trafficking, pornography

United States District Court for the District of Delaware

United States District Court for the District of Delaware (Google Maps)

“Remember, Alicia, I never touched you,” Alicia Cohen remembers her father, Ronald saying before he hung up the phone.

She had just called to confront him about years of sexual abuse she suffered as a child.

And with that one firm phrase to end the phone conversation — “Remember Alicia, I never touched you” memories of him repeating it throughout her childhood came flooding back.

Cohen said her father often said it after raping her, selling her body to other men, and filming the acts of rape for profit.

She says it was one of his tactics to silence her as a child — and it worked. Cohen said she feared the threats, and suppressed memories of the alleged abuse for years.

But as a 39-year-old, Cohen is reclaiming her memories and wants to hold her father accountable.

That’s according to a civil lawsuit filed last month in the U.S District Court of Delaware against Ronald Cohen.

The lawsuit alleges he repeatedly sexually abused his daughter between the ages of 3 and 11, and profited from a child pornography and sex trafficking ring.

The lawsuit claims he posed as a minister, and used various ministries to cover up the alleged crimes that took place in his Newark, Del. home and in other states.

WHYY does not typically publish rape victims’ names. However, Alicia Cohen wants to go public with her story to empower sex trafficking survivors, said her attorney, Dan Stephenson.

Stephenson said he has represented sex trafficking victims for about 10 years, but this is the first time he’s filed a civil lawsuit of this kind. He said it’s not often that sex trafficking victims sue their abusers.

“It takes a very courageous client, for one thing, who’s willing to go through it. And it takes a law firm that’s willing to do it pro bono because usually the victims can’t pay for it,” said Stephenson, who works on law firm K&L Gates’ Anti-Trafficking Initiative.

“So there’s a lot of things that have to come together for a civil suit to work, and they came together here.”

The lawsuit alleges Ronald Cohen began sexually abusing Alicia around 1983, when she was about 3 years old. The complaint asserts Cohen started to traffic his daughter when she was 5, after a family friend “purchased her virginity” from him for $2,500.

The family friend repeatedly raped the young girl, according to the lawsuit, and made an arrangement with Cohen to film the abuse.

The lawsuit alleges Cohen forced his daughter into an array of sexual acts — often drugging her with Benadryl beforehand — and exploited her for profit at least weekly as part of a child sex trafficking ring at the family home in Newark.

Other young children also were also victimized, according to the complaint.

Cohen allegedly staged a bedroom in the basement where he filmed the children being raped, duplicated the videos, and sold them. Cohen, who was allegedly posing as a minister, hid the content by labeling the videos “God Wants You Well,” “A Yogi Meets the Messiah,” and “Freedom From Your Past.”

Cohen allegedly operated several endeavors posing as “ministries” to hide his nefarious activities. He used the “Travelling Ministers Fellowship” to allow men posing as ministers to spend the night at his home and pay to rape his daughter and other children.

Cohen allegedly collected the profit he received from the sex trafficking ring as religious donations. The lawsuit claims attorneys have handwritten ledgers of those who donated to his ministries, and several names on the list are people who purchased sex.

The lawsuit alleges Cohen often took his daughter across state lines to sell her body, and even brought her to a “pedophile party” at a warehouse. At one point, the lawsuit says the family dentist who practiced in Wilmington provided free dental services in exchange for sex with Alicia.

Cohen and his accomplices often threatened his daughter to keep her quiet, warning her if she told anyone, she would be put into foster care or become homeless, according to the lawsuit.

Attempts to reach Cohen where he lives in North Carolina were unsuccessful. Stephenson confirmed Cohen had been served the lawsuit.

Stephenson said Alicia Cohen has suffered emotionally, psychologically, and physically due to the trauma. As a child, the lawsuit said she began physically hurting herself, and even ate things that weren’t food. During college, she sought a therapist because she was suicidal, according to the lawsuit.

Cohen had suppressed many of the traumatic memories as a coping strategy. But after having flashbacks around 2013, she has sought psychologists to help her reclaim her memory.

In addition to requesting monetary damages, the complaint states Cohen wants to empower other women and hold abusers accountable.

“She brings it to stop him from ever doing it again to other children. She brings it to help in her own healing process, which will continue for the rest of her life,” the lawsuit says. “She brings it to support other victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and human trafficking — to help empower them, encourage them to come forward, and let them know they have a voice. She brings it as a message to other exploiters and human traffickers: you will not get away with it; you will pay for your crimes.”

Stephenson said he hopes the lawsuit will also encourage Ronald Cohen’s alleged other victims to come forward.

“That’s one of the phenomena that’s typical in this area, that once someone puts themselves out there, which as I said takes a lot of courage, others are emboldened to do the same,” he said.

“When they read about it, hear about it, they come forward, and we’re definitely hoping that happens in this case.”

Stephenson and his client are seeking a jury trial. The lawsuit accuses Ronald Cohen of 12 counts, including human trafficking, sexual abuse of a minor, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and incest.

“We want to see civil suits against traffickers play a bigger part in fighting trafficking,” Stephenson said. “We want victims to know this is one of the things they can do. And we want the traffickers to know this is another way we can come after you.”

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