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Former Client Sues Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center Alleging Sexual Battery, Negligence

A former client of the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center is suing the organization, claiming that one of the organization's board members had sex with her without consent, retraumatizing her after she had sought counseling at the center for a separate sexual assault.

Maria Cabrera is listed as the plaintiff in the case, which was filed March 20 in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

Listed as defendants are the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, counseling supervisor Marilyn Goldman, intern Kaitlin Harris, board of directors member Tom Storm and Executive Director Elsa Granados, all identified as working at the organization.

The plaintiff is alleging conversion, sexual battery and professional negligence, and says she sought and began treatment at the center on April 29, 2013, for a sexual assault and an attempted rape that occurred on April 18, 2013.

The woman had decided to begin dating again after the initial assault and joined two online dating sites, Match.com and Plentyoffish.com, through which she eventually met Storm, according to her attorney, Arnold Gross of the Encino firm Savin and Bursk.

Gross said the pair were dating and had consensual sex once or twice prior to the alleged incidents.

The woman claims that she was the victim of sexual battery on Oct. 30, 2013, and Dec. 19, 2013, at her home in Santa Barbara, when Storm allegedly had sex with her "when she was asleep and heavily medicated without her knowledge and consent."

The incidents "retraumatized her and caused her extreme distress," the lawsuit states.

There isn't a related criminal case, and the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office says it never received a case from a local law enforcement agency. 

Prior to the incidents, the lawsuit states that Storm knew the woman was taking prescription medications Temazepam and Trazodone in the evening along with other medications, which impaired her ability to give consent.

Gross said his client was on that heavy medication during the incidents, and "her belief was they were both just going to sleep."

"She basically woke up to find him penetrating her and this was similar to the initial assault," Gross said, adding that the victim was retraumatized as a result.

"Storm also knew from the beginning of his relationship" with the victim that she was a client of the Rape Crisis Center, the lawsuit states.

"There are boundary violations here," Gross said, adding that a board member should be told that it might not be appropriate to commence a relationship with someone who is a patient. "To my mind, it's completely inappropriate behavior."

Chris Kroes of Santa Barbara firm McCarthy and Kroes is representing all of the defendants in the case, and called the woman's allegations "demonstrably false."

"It's a bogus and spurious lawsuit and her allegations have no basis in fact," he told Noozhawk on Friday.

Kroes said he will soon file a motion to strike the case as well as a demurrer.

"They do great work, for so many people," he said of the organization, which has operated for the past 41 years. "This is the first time they've been sued during that time, to my knowledge."

In the lawsuit, Cabrera also claims that she was awarded funds from the California Victim Compensation Program for injuries she suffered during the attempted rape that brought her to the center in the first place, and that the center converted the earmarked funds from the victim compensation program for the organization's own use.

The lawsuit also states that Harris, Goldman, Granados and SBRCC knew, prior to the alleged assaults, that Storm was having a relationship with a client of SBRCC and did nothing to counsel Storm about the impropriety of his conduct.

As a result, "each of them ratified and condoned the actions" of Storm, the lawsuit alleges, adding that the organization, Harris and Goldman were professionally negligent as counselor and psychologist.

On April 21, 2014, the plaintiff began receiving counseling again from the center, and after she reported the alleged rape by Storm to Harris, she was advised by Harris to report the incident to SBRCC, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint also states that Goldman told Cabrera after the second alleged rape that Cabrera would have to cease her current treatment and reapply as a new client to commence new treatment, and that Harris and Goldman could no longer treat the plaintiff.

The lawsuit claims that this move was unethical and below the standard of care of competent psychologists, therapists and interns.

The case is asking for a jury trial in the matter.

"I am sure the SBRCC does salutary work," Gross said. "This is one of case where they didn't. They screwed up their treatment of a victim."

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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