Photo Credits: CBS Dallas/Fort Worth
A Muslim cleric, Imam Zia ul-Haq Sheikh, 50, was ordered to pay $2.5 million to a woman he's accused of sexually exploiting. The woman, identified only as Jane Doe, filed a lawsuit last July claiming Imam Zia ul-Haq Sheikh had coerced her into sex with him at a local motel after years of exploitation, including sexting and lurid video chat requests.
"Jane's emotional dependency as a result of being counseled by defendant from age 13 to age 19 led Jane to be fearful of losing defendant's support in her life, and therefore created a situation where Jane was unable to refuse defendant's requests," the lawsuit said, referring to Sheikh's alleged requests for sexually explicit photos and videos, and, ultimately, for intercourse.
“We are thrilled at this outcome for Jane Doe,” said Amy Jones, head of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center, who served as an expert witness for the plaintiff. “I hope that survivors everywhere will take this as confirmation that times are changing. This is a new world in which survivors have the hope of being believed and perpetrators will be held accountable.”
"Unfortunately, litigation in this country does not always favor the truth," Imam Sheikh said. "In most cases, it boils down to how much financial stamina one has, and whether one has good legal representation."
An extensive report by Facing Abuse in Community Environments (FACE) was published last year; it outlined Sheikh’s history of polygamous relationships and alleged spiritual abuse of female congregants at several mosques across the country, from Texas to Florida. Investigations by both FACE and BuzzFeed News confirmed that he had been forced to resign from a Richmond, Va., mosque more than 20 years ago after he had secretly married a second wife, a young woman convert he had been teaching.
After Sheikh left the Islamic Center of Irving, the mosque sent a letter to 2,000 institutions informing them of Sheikh’s alleged misconduct. Still, Sheikh was hired on at the Grand Prairie Islamic Society, just 9 miles from his previous place of employment. Sheikh has since left the Grand Prairie mosque, too; according to media reports.
Sheikh was appreciated in the Muslim community and he led mosques in the U.S. since 1996. According to FACE’s investigation, it was Khan, then president of the Islamic Society of Irving’s board, who first heard Jane Doe’s allegations of abuse against Sheikh. Khan advised the woman “to seek mental health services and also discouraged her from sharing what she experienced because it would harm Sheikh’s reputation as a respected religious leader and family man,” FACE’s investigation alleges.