Daughters win sex-abuse case against father
By Alison Bass
In a precedent-setting case, a Belmont woman this week won a multimillion-dollar jury award against her father for sexual and physical abuse. In an interview yesterday, she said she filed the suit because she wanted to let a “little girl” from beverly know that not everyone gets away with child abuse.
An all female jury in Denver Wednesday awarded Sharon Simone, 45, and her sister $1.2 million each after a trial in which the two testified that their father, a former FBI agent and adviser to law-enforcement agencies on child abuse, had sexually abused and beaten them while they were growing up.
Simone said she filed the suit after reading about an 8-year-old girl from Beverly who had been taken to court to watch her abuser’s sentencing – only to watch him go free.
‘I had not filed a lawsuit against my father at that time, but after I read that article, I felt such an outrage and such a connection to that girl,’ Simone said. ‘I decided then that I was going to show this little girl that not everyone who abuses children gets away with it.’
Simone was referring to an article by Globe columnist Bella English regarding the case of Michael R. Ferguson, a 41-year-old former shop teacher who had pleaded guilty to raping his neighbor’s daughter. His young victim went to Superior Court with her parents on the day.
Ferguson was to be sentenced because they had been told that the sight of her attacker being led off to prison would help her on the long road to recovery from the experience.
Instead, Judge John T. Ronan gave Ferguson a suspended sentence. Ronan said that in deciding against incarceration, he had given considerable weight to a half-dozen character witnesses, including the pastor of Ferguson’s church, who had spoken on his behalf.
‘I decided that I was going to hold my father accountable for [this girl], for my sister, for my brothers and for myself,’ Simone said. ‘I want to tell that little girl, whoever she is, that not everyone who abuses a child will walk away without knowing what they have done to your soul.’
Several lawyers said the colorado case is precedent-setting both because of the size of the award and the type of case. Similar cases have been filed in Massachusetts, but none has yet gone to trial.
‘I think this verdict will pave the way for other suits,’ said Kathleen Franco Domenico, one of the Denver attorneys who represented Simone and her sister, Susan Hammond, 44, who lives in southern California. ‘There has been a reluctance to bring these suits because the nature and extent of the injuries aren’t recognized for a long time and, in many
‘I want to tell that little girl, whoever she is, that not everyone who abuses a child will walk away without knowing what they have
done to your soul.’ SHARON SIMONE
States, statutes of limitations apply.’
In the Denver case, Domenico said, the judge ruled that the statute of limitations did not apply in cases of child sexual or physical abuse. In 1988, Judge Herbert Abrams of the Massachusetts Superior Court reached a similar ruling in an incest case, but that case was settled out of court last year.
In their 1989 lawsuit, Simone and her sister testified that their father, Edward J. Rodgers, had repeatedly beaten and sexually abused them between 1944 and 1965. At the trial, Rodgers admitted that he had hit his wife and may have hit his children, but said he did not remember doing so.
Rodgers, now 72, had been employed for years as a chief investigator of the el Paso County district attorney’s office in Colorado, and as an adviser in child abuse cases. he previously had worked for the FBI for 27 years.
Rodgers’ attorney, Thomas Gresham, said he had been unable to locate his client since april 24, Domenico said the last she had heard Rodgers was reported to be near the Texas-Mexico border. Simone and Hammond say they doubt they will ever collect the money awarded to them.
Child protection specialists say that women who were abused as children are increasingly turning to the courts for redress, in part because criminal charges are very rarely brought against abusive parents or family friends. and when they are, judges and others are often reluctant to believe that outwardly repectable middle-class men would cause serious harm to children.
‘These victims have a lot of shame, guilt and humiliation about what happened,’ said Linda Jorgenson, a Cambridge lawyer and member of the state legislative commission on sexual misconduct. Just as with women who are sexually abused by their psychotherapists, there is a violation of trust and a feeling of being betrayed due to the inaction of others. If your father abuses you and your mother covers it up,you begin to wonder if you’re right or not; you begin to doubt yourself.’