EDWARD RODGERS, the ex-FBI agent who lost a $2.3 million judgment in Denver district court this week, must have been astonished when two of his grown-up daughters sued him for molesting them as children.
But as an expert on such crimes, he could a damaging claim coming — not that an abusive father is thinking clearly. The victims of domestic violence, both children and spouses, have increasingly been turning the tables in this way– and for good reason. A lawsuit not only can force the perpetrator to pay for the emotional and physical harm he has wrought, but can serve to enhance the victim’s recovery as well.
A civil court verdict against the parent – even if many years have passed since the injuries were actually inflicted — reinforces the idea that the child was not at fault and helps bring the traumatic emotions to closure. Or as one of the now middle-aged plaintiffs in the Rodgers case put it, “The shame isn’t mine. The horror happened to me.”
Going public with charges of sexual abuse also can underscore the fact that incest is not confined to the outcasts of society. The testimony against Rodgers, who is now 72 and appears to have fled the country rather than face his comeuppance, showed that this outrageous crime can take place for years — decades, even — in what may appear to be a nice, middle-class, law-abiding family.
The seven Rodgers children have obviously been split by this trauma, with the three sons defending their father against the accusations leveled by their four sisters. but neither the prospect of a public confrontation, nor the possibility that no money may ever be collected, should keep other victims in similar circumstances from coming forward.
It takes time, maturity and often a great deal of therapy to come to terms with the devastating impact of a childhood ravaged by abuse. But the courts stand ready to help lessen the lifelong effects, and greater use of the legal system for this purpose may eventually help deter attacks on kids who are now growing up in violence-ridden families.