Giving the gift of going public
FOR YEARS, EDWARD RODGERS of Denver was a national specialist on child abuse. A lawyer, FBI agent and former child abuse investigator for the Denver district attorney’s office, he was instrumental in developing incest and child abuse statues. He went on the lecture circuit. he sat on various panels about child abuse. He wrote articles about abusers for various journals.
As the old saying goes: It takes one to know one. last week, Rodgers was found guilty of sexually and physically abusing two of his daughters, who are now adults.
A Denver judge directed a guilty verdict against Rodgers, suing that he had committed incest and tormented his children ‘with consistent emotional and physical abuse.’ The jury awarded each of the two daughters $1.2 million, nearly six times what their attorneys sought.
Rodgers, meanwhile, failed to show for trial and has disappeared, reportedly to Mexico. The sisters, Sharon Simone of Belmont and Susan Hammond of southern California, may never see any money, but they feel enormous relief.
So should we all. The courage it took for the sisters to subject themselves to a painful public ordeal was a gift to all of us, particularly victims of childhood abuse.
It tells other victims that they can be heard. And it sends a message to abusers: Your deeds can come back to haunt you, even 30 years later. Buy now, pay later.
Rodgers would have gotten away with it had Simone not been moved by the story of a Beverly girl who was sexually abused by a neighbor. The man, Michael Ferguson, pleaded guilty, and the girl’s parents thought that if their daughter saw him being led off in handcuffs at sentencing, it would help her recovery.
Instead, the family watched in horror as Judge John T. Ronan gave Ferguson a suspended sentence after a parade of character witnesses extolled his virtues.
When Simone read about it, she felt the girl’s pain. An memories she had long repressed came rushing back.
‘I couldn’t handle it,’ said Simone, now 45. ‘I thought of that little girl sitting there, having to hear what a good man he was. I was enraged.’
It is still difficult for Simone to talk about her own abuse. The oldest, she was her father’s pet, and she tried her best to please him so she would not be attacked. She also tried to protect her younger siblings, but to no avail.
‘We’d get beaten for not combing our hair right, for not washing our hands,’ she said. ‘I remember a broken eardrum, tons of bloody lips and noses. My mother’s ribs were broken.’
Simone’s husband, an engineer, tearfully testified to his wife’s dysfunction stemming from childhood abuse.
The scars remain, much like post-traumatic stress syndrome. ‘The most profound damage that is slowly being healed is the ability to feel,’ Simone said. ‘If you try to raise six children without physiological and emotional responses, how can you be a mother and wife?’
Simone, a former administrator and faculty member at Lesley College, is not currently able to work or attend courses in her doctoral program at harvard University. At one point, she would drive around in the middle of the night, sleeping in her car.
The lawsuit has deeply divided the family, with the four sisters on one side, their three brothers on the other.
‘My brothers wanted to keep it all in the family,’ Simone said. ‘Our whole lives were spent protecting my father’s public image. I’m not vengeful, but I’m not going to protect him anymore.’
It took guts for Simone and her sisters to come forward. They were raised in a strict Catholic family, ‘to take care of men,’ said Simone, whose parents divorced in 1968.
Shortly before the trial, she went to the Harvard Law School library to look for articles her father had written. In one piece, there is a picture of a boy with marks on his body. The caption reads: ‘Boy given duties to perform by his father, failed to do them and was struck with a piece of
Simone glanced at the picture and noted, sadly: ‘this is exactly what my father did. He broke a 2-by-4 over my brother’s bottom while we all watched.’
Her father wrote, in conclusion: ‘The safety of our children in America should be of concern to all of us, and it is only through community interaction and cooperation that it can be adequately handled.’ It’s essential, too, that the abuser acknowledge his abuses.