THE DENVER POST - Voice of the
Rocky Mountain Empire Final Edition
May 21, 1990
Adults suing parents for abuse.
In Denver and elsewhere, child victims put an end to years
By Beth Frerking
Denver Post Washington Bureau Chief
WASHINGTON - When a Denver jury last week awarded two middle-aged
sisters $2.3 million to compensate for years of physical and
sexual abuse by their father, the case made front-page news.
The story underscored a changing fact of life: Until recently,
relatively few adults have taken legal action against parents
who abused them as children.
But such actions now are on the rise nationally, according
to women’s legal defense associations, victim-assistance
groups and lawyers who represent such victims.
And, as groups work to make it easier to prosecute such crimes,
and as long-silent victims watch other victims take their
cases to court, the public will see more adults who were abused
as children seek legal remedies.
"It’s definitely a new trend," said Sally
Goldfarb, staff attorney for the NOW Legal Defense and Education
Fund in New York.
"It goes hand-in-hand with the fact that, as a society,
we are increasingly recognizing the enormous extent and tragic
consequences of child sexual abuse."
In the Denver case, sisters Sharon Simone, 45, and Susan Hammond,
44, sued their father, former Colorado Springs law enforcement
officer Edward Rodgers, 72, for abuse that had occurred between
1944 and 1965.
The sisters faced an obstacle that typically hinders adult
victims of child sexual abuse; status of limitations. In Colorado,
a plaintiff must bring a civil suit within two years of the
crime.Long-silent physical-abuse victims now suing parents
ABUSE from Page 1A
"However, the Denver jury removed that barrier by determining
that the sisters became aware of their injuries only during
the past two years through therapy.
"Most states also have time limits on criminal prosecution
of felonies. In some, the period commences from the time the
assault occurred. In others, it begins when a child reaches
a certain age, usually the age of majority, between 16 and
"In Colorado, the statue of limitations on a criminal
charge runs 10 years from when the assault occurred -- and
that’s generous. The average is closer to seven years
amount states that start the clock from the time of the assault.
Groups such as the National Victim Center in Fort Worth, Texas,
the NOW Legal Defense fund and the National Center for Prosecution
of Child Abuse in Alexandria, VA., are lobbying to change
laws so victims have more time to file criminal or civil actions
against their abusers.
"The trend is to extend these statutes, both in criminal
and civil law," said Patricia Toth, director of the child-abuse
prosecution center in Alexandria.
Specialists in the field of child abuse say victims need extra
time to file charges or lawsuits because it takes years, even
decades, to exhume childhood and adolescent memories of physical
and sexual abuse. Victims say they had to repress those incidents
in order to survive.
Jay Howell, a Jacksonville, Fla., attorney who specializes
in child sexual-abuse cases, said victims are typically between
ages 20 and 40 before they decide "that they want to
seek some justice."
Some states have slowly modified statues of limitation to
reflect the inherent differences between child sexual abuse
and other types of assault.
But even after victims face their pasts through therapy and
counseling, many do not realize they might have ways to seek
legal redress. So publicity about child sexual-abuse cases
plays a critical role in encouraging other victims to at least
investigate whether legal action might be possible, specialists
In recent Maryland case, Michael Smith, 29, and his sister,
Lisa Smith Clark, 28, had privately discussed their abuse
as children at the hands of their parents, Ralph Leon and
They thought they were the only two of the eight Smith children
who were abused. Clark was forced to have intercourse with
her father beginning at age 12, and Michael Smith testified
that he had sexual relations with his mother from the time
he was 10.
Eventually, another sister confessed that she had been abused.
Meanwhile, Michael Smith read news reports of another Maryland
case, in which three adults successfully prosecuted their
father for child sexual and physical abuse. "Until my
brother, Michael, saw it in the newspaper, none of us knew
it was illegal or that you could press charges years later,"
said Clark, a registered nurse who now lives in Florida.
With that news, Lisa and Michael unraveled the stories of
their other siblings. and six of the eight Smith children
decided to file criminal charges, with Lisa and Michael as
The Smith children were lucky. Maryland is one of the only
four states that has no statue of limitations on felonies.
They were represented by maryland Assistant Stat’s Attorney
Cynthia Ferris, a veteran of child-abuse prosecutions.
Clark said she and her siblings were relieved and happy when
their parents were brought to justice. but she said they have
since received an unexpected bonus: letters and calls from
other child sexual-abuse victims who now have the courage
to seek legal remedies in their own cases.
"That’s the ultimate victory," Clark said.
"it just makes it all worthwhile going through al this
pain and breaking open the secret."