Justice for Abuse Survivor: Wife of an abuser can’t bury her head in the sand.

Oregon Court of Appeals holds that wife’s chilly reaction to victim after evidence of possible abuse is enough to keep her in the case.

Doe v. Sliverman (and Dixon), 286 Ore. App. 813  (2017)   

My fellow lawyer from Southern Oregon, Tom Petersen, called me up about a case where the trial court dismissed a sex abuse survivor’s lawsuit against the abuser, former child psychologist Samuel Arthur Silverman, and his wife at the very start of the case.  The allegations against the wife were that she knew the husband had an improper sexual interest in children generally, and in particular, that she saw the 13 year old victim come out of her husband’s separate, private bedroom one morning when he had been staying the night ostensibly visiting the couple’s son, the victim’s friend from school.

After seeing our client in that compromising situation, the wife, a doctor specializing  in adolescent psychology named Sandra Dixon, MD, was alleged to have begun treating our client very coldly, ignoring him entirely whenever possible.  There was also evidence that Dixon had known Silverman presented a danger to children based on past instances of abuse or suspicious behavior.  Silverman was eventually arrested, tried, and sentenced to prison for sexually abusing our client.  He absconded overseas for a time, but after 8 years on the run, was caught and extradited to Oregon to serve his sentence.

Oregon law on the child abuse statute of limitations (ORS 12.117) allows child abuse victims to bring suit until age 40, or within 5 years of making a connection between one’s abuse and subsequent injuries, whichever is later.  In dismissing the claim, Dr. Sandra Dixon argued (and the trial court agreed) that she did not “knowingly” allow, permit, or encourage abuse by Silverman because she did not see the abuse itself.  The Court of Appeals rightly rejected such a narrow view of what the legislature meant by “allowing” child abuse to happen.  Unless it is further appealed, the case now returns to the trial court to find out exactly what Sandra Dixon knew about her husband’s proven sexual abuse of our client.