March 11, 2014

Woman Settles Child Abuse Case Against Washington State for $3,000,000

The State of Washington has agreed to pay $3,000,000 to a woman, identified only by her initials R.R., who alleges Child Protective Services failed to protect her after she gave birth when she was just 12 years old and entered state protective care.  R.R. alleges the same man, her mother’s boyfriend, impregnated her again within two months after she gave birth and continued to sexually and physically abuse her over the next decade while he held her captive and she raised his sons.  The settlement will allow the State to avoid a jury trial that was previously scheduled to begin today in Tacoma, Washington.

In January 1995, Washington State’s Child Protective Services was notified that R.R., a sixth grader at the time, had just given birth at Deaconess Hospital in Spokane, Washington.  Given her age and lack of prenatal care, the hospital’s workers asked CPS to investigate.

Records and testimony obtained during the litigation show that CPS workers quickly identified her mother’s 35-year old boyfriend, Christopher Eugene Hamburg, as the likely father, and R.R.’s sixth grade teacher testified that she told CPS that Hamburg was likely the father.  R.R. alleged that CPS did nothing to protect her from Hamburg, but instead asserted that it could not intervene because the 12-year old R.R. had not personally reported the abuse.

Accused Child Abuser Christopher Eugene Hamburg

While the investigation was still pending, Hamburg moved R.R.’s family out of Spokane, and R.R. alleges CPS did nothing to try to find her or to warn law enforcement that Hamburg had the family on the run.

Ten months later, when the family was living in Boise, Idaho, R.R. alleges she gave birth to another child by Hamburg.  She was only 13 years old.

Over the next 15 years, R.R. alleges Hamburg continued to sexually abuse her while he moved her family between various locations in Washington, Utah, and Idaho.  In 2010, when she was 27 years old, Hamburg allowed her to use the internet for the first time, and she made friends in a chat room.  One of those friends, R.R. says, helped her realize the gravity of the crimes that Hamburg had committed.  She left him shortly thereafter.

R.R.’s attorney, Michael T. Pfau, who has brought a number of cases against the State of Washington on behalf of abuse survivors, finds this one of the most disturbing cases he has handled: “In 1995, the state claimed they couldn’t do more because R.R. did not personally report the abuse, despite an abundance of evidence that she was a child in danger.  Fast forward twenty years, and the State was still suggesting CPS is not responsible because R.R. did not disclose the abuse.  But that’s why CPS exists:  to protect children from abuse, not to blame them for it.”

The alleged perpetrator, Christopher Eugene Hamburg, is still on the loose, and could face criminal charges.  The legislature in Idaho, where R.R. claims Hamburg abused her for many years, previously abolished its statute of limitations for child rape.  It is unclear whether news of the settlement will cause police and prosecutors in that state to re-visit whether they can charge Hamburg with child rape, particularly with the availability of paternity and DNA testing.

Child Abuse Statute of Limitations

It is also unclear whether similar legislation will be introduced in the Washington legislature to abolish the statute of limitations for child abuse, but according to Pfau, this case demonstrates the need to do so:  “Washington is a leading state when it comes to civil liability for those who abuse children and for those who fail to protect children.  Our children are undoubtedly safer because of it, but reforming Washington’s criminal statute of limitations is the next step.”

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