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RI CRIME

‘40 years later, I got some justice’: R.I. Representative Sherry Roberts sees stepfather sentenced for abuse

On Wednesday, nearly 40 years to the day that she first went to the police, Roberts witnessed a judge sentence her former stepfather, Harry Edwards of South Kingstown.

R.I. state Representative Sherry Roberts.Handout

RICHMOND, R.I. — Sherry Roberts was 14 when she first tried to get the police to arrest her abusive stepfather. He’d been grooming her since she was 8 years old, leading to emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.

But no one did anything. For decades, as Roberts dealt with the trauma from his abuse, she wondered whether her stepfather would ever be punished.

When she was elected as a state representative in 2014, Roberts searched for answers. Over time, as she worked with lawyers at the State House, she learned that a law regarding prosecution of sexual perpetrators had been amended in 1982, just months before she went to the police.

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That’s how she realized she could still do something about him.

Harry Edwards, 71, of South Kingstown, pleaded no contest to second-degree sexual assault on Wednesday.Rhode Island State Police

On Wednesday, nearly 40 years to the day that she first went to the police, Roberts witnessed a judge sentence her former stepfather Harry Edwards for abusing her.

“I’m feeling somewhat relieved. I got some justice,” Roberts, who is now 54, said afterward. “I spent my whole life thinking I’d never get any justice at all.”

Edwards and Roberts’ mother had divorced after Roberts went to the police, though he made it difficult for the family to escape, she said. The pain she’d suffered as a child seared into her as an adult, with recurring nightmares, abusive relationships, and in countless other ways. “I don’t think there’s any area of my life that has remained untouched from what he did to me,” Roberts said. “I needed to do this and get control and regain that power over my life.”

Armed with new knowledge about the law, Roberts went to the police again in 2019. The Richmond police chief found the statement she’d made when she was a teenager, and this time, the Richmond police, state police, and the attorney general’s office re-opened the case.

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When the state police arrested Edwards in February 2021, charging him with first-degree sexual assault, “it was a good day. I could hardly even believe it,” Roberts said.

The charge was reduced in the plea agreement on Wednesday to second-degree sexual assault. Washington County Superior Court Judge Melanie Wilk Thunberg issued a 10-year suspended sentence with probation, ordered Edwards, 71, of South Kingstown, to attend counseling and to register as a sex offender, and barred him from being around children.

“Today’s disposition represents a significant moment in the pursuit of justice for the victim of a serious crime that was committed approximately 40 years ago, following years of investigation and several attempts to bring criminal charges,” said Brian Hodge, spokesman for the attorney general’s office. “We are grateful for the courage and strength displayed by Representative Roberts over the decades since her assault, and throughout the investigation and prosecution of this case.”

For Roberts, even the reduced charge offers some kind of closure. And, she said, this is just the beginning.

“It’s remarkable that 40 years later, I got some justice,” she said. “I went through sexual, physical and emotional abuse with this guy, and it affects a child very deeply. My main thing is, I need to protect children from him.”

She hopes that by going public she will draw attention to the issue of child sexual abuse — and encourage other victims to come forward.

“I believe he’s likely got other victims,” she said. “And I need them to come forward to protect other people’s children.”

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Roberts said that she had struggled herself about whether to be public about being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. She decided it was worth it.

“I don’t want to live with it that I didn’t do anything to protect other children from being victimized,” Roberts said. “I don’t think it’s right to hold it in and say nothing. I wouldn’t want to see other children injured because of his behavior.”


Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.