January 31st, 2011 | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: Politics

Elizabeth Lynn Dunham: May 12, 1961-Jan. 16, 2011 (UPDATED)

Elizabeth Dunham
WW has been working on a story since the Jan. 16 death of Elizabeth Dunham, whom former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt sexually abused starting when she was a young teenager. The full article will run in our upcoming Feb. 2 edition, but here is the beginning of that story. The article chronicles Dunham's undeniably tragic tale and details how she spent the rest of her life struggling to deal with something no child should have to experience.

On Jan. 23, The Sunday Oregonian published an obituary for Elizabeth Dunham, who had died a week earlier at 49.

Nothing in the five-paragraph obit indicated that when she died, Dunham took with her a troubling piece of Oregon history. Although she has remained anonymous until now, Elizabeth Dunham was the victim whom former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt raped in the mid-1970s, beginning when he was mayor of Portland and she was a young teenager. As long as she was alive, the media withheld her name.

We're identifying her now—after much internal discussion—for two reasons.

First, the list of things Goldschmidt stole from Dunham should not include her identity. Second, the story of this powerful man’s abuse can be more fully told now that his victim can no longer suffer from it.

Dunham died on Jan. 16 after spending most of the last month of her life at Hopewell House, a hospice in Southwest Portland’s Hillsdale neighborhood. Her death came after decades of battling substance abuse and mental illness.

Dunham’s mother, who had worked for then-Portland Mayor Goldschmidt in the mid-’70s, told WW she was at her daughter’s side when she died.

The tragic arc of Dunham’s life was not preordained.

A 1975 yearbook photo at Portland’s St. Mary’s Academy shows a ninth-grader with wavy chestnut hair, big glasses and the final traces of the pudginess that in elementary school earned her the nickname “short and fat and curly toes.”

But in high school, the onetime ugly duckling became a beautiful young girl. Her transformation did not escape the notice of teenage boys, according to Anne Grgich, a Portland artist and Dunham’s friend since fifth grade.

“She was very pretty and had so much potential,” Grgich says.

She also captured the attention of Goldschmidt, a family friend 21 years her senior.

Goldschmidt, a handsome and charismatic married father of two young children, was putting Portland on the map and becoming a national political player.

He transformed a downtown expressway into Tom McCall Waterfront Park, a surface parking lot into Pioneer Courthouse Square and engineered the beginnings of Portland’s light-rail system.

As mayor, Goldschmidt worked only five blocks from St. Mary’s, where Dunham went to high school. And his home was only six doors away from the Dunham family home in Northeast Portland’s Alameda neighborhood.

He saw Elizabeth at political events—her mother was a City Hall aide and campaign staffer—and Elizabeth also served as a City Hall intern and as babysitter to Goldschmidt's children (Goldschmidt’s ex-wife disputes that Dunham baby-sat for the couple; others, including Dunham, say she did).

When Dunham was a St. Mary’s freshman and classmates were stressing over homework and dances with boys from Jesuit and Central Catholic, Goldschmidt lured her into a sexual relationship.

Dunham confided to friends that she had met Goldschmidt for sex dozens of times. The meeting places were many—in her parents' basement, at the Hilton Hotel, at a downtown apartment and at friends’ houses on Alameda Ridge.

Illicit sex with a political powerhouse would be a lot for anybody to process, let alone a young teen navigating adolescence.

People who knew Dunham well say she never came to terms with the impact Goldschmidt had on her life.

“She wasn’t able to contend with issues of abuse she’d suffered and still feel OK about herself,” says former boyfriend Zorn Matson, a Portland photographer who lived with Dunham from about 1979, when she was 18, until 1982.

“She tried to ignore negatives in her life,” Matson says. “But they eventually destroyed her.”

The rest of this story will be available online Wednesday, Feb. 2 and in our print edition coming out that same day.

(Photos above of Dunham from left to right: As a 14-year-old freshman at St. Mary's Academy, at about age 20 and after a 1992 arrest in Multnomah County. The photo in the middle was taken by Zorn Matson)

Naming the Victim
There will be readers who ask, “Why name Elizabeth Dunham now?”

Part of the answer is her death. The journalistic convention of protecting sex crime victims’ identities aims to spare them anguish while they are alive—not afterward. When murder victims are also raped, the latter crime is often disclosed and, of course, the victim is identified.

During her life Dunham agreed not to talk about Goldschmidt in exchange for a $350,000 settlement. In effect, he purchased her silence, her story and her right to use her own name. But there is ample evidence Dunham wanted her story told. After “The 30-Year Secret,” WW’s 2004 report of Goldschmidt’s sex abuse, Dunham gave lengthy interviews to WW and others. She also worked extensively with Hollywood screenwriter Bryce Zabel, a former Oregon television reporter. He wrote and sold a script for a TV movie that has never been produced. He met repeatedly with Dunham and spoke to her dozens of times.

“She wanted to tell her story, fully and completely, to somebody,” Zabel says. “She wanted to go on the record, almost as an act of cleansing.”

Still, journalism ethics experts disagree on naming Dunham.

“My personal opinion is that the story has been told. Goldschmidt has suffered the consequences,” says Tom Bivins, chairman in media ethics at University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication. “I don’t see any justification for exposing her memory and her family and friends to further inquiry and potential embarrassment this far after the fact.”

But professor Stephen Ward, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin, says preserving Dunham’s anonymity beyond her death would be dishonest.

“It is time to name the victim, to put a human (and specific) face on an anonymous victim,” Ward wrote in an email. “Putting a name on the victim adds strength to your story—it allows you to tell readers about a real, identifiable person. Specifics in stories of this kind can be very important.”

On Tuesday, The Oregonian published its profile of Goldschmidt’s victim but did not name her.

 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
comments powered by Disqus
 

Web Design for magazines

Close
Close
Close