Molestation case against 'Deadliest Catch' star heads for appeals court
SEATTLE - The estranged daughter of a local "Deadliest Catch" reality TV fisherman is accusing him of molesting her as a toddler, despite a decades-old trial that exonerated him of abuse.
Melissa Eckstrom, now a 28-year-old attorney in Seattle, claims she retains memories of her father, Sig Hansen, sexually assaulting her in 1990 when she was about 2 years old.
Hansen is captain of the Seattle-built and -based fishing vessel "Northwestern," which is regularly featured on the Discovery Channel series that has aired annually since 2005.
Eckstrom sued Hansen last year, using only his initials to protect his identity as a public figure. However, their names have since gone public in court filings and the case now heads to the state Court of Appeals on a question of whether Eckstrom can use her parents' sealed divorce file to support her claims of abuse.
King County Superior Court Judge Suzanne Parisien issued an order Monday that sends the case to the appeals court.
Eckstrom's parents separated in 1990 and initiated divorce proceedings. After an authorized private visit with her father that summer, she complained of pain on her "bottom" and her family members noticed discoloration in the area and took her to Harborview Medical Center, according to her complaint. At the time, she claimed that her "daddy" hurt her.
A doctor specializing in sexual assault treatment determined that Eckstrom exhibited signs of trauma and that "All of these findings are rarely seen in children without a history of sexual abuse," according to court filings.
Eckstrom also saw a therapist, who noted that she imitated the sexual abuse her father allegedly inflicted using dolls and drawings, reports indicate.
However, a forensic expert on Hansen's behalf determined the girl was not molested. At the time, he cited a syndrome in which children demonize a parent without justification, a theory that has since been widely discredited by legal and medical experts.
A CPS investigation in 1992 led to Hansen's arrest in Snohomish County, but prosecutors there never brought charges against him, court records say.
A judge in the divorce case determined in March 1992 -- about a week before the CPS report was issued -- that Hansen did not assault his daughter.
Hansen signed away his parental rights to Eckstrom as part of the divorce battle, apparently in response to threats to raise tax fraud issues, Eckstrom said in her complaint. She has been estranged from her father for most of her life.
However, memories of her abuse still remain, she said.
"I do remember being hurt by my father," she wrote in court documents. "I have memories of my father hurting my genital region. Memories of being in a room alone with my father and crying out in pain."
As a result of the alleged abuse, she claims to have suffered depression, eating disorders, inability to form normal relationships, thoughts of suicide and regular nightmares. She claims to be consistently triggered by her father's appearances on TV.
"I have brought this case against my father because I am seeking justice as a person that has been sexually molested," Eckstrom wrote. "... I am a victim of sexual molestation, and to date I have not been afforded the opportunity to bring my case and to testify."
Hansen, speaking with The Seattle Times, claimed the allegations are fabricated.
"This is nothing more than an old-fashioned shakedown," he said, according to the Times. "It's a completely frivolous lawsuit full of lies that my ex-wife made up to take away my daughter, and still uses to try to extort money from me. It's blackmail."
Now, Eckstrom seeks to use documents in her parents' divorce case to prove her claims. At the time, the case records were sealed, but Eckstrom argues she was not party to her parents' divorce case and that she has the right to access her own medical records contained in the filings to prove her allegations against her father.
Meanwhile, Hansen requested that the case be dismissed, to no avail as it now heads to appeals court.
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