Sanctuary for the Abused
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
OPEN MESSAGE TO UNITED STATES SENATE & HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
The American Judges Association reports one of the most common reasons for resuming an abusive relationship is fear the abuser will act on threats of taking the children. Studies show that batterers have been able to convince authorities that the victim is unfit or undeserving of sole custody in approximately 70% of challenged cases.
This is one of America's darkest most shameful secrets. The problem has taken on epidemic proportions and we call upon our Senators and Representatives to act swiftly to ensure prompt investigation. We want to be heard and to have these issues addressed openly. Please make this your top priority for all the mothers and children in this country and for generations to come.
Growing numbers of protective, non-offending, loving and fit mothers are losing custody of their children everyday. They are losing despite being good mothers, despite a lack of past involvement of the father with the children, and regardless of being the primary caregiver. Women who seek to exit bad or even dangerous relationships and/or seek child support are met with retaliatory suits for child custody. Many women who try to leave an abusive partner find that the court system can become a place where the abuser is enabled and even facilitated in victimizing her and her children.
Courts increasingly not only ignore, but even bar evidence of child abuse, including sexual molestation. Amazingly, the perpetrators the women seek to leave, or protect their children from, are increasingly awarded sole custody or unsupervised visitation with the children they have harmed. This results in ultimate control over the child victim, ultimate revenge against the child’s mother, and an end to the fathers child support obligation. The abuser is hence provided further control of the mother by collecting support from her while she is often denied contact with her children. In this way, both child and mother are silenced.
A junk science theory called " Parental Alienation Syndrome" or "PAS" is being used as the primary courtroom tactic to shut the mouths of abused children and mothers. Developed by Richard Gardner of Columbia University, this "syndrome" he purports is not based on systematic research, instead developed from personal observation and prejudices. Gardner has never tested his theory, it is not contained within the DSM-IV, and most of its foundational assumptions have been disproved. Gardner has espoused recommendations called "Threat Therapy" to send children to juvenile detention centers and mothers to jail for reporting abuse. He has written articles expressing the idea that incest and pedophilia may not be as traumatic as current social attitudes suggest. PAS is routinely used in courts across the country to inappropriately remove custody from loving, safe and fit mothers under a variety of scenarios: domestic violence, child abuse of any sort, reluctance to support flip-flopping shared custody schedules, reluctance to send children on unsupervised visitation with fathers with anger-management problems, substance abuse problems, poor parenting, etc.
Abused and molested children have lost their voices in court. There exists a pattern of court rulings which reflect that molestation or other abuses of one's own child can earn a father sole custody, whereas if the same crime had been committed upon the child who lives next door, the same perpetrator would be sentenced to a long prison term. While these re-victimized children lose their mothers, protracted litigation pads the pockets of lawyers, mental health providers, custody evaluators, and visitation monitors.
One of us lost all 5 of her children. One teenager hanged himself rather than see his mom jailed for his refusal to visit his dad. A medically fragile child died from neglect less than 3 weeks after he was wrongfully removed from his mother by the court. One of us stood criminal trial for "kidnapping " our own children -- and the jury who acquitted her admonished the county for the arrest and prosecution. One of us was jailed for refusing to turn her children over to a convicted child molester. Routinely, mothers are illegally jailed for trying to protect their children from documented abuses. Some of our phones are tapped, some of us have to pay monitors to see our children, most of us are impoverished by spending life savings and losing employment to keep up with endless court proceedings, entirely impossible child support payments, orders to pay the father's attorney fees, contempt charges, fines and sanctions -- all intended and strategically ordered to lead to certain financial ruin of mothers. This is but some of the hundreds of tactic designed to bankrupt the protective parent.
This is no longer an individual state issue but a federal government issue. Federal funding to court systems for various unsound, discriminatory and unscientific programs ordered in many of these cases is of great concern. Congressional findings in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) 1999 specifically identifies the use of PAS as an act of violence toward women which endangers children. It states that PAS is frequently and improperly used by courts and custody evaluators to discount children’s reasonable fear and anger toward a violent parent and that this "syndrome" is used almost exclusively against women. It further states that when domestic violence is or has been present in the relationship, shared parenting arrangements, couples counseling, or mediation arrangements may increase the danger to the children and to the non-violent parent. We call upon you to investigate why our state courts are allowed to proliferate its use unchecked.
We desperately hope our open public letter will be published and broadcast across the country and that it will cause readers to demand investigations and journalists to expose a "system" which is seriously broken.
As mothers who care about all children, we ask that you expose a system that does not work. We further ask that you eliminate federal funding of discriminatory groups and programs that enable continued harm to women and children.
UNITED FOR JUSTICE