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Speaking to a group of parents struggling to protect their children, a White House advisor assures the room of mostly women that she understands courts are giving abusers custody of children and she is working to address the problem.

“I read about custody evaluators who weren’t looking at evidence of abuse, even when it was actually in the file,” Lynn Rosenthal, the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women said during the May 2013 event. She had been reading studies gathered by multiple agencies on the family court system’s treatment of domestic violence and abused children. “I read about all of these third parties in the court who are using work that is not evidence-based and not reflective of the experiences of battered moms. I was really reminded back to the early days of the Violence Against Women Act, when we started looking at the criminal courts and Vice President Biden held these hearings 20 years ago and recognized that the justice system was failing and we needed to put in place these principles of victims’ safety and offender accountability.

“I don’t think I realized how much we were failing those principles in the family court system until I began these readings.”

For those attending the 10th annual Battered Mothers Custody Conference last year, it was a rare moment of recognition by a U.S. government official that courts were forcing children into abusive relationships.

Two months earlier, President Obama had signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. Rosenthal explained that a portion of that legislation was written with the family court system in mind. “The success of the Violence Against Women Act is to fund initiatives, evaluate them and then replicate them around the country,” Rosenthal said. “We want to do that in the family court system.”

Another speaker at the conference was not convinced any amount of training could fix the U.S. family court system. Just 20 months earlier at age 16, Damon told the remarkable story of how he ran away to Las Vegas and convinced a random woman on the street to marry him so that he could be legally emancipated, freeing him from a California judge’s decision that forced him to live with his father. A local Fox reporter filmed the wedding. “The family court judge had issued a final order. I was going to be under his complete control until I was 18, despite me constantly saying that he sexually abused me, that I wasn’t safe with him and that I didn’t want to live with him,” said Damon, who had posted videos on Youtube pleading for help.

The number of court officials who had chosen not to protect him reveals a system that has developed a culture of ignoring children’s cries for help. “I had 30 professionals fail me, six judges wouldn’t protect me,” he said. “I told my story to over a dozen social workers, policemen and psychologists. Family court covered up evidence, destroyed my mother and put me in danger. Two judges said on the record that it didn’t matter if I was abused ... this isn’t rare — not only is it not rare it is common. It’s an epidemic.

“One in five children are sexually abused and many of those are endangered by the family court system.”

About 58,000 children a year are ordered to have unsupervised contact with an abusive parent in the United States -- over twice the yearly rate of new childhood cancer, according to the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence, a non-profit organization that promotes the ethical application of psychology.

When parents are getting a divorce, it can spur a child to reveal abuse for the first time. Unfortunately, divorce is also the time children are least likely to be believed by officials, according to a Leadership Council study funded by the Department of Justice. “Violence in families usually remains invisible to those outside the family because family members are reluctant to jeopardize the integrity of the family by reporting it,” according to the study, which was presented at a Congressional briefing. “When the family unit is split up during divorce, there is less incentive for victims of family violence to keep their abuse secret.”

Family courts have embraced discredited psychiatric theories such as parental alienation syndrome, where one parent is blamed for a child’s strong negative feelings about the other parent to the point that abuse claims are not taken seriously, the study observed. DeAnn Salcido, a former family court judge in California, told SF Weekly in 2011, “I was basically told to be suspect of anyone claiming abuse. I had senior judges telling me, ‘Be suspect. The dad probably has a new girlfriend, and the mom’s upset.’”

Salcido said that privately among court officials, the concept of parental alienation arose “all the time.”

In her speech at the mothers’ conference, Rosenthal offered a broader explanation for why family courts often dismiss a woman’s claim that she or her child is being abused. “The root of this is a view that women lie,” Rosenthal said. “It’s a deeply entrenched view in our culture that there is something about women that makes us not truthful, manipulative and scheming to get a leg up.”

Acknowledging that the steps the federal government has taken to stop child custody abuse have been “woefully inadequate,” Rosenthal told the more than 100 parents in the room — many who have not seen their children for years and fear daily for their safety — that change is going to take time.

She ended her speech with a quote from an equal rights activist in the 1970s. “We are in for a very long haul. I am asking for everything you have to give. You will lose your youth, your sleep, your patience, your sense of humor and, occasionally, the understanding and support of the people you love very much. In return I have nothing to offer but your pride in being a woman and all the dreams you ever had for daughters and nieces and granddaughters, your future and a certain knowledge that at the end of your days, you will be able to look back and say that once in your life you gave everything you had for justice.”

This is the fourth in a series of articles for Daily Kos about the treatment of abused children in the U.S. family court system. M.C. Moewe is a former criminal justice and investigative reporter for several newspapers with a B.A. in journalism from the University of North Texas. Email m AT or use this link.

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Comment Preferences

  •  What a powerful diary, MCMoewe! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MCMoewe, chimene, JG in MD

    I only clicked on it because that same-old MRA trope about 'men's oppression' in family law/ child custody came up today/yesterday in an anti-misogynist diary.

    The bogus 'parental alienation syndrome' concept is one of the ideas being pushed by MRA types. ('Men's Rights').

    Your story of the 16-year-old boy who got married to escape his sexually-abusive father is powerful and chilling.

    I added the tag 'War on Women', hoping that this will get picked up by this group, and get more exposure.

    •  Please reconsider your opinion (0+ / 0-)

      on alienation.  A perfect method of perpetrating abuse on a child is to alienate them.  More grandparents than fathers are involved in exposing alienation.  Any successful tool to inflict agony is acceptable to an abuser.

      Anyone of any gender or relationship to said child can be guilty of abuse.  A thorough investigation into the most seemingly complicated of cases can ferret out the guilty.  Alienation is not the same as protection.  

      Thank you for your anticipated consideration.

      Save a child's life. Please sign and share. Save a child's life. Please sign and share.

      by kmfmstar on Sat Jul 05, 2014 at 07:40:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I am glad that Lyn Rosenthal addressed this iss... (0+ / 0-)

    I am glad that Lyn Rosenthal addressed this issue, but it sounds like more lip service. Why isn't the White House going after Judges? Accountability needs to happen. I will thank the reporter.....I am sick of climbing up the hill. It as Lyn Rosenthal that encouraged me to get the freedom of battered women survivors in prion's freedom....27 years ago. Just as Breaking the Silence Children's Stories awakened America.....the documentary Sin By Silence prompted three new laws for their freedom, under Governor Schwarzenegger and signed into law under Jerry Brown....give only lip service because the Patriarchs remain on the bench and are on the Boards of Parole. The Battered Woman-Mother's pain is ignored and she is profusely blamed and maimed by "gender agreement whore mongers." Bottom line: What plan is in Action for Judicial Accountability and the return of their children and assets stolen, deliberately, by Judges, CPS, and Opposing Council? The left brain male patriarchy is responsible for labeling battered women as both liars and "mentally ill" instead as seeing it for what it really is, "the traumatic effects caused from abuse, including the legal abuse."

    •  I can understand your frustration... (0+ / 0-)

      ...but what you call "lip service" is still an important contributor to the issue, is it not?

      thanks for joining the dk conversation today.

      Welcome to Daily Kos. If you have any questions about how to participate here, you can learn more at the Community Guidelines, the Knowledge Base, and the Site Resource Diaries. Diaries labeled "Open Thread" are also great places to ask. We look forward to your contributions.
      ~~ from the DK Partners & Mentors Team.

      Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

      by a gilas girl on Tue Jul 01, 2014 at 11:15:45 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  yes trauma from violence is labeled mental illness (0+ / 0-)

      Who is trained re PTSD in DV cases?

      Of course the victim presents scattered and traumatised- surely that is the proof right there before their eyes that violence and abuse happened. Same with the children.
      But we have the old patriarchal rubbish that women are supposed to suffer DV as some saint said it was good for their souls.??
      We must always remember the RC church behind all the courts. Take Washington with its Roman Catholic Red Mass to kick off the legal year. So judges, etc invoke the same Roman god that has deemed women and children second class for 2000 years.
      No one seems to notice.?

  •  The Illusion Mothers Are Equal In The Courtroom (0+ / 0-)

    The Patriarchy Is Alive And Well In Every Courtroom In America & Our Children Are At Risk!

    Core beliefs developed over centuries and behaviors just don't go away. Each individual person and society as a whole must create the shift.

    Recorded history shows the slow progression for the equality of woman-mothers.... it has never been more apparent as the message from Lyn Rosenhtal. She is reviewing the written testimonies with supporting court documents flooding the White House and in The USA Justice Department, in addition, to the results from the recent study," Battered Mothers cannot win in the courts." Why would any self respecting Mother enter into a courtroom with these odds?" This is insanity to expect it." As, for me, I think it is time for Women's Sufferage Part 11.

     I also can't help, but chuckle when I think that her bed must look like mine with pages and notes strewn around and other cases stacked all most to the ceiling to be reviewed.  The major difference for me, is that I work for free and Lyn has a triple digit income and expense account and I receive "financial disrespect". I ceaselessly and endlessly have climbed my mountain just like my Great Grandmother and Grandmothers, before me.

     Right now I am inconsolable by Mothers walking through fire experiencing never endless poverty and facing financial debt the result of male subconscious agreement by the Patriarchy and who receive Federal dollars to win their cases......when women remain gagged and silenced in secret courts. Our houses are burning and children are not safe. How long must we beat our collective drum?

    I hear the inconsolable Maternal weeping from these court inflicted wounding initiated male hatreds for Her. A combination of learned helplessness and endless grief  and trauma from unexpected sudden loss.....with no resolve is the result. Countless agonizing minutes of knowing full well what is going on behind closed doors to their captive children robbed of  their protection and sanctioned by the courts. Children who are voiceless.

    Good Mothers who have experienced the sudden ripping away of their children or the long slow torturous process to "make crazy mothers relinquish custody for the safety and best interest of the children" by allowing the evaluations of cherry pickers Psychologists and the abuser's girlfriend or relative to the opposing party disguised as GAL workers. CPS and Court Clerks 'rubbing stamping" transfers for the bonus money paid from Federal Dollars to meet quotas to keep the funding going at the State and County levels."

    Are we out of the woods, yet? Hell, No! I have a million women in my network....I intend to keep empowering each one to empower herself to take personal action to bring Public Transparency and Disclosure to the Voters and I will teach how to begin a Recall of every Judge across America!

  •  Another excellent article by MC (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and I can vouch for everything in it and what the above comment says. I tried for 10 years to protect my son. My son is Damon who is referred to in this article. I just wrote my own diary: Saving Damon by SafeKids. There will be a lot more mothers posting their stories here soon. Check the tag SafeKids where they can be found.

  •  Same in Ireland (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kmfmstar, BeninSC, SafeKids

    In Ireland we have the same problem re protective mothers being called liars. In fact in law in Ireland judges etc are trained to see all Irish mothers as feeble minded.
    It all comes from that Eve ill Eve and that poor Adam fella.
    Everything is Her fault as we can see world wide under patriarchy.
    As with PAS- its all her fault, she coached the child.
    So the evidence is never looked at in a detached and independent manner - due to training.
    Instead of saying much more here, I leave you my experience in Ireland and thanks to Janie McQueen for perfecting it and bringing it to light. In Ireland my work gets removed because our system does not want the world to know that we see our mothers in 2014 as mentally ill and less evolved than men- as we did with our sisters before us in the Magdalene laundries. Nothing has changed. Now we lock up the women victims of DV in mental homes etc.
    Forget The Slammer–Just Send Her To The Madhouse: Human Rights Breaches In Irish Family Law
    Posted on April 29, 2013 by JMcQueen   
     “They determined that women had intelligence which was less evolved than that of men, and in particular, poor women.”—An Irish trainee judge discussing the lens through which modern Irish family judges are groomed to view mothers"

  •  I have something to say about alienation, (0+ / 0-)

    as my granddaughter and our side of the family have been (and probably will again) be victims of it.  Alienation, like rape, is very real.  Alienation has been repeatedly ridiculed as, like rape, it can be a false accusation or brainwashing of its tiniest victims.  That, however, does not discount a very thorough investigation when the accusation is leveled.

    I find it disturbing that getting to the truth is treated as complicated to the point of impossibility.  That is absurd.  At the very least, supervised visitation as a last resort would be a remedy.  For the 2 yrs and 3mos that our family was forbidden by our daughter to visit our granddaughter i would have been overjoyed with supervised visitation.  Living without the two of them in our lives was beyond hell.  The parents are addicts, as is the grandfather they insisted on living with.  Every accusation reported to DCF was true and could be verified.  NOTHING is done to protect the victims.  NOTHING. to this day, my granddaughter is at the mercy of her mothers whims.  At any day she can isolate her from us she will have no protection.

    The court system is a huge failure.  I have doubts that it can be reversed.

    Save a child's life. Please sign and share. Save a child's life. Please sign and share.

    by kmfmstar on Sat Jul 05, 2014 at 07:31:04 AM PDT

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