Human traffickers force children into sexual exploitation through the abuse of power and threats, according to a United Nations protocol adopted in 2000.
“A family court judge who knowingly takes a child from a safe mother and gives the child to an identified sex abuser meets this definition,” said Valentine, founder of the California Protective Parents Association. “The judge transfers a child by means of abuse of power and gives that child into the control of another to be exploited.
“Family court functions as a well-oiled machine for accused sex abusers.”
This year the Oklahoma state legislature passed a law that prevents the state’s courts from awarding custody to registered sex offenders. But it did not help Sarah, the six-year-old whose father won custody after being released from jail for allegedly assaulting another girl of the same age.
For the past 10 years, conference organizer Tony Nassif has run an annual gathering to address the problem of human trafficking. His Preventing Abuse conference this June was the first time he had asked someone to speak about family courts. “It’s new for us to address this,” Nassif said in a phone interview. “We had heard enough about the family court to ask Connie to come speak. Our definition of trafficking is anything that sexually exploits women and children by force, fraud or coercion, anything that jeopardizes protection.”
Sexual abuse of children in the foster care system is another new topic Nassif said he plans to begin addressing at the conference.
In her speech, Valentine told the audience that while most of the nearly 900,000 divorces each year in the U.S. end with amicable custody decisions, a small percentage become high-conflict cases — and many of those involve abuse. One non-profit estimates that each year more than 58,000 children are forced to have unsupervised contact with a physically or sexually abusive parent.
“That means that over the past 20 years, the courts have ordered the abuse of more than one million children,” said Linda Marie Sacks, the co-chair of the Child Custody and Family Law Committee for the National Organization for Women’s Florida chapter.
Sacks also spoke about the family court crisis at the June conference. “People came up afterwards with tears in their eyes,” she said. “They were shocked that children in America were not being protected by the official avenues.”
Kathleen Russell, founder of the Center for Judicial Excellence, didn’t mince words on her non-profit’s Facebook page. “U.S. family courts flat out refuse to protect our kids because they refuse to address the magnitude of child abuse in this country,” Russell wrote. “Judges routinely punish safe, loving parents by placing their kids with abusive ex-spouses, and the kids increasingly come home in body bags. We're witnessing the judicial trafficking of children, plain and simple.”
Despite research showing that the most common perpetrator of child sexual abuse is a male family member, family courts often operate under the dubious assumption that women and children often lie about sexual abuse during a divorce.
Russell has organized a demonstration on September 19 outside the California Judicial Council Headquarters in San Francisco to protest the lack of oversight of the judicial branch. Victims of family court decisions are asked to bring photos or stories that tell their ordeal in the courts to put up on a “Wall of Shame.” Open mic testimony will take place at 2 p.m.
During the June trafficking conference, Valentine told the story of a young boy who was one of the first she had worked to save from court-ordered abuse more than 20 years ago. Medical exams showed severe damage caused by sexual abuse. “There were 62 reports of child sexual abuse by mandated reporters,” Valentine said in her speech. “There were nine thorough investigations that substantiated the child sex abuse.
“Yet the family court judge was unstoppable.”
The boy is now 24, and he recently spoke with Valentine about being forced to live with an abusive parent. “He is doing well in some ways, but shows the aftereffects of the terrible injustices and injuries,” Valentine told me this week in a phone interview. “But he has started talking at some of our gatherings to tell his story.”
This is the 14th 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 moewe.com or use this link.
Editing Note: This diary has been updated. A quote by Tony Nassif was expanded that clarifies the Preventing Abuse conference’s definition of human trafficking.
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