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Human Rights, Inhumanly Denied

A Battered Mother's Story

The family court system, with its phalanx of abuser-identified court personnel, is the ultimate abuser in the life of already abused mothers and children.

By Sonata

Please allow me to share with you an email from the man who battered and abused myself and my son. The email is regarding an extended, unsupervised visitation he will soon be having with our child. It epitomizes the absurd and unjust situation in which a battered mother finds herself.

The batterer has a long-term restraining order against him.

He asked, "I appreciate you letting me know where John will be staying when he is with you, and your phone number there, as well. We have a logistical problem when John goes from you to me, because I can't legally be in your presence. How do you propose to do the transfer?"

Indeed. A very good question. Because there is no safe way to, as he put it, "do the transfer". (And how ugly that such an expression could be used about a child, as if the child were an object, a possession, and not a human being.)

No wonder the abuser was puzzled. The same system that handed him a restraining order handed him perpetual access to the people he abused.

As a battered mother bullied by the court system into accepting unsupervised visitation that I know is dangerous to my son -- and to me -- I have posed the batterer's question myself. I have posed it to my lawyer, I have posed it to domestic violence experts, and frequently I pose it to myself in the middle of the night when I wake up, clammy with fear, wondering first of all how I can bear to entrust my child to this man, and secondly, how I can cope with the dangers I myself face, dealing with this person "regularly" for the next 13 years, until my son will be 18.

This batterer, this violent abuser, with the energetic support of a batterer-identified guardian ad litem, was able to achieve seven weeks of unsupervised visitation in our custody settlement -- most of it in his own state, which is thousands of miles from my own. Twice a year I must spend thousands of dollars to bring my child for two of the three visitations, and I must deal personally with the batterer.

Furthermore, I have shared legal custody with the batterer, which means having to frequently communicate with someone who chronically screamed at me and called me names like cunt (in front of our child) if I so much as asked a question he had not approved my asking. That this man -- whose son received a diagnosis, after we left the abuser, of post-traumatic stress disorder -- should have any right to custody or unsupervised visitation is bizarre enough, but the circumstances this visitation and custody create are nothing short of human rights violations.

Even here, though, it could have been even worse -- much worse. Over and over, I have heard stories of women who were stripped of all custody of their children, and denied even visitation with them, because they dared to challenge an abuser in court. An abused mother in the court system is the center of a target continually fired upon by attorneys, paid "experts," batterer-identified court personnel, and a patriarchal society bent on perpetuating the oppression of women.

This is particularly true of women whose husbands sexually abuse their children; raising an allegation of child sexual abuse is tantamount to fully surrendering custody of the child to the abuser. If that sounds incredible, you need only watch the harrowing documentary, "Small Justice," produced by Garland Waller, or the documentary produced by the Wellesley Centers for Women Battered Mothers Testimony Project, which shows women testifying about the brutal and legal theft of their children by batterers through the family court system.

When mothers, attempting to protect their children from sexual abuse, bring such allegations to court, almost inevitably the custody of their children is wrestled away from them to abusers through bogus counter-accusations by the abuser that the mother is "alienating" the child from the father, through a so-called "parental alienation syndrome," or "PAS," a situation that can only be "cured" by stripping the mother of all parenting rights. This so-called "PAS" was a syndrome invented by a self-published psychologist who also advocated parent-child sexual relations, and whose "work" was gleefully brought into the family court system by batterers and their attorneys. Incredible? Unfortunately, it was entirely credible to the patriarchal, oppressive family court system of this country.

The court system has a sickening history of fully endorsing such outrages against women. Even in cases where sexual abuse is not raised as an issue, batterers (and let there be no mistake, the overwhelming majority of batterers are men) are entirely likely to achieve sole or at least shared custody of children.

There is no such thing as a "good" battering parent. Batterers batter. Removing the woman from the batterer's home does mean the batterer becomes a good parent, as many people, incredibly, believe. Instead, he turns his abuse more fully on the child.

The family court system is nothing short of a ruthless war on women and children. The so-called "Father's Rights" groups are the militia that have fueled this war to reach unprecedented degrees of viciousness and cruelty. Recently I spoke with a retired probation officer, who had studied the endless streams of batterers who came before him. The retired officer concluded that "Father's Rights" groups were nothing more than "Batterer's Rights Groups."

Those who purport to care about the safety and rights of battered mothers and children, must make the family court system their very first priority -- both in terms of preparing women effectively for the grueling abuses of the courtroom, and by lobbying for substantive changes in the court system.

As I write, children are suffering in the custody of abusers, and women across the country are living the nightmare of losing their children to their abusers. Meanwhile, in two weeks, I will be facing my own personal batterer, thousands of miles from home, and handing over my beloved child to him, unprotected, for a month. It is crucial that we transform our legal system into a justice system, and we can begin, right here, right now, by educating ourselves, and by making reform of the family court system an issue which our congressmen and women must make a priority. Right here, right now, and without exception -- because the alternative, for millions of women and children, is a nightmare beyond bearing.

If you are ready to learn more, please get a copy of the powerful "Small Justice' video, available at www.intermedia-inc.com, or of the Wellesley Centers for Women stunning human rights reports and video documentary, which can be ordered through their website, wcwonline.org. Read Lundy Bancroft and Jay Silverman's "The Batterer as Parent", as well as Lundy Bancroft's "When Dad Hurts Mom". Read as widely and as well as you possibly can, then act.

Woman by woman, we can, and must, transform this brutal and cruel system.

mmo : June 2005

The writer, who asked that her real name not be used, is a freelance reporter who has lived and published in areas as diverse as the New England and the Pacific Northwest. She comments: "No one ever taught me at the schools where I received degrees (in religion and writing, respectively), that our society is still so devoutly patriarchal that women's rights remain largely theoretical -- as a woman discovers the instant she enters the legal system and attempts to protect her children from batterers and sexual abusers."
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy positions of the MMO or its staff.
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