Friday, December 30, 2011

THE WENDI G. CASE: EVERYBODY SCRAMBLES TO COVER UP

The first and most important news: The children are scheduled to testify at a hearing on January 10th, but the father's attorney has filed papers requesting that the court prevent them from taking the stand. I have read this motion carefully. Bear in mind that the father has had the children in his custody since the middle of August, during which they have been permitted only supervised phone contact with their mother and one in-person visit of several hours, also supervised, over a span of three days in December. In other words the mother has had no chance to influence her children's testimony for nearly half a year, during which the father has had them 24/7 and has had ample opportunity to pressure them regarding their testimony. So why would he be the one trying to keep them off the stand?

The father is claiming in his filing that testifying would be too stressful for the children. I can't see how the stress of testifying could possibly be greater than the stress of not having the opportunity to tell the court the truth. If the child abuse allegations are true, the children would need to testify so that they can get to safety, and if they are untrue, the children would need to testify so that they can stop living in a swirl of controversy, tension, and suspicion. The only possible reason for keeping the children off the stand would be if the abuse allegations were frivolous, which they certainly are not; a specialized team of professionals at the Child Advocacy Center in Holland, Michigan did not find any reasons to disbelieve the children's statements following their interviews last summer. It is clearly urgent to establish what actually happened, and at this point there is no better way to do this than through the children's appearance on January 10th.

There are other people involved in this case who are creating the impression that they are scrambling to keep the facts buried. The police from the Crimes Against Children Unit of El Paso County, Colorado have filed motions, through their attorney and through the Colorado Springs City Attorney, to be allowed not to release their records and not to have their detectives deposed about their role in the investigation, claiming that their interest is to protect the children's privacy. In my 25 years of working in domestic violence I have never before heard of police attempting to shield their files and their personnel from a child sexual abuse court proceeding (or from any other type of court proceeding). The claim of protecting the children's privacy is frivolous; the judge can choose to seal records after they are reviewed by the lawyers and by the court if the children need that protection; in fact, the Colorado judge has reportedly already sealed one of the completed depositions on the case.

It seems much more likely, then, that what the police are out to protect is their own irresponsible or biased actions. This matter will be heard in court in Colorado on January 5th.

The children's current therapist in Colorado, who became their therapist at the father's suggestion, also filed a motion through her attorney to stop her deposition. However, the Colorado judge already denied her motion and ordered that deposition to go forward (but sealed it).

If the daughter's statements were misunderstood or were rehearsed, it would seem that the father and the professionals involved would all be eager to have that information come out, in order to prove his innocence. To be mistakenly accused of sexual abuse would be a horrible experience. So my concerns for these children's safety is increased when the father and these surrounding professionals are instead seeming eager to put a lid on information.

The Michigan judge who has been handling the family law proceedings, Judge Jon Hulsing, has important opportunities in the weeks ahead to do right by Wendi's children. He already made one important positive step, which was that he denied motions by the father to quash mother's subpoenas for depositions. (The professionals involved then filed their own motions to quash in Colorado, supported by the father, which I wrote about above).

Of concern, though, is that the Judge stated at the last hearing that he will not allow the transcript of the children's forensic interview last summer by the Child Advocacy Center to be entered as evidence, although no Michigan statute prevents the transcript from being entered. Judge Hulsing cited an Appeals Court case as his reason for blocking the transcript. I have read the case that appears to be the one he is referring to, and there is nothing in that ruling that would keep him from allowing the transcript in. That ruling does seem to give him permission (not obligation) to keep the transcript out if he chooses to, and if the children's version of events is adequately covered by other evidence that has been admitted, which so far it is clearly not. In other words, if Judge Hulsing were to both bar the transcript and bar the children from testifying, he would appear to be violating the very case law that he is citing to justify keeping the transcript out.

It is my hope that he will deny the motion to stop the children's testimony, and then revisit his mistaken decision to keep the transcripts of those earlier interviews out. (Those transcripts are important so that the children's statements at that time, when they were in their mother's care, can be compared to statements they make at trial after a long period in their father's care.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

HEALING AT SOLSTICE TIME

Today is the shortest day of the year. I want to wish everyone a Happy Solstice, and share a few reflections about this time of the year.

First of all, the December holidays are a notoriously difficult time for people who are lonely or who are in painful life circumstances. Because of my work, I especially think at this time of year about women who are involved with men who are tearing them down; and I think about the fact that those men may be dragging children into the pattern of selfish and cruel behavior as well. I also think of those mothers who have been pulled away from their children by an abusive man and by the courts. So if you are a woman living in this kind of atmosphere, please know that you are in my thoughts and I'm wishing all the best for you and your children.

Next, I want to draw our attention to the power of Solstice as a healing time of the year. The period when the days are short and the nights are long has traditionally been viewed as a time for reflection, rest, and renewal. The spirit turns inward and enters a dormant state, making space for deep changes and new growth to take place. The mind calms but does not stop working; in fact, moving below the surface, as in a dream, it may find solutions to problems that our more active, conscious, deliberate kind of thinking was not able to solve. Yes, energy slows somewhat at this time of year, but more importantly it changes forms and works in different ways.

This time of the year more than any other we speak of peace, of kindness, of everyone deserving to be well. During these weeks, a woman whose partner mistreats her may think to herself, “Do I really deserve to be talked to in these horrible ways? Is it really right for someone to be so mean to me? Don’t I deserve kindness as much as anyone?”

One result of this inner shifting and reevaluating around Solstice is that a lot of women take significant relationship steps during the months of January. As the New Year comes in, and the darkness begins to ease, people feel ready to start on new initiatives, to take greater risks, and to reach for the life that they know they deserve.

So even for people who feel despair at this time of year, the potential for a hopeful turn of events is great. Our lives revolve around the sun, literally and figuratively.

Last, I will say a few words about history. The solstices (both winter and summer) used to be among the most revered times of the year spiritually. Women played a huge role in most cultures in shaping and carrying out the spiritual observances. But a few thousand years ago, as spiritual practices came to be more and more controlled by male-dominated religious institutions, women’s spiritual leadership and spiritual vision were pushed more and more to the side. Now in much of the world the solstices are barely commemorated; and in some communities, it is considered ungodly even to celebrate the solstices. Pressuring people to remove nature-based observances from their spiritual practices was one of the ways in which women’s power and insights were systematically undermined.

I see a close link between the individual woman who is trying to get her power back from an oppressive partner and the efforts of women in general to regain their full say in creating, defining, and carrying out our spiritual visions, beliefs, and ceremonies. Personal and spiritual empowerment are interwoven. So listen carefully at this time of year to what your inner voices are telling you on many levels, including about the spiritual truths that you hold most dear. To my male readers, I want to say that these next few weeks are an especially important time of the year for us to be respecting women’s thinking and supporting their independent leadership.

I wish you all a Solstice of light, freedom, power, and kindness. The year ahead holds great promise.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Practicing Patience With Children

When an angry and controlling man lives in the house, his demeanor can set the tone for everybody. His outlook at home is focused on judgment, criticism, and demands. The message he sends constantly is, "You should be doing better! You aren't okay the way you are -- something is wrong with you! You need to be hammered into a better shape!" The mother has to focus huge energy on how to keep his hammer from falling on her -- meaning how to stay out of the way of his put-downs and snarling and aggression.

A woman living in this atmosphere is pushed, often without even realizing it, toward adopting an outlook on her children that is similar to the one the destructive man takes toward her. She can start to view her kids as bundles of problems and faults, as broken items that need to be fixed. She may spend the day yelling and criticizing. Part of why she may fall into this stance is that she sees how her partner reacts -- with ugliness -- every time the children inconvenience him or don't meet his image of perfect kids; so she starts to work doubly hard to mold her children into people that will please him.

If you see yourself in this picture, let me say that I get it that you are trying to do the right thing; you want to protect yourself and your children from harm. But trying to crunch the children down to keep them from upsetting their father can lead in some directions you don't intend, where the tyrannical man starts to creep inside you and make you become like him.

So it's important to balance your short-term urgency with an awareness of your long-term goals. Down the road, what is going to help the most to keep your kids safe from their father's ugly behaviors and attitudes?

1) Believing in their self-worth
2) Experiencing patience and forgiveness
3) Witnessing fairness in action
4) Feeling what it's like to have their voices heard and their opinions taken seriously
5) Learning to defend themselves and to stand up for themselves

Their father is not going to help them develop in these ways, unfortunately; in fact, he keeps modeling the exact opposite by tearing you down, and sometimes tearing them down too. So they are hungry for kindness, patience, and encouragement from you.

You can't be the perfect parent, especially when your partner is bringing so much toxicity into the environment. I don't want you berating yourself about the times when you lose your temper and yell at your kids, or about the days when you are too critical of them. But keep striving. Your kids are looking to you to be everything the opposite of what their father is: patient, supportive, forgiving, and affectionate (without being invasive). And they need you to set firm limits but without harshness.

Today, work to give them this quality of love to the fullest extent you can. You are hugely important to them, whether they allow you to see that or not.

"My children and I are on the same team. Whether today is a hard day or an easy one, I'm going to keep reminding myself how much my love and kindness mean to them."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Two Steps Forward and Two Steps Back on Wendi G.'s Case

For those of you who have been following the Wendi G. case, I’ll start with the good news: Wendi and her new husband will be seeing her children in a few days. (I have had the pleasure of meeting Wendi’s new husband and speaking with him, by the way; he is a lovely, caring man.) By court order, they are to have four hours with the children on Friday, seven hours Saturday, and six hours Sunday, with a supervisor selected by the children’s father. There is no indication in Judge Hulsing’s order that he or his staff contacted the father’s proposed supervisors to evaluate their appropriateness, and he gives no explanation for rejecting the mother’s proposed supervisors.

If you are not familiar with the case, the children are 10 and 12 years old and have spent the great majority of their lives in the primary care of their mother. They have not been permitted to see her since August 12th, despite how easy it would have been for the court to order and arrange supervised contact during that time. Wendi has never been accused of harming her children in any way; she is being denied visitation with them because she fled with them for three weeks over the summer after her daughter made disclosures to her mother that she was being sexually abused by her father. (I say this based not only on what Wendi has recounted to me, but also on a detailed forensic report I have read where the children were questioned by skilled forensic interviewers at a Child Advocacy Center ; the contents of that report make Wendi’s report of what her daughter said to her entirely credible). No one has presented any evidence that the children were harmed or frightened during their time of living in hiding with their mother, and they appear to have returned in good spirits from that time.

Given this context, in cannot be in the children’s psychological interests to be permitted so little (almost nonexistent) time with their mother.

Father and His Attorney Told an Easily Verifiable Lie to Restrict Mother-Child Contact

Here comes a critical point for today’s blog. Wendi was requesting four days with the children, Dec. 16-19, when she is able to travel to Colorado. In a document (which I have a copy of) prepared and signed by attorney Susan Vroegop of the firm Cunningham Dalman, P.C., Ms. Vroegop states, “The children will be in school on Friday the 16th, they will attend church on Sunday morning the 18th, and the 19th is another school day for them. Therefore, Eric proposes the parenting time referenced above.” The parenting schedule they requested, which the judge granted in its entirety, does not allow Wendi to see the children until 5:30 on Friday the 16th and does not permit her to see them at all on the 19th, based on these false claims about the school schedule.

As is easily verifiable on the school district’s website (see www.d49.org, click on “Parents and Students” and then click on “Academic Calendar 2011-2012”), the children have only a half day on the 16th and do not have school at all on the 19th. Visitation could easily have started earlier than 5:30 on the 16th and should have included a full day on the 19th.

Judge Jon Hulsing did not bother to check the veracity of Attorney Vroegop’s claims about the children’s school schedule, and simply gave father the requested schedule.

Eric C. may claim that this was an accident, and that he simply misremembered the school schedule. I would not find such a claim credible, but even if it were true, it would show a reckless disregard for the children’s need for time with their mother and show that he doesn’t consider it important – and that Attorney Vroegop does not consider it important—to make sure that the most crucially relevant assertion they made in their document for court was accurate. And it indicates an underlying goal to keep the children away from their mother.

The Potential for Intimidation of the Children Regarding Their Upcoming Testimony

The children, who are living in Colorado with their father, are scheduled to testify in court in Michigan on January 10th and/or January 12th. They will be there to testify to whether the daughter made the reports about child sexual abuse that the forensic team says she made, and that Wendi says she made. (The son was reportedly a witness to some of these disclosures.) It is striking that, other than this brief weekend visit in December -- the first time the children have seen their mother in four months -- the court does not intend to permit any more visitation with the children and their mother before the hearing. Father’s court papers explicitly stated that she should not see them again until after the hearing.

Thus the court is doing nothing to protect the children from intimidation by the alleged perpetrator prior to the hearing – they are living with him – but seems very concerned about possible intimidation by their mother despite the absence of any evidence that they have ever been harmed by her or afraid of her. The forensic team did not find any evidence that the children’s statements about the sexual abuse were rehearsed or coerced. How can the family court leave the children with so little face-to-face contact with their mother, and none whatever for three weeks prior to their testimony, while leaving the alleged perpetrator unlimited access day and night?

If the court were serious about finding out the truth, it would make sure that these children have more balanced contact between their two parents during the period prior to testifying, and that an unbiased professional, not chosen by either parent, be in place to meet with the children regularly in the weeks leading up to their testimony to make sure that no one is pressuring them about their statements.

As always, far more needs to be said about this case, so I will write more soon. I am also considering posting the entire forensic report (with the names changed), which I think would lead readers to be even more deeply concerned about Judge Hulsing’s rulings on this case. I know readers may also be eager for an update on Ann M.’s case as well, so I will also get a post up about her as soon as I can.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Call the Michigan Bar Association and complain that:

1) Attorney Susan Vroegop of Cunningham Dalman in Holland, MI, wrote and signed a letter that included falsehoods about the school schedule in Falcon School District 49 in Colorado in order to keep a woman from seeing her children on this coming December 19th.

2) Attorney Vroegop’s falsehoods were believed by Judge Hulsing and thus led to the mother being denied contact on December 19th.

The telephone number for the Michigan Bar is (517) 346-6300, or (800) 968-1442. Feel free to mention this blog (LundyBancroft.blogspot.com) in your call.

Friday, November 11, 2011

JUDGE HULSING JAILS MOTHER BECAUSE HER KIDS REFUSE TO SEE THEIR FATHER

And in case you're wondering: No, it isn't Wendy G. (see my previous posts if you aren't familiar with the Wendy G. case). But there are striking similarities between the case I'm writing about today and Wendi's, including the crucial decision by the judge to refuse to hear evidence.

The mother is Ann M. She has six children, but four of them are adults and thus are no longer subject to court orders. But the two who are still minors, ages 15 and 17, refuse to go on visits with their father. I had the opportunity to speak with Ann at length today and hear her account of what has taken place (which this post will barely scratch the surface of).

The family reports that the father has a long history of serious assaults against the kids. They say that, for example, he pushed one of his sons down a flight of stairs and on another occasion grabbed his daughter by the throat as if he was going to strangle her. He threatened to shoot himself in front of the kids, and on repeated occasions threatened to kill himself by various means. One of his children was afraid enough of him that he would sleep with a knife under his pillow, and testified to that in court in front of Judge Hulsing at a hearing three weeks ago. None of the four children who are now adults wants to see him.

These reports from the family represent serious violence and the potential for lethality. However, parallel to what he did in Wendi G.'s case, Judge Hulsing simply refused to consider the reports. Then, at the most recent hearing, the minor children (17 year-old boy and 15 year-old girl) appeared at court and were prepared to speak to the judge, but he refused to hear from them, despite their age. And he refused to allow the mother to speak about anything other than whether the visits had taken place.

In the brief time that she was permitted to speak,, Ann told the judge that her children had gone on the previous visit but had been frightened by his driving, so when he came to pick them up the next time, the children refused to drive with him and said they wanted to take a separate car (with the 17-year-old driving) to his house, following him. The father was angry and drove away, and then he failed to show up for the next three scheduled visits. Ann went on to tell Judge Hulsing that the children were present at the court and wanted to tell him in their own words what had happened.

But Judge Hulsing refused to hear from the children, and apparently was not interested in whether the father had actually been the one to choose not to have the visits. He would not allow Ann to say anything more, and he ordered her directly to ten days in jail because her children had not gone on the visits. (And he apparently was unmoved by the fact that he had heard testimony before from one of the older children about how afraid he was of his father.)

Adding to the inappropriate behavior on Judge Hulsing's part is that Ann M. was unrepresented at the hearing, but had a lawyer present who was ready to represent her as soon as he could get prepared on the background of the case. She requested a two-day continuance from the judge so that she could be represented at the hearing, and Judge Hulsing refused, ordering her into jail immediately.

What possible pretext could there be a for a judge to jail an unrepresented mother when she would be able to be represented in a very short time?

Rachel, one of Ann's adult children whom I was able to speak with at length, visited her mother in jail and wrote about her experience on Facebook: "As most of you know, mom is in jail right now for not forcing her teenage kids to their father and get into his car for parenting time... She has been crying all day. She is cold (and needs me to bring her socks when i come visit her tomorrow.) For her ONE visit per week. She said it is a very sad and dark place there, but she had gotten to share Jesus with a lot of women... She is innocent and Judge Hulsing a terrible judge. He would not even listen to ****and ****. Please pray for my mom right now!" [I edited out the children's names.]

I spoke with Rachel yesterday and she told me that when her mother (who is in her mid-fifties) was released from jail two days ago she had lost weight and was badly shaken by the experience. She was kept in terrible conditions in the prison and was freezing cold when attempting to sleep.

In our conversation, Rachel confirmed the long history of violence and terrifying behaviors by her father toward her and her siblings.

There is also important evidence, including written documentation, indicating that Judge Hulsing has engaged in ex parte (private) communications about this case with people who are involved in it. If true, this would indicate another type of misconduct on Judge Hulsing's part, and a severe one. (I will write further about this issue soon.)

It would appear that there is an urgent need to focus on Judge Hulsing's conduct. Given what we know about the Wendy G. case, we now have two recent examples where Hulsing is refusing to follow proper procedure or consider the evidence, and is punishing mothers and children severely for their efforts to protect themselves and each other from what they describe as long and serious histories of abuse. With these examples in hand, we can reasonably worry that Judge Hulsing may have violated the rights of other parties as well; misconduct this extreme is unlikely to be isolated to these two cases.

I am therefore putting out a call for any parents who have received inappropriate treatment, failure to follow procedure, or destructive rulings from Judge Hulsing to please contact me at lundy.bancroftblog@gmail.com. I would like to collect as many of these stories as we can track down, to help us establish whether there is a pattern of unjust behavior on Judge Hulsing's part.

Friday, November 4, 2011

I'M STILL WAITING FOR EVIDENCE FROM THE OTHER SIDE

The handful of emails and phone calls hostile to Wendi G. that I've received have been revealing ones, and I thought you would like to hear about them.

The first was an email about two months ago, which included a series of allegations about Wendi's character and behavior (though nothing about her as a parent), and that offered no evidence about the concerns about the children except to say that the father "wouldn't even think of doing such a horrible thing."

But the end of the email was the most revealing: "I don't expect to hear back from you since your blogs testify to the fact that you're just as looney as Wendi herself. Perhaps once she's done with [man's name] ... or if he just opens his own eyes... you can make her Wendi Bancroft... and you can start your own religion/cult together. Wouldn't that be nice. (hear the sarcasm?)"

[The ellipses (series of three dots) were in the email. I have quoted these sentences verbatim, except for cutting the writer's name at the end.]

Although the name signed was a woman's, the writing seems more likely to be a man's. But in any event, the email seems to illustrate the principle that if you don't have significant arguments or evidence to offer, you focus on personal attacks and insults instead.

The second was a phone call from a woman named Tricia who stated that she was a school psychologist in Holland, Michigan. She stated that Wendi is a "very sick, very broken person" and an "extreme narcissist," though she did not explain how she knew these things. She offered to send me documents that she said would prove Wendi's dishonesty. I called Tricia, got her voice mail, and encouraged her to send the documents to me and provided my mailing address. I called again two or three weeks later and told her that I still had not received the documents, and that I was hoping she would send them. Another months has passed and there is still no sign of any documents. (Normally I wouldn't print the person's name, but I'm including it here because of the fact that she said she was a school psychologist, which, if true, would raise ethical questions about the appropriateness of the statements she left on my voice mail.)

Last, about a week ago I received the following comment, quoted in its entirety: "Do you allow any comments that disagree with the you. Where is your courage to allow both sides to be heard? It is stunning what you apparently elect to ignore the facts which are so overwhelmingly in favor of the father. Any legitimate attempt to report this story objectively is lost. You are profoundly misguided, what a shame."

Again, it's noticeable that with "all the facts" being out there, the writer doesn't offer any.

The overall effect these communications have on me is to strengthen my impression of Wendi's credibility and my concern for her children. No critical writer so far has offered anything they observed directly, any important reports they heard from the children, or any documents they have read, nor has any of them communicated in an appropriate way that is not focused on personal attacks. If this is all the other side has to offer, shouldn't we all be screaming for these kids to be moved to safety?

By the way, in answer to the question about allowing critical comments: I will allow comments that are against Wendi if they have something constructive to say or if they actually offer evidence, including the writer's own observations of events -- nothing like that has come in yet. I don't permit personal attacks in my blog. I would not, for example, permit any writings that strive to personally insult or demean even the alleged perpetrator in this case, rather than focusing on his reported behavior. I deleted a comment that ridiculed a judge, though I have freely included comments that named and criticized judicial actions in an appropriate way. The children need us to restrict ourselves to responsible communication, even when -- or perhaps especially when -- we have strong disagreements about their needs and their safety.

Note also that I myself have not written insults or accusations about the alleged perpetrator in any of my posts. My focus has been on the irresponsible, biased, and at times unethical behavior of government officials in Michigan and Colorado. The forensic investigation included tremendous detail about the children's statements, and found no indication that those statements were false, pressured, or rehearsed. Since there's no evidence that their mother put them up to saying what they said, it is the responsibility of officials to keep the children safe until it can be established why they made the statements they did. Moreover, the research on child sexual abuse and the research on domestic violence indicate that the most likely reason for the children's statements is that they are telling the truth.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

KIDNAPPING CHARGES DROPPED AGAINST WENDI G.

The Ottawa County (MI) Prosecutor's Office has dropped all charges against Wendi G., who went into hiding with her children for 18 days this past August. The news is both good and bad, as we will see.

First, the good news: Wendi won't have to endure the stress of a criminal trial, with a risk that if she were found guilty she could have serious legal consequences, including jail time, and a criminal record. She won't have to worry about jail cutting her off from contact with her children -- although this is a non-issue at the moment because the family court is not permitting her any contact with her children, as I will discuss in a post soon.

The bad news is that the criminal trial was going to be an opportunity for Wendi to present the facts about her case, which family courts in both Colorado and Michigan have refused to let her do, in a stark violation of principles of justice and due process. Wendi's defense at her criminal trial was going to be that there had been no choice for her but to hide out with her children, because of:

1) the seriousness of her daughter's disclosures;

2) the fact that her son was backing up what her daughter was saying;

3) the family court's refusal to allow Wendi to keep her children safe while a proper investigation was carried out to get at the truth of what had occurred;

4) the fact that her children's statements to forensic investigators at a Child Advocacy Center in Michigan had fully corroborated what Wendi said about her children's disclosures, and those investigators had not found evidence that the children's statements were rehearsed or coerced.

Now Wendi can't present that defense because there's no trial. Wendi's supporters have reason to suspect that the prosecutor's office dropped the charges for exactly this reason -- to keep the forensic investigation from being publicized by the media, as would no doubt have occurred. A careful examination of that report -- which I have done -- casts huge doubt on the ethics of the prosecutors and family law judges in both states who are unwilling to look carefully at this case and take appropriate action. The reason for this reticence is not clear, but one possibility is the alleged perpetrator's status as a minister of the Reform Church of America.

The prosecutor's office gave as its reason for dropping the charges that they didn't want to put the children in the position of testifying. But prosecution knew from the date the charges were filed that the children would be their main witnesses; they didn't suddenly discover this fact. Moreover, the children in this case appeared eager, not reluctant, to have their stories heard. It seems much more likely that the charges were dropped either:

1) because the prosecutor's office was put under political pressure from officials connected to the alleged perpetrator (to keep Wendi from presenting her case), or

2) because the prosecutor's office realized that a jury was not likely to look favorably on their decision to charge Wendi, once they got a chance to hear the evidence.

Wendi G.'s case is, I am sorry to say, not at all unusual. In fact, the reason I have chosen to devote so much space to the case in this blog is that it captures poignantly what is going on in dozens of other cases that I am familiar with. I would like to see Wendi's case become a rallying point to demand family court reform across the continent -- not because it is a special case, but precisely because it is so tragically ordinary.


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Monday, October 3, 2011

JUDGE JON HULSING WON'T LOOK AT SEXUAL ABUSE EVIDENCE EITHER

Most Americans receive their impressions of what goes on in court from courtroom dramas in the movies or on TV, or from serving on juries – in other words, law as it is practiced in criminal proceedings or in lawsuits. In such cases, there are extensive rules of procedure and evidence that judges are required to follow. Not only that, but the judge is not the one making the decision; the jury is.

Few people realize that family law cases don’t look anything like this. There are almost no rules of procedure or evidence that the judge has to follow, and the judge is the lone decision-maker. In this context the potential is overwhelming for unfairness in the procedure and bias in the ruling. Family law judges are free to do almost anything they choose (short of sleeping with one of the parties, which did finally get a judge in Massachusetts in trouble in a case that I followed). They can choose to listen to a party or to refuse to let him or her speak. They can examine certain evidence or refuse to hear it. They can allow certain witnesses to testify and refuse to hear from others, or refuse to let the parties have a hearing to put on witnesses at all. Most people would be stunned to observe what happens in family law; it’s kangaroo court.

Which brings us to the latest news in the Wendi G. case. For the second time a judge has declared that he won’t look at the evidence of child sexual abuse and yet is going to punish Wendi as if she’s making her children’s disclosures up. This time it’s Judge Jon Hulsing of Ottawa County (MI) Circuit Court. (Last time it was Judge Thomas Kane in Colorado; you can read my blog entry from August 25th.)

Here’s what happened: On this past Tuesday, September 27, Wendi had to go to court because her ex-husband, Mr. C., filed a motion to terminate all contact between Wendi and her children, meaning no phone calls and no visits even with supervision, and to suspend all parental rights for Wendi – meaning she couldn’t even speak with school personnel. The hearing began with testimony from Mr. C. which took up the morning session. After lunch Judge Hulsing asked for a meeting with the attorneys in his chambers. He then returned to open court and presented his ruling. Yes, you read it correctly; the judge ruled before the mother’s case was ever presented, having heard only from the father.

During the meeting that had happened in the judge’s chambers, Wendi’s attorney, a national voice for abused children named Alan Rosenfeld, requested an evidentiary hearing where Wendi would be able to present witnesses and other evidence. Such a hearing is crucial to fairness and safety; Mr. C. is claiming that Wendi should be cut off the children because she had no reason to take the children into hiding, and Wendi can’t defend herself against this charge if she can’t present the evidence of sexual abuse. But Judge Hulsing stated that he would not grant an evidentiary hearing until after Wendi’s criminal trial on kidnapping charges, which is still more than a month away.

Judge Hulsing further stated that even at that time he will not allow the videotape of the forensic interviews with Wendi’s children to be introduced into evidence. The highly-trained forensic interviewer team, which included a police detective and three human service professionals, did not find any evidence of the children’s statements having been pressured or coached and elicited detailed and credible descriptions of multiple incidents of sexual touching by the father of the daughter, some of which the boy reported having witnessed. (I have read the full report of the forensic interview team.)

Wouldn’t the judge be eager to see this evidence, so that he could decide for himself whether there was adequate reason to cut a mother off from her children? And wouldn’t he want to know whether there’s reason to be concerned for the children’s safety, since they are currently living with their father? Objective observers are forced to conclude that the judge has already decided that no significant evidence exists -- without looking at it. But what if Wendi and her daughter are telling the truth? Then the children would be currently at risk, and they would be suffering serious punishment – being isolated completely from their loving mother – for the offense of disclosing what was happening to them.

Judge Hulsing then came out into the court room and ruled that Wendi cannot have any contact with her children for the next five weeks because he doesn’t want her to “sandpaper” the case. He did not explain why he is concerned that Wendi would influence the children’s statements but not concerned that Mr. C. might do so. And not only has no one presented any evidence yet that the children’s statements to the forensic interviewers were coached or pressured, the children expressed in those interviews being afraid of their father but not their mother; the risk of “sandpapering” would thus appear to be more serious in the paternal home. Ah yes, but the judge refuses to read the reports of those interviews, or watch the tapes.

Judge Hulsing stated that Wendi can put in a new request for an evidentiary hearing once her criminal trial is over, and at that point the judge will be willing to consider whether she may have “supervised phone contact” with her children. It would appear, thus, that he has already decided that no outcome could persuade him to resume the children’s normal relationship with their mother. Our society is educating children that if someone touches them sexually they should “tell someone,” but these children appear to have paid the highest price imaginable for having done so.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

1) Write to the Judicial Tenure Commission and protest Judge Hulsing’s refusal to allow Wendi G. to present her evidence. Refer to Wendi's case number which is 2009-063448-DC.
Judicial Tenure Commission
3034 West Grand Boulevard, Suite 8-450
Detroit, MI. 48202

Letters can be anonymous if you aren't comfortable giving your name.

2) File a formal complaint (anyone can do so, but you will have to give your name) with the Judicial Tenure Commission by going to the website at jtc.courts.mi.gov/. This process requires the extra step of filling out a form and taking it to be notarized, but there would potentially be a significant impact if large numbers of people filed formal complaints, so I’m hoping that you will. Again, use the case number shown above.

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

BREAKING ISOLATION

The man who abuses his partner tries to make her feel alone – and in many ways tries to make her actually be alone. He tends, for example, to work hard to damage the woman’s friendships and cause distance in her relationships with her relatives. He criticizes her if she gives too much attention to other people, saying that she should be focused entirely on him. He may even listen in on her phone calls and read her emails to keep tabs on her communications with the outside world.

Why does the abusive man want to cut you off from others? First of all, he knows it will increase his power. A victim who is isolated is more dependent, more afraid to stand up to the abuser, more vulnerable. If the abuser can keep you away from contact with other people he can make sure that his voice is the only voice that you hear, and that makes him become the Last Word, the Voice of Truth.

To his mind, isolating you helps ensure that you won’t get information that might help you. The more you have contact with the world, the more you might learn about your legal rights; or you might talk to someone who helps you realize the abuse is not your fault; or you might find out that he’s been lying to you about important things. If you are more in contact with other people, you will feel stronger. You will believe in yourself more, and you might take steps to get your rights back, or to get away from the abuser. He wants to make sure this doesn’t happen, so he tries to narrow your world.

The second reason why the abuser uses isolation tactics is that he wants you to be focused exclusively on doing things for him. And he feels that if you have your own life, then you’ll be putting more of your energy toward yourself, and therefore less toward him. This kind of “zero-sum” thinking is distorted; the reality is that the richer a life you are living, the more you have to give to your partner (and to your children). But the abuser doesn’t look at it that way. He wants to control your attentions, and make them all be for him.

His excuses for isolating you may be disguised as efforts to help you. He may say that you should spend less time with your family because they are too much in your business and are trying to control you. He may tell you that your friends are using you, that they are just after you for money or to get you to look after their children. He may say that people in your life are lying to you. Be on the lookout for ways that he is poisoning your connections while pretending that it’s for your own good.

In many cases a woman doesn’t realize that her partner is isolating her until the damage has gone quite a ways. However, it is never too late to reestablish your connection to the world.

Even if you aren’t with your abusive partner any more, his effects can live on; a woman sometimes finds that it takes a long time to recover from all the damage that the abuser did to her relationships – including damage to her belief that anyone would even want to be her friend. So the project of breaking isolation is an important one even if your relationship is over.

Look for ways to reach out to people. You may have to be secretive about it, you may have to be cunning, but don’t give up. If your abuser is monitoring your telephone, look for ways to send emails and then erase them after they’re sent. If he watches all of your electronics, see if you can get in conversations at the grocery store, or see if you can slip a handwritten note to someone who might be able to help you. If he lets you go to medical appointments, that might be your opportunity to tell someone what is happening at home, or to make a friend in the waiting room. Look for a chance to call a hotline and talk.

Reach out to people who have turned against you, and see if those relationships can be repaired. Try to help people understand how the abuse has affected you, and that you didn’t really want to drop out of contact; help them see how he caused rifts in your relationships. Make apologies where you owe them to people, even if that’s hard to do, and see if you can bring people back close to you. If he has created bad feeling between you and your children, see if you can approach them in a new way, saying things you haven’t said before, and get the door to open again.

Try not to let the abuser convince you that you aren’t a desirable friend. There are people out there in the world who will love you, who will appreciate who you are, who will take the time to get to know what is inside of you, below the surface. There are dozens of women and men whose lives could use somebody like you. Don’t believe him that nobody wants you.

I understand that you may feel that you can’t trust anyone, given how burned you feel by him and by other people who have sided with him. But if he can keep you from ever trusting people, then he wins again. Don’t let him do it. There are trustworthy people in the world, people of honesty and integrity, people who stick by their friends. In fact, there are boatloads of them. Keep your eyes open, yes; don’t trust recklessly. But do trust.

Every day, think of a step you could take that day, even if it has to be a small one, toward breaking your isolation. The world wants you in it.

(As I write this, I am also thinking about people who have been abused in other kinds of circumstances. You might have been abused by one of your parents, or by a boss, or by a same-sex partner you were involved with. Whoever it was, they almost certainly used isolation tactics on you and tried to divide you from potential allies. And they had no right to do that.)

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Friday, September 16, 2011

ARE WENDI G.'S CHILDREN PRISONERS? - PART 2

In Part 1 of this post, I described a letter I had received indicating that Wendi G.’s daughter, “Caleigh”, who is ten years old, is in great distress from having been cut off from all contact with her mother. The writer, who is a parent with a child at Caleigh’s school, told of hearing and seeing signs that Caleigh is feeling unsafe at home and feeling afraid to tell people what she is experiencing and feeling. Important concerns were raised by the reports that the parent was hearing from her daughter about Caleigh’s statements to her.

Around the same time, I received a letter that caused me worry for the well-being of Caleigh’s older brother, whom I will call “Monte.” This letter was written by another parent at Monte’s school, Skyview Middle School in Colorado Springs. I will call that mother "Natalie," and her daughter “Isabel”; Isabel is a friend of Monte’s. Natalie wrote me that Isabel has told her of the following conversations with Monte:

• Monte said that his father showed him and his sister court papers related to the father’s legal efforts to have Wendi’s parental rights terminated, and that his father told them they will never see their mother again “because she took them away from him and what she did was very wrong.”

• Monte told Isabel that he was not allowed to talk to her because her parents are bad, and they are saying back things about Monte’s father, and if his father found out that Monte was talking to Isabel or to Natalie, he would be in a lot of trouble.

• Monte told Isabel that his father informed him that he had people from the church watching the house of Isabel’s family while Wendy and the children were in hiding because he believed that Isabel’s family was harboring them.

Isabel also described Monte as “not the same person he was when he left for the summer to be with Wendi.” She said he won’t talk about “anything with anyone,” and that he said he won’t tell any adult about the abuse he and his sister have suffered in their father’s home “because he doesn’t believe it will really help.”

[All quotations are from Natalie’s letter, reporting what her daughter told her.]

What’s going on in cases like these? When people report these cries of distress by children, why aren’t child protective services and family court running in to perform sophisticated, unbiased investigations to find out whether the children are making these statements, and if so, why?

The sad truth is that the reasons are so many that I can only give a few. Beginning with the family law arena, we are dealing with a system where there are no juries; single judges make all the decisions, and as a result they have extraordinary power and no oversight. Few mothers haver the money to appeal judicial rulings – appeals are very expense – and appeals courts often don’t want to be bothered to look closely at abuse cases, which they tend to lump into the category of “custody disputes.” To make matters worse, family law attorneys, judges, and evaluators tend to all know each other and to work together on case after case, with the result that objectivity vanishes. In towns or cities where a network of influential and interconnected people have the real power, whether through the government or through the churches or through a combination of the two, it can be impossible for a mother to be taken seriously when she reveals that her children are describing abuse.

Child protective services are dramatically underfunded, and since workers are given little pay for highly stressful work, they don’t tend to stick around long. The result is that CPS line staff tend to be inexperienced and highly subject to pressure from their superiors. The whole business of child protection is, regrettably, governed by few concrete rules, so that workers and supervisors can make decisions largely based on their own preferences and prejudices.

We are, thus, dealing with two systems that need to be overhauled from top to bottom. In the mean time, the people who are suffering the most from the actions of these broken systems are people of color, poor people, and those mothers who need to protect their children from an abusive father.

In the Wendi G. case, we have reason to believe that the fact that the father is a pastor at a local church is one of the reasons why bias is governing the actions of officials, rather than proper careful concern for the well-being of the children.

While we struggle to bring systemic changes about, we need to publicize the ways in which cases are being mishandled and children are being left in captivity. Wendi G.’s case calls urgently for careful investigation by professionals who are not tied to either of the families or to their churches, and who will be free from influence and pressure. Based on what I’ve read about this case so far, there is very good reason to believe that these two children may be facing grave harm.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Email news station KOAA in Colorado Springs. Tell them that you are writing them about the "Wendi G." case, and that you read about it on a national blog. Then tell them why you are concerned about the case, and ask them to do a story on it right away.

To email: Go to the stations's website, at www.koaa.com/contact-us/, then look down the left side of the page, and under the "Contact Us" list click on "Assignment Desk", which will take you to a form for emailing them.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

ARE WENDI G.'S CHILDREN PRISONERS? - PART I

What happens when children are blocked from telling what is happening to them at home? What happens when they are forbidden to even describe what they are feeling? The latest developments in Wendi G.'s case raise these questions in poignant ways.

Wendi's children are currently living with their father in Colorado. Wendi reports that she has been permitted no contact with the children -- not even telephone conversations -- for over three weeks. Given that Wendi was the children's primary caregiver through most of their lives, we have to assume that a period that long of being completely cut off from her would be deeply distressing to them.

But it appear that we don't just have to assume. Friday I received two worrisome letters from parents who have children in school with Wendi G.'s children. The first is from a mother who has a daughter who knows Wendi's daughter. To protect people's privacy and safety, I need to assign fictitious names to the mother, "Virginia," her daughter, "Amanda," and Wendy's daughter, "Caleigh". Virginia's letter raised the following concerns:

* "A week ago I was called to come to the school during lunch time as my daughter Amanda was very upset. I arrived and Amanda told me that Caleigh's father had discovered a letter that Caleigh had from her mother, in which Wendi said to Caleigh that Amanda's mom was a safe person for Caleigh to turn towards and confide in. According to what Caleigh told Amanda, her father made threats to [make Caleigh tell] who Amanda was, and Caleigh told Amanda that she and I were in danger. The clear implication to Amanda was that Caleigh's father was going to hurt us. "

* Virginia reports that in this same conversation with her daughter, Amanda told her that a few weeks ago Caleigh had told her that she was being sexually abused by her father. Amanda had kept this secret but now told her mother.

* Virginia goes on to explain that she chose not to report to school personnel what Amanda had told her about Caleigh's disclosure, because she had raised concerns about boundary violations toward Caleigh several months ago, and the school had not taken action. Specifically, Virginia had heard rumors that Caleigh's father was going into Caleigh's room and hugging her while he was naked. "I immediately called the school thinking that they would be concerned as well... While the school nurse was very concerned, the administration was not... I am unsure if the school ever made a report - but I did call DHS child abuse hotline. Nothing every came of it."

* So instead of attempting to involve the school this time, Virginia decided to go directly to law enforcement. "This time, armed with what Caleigh said to Amanda, I called the police to file a report. Within a few hours of going to the police station a police officer who works under Sgt. Taylor called and interviewed me. He said he would be checking with Crimes Against Children and the Sexual Crimes departments and then interviewing Caleigh. Thus far I do not believe this has happened."

Virginia's letter mostly speaks for itself, but I do want to add a few comments. First of all, sexual abuse of children is typically preceded by a pattern of boundary violations that increase in intensity, as the perpetrator attempts to accustom the child to being abused. So in cases where there are reports of milder inappropriate behavior followed by more outright violations, law enforcement authorities and family court personnel have particular reason to take the allegations seriously and make sure that they are investigated carefully and objectively.

Second, the literature on child sexual abuse is full or references to the ways in which perpetrators enforce secrecy and make their victims afraid to talk to other people about the violations -- or even afraid to talk to other people about anything. (For an overview, see chapter 4 of my book, The Batterer as Parent. ) So any indications that the children are being told to stay away from speaking to certain individuals, or to anyone, would be serious warning signs given the other worrisome reports on this case. And such indications do exist, as I will be discussing in my next entry.

Last, I am deeply concerned about the way in which professionals seem to shy away from properly examining the potential risks to Wendi G.'s children. As I will be reviewing, there have been a number of opportunities to find out what level of risk these children are living with, and professionals have either moved extremely slowly -- which is not appropriate where there are signs that children may be suffering harm -- or have dropped the ball altogether. The pattern of professional error in this case creates an impression of backroom deals and pressure from within the church; I hope that this is just an impression, and not the dynamic that it appears to be.

In my next entry I will discuss the second letter I received, which gives me good reason to worry for Wendi's son. This is clearly a case with an urgent need for responses from law enforcement, child protection, and school personnel that are considerably more unbiased, diligent, thorough, and prompt than they have been so far.


WHAT YOU CAN DO:

It is important for professionals to see that there is growing public awareness about this case and that concerned people want to see this case properly handled, with appropriate steps taken to assess and protect the keep the children safe.

Email:

Loretta Branham
Executive Assistant for the Board of Education
District 49, Colorado Springs
lbranham@d49.org

Describe your concerns about Wendi G.'s case, and say that it involves Ridgeview Elementary and Skyview Middle School (Ms. Branham will not recognize the case without Wendi's last name, which we are not giving, but personnel at the schools will, so ask Ms. Branham to pass your concerns onto the schools.)

Call:

Crimes Against Children Unit, Colorado Springs,CO
(719) 444-7540
Say that you are calling about case # 11-16865, then express your concerns.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ottawa County Prosecutor Ronald Frantz Takes the Wrong Side on Child Sexual Abuse

There are an awful lot of people out there, many of them professionals, trying to deny, minimize, and excuse the harm that courts are doing to mothers and children. There are many smokescreens these people set up. The most common one is to characterize conflicts over child safety as wars between mothers and fathers. But the real war is between responsible, protective mothers and the systems that are supposed to be keeping children safe.

Imagine the following scenario, one that so many mothers face each year: Your daughter is living the back and forth life between two houses. One day during her time with you, trembling and crying, she reveals to you that her father has been touching her sexually, exposing himself to her, or making her touch him. You are in shock to hear this from your child, and the child’s pain and fear quickly become your own – as it should, since you are a responsible parent. But the one way you find to get through the night is to tell yourself, “He’s never doing that to her again! I’ll see to that!”

Beginning the next day, however, you start to discover that you have stepped into a House of Horrors worse than you imagined, because you turn out to be the one that is on trial. Child protective workers may look at you as though you have committed some kind of crime (yes, you). The family court may well start to question your fitness as a parent. Any professional who meets with the suspected abuser tends to be charmed and manipulated by him, and from then on may well be fond of him and hateful toward you. And you may be charged criminally; Wendi G. has been.

The Ottawa County Prosecutor’s office, which covers Wendi’s town in Michigan, is pursuing criminal charges against her for two counts of custodial interference, one for each child, for the fact that she went into hiding for 18 days with her two children after her daughter made graphic and entirely believable disclosures of sexual abuse to Wendi, telling her mother that her father was the one who had committed these violations. (See my previous blog for a few examples of what her daughter told her.) The Ottawa Country Prosecutor appears to believe that it is a mother’s responsibility to send her children off to their father’s home when his scheduled time begins, no matter what kind of sexual violations the child is reporting.

I have no doubt that the County Prosecutor speaks loudly and proudly about how outraged he is by child sexual abuse, and about all the steps he plans to take to combat it. But on the ground, he is taking actions that make sure that children stay vulnerable, because their mothers will be rendered powerless to protect their children – and perhaps terrified to even try.

Wendi reports that the prosecutor has offered a plea deal, but she is not accepting. She writes, “I am not guilty of a crime. I was protecting my kids from further sexual abuse by their father.” Her lawyer, Alan Rosenfeld, is working hard representing her both in the criminal prosecution and in the even more important litigation to get her children to safety. (Rosenfeld was the attorney in the highly-publicized Holly Collins case in Minnesota, which is the subject of a documentary that is currently being completed – more on that in a later blog.)

This coming Tuesday, August 30th, Wendi goes in for her arraignment. All indications at this point are that the County intends to go forward with prosecuting her. It appears that a careful examination of the evidence would lead any reasonable person to conclude that Wendi was acting in good faith – in fact, was acting out of a perception of absolute necessity.

There are innumerable studies documenting how harmful sexual abuse is to children (as if we need studies to tell us this). And one recurring theme, both in research and in expert writings on the issue, is that children who disclose abuse to a parent need that parent to believe them and to take steps to keep them safe. In fact, the level of seriousness and respect with which the parent responds has been found to be among the top predictors of whether the child will heal well emotionally, or will face lifelong harm from the violations. In other words, even people who have doubts that the father committed these acts should still be able to agree that Wendi is clearly doing what any responsible parent must do; she needs to believe her daughter and take every possible step to protect her, until and unless she discovers that the situation is safe. The Ottawa County Prosecutor helps perpetrators of child sexual abuse sleep well at night when he takes these kinds of actions against a protective parent.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Please call the two numbers below as soon as possible, and send an email to Mr. Frantz as well. Express that Wendi G. should not be facing criminal charges for her appropriate parenting behavior, and that the County Prosecutor should have carefully examined the evidence before declaring that Wendi had no legitimate need to protect her children.

Ottawa County Prosecutor Ronald Frantz
(616) 846-8215, prosecutor@miottawa.org

Holland Division Chief Craig Bunce
(616) 392-1446



Thursday, August 25, 2011

Judge Thomas Kane Refuses to Hear Evidence of Child Sexual Abuse

Don’t believe the impression you get from newspapers and TV. The reality is that U.S. officials support child sexual abuse, as long as the suspected – or proven –offender is the child’s father. We may pat ourselves on the back for how deeply we condemn violations of children, and for sending pedophiles off to long jail sentences and putting them on sexual offender registries, but that’s largely cover. Most children who suffer ongoing, repeated sexual abuse, where the greatest harm is being done, are being violated at home, usually by their father or step-father. And if the offender is Dad, courts and prosecutors will rarely do anything to stop him; in fact, they’re energy goes mostly into punishing and threatening the mother who reports what her child has told her.

Let's look at a case of a mother whom I have met and spoken with in person (along with her very supportive new husband, step-father to her children). Wendi G.'s case, which is in courts in Michigan and Colorado, gives a perfect illustration of what has gone on in dozens of cases that I have investigated – and this one is happening right now. Despite what you may have heard, these kinds of cases are not about “his word against hers”; they are about whether state officials are doing their jobs or not. Wendi G's case includes what appears to be severe irresponsibility and prejudice on the part of the courts, and a very mixed response from police and prosecution personnel, some of whom seem appropriately concerned and are attempting to do their jobs while others are not. As I follow Wendi G.'s case in this blog, I will keep the focus primarily on the actions of officials, which is what the public should be most concerned about.

Here 's what is happening: Wendi reports that this June her 10-year-old daughter made a clear and specific disclosure of multiple violations by her father. As the court documents submitted by Wendi state, her daughter described her father lying naked in bed with her “touching his private part to hers”, “touched her private part while she was naked in the bathroom”, “hugged her while he was naked inher bedroom”, and “made her rub lotion on his naked buttocks.”

Wendi, as you would expect, went to court to attempt to stop her children from having to spend unsupervised time with their father; in other words, she believed her daughter, as it is a parent's responsibility to do when children report sexual abuse. Due to jurisdictional issues, the case had to be brought in the El Paso County District Court in Colorado, and went before Judge Thomas A. Kane. But Judge Kane denied the motion to protect the children without holding a hearing, and stated explicitly in his ruling that there would be no hearing.

Besides the cruelty to the child contained in Judge Kane’s actions, he is also showing an overt disregard for Colorado law; C.R.S. 14-10-129 (4) states that when a parent brings a motion regarding physical or emotional danger to a child from the other parent, that motion "shall" be heard by the court within seven days. I have observed this disregard for the law by judges -- ironic as it is -- in quite a number of the cases I have investigated.

Therefore, at this moment the children are continuing to be with their father in Colorado, since Judge Kane refused to even look at the evidence. Wendi, meanwhile, is facing criminal charges in Michigan for "interference with the father's parenting time" because she did not voluntarily return her children to their father after her daughter's disclosure.

There are volumes more that I need to write about this case. Here are just some glimpses of things to come in this blog in the days ahead as I lay this story out more:

* The refusal by the Crimes Against Children unit in Colorado Springs to take any action because, according to one official, there was no indication that the father got "sexual gratification" from what he did, so there was no need to further investigate or pursue prosecution.

* Claims were made by one official that she had interviewed Wendi's daughter when in fact no such interview had ever happened.

* The way in which the daughter's disclosures were made are an important story in themselves, as you will see.

* Some officials are placing great importance on the fact that the father is denying that the abuse took place. (Has any sexual offender ever not denied the abuse, at least at first?)

* Members of certain churches appear to be connected and may be having undue influence on the case.

* Wendi is facing criminal charges, beginning this coming Tuesday the 30th of August.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

1) Send an email to the Holland Sentinel newspaper at

http://extra.hollandsentinel.com/submitletter.shtm

expressing your concern about the case and your concern that the Holland Sentinel appears to have been printing false and biased information about the case, (including reporting that Wendi had been arrested and released on bail, when this never took place -- it's a mystery where the paper got this false story).

2) Call Fox-17 News at 616-364-8722, expressing your concern about the failure of Judge Kane in Colorado to hold a hearing about the children's safety, and about the mistaken prosecution of Wendi G. that is happening in Michigan.

3) Send an email to WOOD-TV reporter Leon.Hendrix, at leon.hendrix@gmail.com, thanking him for his fair coverage of the case and expressing your ongoing concern.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Is There Anyone Who Isn't a Trauma Survivor?

In recent years, I've noticed that we tend to divide the world up into "trauma survivors" and everybody else. But I'm not sure this distinction is entirely real; I think what we're actually dealing with is people who know they've been traumatized and people who have forgotten. Or maybe the division is between people who are visibly shaken by their trauma and those who look solid; after all, we live in a society that places an extraordinarily high value on appearances, where people get a lot of credit for acting as if everything is fine, and a lot of criticism (or pity) for letting their pain show.

Sometimes I wish that for each person that walks by me on the street, I had a way to know what has been done to that person over the course of his or her lifetime, the injustices and betrayals that have tied weights around that person's heart. It's true that people are traumatized by floods and earthquakes, but not nearly as often as their hearts are broken by cruelty or violence from other human beings, most commonly by people they loved or trusted -- their parents, their lovers and spouses, their neighbors, their mentors.

One of the messages I give to professionals in my trainings is that they need to stop thinking that they are different from abused women. Professionals, both male and female, often look down on abused women, thinking things to themselves like, "I'd never let someone treat me that way," and, "If she stays there, she's part of the problem," and many other disrespectful attitudes that dismiss the hard realities that a woman faces -- the hard realities that anyone faces who is in a situation where another person can get away with abusing power.

I ask therapists and police officers and child protective workers and judges to stop having that superior attitude. Everyone has been abused, if they are part of our twisted modern societies. If you haven't been abused by a partner, then you've been abused by a parent, or by an adult relative when you were a child, or by a tyrannical boss, or by a superior officer in the military, or by a dangerous bully.

But people often block out these kinds of experiences that they've had and forget what it felt like, which is part of why they can sometimes be so judgmental and impatient with an abused woman.

If we did better at recognizing and admitting that we've all been traumatized, that each of us has experienced betrayals and abuses of power, then we'd pull together behind abused women and stop letting the society blame them for what abusers do, and we'd stop letting abusers get off the hook. We're all in this together, and the sooner we realize it, the better for everyone.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

An Update on the Canada "Kidnapping" Case

At the mother's request, I have removed the blogs about the Canada case, and removed the comments that went with them. The mother found that publicity was harming her case, not helping it. In addition, she was slammed viciously by many of the commenters.

Perhaps I should have deleted the nasty comments -- I think if I had it to do over again, I would. In principle I like to let people express themselves, and trust that good arguments will prevail over bad ones. But in retrospect I don't think it makes sense to allow such attacks against a mother who has experienced such a tragedy.

To those who followed those debates, I just want to say that I think the great majority of people are well aware that child protective services (CPS) in the U.S. and Canada sometimes make horrible mistakes and then cover those mistakes up. Some of the most glaring examples of these have been the subjects of lawsuits and court rulings, including the famous Nicholson case in which the US Court of Appeals ordered CPS in New York City to stop arbitrarily taking mothers' children away from them. So the commenters that said things along the lines of, "CPS looked into this, and they obviously know best" are not making a serious effort to reflect on what occurred and look into the evidence.

I hope everyone will have this mother in their prayers and that something will turn this case around.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Abuse Continues Long After Women Leave

by Susan

I saw a T-shirt that other day that said, "Domestic violence only ends when you leave."

If only that were true.

It's easy to think that the woman is free to leave at any time, and therefore she is choosing to be abused by staying. The reality is quite different. Ending an abusive relationship is only the first round of a boxing match with a blind referee against a heavyweight whose appetite for inflicting pain is never satisfied.

The woman risks everything, even her life and the custody of her children, when she leaves. She'll never stop looking over her shoulder. She alone knows what he is capable of because she's seen the ruthless violence that he saves for when they are behind closed doors. In public, he is very charming and no one will believe he is capable of doing what she says he's done. She'll look crazy.

The abuser will make the woman pay a steep price for her freedom. When she leaves, he will escalate the violence and abuse. He will call her night and day. He will tell lies to her family and friends. He will destroy her possessions. He will talk to her about all the ways he can take revenge, how no one will believe her, and how he always wins.

What she does after she leaves will not be based solely on protecting her rights or doing what is right for her. Rather, every single decision she makes will be agonizingly weighed against what the retribution will be from him. If I file for divorce, will he kill me? If I file for custody because he's abusing the children, will he try to get sole custody or falsely accuse me of child abuse? If I file for a protection from abuse order, will it only enrage him more?

He'll use the courts to continue his abuse. Instead of fearing being beaten when she gets home, she'll be afraid of being hit with more court motions. Our judicial system will allow him to make the divorce or custody process a living nightmare. He will delay the process, or bring frivolous motions. He won't answer her lawyer's letters, and he'll send dozens of his own. He will force her to use up what little money she may have fighting him in court over the simplest matters while the referee stands idly by doing nothing.

Or, worst of all, he will take her children away despite overwhelming evidence of his abuse toward them.

Is it any wonder she is having a difficult time leaving?

Now imagine a society that holds him accountable for his abuse. The referee doesn't just cry foul, but prevents the boxing match from even taking place. The abuser is arrested and prosecuted every time he violates a protection from abuse order or doesn't uphold his end of a custody agreement. Custody evaluators and judges believe disclosures of abuse from children, and she isn't afraid of losing custody for protecting her children. She doesn't lose everything she owns to break free; marital assets are split fairly. He is ordered to an abuser program for at least one year, and preferably longer.

It's time to stop blaming women for staying, because we as a society are the ones who let the domestic violence continue long after she's walked out the door. Instead, we need to start truly protecting women and their children after the relationship is over.