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, firstname.lastname@example.org
Holland Division Chief Craig Bunce