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.