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.