Media

Whether or not an effort is made by a mother to protect her child from a violent man, the legal system fails the victim, and the mother is blamed for everything.

❦ Forward:

It is because "Mothers always know best" that mothers are held to a higher standard than are the authorities regarding the expectation to protect their children. However, mothers are disempowered by authorities when they attempt to do so. 

A protecting mother's expertise regarding her own child or children is discredited, and any of her statements are disregarded by the state-assigned "experts" for various reasons when she is the one trying to protect her child. 

A mother will lose her children if she tries to protect them, and a mother will lose her children if she is afraid to try and protect them (because she knows she will lose her children if she does). In both scenarios, children die after the state gets involved. I use the term "the state" here, to mean CPS, Family Court, Law Enforcement, The County District Attorney, The legal system, The judicial system, the child welfare system, etc.

When the state fails to protect, there may be no consequences for the state. The "experts" and "authorities" fail time and time again. Yet, when a mother fails to protect her child, even where the "more knowledgeable" state-assigned "experts" have gotten involved and indeed failed to protect the child themselves, the consequences for the mother are dire when a child dies as a result of the overall failure.  

A mother is held to a higher standard of expectations to protect her child or children from danger than are the state "authorities" and "experts" and she is therefore held to a stricter standard of punishment. 

However, if, after the state has gotten involved, the mother continues to make an effort to protect her child when the state has failed to do so, the consequences in that event for the mother are also dire. Whether the child stays alive or the child dies, the mother is deprived of all meaningful contact with her child, and she will suffer unimaginable grief, just the same. "How dare she try to say she knows what's best for her child after the state has already made a determination?"

Thus, it becomes painfully evident that the belief that "mother knows best" only legally applies when it's convenient for the state. 

To recapitulate, it is because "Mothers always know best" that mothers are held to a higher standard than the "authorities" in the responsibility to protect her children. But why are they disempowered and denigrated when they try to assert that they know better that the state about what's best for their child? Maybe it's time we change the way civil servants, public officials and legal authorities respond to protecting mothers, so more children won't continue to die because a mother is afraid to get help from the state.





 "[Katlin Wolfert] feared losing her children if CPS was called, she told authorities, engulfed as she was in a custody fight with the boys’ father. . . . That makes CPS both the entity that failed to prevent a baby’s abuse, as DeCosmo believes, and one that in a strange, tragic and unintended way actually abetted it. If that’s true, it isn’t alone.” – Care of Mason DeCosmo, 2, probed before abuse death– by Mary Beth Pfeiffer, Poughkeepsie Journal 


“[Ulster County Family Court Judge] McGinty...ruled that there was not sufficient evidence for a severe abuse finding against Wolfert because the Ulster County Department of Social Services failed to prove depraved indifference on her part. . . .The Ulster County Department of Social Services...appealed the dismissal of the severe abuse petition.” Appeal: Family Court wrong to dismiss severe abuse for Wolfert – by Nina Schutzman, Poughkeepsie Journal


“The Ulster County Family Court was wrong to clear Katlin Wolfert of severe abuse in the death of her son, Mason DeCosmo, according to an appeals court decision. […] Based on the evidence presented during Wolfert’s family court hearing, justices “conclude that Family Court erred in dismissing the severe abuse petition” against her, according to the order, which was decided Thursday and posted by the Daily Freeman. Wolfert did act with a “disregard for human life…by placing her interests above the health, well-being and medical needs” of Mason. […] In January 2015, Judge Anthony McGinty ruled that Wolfert abused and neglected both Mason and Jaxon by refusing to seek medical attention for Mason — she feared involvement from Child Protective Services — despite the boy having dozens of bruises and other signs that something was wrong.” Appeal: Family Court wrong to dismiss severe abuse for Wolfert – by Nina Schutzman, Poughkeepsie Journal


Question: Why Would A Mother Be Afraid to Report Abuse?

Answer: Because When a Mother Reports Abuse, This Happens:


“The system has particularly failed parents ― usually mothers ― whose efforts to protect their children collide with an approach to custody issues that is based on narrow legal concepts of balance and fair treatment rather than psychological or medical evidence. “Courts assume mothers are orchestrating misinformation, instead of trying to protect their children,” said Kathleen Russell, director of the Center for Judicial Excellence. . . .Many judges are likely to view abuse complaints as a tactic to win custody battles. What the courts have failed to take into account, but research has clearly shown time and time again, is that most of the cases that make it to trial in family court are high-risk abuse cases.” – When Fathers Kill Their Kids (May 5, 2010) – The Daily Beast 


“When a mother’s bitter custody battle ends with the death of her child, something has gone terribly wrong with the system.” – Failure to Protect: The Crisis in America’s Family Courts (May 6, 2010) – The Crime Report

“Many mothers not only lost all custody rights but all visitation rights. Judges and court professionals routinely disregard and proactively work against mothers who make abuse complaints against fathers. Even the mother’s own attorney will tell her to keep her mouth shut because nobody wants to hear about abuse.” – Parental Rights and Wrongs (April 25, 2008) – Washington Times 


"If you suspect that your ex-spouse is molesting your child, don’t report it to authorities. If you do, you risk losing custody to your child’s molester." -  Custody Switch (October 24-30, 2001) by Jill Kramer - Pacific Sun


Her mother did believe her, but the authorities who could have saved her from further torture failed to believe her. They work in a system that routinely errs on the side of risking children. Needless to say the failures of the custody court and child protective agency have left the child severely traumatized.” – Family Courts Exposed (January 31, 2016) – by Barry Goldstein for Stop Abuse Campaign 


The scars from the abuses that Family Court refuses to address, refuses to protect them from, will be carried throughout the rest of their lives. Through no fault of their own, through the unfortunate happen- stance of being born the child of a predator, these children have received, as Snow so aptly states, a life sentence.” – How Family Courts Fail Children (January 9, 2016) – LA Progressive 


For more than two decades, protective mothers from every state in the country (as well as overseas) have been ordered to turn their children over into the care, and even the custody, of the children’s abusive fathers.  This occurs even when there is adequate evidence of child abuse, domestic violence, and other harmful behaviors on the part of the father.  Courts claim to be doing this to ensure that both parents remain involved in their children’s lives after divorce or separation, but in fact, in most of these cases, precisely the opposite happens:  mothers are denied any meaningful relationship, or even contact, with their children.  In the meantime, male supremacist groups claim unfair treatment in the family courts, seeking shared or total custody in order to avoid paying child support and to maintain men’s traditional control over their partner and their children.“ –DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE, and CHILD CUSTODY: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues (2010) Co-edited by Mo Therese Hannah and Barry Goldstein 


I guess what I am most surprised by is how many people just can’t believe that family courts would give custody — time and time again — to abusers. But I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised. In both the tragedy of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal and the Jerry Sandusky thing, “good” people turned a blind eye to the abuse of children. It’s the same thing in family courts. It is just heart-breaking that so often when terrified children summon the courage to speak up and tell what is happening to them, even though the abuser has warned them of the terrible consequences if they ever talk… even though we teach children to speak up and to tell the truth…when they speak up against this one awful thing, we just don’t listen. . . . “We need to change the system.”  No Way Out But One: Custody, Abuse and the Family Courts (December 26, 2012) – Huffington Post 


“Eileen King, a former director of the Washington, D.C., Office for Justice for Children, tells Al Jazeera America that from 2000 to 2012 she typically had 50 to 70 alienation-type cases at any given time. Often, these were cases in which a mother reported a classic symptom of abuse — acting in a sexually inappropriate manner, for instance, or having overly sexualized knowledge. Every time, she says, “those cases were not considered to be credible because the mother was considered to be alienating or because she was thought to have a mental-health issue.”” – Do courts use a controversial theory to punish mothers who allege abuse? (January 24, 2014) –  AlJazeera America 


 “Designed to dispense justice, the system has become instead “an instrument of oppression,” particularly in cases involving domestic violence. . . .While there has been a growing awareness over the last 30 years of the harm domestic violence causes, courts are more and more ignoring women’s allegations of domestic violence and holding them responsible for their own abuse. This is largely due to courts’ reliance upon mental health experts who have inadequate training in intimate violence or child sexual abuse and who are easily manipulated by batterers.” – How Family Courts Punish Abused Women (May 17, 2010) – Ms. Magazine 


“If the court ignores the history of violence as the context for the mother’s behavior in a custody evaluation, she may appear hostile, uncooperative, or mentally unstable. For example, she may refuse to disclose her address, or may resist unsupervised visitation, especially if she thinks her child is in danger. Psychological evaluators who minimize the importance of violence against the mother, or pathologize her responses to it, may accuse her of alienating the children from the father and may recommend giving the father custody in spite of his history of violence.” (APA, 1996) – American Psychological Association


Research indicates that that custody litigation can become a vehicle whereby batterers and child abusers attempt to extend or maintain their control and authority over their victims after separation. Although research has NOT found a higher incidence of false allegations of child abuse and domestic violence in the context of custody/visitation, officers of the court tend to be unreasonably suspicious of such claims and that too often custody decisions are based on bad science, misinterpretation of fact, and evaluator bias. As a result, many abused women and their children find themselves re-victimized by the justice system after separation.” – Are “Good Enough” Parents Losing Custody to Abusive Ex-Partners? (May 27, 2006) – By Stephanie Dallam for the Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence 


“Abusive ex-partners frequently continue their harassment and abuse through family court and child custody proceedings.” – For Domestic Violence Survivors, Family Court Becomes Site of Continued Abuse (March 6, 2016) – Truth-out.org 


 “Mothers who bring forth allegations of sexual abuse against their former partners often appear vindictive or disorganized, said Eileen King, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Child Justice, Inc. The fear that a child is in peril can cause a parent to take risks and behave recklessly, she said.

“A 2012 University of Michigan study, paid for by the US Department of Justice, found that … gender bias can play a role in custody disputes, with negative stereotypes inclining officials to disbelieve women’s allegations of abuse as fabrications made to gain advantage.

“…a 1990 study by the state Supreme Judicial Court found that mothers were held to a higher standard of behavior than fathers;” – State fumbled for answers while girl was in limbo (January 30, 2016) – Boston Globe 


“The big hidden factor is the federal fatherhood programs directed to courts and social services for their benefit. The fathers rights allies in Congress and HHS have worked for years to fund millions of dollars in specialized programs granted to state courts and social agencies for services such as enforcing noncustodial parents visitation and responsible fatherhood. Several judges have been forced to resign over gross misuse of these programs to enable custody switches to fathers accused of abuse and child support delinquencies.

“In December 2005, fathers rights activists’ Senate allies got a $150 million earmark slipped into the “Deficit Reduction” bill which directed further funding for these purposes. Our group has obtained substantial evidence of misuse of these funds for paying fathers custody attorneys in deliberately dragged out high-conflict custody litigation, and PAS custody evaluators who rubber-stamp every woman a malicious liar and recommend sole custody to the father.

“Fathers rights activists do have a lot to be scared about. Their scheme is unwinding and some of them will be prosecuted for what they have been doing for many years.” – The other side of fathers’ rights controversy (April 22, 2006) – by LIZ RICHARDS,  the National Alliance For Family Court Justice for the Washington Times 


“The Documentary Channel is premiering No Way Out But One, depicting injustices against abused women and children in U.S. family courts. Of potential interest to blog readers, the film critiques the role of child custody evaluators as usurping the authority of fact finders by substituting their own judgments for the facts.” – New documentary targets family court abuses (December 9, 2012) – Psychology Today 


Ten mothers, one victimized child now an adult, and six organizations working in the field of child abuse and family law filed a petition on April 10, 2007, at the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C., against the United States for the pattern and practice of courts awarding custody or unsupervised visitation to child abusers and molesters. The petitioners come from Kansas, Georgia, California, New York, Arizona, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Illinois and Nevada.

“Ten years earlier, on Mother’s Day, May 11, 1997, a group of mothers who lost custody of their children gathered on the steps of the U. S. Capitol in Washington, D. C. Entitled “Give Us Back Our Children,” the event was held to represent the increasing numbers of women who are losing custody of their children to batterers and child abusers. This event, co-sponsored by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Family Violence Prevention Fund, the House of Ruth, My Sister’s Place, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD), and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), brought attention to the plight of women and children unfairly victimized by the legal system, and to dispel the myth that women always win custody of their children. That was 13 years ago. The situation today is even worse. The stories of these petitioners are not unique. They are the tip of the proverbial iceberg indicating a grave and growing injury to human rights.” –Failures of U.S. Courts Forces Mothers to Turn to International Law (May 25, 2011) – Huffington Post 


“Problems for the battered woman do not end with the arrest; she also faces the prospect of having her children removed by child protective services, being charged inappropriately, being pressured to plea bargain, being wrongfully convicted, having her arrest and conviction history used against her in subsequent custody proceedings, losing her job, and having the batterer use the threat of criminal prosecution to continue to control her. These prospects can be daunting to all women, but particularly to women of color and immigrant women, who are already disproportionately affected by domestic abuse. Police, therefore, must respond appropriately to domestic violence calls and follow mandatory arrest policies by arresting the abuser, both to ensure public safety and to avoid exposing the victim to additional harm. (50.) Criminal prosecution statistics reveal a disturbing trend whereby alleged abusers are rarely prosecuted. In a 2002 Department of Justice study of 16 large urban counties, about half of domestic violence offenders facing prosecution were convicted; of those convicted, 80% were sentenced to jail or prison. Even so, only 18% of those defendants were convicted of felonies. Conviction rates vary drastically depending on the location, however, with some counties reporting a 17% conviction rate, and others reporting an 89% conviction rate. Such statistics create a belief among domestic violence victims that no recourse exists for them and that there will be no punishment for their abusers.  (47. )”  –  Domestic Violence in the United States – A Preliminary Report prepared for Rashida Manjoo, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women 


When domestic violence and child abuse co-occur in a family, all victims need protection. Adult caregivers who are victimized, and their children involved in custody and dependency cases, should be provided with coordinated trauma-informed services and trauma-specific treatment appropriate to their circumstances and developmental stage. Every reasonable effort should be made to keep the violence-exposed child and non-offending parent(s) or other family caregiver(s) together. (Section 4.4) –  Report of the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence 


Domestic violence is the context for as much as 45% of child abuse (Stark, l996; 2002). Moreover, contact is the most common context for abuse after separation. In three recent studies in England and Australia, for instance, 92%, 94% and 97% of women who divorced violent partners were abused after separation, almost all during contact (Radford and Hester, 2006; Kaye, Stubbs and Tolmie, 2003). There is no evidence that children benefit in the longer term from having regular face­-to-­face contact with a violent parent and considerable suggestive evidence that the real and potential harms to children of being exposed to domestic violence or other forms of abuse of their mother outweighs any harms experienced by not seeing an abusive parent.”  –  Rethinking Custody Evaluation in Cases Involving Domestic Violence –  By Dr. Evan Stark, Ph.D, MSW Professor, School of Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers University ­Newark


“The rational inference from a judicial system that (a) should be aware that most batterers don’t change, and (b) that children may not be harmed by ending contacts with abusive fathers, where the system still does not end contact between the children and these toxic parents, is that the court’s decision is driven by gender politics and not the best interests of the children involved.” – Family & Intimate Partner Violence Quarterly(volume 2, number 3, winter 2010), published by the Civic Research Institute, Restricting Contact With Toxic Fathers – by  Allen M. Bailey, J.D.


❦ Afterward:

"Why are we so eager to blame victims, even when we have seemingly nothing to gain? ...The more innocent a victim, the more threatening they are. ...In the 1960s, social psychologist Dr. Melvin Lerner conducted a famous serious of studies in which he found that when participants observed another person receiving electric shocks and were unable to intervene, they began to derogate the victims. The more unfair and severe the suffering appeared to be, the greater the derogation. ...Lerner theorized that these victim blaming tendencies are rooted in the belief in a just world, a world where actions have predictable consequences and people can control what happens to them. It is captured in common phrases like "what goes around comes around" and "you reap what you sow." We want to believe that justice will come to wrongdoers, whereas good, honest people who follow the rules will be rewarded. Research has found, not surprisingly, that people who believe that the world is a just place are happier and less depressed. But this happiness may come at a cost—it may reduce our empathy for those who are suffering, and we may even contribute to their suffering by increasing stigmatization. ...One way to help make the world a better place to fight the impulse to rationalize others' suffering, and to recognize that it could have just as soon been us in their shoes. This recognition can be unsettling, but it may also be the only way that we can truly open our hearts to others' suffering and help them feel supported and less alone. What the world may lack in justice we can at least try to make up for in compassion." - Why Do We Blame Victims? (November 24, 2013) - by Juliana Breines Ph.D. for Psychology Today