Leading author and therapist Lundy Bancroft teaches battered mothers to fight back at the 8th Battered Mothers Custody Conference in Albany, New York 1/7/11
The 8th Battered Mother’s Custody Conference featured author and activist Lundy Bancroft, who has for more than a decade addressed the issues of battered mothers who lost custody to their abusers in family courts. Well known as the founder of the Battered Mothers Testimony Project in Massachusetts, Bancroft is also the author of three books on the dynamics and subsequent effects of domestic violence. He was the winner of the 2004 Pro Humanitate Award from the North American Resource Center for Child Welfare, for his book, “The Batterer as Parent”.
Battered Mothers Fight Myths
The past seven Battered Mother’s Custody Conferences validated and quantified an emergent judicial and human rights crisis in our family courts. Judges are delivering abused children to the very abusers that their protective mothers painstakingly escaped. For the first time in the conference’s history, Bancroft introduced fighting back against this injustice as the theme for this year’s conference meetings and speakers.
The prevailing myth is that once out of an abusive marriage, the mother is now safe from her abuser. But the truth is that 75% of women who are injured or murdered by their abusers suffer the attack within the first thirty days of escaping the relationship. Despite the divorce, many women endure ongoing torment by their former spouse and abuser because they are permanently connected through their common children.
An abuser stalking, threatening, and torturing the mother, and abusing their children in order to hurt her, are very common realities. The courts perceive repeated requests for protection as strategic chicanery and often fail to validate an ongoing threat to the mother.
Paradoxically, many battered mothers are in the unenviable position of being challenged by Child Protective Services to ‘leave their abusive marriage to protect their children’, despite the statistical odds of their own demise, and the unlikelihood that law enforcement will provide or enforce protective orders. Once embroiled in the family court systems, the battered mothers are marginalized and accused of lying to gain unfair advantage over abusive fathers.
No amount of presenting the actual facts and figures seems to gain these protective mothers and their children safe harbor. Judges and other legal participants routinely place children with their abusers. There are both domestic and international human rights implications to this issue with more than 1,000 families a week now facing this crisis; Bancroft’s expertise is needed more than ever.
Battered Mothers Fight Courts
The first shock a protective mother must overcome is the reality that the justice system does not exist within the family court system. On television, in our classrooms, and in the news, the myth that our legal system is fair and just is promulgated. Many protective mothers discover that the truth is that the rules which apply in a criminal court or in business related civil cases are not applied in family courts. Rules of evidence and consequences for challenging the status quo are harsh and unpredictable. Judges have unilateral discretion to define what happens, how it happens and whether she is even allowed to tell anyone else about the court’s orders.
A protective mother stripped of her children, is also stripped of her right to parent; her right of free speech; her right of protection; and her right to protest these injustices. Our Bill of Rights is frequently ignored, and the judicial system affords immunity for the legal participants including Judges, Child Custody Evaluators, Child Protective Services, and Law Enforcement Agencies. If they misjudge, and the battered mother or her children die, then no one is accountable. Do you risk contempt of a court order in an attempt to protect your children?
Battered Mothers Fight Child Abuse
Often the abuser begins to deliberately alienate the protective mother from her children, telling the children that she abandoned them, did not want to mother them, lies about his abuse, or fails to parent them effectively. The child begins to doubt their own ability to perceive reality. They may feel a forced sense of loyalty to their abuser. If the children do not follow his lead and mistreat their mother, what are the physical and emotional consequences they suffer at the hands of the abusers?
Bancroft advises protective mothers and their support systems to remember that the purpose of the fight is to keep as close to your children as possible. Keep things calm, remind them that you love them. Rather than debate which parent is “right” in a never ending battle for the right to exist without the abuser’s influence – ask your child, “What do YOU think?” Maintain the child’s ability to read the situation, assess it and come to an independent conclusion. When the abuser misrepresents a mother’s feelings or actions, correct the lie, and encourage the child to rely on their own personal experience with their mother.
Battered Mothers Fight Isolation
Many Americans erroneously believe family court dynamics are identical to other courts’ standard of evidence in the United States. Therefore they come to the conclusion that a mother who loses custody in civil proceedings must have done something to deserve the loss. The stigma of losing one’s child is an isolating experience. The battered mother finds the experience so painful that she abandons any attempt to explain what happened to her.
To overcome the stigma, the battered mother may attend conferences like the annual Battered Mother’s Custody Conference; join Facebook Causes; and support websites related to healing from and fighting domestic violence; connect with other people with like experiences; and research what is happening in other parts of the country. Books like those published by authors Lundy Bancroft, Mo Therese Hannah, Barry Goldstein, Amy Neuman, Michael Lesher, Wendy Murphy, Karin Huffer and others can provide specific legal, emotional and political strategies to effect change.
Battered Mothers Fight Human Rights Injustices
Political initiatives are reflected in the progress of landmark legal cases in human rights; follow the outcome of cases such as Jessica Ruth Gonzales v. USA, as well as other international cases concerning domestic violence under consideration by the Inter America Human Rights Commission. The U. S. Supreme Court upheld the Castle Rock, Colorado Police Department’s refusal to enforce a protective order against Simon Gonzales that resulted in the murder of their three children. Gonzales (now Lanahan) is protesting the violation of her human rights.
As the first U. S. Citizen to receive political asylum from The Netherlands, Holly Collins and her three children fled the United States in 1994 to be free of domestic violence when they could not obtain protection from family courts. Ms. Collins plans to return to live in the U. S., just as her youngest child reaches adulthood. How our country responds to the knowledge that a mother was forced to flee her own country for protection will be an important barometer of progress.
 Silberg, Joyanna, “How Many Children Are Court -Ordered Into Unsupervised Contact With an Abusive Parent After Divorce?”, The Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence, Press Release. September, 22, 2008, http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/med/PR3.html, referenced January 12, 2011