I don’t know where my son is.
I mean, I sort of know. I am reasonably certain that he is in one geographical area. I believe that he is with his father, maybe his grandma.
I haven’t spoken to him in over a week.
He is 5.
I recently went through some major losses in court. I spent a year and a half being dragged along like a dead cat on a leash. He blew off mediation – add three months. He blew off a readiness conference – add two months. He blew off his own trial, and then cried about making a mistake and was granted another one – Add four months. I got to pay for an attorney to do everything twice.
He won everything.
Three years ago he tried to kill me. The responding police officer found me to be completely hysterical, so when my abuser lied and said I’d tried to kill myself, they carted me off to a mental hospital. This decision shaped everything that came after it. The hospital realized pretty quickly that I didn’t need to be there. I was released 40 hours into a 72 hour hold, (essentially unheard of in mental health care.) I wasn’t trying to kill myself. I was being abused by a psychopath. They told me that as long as I could find somewhere to go that wasn’t home with my abuser, they would release me. Another 2 hours and a friend picked me up.
Social services came. It wasn’t the first time they decided to put my son in foster care. He had just turned 2. They told me it was my fault. They had spent so much money forcing me to go to DV classes. They could not understand why this had happened, AGAIN.
“Why didn’t you leave?”
He took my car keys.
And my shoes.
“Why didn’t you change the locks?”
Because making symbolic gestures to psychopaths is dangerous.
“Why didn’t you call the police?”
I DID CALL THE POLICE. They made everything worse.
“Why didn’t you get a restraining order?”
I tried. I was turned down because there were no criminal convictions.
“Why didn’t you protect your son?”
I did. And I would have done a much better job if one single human being in my county (California) thought I was worth protecting, too.
The police officer that came three years ago didn’t arrest him. Didn’t even write a report. So victim’s services and the district attorney can’t help me. (Private citizens can’t “press charges” where I live – you may make a report to the police and the police make the report to the DA if they think it’s “worth it.”) The standard of evidence for my particular judge to consider domestic violence as relevant to a custody proceeding is a criminal conviction of domestic violence in criminal court. Since the police officer didn’t write my report as anything other than “crazy girl goes to hospital,” there are no avenues for me to pursue. That one police officer got it wrong, and as a result, my domestic violence is not considered relevant to my custody proceeding.
I have had other courts acknowledge what happened to me. We have been through dependency court on two separate occasions. During my first dependency case, I was told to stop calling the police during fights, because it was evidence that my family wasn’t making progress. When I was beaten during that case and fled with my child to a hotel, the supervisor at CPS told me to immediately return my baby – it was his father’s parenting time. I told him what had happened, and he gave me two options: give my baby back to the man who had just beaten me, or give my baby to the supervisor, and he would find an adoptive family for my baby since my family obviously couldn’t hold it together.
I sent my baby back to my abuser. I didn’t call the police. Two months later, that supervisor wrote a report saying that everything was fine – there had been no more police reports, so that meant there wasn’t anymore domestic violence. I was blown away.
That first case had lots of “services” attached to it. Anger management, victim’s counseling, parenting classes. On more than one occasion, I arrived to a victim’s support group to be told that the instructor was busy and we were going to watch an Adam Sandler movie. Participation in these services was mandatory to have my child returned – and I was driving 30 minutes each way to watch an Adam Sandler movie. Not even a new one; that movie had been out for years. I could have stayed home and watched it on Netflix, but watching it in a group setting meant that I was being obedient and respectful to the court.
The second case was full of disappointment. They’d sent me to so many Adam Sandler classes, they just couldn’t understand why everything wasn’t better. Everything was my fault. I should have asked for help. I should have gotten a restraining order. I should have called the police. I should have, I should have, I should have. Not once in that entire case did anyone look at that man and say “YOU should not have tried to strangle the mother of your child.”
Fast forward several years, and here I am, in the exact same boat. The people who understand and acknowledge my abuse continue to set the stage so that I am penalized for asking for help, and then make sure that I am penalized if I don’t ask for help. Contact with the new girlfriend suggests nothing’s changed. He is preying on, abusing, stalking other women the same way he did to me. But it doesn’t matter, because, say it with me now, “THERE ARE NO CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS.”
I lost it in court a few weeks ago.
I was handed a verdict that didn’t go in my favor. All of the safety I’d built for years evaporated, and I panicked. I asked a completely different judge for a restraining order. As a punishment, I am now on supervised visits with my own son. My ex is now the gatekeeper for contact with my child, so talking to him is being dangled in front of me like a carrot on a stick. I got to Skype with him a few weeks ago. He cried the loudest sobs I’ve ever heard. My heart breaks for him. And then breaks again to hear his father tell him that “if mommy would obey me, this wouldn’t happen.”
Criminal convictions cannot continue to be the bar to which we hold domestic violence victims. My son’s case is heard in juvenile court, where a lower standard of evidence is used to determine whether or not he is safe. I am over the age of 18, so I am not awarded the same courtesy. If I cannot prove beyond any doubt that this man hurt me behind closed doors three years ago, I can just shut up and go away. I do not matter. That man hurt me with no witnesses, and I was ashamed enough of my bruises that I didn’t take pictures. I wasn’t struck with the need to take selfies at those particular moments. I just wanted to crawl under a rock and die. I should have taken pictures. I wasn’t thinking about court. I was thinking about making the hitting stop. If you have absolutely zero understanding of domestic violence issues, I suppose you could come to the conclusion that I wasn’t trying to get help.
I lived in an incredibly poor county when I was abused. I learned afterwards that most DV victims don’t bother calling the police in that city. There is just no point. They won’t help you. It makes me sad to know that so many women are coming to this conclusion.
We can do better.
As a group of people who claim to have the best interests of children at heart, we have to begin to group victims together with this priority in mind. Helping a child through a crisis is a pointless waste of time and money if you’re going to put him right back in that crisis when you walk away. We have to find a way to keep children safe with some priority on permanency, and where I live, that still comes second to patriarchal property rights.
All family violence cases should be heard in dependency court. I am never going to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt what happened to me. I can, and have, submit to forensic interviews with educated professionals who can, and have, come to the conclusion that I was horrifically abused and currently experiencing trauma. When we chose to ignore professionals, and cling to the bad decisions of first responders, we are willfully choosing to keep our children in unsafe environments. Skilled and trained professionals NEED to have a say in complicated psychological issues – they are our best chance of identifying true problems and true solutions.
Our family court system is beyond broken. Leave a comment under this article on our OMB Facebook page if you would agree that we need legislation to have family violence and abuse issues handled differently than random attacks and property disputes.
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