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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

FAMILY VIOLENCE-Victims not always the abused in domestic situations

Photo by Johnathan Deaton-Lee/The Collegian
Photo by Johnathan Deaton-Lee/The Collegian

By Isaiah Smith/entertainment editor

(Part three in a four-part series on victims’ rights.)

Photo by Johnathan Deaton-Lee/The Collegian
Photo by Johnathan Deaton-Lee/The Collegian

Family violence is one of the most widespread and ignored problems in America, and despite the serious repercussions for families, children and society as a whole, this problem is usually swept under the rug.

According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, every two-and-a-half minutes someone is sexually assaulted. Of those, one in six is a woman, and one in 33 is a man; 44 percent of rape victims are under age 18, and 80 percent are under 30.

Domestic Violence

While most people believe rapists are hiding in the shadows and lurking in bushes, almost two-thirds of all rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.

The National Crime Victimization Survey in 2005 said 73 percent of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger; 38 percent of perpetrators were a friend or acquaintance of the victim; 28 percent were an intimate partner; and 7 percent were a relative.

Some people believe domestic violence does not affect children as long as they are not the victims themselves. Effects on witnesses of domestic violence are well documented. They include aggressive behavior, depression and cognitive deficiencies.

A 1998 report by the General Accounting Office shows that domestic violence hinders a victim’s earning potential, making it difficult to leave and support a household without the abuser.

Victims frequently miss work because of injuries, court dates and safety concerns requiring legal protection. Victims of intimate partner violence lose 800,000 days of paid work each year, the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs.

Abusers in custody disputes

The American Judges Association found approximately 70 percent of abusers convince authorities the victim is unfit or undeserving of sole custody. In other words, 70 percent of abusers obtain sole or joint custody.

Irene Jensen took her daughter Tiffany to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in March 1994. At the doctor’s office, Tiffany reported that her father had sexually abused her, according to an article by Troy Anderson on www.stopfamilyviolence.org.

But the system turned the tables on her: Jensen found herself accused of making up the allegations.

Even with Tiffany sending a letter to the judge, and doctors confirming that they suspected child abuse in this case, a judge granted physical custody to her father in 1995.

“ What I’ve gone through was hell,” Tiffany said in the article. “I went there and back again.”

The Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence studied 300 cases over a 10-year period where the mother sought to protect the child from sexual abuse. It found 70 percent resulted in unsupervised visitation or shared custody. In 20 percent of the cases, the mothers completely lost custody—many lost visitation rights.

Louise Armstrong wrote on www.stopfamilyviolencenow.org that in Wisconsin a law was proposed that would make it a felony offense for a mother to fail to protect her child from sexual assault by the father, even where there were no criminal charges filed against the father.

Indeed, “failure to protect” is already a common charge against mothers by Child Protective Services, and it, not the father’s alleged sexual assault, is the charge of record on removal of the child from the home.

“ Over the past 25 years, thousands and thousands of mothers have tried to act to protect their child—only to find themselves unable to do so,” Armstrong said in the article. “Labeled vindictive, vengeful, lying, many women have been forced to flee underground both within the U.S. and abroad or face losing custody of the child to the offender.”

According to the Gender Bias Study of the Court System in Massachusetts, The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Gender Bias Task Force was one of the first groups to document the gender bias against women in family courts.

This court-initiated study found that research contradicted public perception of bias in favor of women in custody cases.  It also found that in determining custody and visitation, many judges and family service officers do not consider violence toward women relevant.

A survey by the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence found that courts awarded joint or sole custody to the alleged batterers 56-74 percent of the time, depending on the county. Many of these cases
involved documented child abuse.

Local story

Stories dealing with family violence appear in the media daily, but one such story that never hit the local papers involved a former South Campus student named “Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth was abandoned by her mother who had five children by four different men. The mother could not emotionally or financially take care of her youngest daughter and left her upbringing to her mother and father.

The grandparents were firm with Elizabeth’s upbringing; nevertheless, following graduation from high school and midway through her first semester on South Campus, Elizabeth found herself pregnant and unmarried. She had the child, moved into an apartment and started dating a man with whom she got pregnant with her second child.

To take care of her two sons, Elizabeth got a job dancing at a club, insisting that she was not a stripper.
Often, when she was working in the evening, her two sons were left in the care of the father of her second child.

One night Elizabeth came home exhausted and asked her boyfriend to see that the boys were fed and put to bed. Somewhere around 3 a.m., the oldest boy woke up, got a chair, unlocked the door and the screen and wandered outside. He was found at 4 a.m. at a nearby 7-11.

The 7-11 personnel called police, who called Child Protective Services. The boyfriend and Elizabeth were arrested and charged with child abandonment. The children were placed in protective custody.
Elizabeth’s legal problems were just beginning.

The paternal grandmothers of the boys were granted temporary custody while Elizabeth and her boyfriend appeared in court to deny charges of child abandonment. She was granted supervised visitation one hour a week with her children.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s grandparents asked for custody of both boys to keep them together. The judge decided in all fairness to place the boys with disinterested families while the custody battle ensued.

Now more than a year later, Elizabeth, unable to keep her job as a dancer, has moved back in with her grandparents to provide a more stable environment.

After paying hundreds of dollars in legal fees, Elizabeth finally regained custody of her two children although suits are still pending with the paternal grandmothers.

Elizabeth has to ensure the safety of her children and must be ready for unannounced visits by CPS. She is now working full time at Wal-Mart to try to take care of her children and repay her grandparents, who paid her legal fees.

“ I’ve been through a tremendous nightmare. My oldest son has always had sleep problems and would wake up and wander around the house, but he never went outside,” she said.

“ I understand CPS wanting to take charge of my children, but they treated me like a criminal who was incapable of trying to solve my problems. I just wanted them to listen to me and to help me be a good mother,” she said.

Incest

“ In the United States, the primary manipulation of this feminist issue [incest] involved co-opting it and converting it from a political issue into one of pathology,” Armstrong said in the article. “This model says that incest is a disease … it is an illness, and the illness lies in the victims.”

Public focus is on incest as women’s illness, their disability; on children’s emotional disturbance, their disability. The medical model speaks not of social change, but of treatment toward personal change.

Armstrong points to the fact that in the 1980s the goal of treatment for victims of incest was said to be forgiveness of the offender.

“ For many offenders, the sexual assault of the child was really a way of harming the wife, the woman,” she said.

Armstrong quoted a man she saw interviewed on television.

“ I’d get mad at my wife. I’d say, ‘To hell with her. I can always turn to my daughter,’” he said.

Armstrong said she was not talking about sexual deviants or social deviants.

“ We are talking about so-called normal fathers in so-called traditional families,” she said.

The point has never been driven homes. As things stand, for mothers whose children disclose paternal abuse, there is no correct choice currently available, Armstrong said.

“ If they shut up or disbelieve, they are culpable as collusive; if they speak out, they are vindictive, hysterical, and infected by a so-called psychiatric syndrome,” she said. “It translates as an epithet, a medicalized way of calling a woman a rotten, deliberate liar.”

The only true way to deal with family violence in all of its forms is to tighten up on the laws, which currently leave the abused to be re-victimized while the abuser is left alone to maintain the status quo.

Those who need help with family violence can log on to www.RAINN.org to find helpful links and support groups for victims.

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