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Most scams, such as sub-prime mortgages and email scams, victimize adults. But custody scams victimize children. When government fails to protect children it throws open the doors to private contractors—lawyers and clinicians—who enrich themselves at the expense of children. (More about this child and the mother who tried to protect her appears below.)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Mother of slain children seeks changes to state laws, procedures

http://www.kansascity.com/news/politics/story/1647694.html

Posted on Wed, Dec. 23, 2009
Mother of slain children seeks changes to state laws, procedures
By MARK MORRIS
The Kansas City Star
A mother whose two children were killed in 2004 after her estranged husband kidnapped them proposed changes to state laws and procedures Wednesday that would better protect children.

Surrounded by law enforcement authorities and legislators at a morning press conference, Tina Porter asked for an appeals procedure for denied Amber Alert requests and more complete record-keeping on protection orders in police databases.

Porter said that if those changes had been in place five years ago, authorities may have moved more quickly on the disappearance of her children.

“We have a very short window of finding (missing children) and finding them alive,” Porter said.

In June 2004, Porter’s husband, Dan Porter, picked up her children — Sam and Lindsey, ages 7 and 8 — for a weekend visit. He soon killed them, but for more than three years refused to tell authorities what happened to them.

Dan Porter confessed in 2007 and is now serving a life sentence.

Legislation to make the proposed changes is being drafted.

Rep. Jason Kander, a Kansas City Democrat, said the changes would establish an appeals procedure for parents whose request for an Amber Alert has been denied by a local authority.

Currently, if a local law enforcement agency, such as a police department, denies an Amber Alert, the parent has no procedure for asking other agencies, such as a sheriff’s department or the Missouri Highway Patrol, to reconsider.

“This puts into place an appeals procedure so more people get their eyes on it,” said Jackson County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar.

Another change would require the courts to enter details of temporary and full orders of protection into state law enforcement databases so police can ask about the welfare of children when they encounter a parent.

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp said that when officers now call up a name from the databases, they learn only that an order of protection has been entered. Under the proposed changes, the officer would have details about the children and custodial and visitation arrangements.

If a parent cannot account for a child during the interview, and if the officer has reason to believe a child is in danger, authorities could hold the parent for up to 20 hours until the child is found.

Sharp acknowledged that the procedure could be time-consuming for officers.

“But when it comes to the welfare of the child, we have all day,” Sharp said.

To contact Mark Morris, call 816-234-4310 or send e-mail to mmorris@kcstar.com.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

City official kills wife and daughters, but not son



For the original link, click on the title above or go to this link:
http://www.fox4kc.com/wdaf-kahler-murders-lawyer-120109,0,7315787.story

Divorce Lawyer Not Surprised Man Killed Wife And Daughters, But Not Son
Stephanie Hockridge, FOX 4 NewsMeagan Kelleher, FOX 4 Web Producer

December 1, 2009

Ex-Mo. City Official Charged With Murder In Death of Wife, Teenage Daughters
COLUMBIA, Mo. - A former Columbia, Missouri city official has been charged with capital murder in the shootings of his wife and two teenage daughters in eastern Kansas. The divorce attorney for 46-year-old James Kraig Kahler's wife said the man had serious problems with women, going so far as to call him misogynistic.

While attorney Dan Pingelton admits Kahler has never been psychologically evaluated, he says all the signs were there.

"My first thoughts were, 'I hope that's not Karen and her children,'" Pingelton said. "Based on the case my second thought, because I heard there had been one survivor, I said, 'That survivor is going to be Sean.'"

Pingelton was representing Karen Kahler in her divorce when he learned of Saturday's shootings in Burlingame, Kansas. Police said Kahler shot and killed Karen and their two teenage girls, Emily and Lauren. Karen's grandmother was critically injured in the attack. The sole survivor was the couple's 10-year-old son, Sean, who was there but wasn't hurt.

"Ambushing your entire family, killing the three women and trying to kill the fourth woman and your son lives...he's a monster, an absolute monster," Pingelton said.

Pingelton said Kahler was a rigid and controlling individual, who emotionally abused the girls.

"We had a schedule set up for him to see the children, he declined to see his daughters," Pingelton said. "These were wonderful girls. I mean, wonderful people. And they did not take sides in this divorce."

Kahler was expected in court on Wednesday on a domestic assault charge stemming from an incident with his wife in March.

That case, along with the divorce, were warning signs to the Columbia city manager, who said he asked Kahler to resign from his position in September as director of Columbia's Water & Light Department because of his difficult family issues.

Still, Pingelton said Kahler knew it wasn't the end of the road and neither the assault charges nor the divorce needed to get ugly.

"He could have been an involved parent and moved on with his life," Pingelton said. "So, when you say, was the timing of it precipitous, no, it wasn't. He had been well counseled that this thing was going to work out all right."

Pingelton said the 10-year-old is staying with family in Kansas. In the meantime, Kahler is scheduled to be in court December 10 and bail has been set at $10 million.

Monday, November 2, 2009

California I-Team investigates Family Court Costs

I-Team Examines High Costs Of Family Court (Click on the title for the original link.)

Parents Say They Are Drained Of Money By Court Professionals

Lauren Reynolds
10News I-Team Reporter
POSTED: 2:18 pm PDT October 29, 2009
UPDATED: 11:55 am PST November 2, 2009

SAN DIEGO -- Jim Wittmack's home is lined with hundreds of pictures of the two children who no longer live with him.

"The whole custody thing was about money," he said.

He has strong feelings about the family court system.

"It is very well crafted by the professionals to extort money from the parents and ramp up fees," he explained.

It's a complaint the 10News I-Team has heard several times over the past year while investigation several stories in family court.

Connie Valentine of the California Protective Parents Association said, "It's pay to play."

She said the problem is not unique to San Diego or even to California, but is nationwide.

"It's a money industry at this point; a completely unregulated money industry in which the professionals can charge what they want," she said.

The professionals include attorneys, evaluators, special masters and mediators. Sometimes one person will take on different roles in different cases. For example, a mediator in one case might be a custody evaluator in a second and a special master, or tie-breaker, in a third.

Among the higher priced services provided by psychologists in San Diego is a custody evaluation. There are a dozen psychologists routinely used in San Diego Family Court.

"The fact that they use the same 12 people over and over again just confirms that it's like a cartel," said Wittmack.

He said the professionals know each other well and refer each other work.
Wittmack had two evaluations over three years with the same psychologist. The cost was $14,000.

"You just have to come up with the money whether it exists or not. In my case, I borrowed it from my sister," he explained.

The evaluators often will not release their reports until their bill is paid; they even get judges to compel payment, the I-team learned.

The I-Team found one example out of Northern California in which an 11-year-old boy, Coby, was the center of a custody dispute. His mother was ordered to pay $2,200 upfront to a custody evaluator. In the ruling, the judge wrote, "If mother does not pay the fees ... primary custody shall be changed."

The mother did not come up with the money and she lost custody. She told the I-Team she didn't have the money and the boy's father had missed child support payments.

Valentine said, "It's a shocking case."

She reported it to the Judicial Council, which oversees California courts.
Evaluators counter that their work provides valuable insight, especially given that judges get limited time with family members involved in disputes.

Stephen Sparta, Ph.D., spoke before a gathering of family law attorneys, judges and evaluators last spring and pointed out that evaluations are thorough and can help spot the psychosis in parents. He gave examples of violent outcomes of custody battles to make his point.

"Sometimes I feel badly that people without money don't get these evaluations," he told the crowd.

The I-Team confirmed that low income families, even those with documented conflict, are not ordered to get the custody evaluations because there is nobody to pay for it.

The reports are only used for families with financial means.

Since even some judges question the value, the I-Team asked Supervising Judge Lorna

Alksne why they are used for people in the middle or upper classes.

She responded that parents often request or demand these evaluations hoping their side will be favored. In most cases, she said, it is the parents and their attorneys who provide the court with the names they want to be selected as the evaluator. Judges do not control the costs, but they may rule on how parents should split the bill.

Alksne also pointed out that some judges try to dissuade parents from getting the evaluations because of the time and expense involved and the fact that it does not always solve the problems relating to custody sharing arrangements.

Parents have told the I-Team that attorneys or even judges steered them into the evaluation.

One local Judge, Jeffrey Boswick, is openly critical of the process. He spoke frankly about the evaluations while giving a presentation to court professionals. The presentation was videotaped and provided to 10News.

"It's too expensive, it takes too long to do, and it often times doesn't solve anything in the case," he said.

Wittmack said he had 50-50 custody of his children and that he and his wife typically were cordial to each other until the lawyers and professionals became involved.

He said he agreed to the first custody evaluation, but made it clear that he couldn't afford the second one.

In a letter, the custody evaluator who worked on his case said Wittmack failed to pay the entire "cost of the assessment" up-front.

The evaluator wrote it "resulted in the court changing custody."

Wittmack has his pictures of his children all around him, but he only has his children every other weekend.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Peoria murder-suicide victim sought help from court

Peoria murder-suicide victim sought help from court
Peoria woman later killed in apparent murder-suicide
by Dustin Gardiner - Oct. 20, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

A Peoria mother whose body was found Friday had recently tried to leave Arizona after receiving threats from her apparent slayer, but a judge denied her request, court records show.

Two weeks before she was killed, Dawn Axsom pleaded with Judge Jose Padilla of Maricopa County Superior Court to let her leave Arizona with her son because she feared Gabriel Schwartz, the toddler's father, would harm her or their boy.

Padilla denied the 26-year-old's request and ordered the pair to attend parental counseling together.

Axsom's body was found in her Peoria residence Friday. Police also found the bodies of Schwartz, 28, and Linda Braden, 56, Axsom's mother.

Schwartz is suspected of shooting and killing both women before turning the gun on himself, Peoria police spokesman Mike Tellef said Monday.

Tellef said the violence likely began in the downstairs kitchen, where Schwartz shot Braden. Then, Schwartz went upstairs, shooting Axsom in the master bathroom and killing himself in a bedroom.

Police discovered the grisly scene at about 10 a.m. Friday after Axsom didn't show up for work and a friend and the friend's mother went to the home, located in the 7400 block of West Sierra Street, to check on her.

When the friend knocked on the door, she heard Axsom and Schwartz's nearly 2-year-old boy crying upstairs.

The woman called police, who arrived and found the child unharmed inside his crib.

"When the officer took the baby outside, he covered (the child's) eyes so he couldn't see anything," Tellef said, recounting the scene.

Friends and co-workers who gathered outside Axsom's residence Friday said she was having ongoing custody problems with Schwartz and expressed frustration that the court system wouldn't let her leave Arizona when she knew Schwartz might harm her.

Court records show Padilla granted Axsom a protective order against Schwartz four days before the Oct. 6 hearing where he ordered her to attend parental counseling with him and denied her request to relocate to Maryland with the pair's son.

Axsom's son was placed into the custody of state Child Protective Services.


* * *

3 found dead in Peoria home
by Nathan Gonzalez - Oct. 18, 2009 05:38 PM
The Arizona Republic

Peoria police believe three people found dead inside a home Friday morning may be a case of murder-suicide, but are awaiting autopsy results, a spokesman said Sunday afternoon.

Detectives hope the autopsies on Lisa Braden, 56, her daughter Dawn Axsom, 26, and Gabriel Schwartz, 28, will provide answers on how the three died, said Mike Tellef, a police spokesman.

"There are too many unknowns as of yet," Tellef said, noting that the incident looks like a possible murder-suicide. However, he fell short of naming it as such.

Police believe there are no outstanding suspects.

About 10 a.m. Friday, a woman and her mother went to the home on the 7400 block of W. Sierra Street, after one of the victims failed to show for work, police said previously.

When one woman rang the doorbell, she heard Axsom and Schwartz's 2-year-old child crying inside. The woman called police, who arrived and found the child unharmed inside the home.

Police have thus far declined to say how Braden, Axsom and Schwartz died, only that violence was involved and their bodies were found in different areas of the home.

The 2-year-old boy was placed into the custody of Child Protective Services.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Custody courts are not helping


On Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009, neighbor Hailey Erickson brings a flower and a stuffed animal to a makeshift memorial in front of the apartment where a father and his children were found dead in the 2700 block of White Ridge Place the day on Wednesday, Sept 16, in Thousand Oaks. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)

Jobless dad, kids in murder-suicide

By Connie Llanos, Jerry Berrios and Kevin Modesti, Staff Writers
Updated: 09/17/2009 09:53:39 PM PDT
published in the Los Angeles Daily News

THOUSAND OAKS — After losing his job in the midst of fighting a child-custody battle, a Thousand Oaks father apparently stabbed his two children to death in their own beds and then killed himself, police said.
The murder-suicide stunned this suburban Ventura County community which hadn't seen a single homicide for more than a year.

The children's mother found the bodies of her ex-husband, James Mulvaney, 52, son Jason, 12, and daughter Jennifer, 7, when she went to pick up the children from their father's home Wednesday evening, said Ventura County Sheriff's Department spokesman Ross Bonfiglio.

The Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office determined the two children died from multiple stab wounds. Mulvaney's cause of death is pending toxicology reports, which could take anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks. But officials said it appeared he overdosed on prescription medication.

Shocked neighbors described Mulvaney as a quiet family man who was often seen outside watching his kids ride their bikes or swim in The Knolls apartment complex pool. They said he had lived there for about six months.

Karla Jackson, a neighbor whose 11-year-old son often played with the Mulvaney children, said the kids always seemed happy.

"They had beautiful blond hair and always had big smiles on their faces," Jackson said as she teared up. "It will be a long time before we will be able to get over this."

She said the scene at the apartment complex was like a movie. A crime scene investigations truck was parked in front of the apartment, as well as several police cars. Dozens of residents watched the crime scene.
"I was out here until 1 a.m. last night," Jackson said. "I couldn't sleep. I just can't believe this happened."

Mulvaney's ex-wife called 911 at 5:42 p.m. Wednesday, police said. She had become concerned after learning the children had not attended school or after-school activities Wednesday.

She also identified the bodies.

Authorities believe Mulvaney killed the children between 10 p.m. Tuesday and 2 a.m. Wednesday, then killed himself between 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"It is believed he overdosed on multiple prescription medications," said Craig Stevens, a senior deputy medical examiner.

They recovered the presumed murder weapon from inside the house, a large, fixed-blade knife covered in blood.

The couple was recently divorced and were in court over custody of their children, Bonfiglio said.

Grief counselors were at Lang Ranch Elementary and Los Cerritos Middle School Thursday to help students and teachers deal with the tragedy.

"It's a tightknit community and we all rely on one another," said Janet Cosaro, assistant superintendent of instruction at Conejo Valley Unified School District.

Cosaro said the tragic event was not only heartbreaking but uncommon for the quiet suburban neighborhood.

Bonfiglio said Mulvaney had lost a job recently.

Mulvaney previously worked at a Citibank branch in Camarillo, a branch employee confirmed Thursday. A Citibank corporate spokesman would only confirm he once worked for the bank.

"We are deeply saddened by this tragic incident. Our thoughts and condolences go out to all the friends and families who are affected by this tragedy," Citibank spokesman Robert Julavits said in a written statement.

Investigators worked overnight Wednesday combing through the apartment in the 544-unit upscale Spanish-style complex for clues to the gruesome crime. By Thursday afternoon, a crime scene cleanup crew arrived at the corner apartment.

Bonnie Shapiro, one of Mulvaney's neighbors, said she came out to console Mulvaney's ex-wife after she heard her screams at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"You don't think you are going to come home to something like this," Shapiro said. "My heart goes out to her."

Thursday afternoon, gold and blue glittery hula hoops lay by the entrance to Mulvaney's apartment. His gray Lexus sedan was parked out front with a red and white soccer ball in the front passenger seat and pink tennis shoes in the back seat.

Neighbors identified a blue Volvo station wagon, parked askew two doors from the apartment, as belonging to Mulvaney's ex-wife. She also had children's items scattered throughout her car including soccer cleats, knee pads and a My Little Pony video game.

The tragedy follows a recent rash of family murder suicides in the Southland in the past two years, including incidents in North Hollywood, Porter Ranch, Covina, Yorba Linda, San Clemente and Wilmington.

Dr. Lanny Berman, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based American Association of Suicidology, said the role of marital strain and child-custody battles in such violent incidents is "a common theme."

Berman said evidence is mixed on whether job losses and other elements of the national economic downturn have contributed to any increase in suicides and violent behavior.

Berman said that during the recession, operators of some suicide-prevention helplines have reported an increase in calls in which financial stress seems to be a factor, but others report no difference.

Because there's typically a two- to three-year lag in the reporting of suicide data, statistical evidence of a correlation between the recession and suicide attempts is not yet available, and a direct tie-in may never be proven.

"All we have is anecdotal reports, and the media picks up on these things, because everyone suspects there's going to be an effect," Berman said. "I would caution against rushing to judgment on it.

"That's not to say it couldn't be a factor. But the economy has affected millions of people in this country. To commit suicide, somebody would have to have a lot more going on. (Financial stress) is not a sufficient explanation."



Daily News research
Updated: 09/17/2009 09:43:53 PM PDT

Other slayings
Parents killing kids


Wednesday: Thuy Le, 38, of Garden Grove, is suspected of stabbing her 3- and 5-year-old daughters with a kitchen knife at a cousin's home in Westminster, then stabbing herself. The 5-year-old girl has been placed on life support but is expected to survive. The 3-year-old girl suffered superficial wounds. Authorities said they plan to charge Le with attempted murder.

Sept. 2: Diana Moreno, 17, and Edith Moreno, 11, die when their throats are slashed at their North Hollywood home. Their mother, Antonia Gomez, has been charged with capital murder. She pleaded not guilty during a hearing Thursday.

Jan. 27: Ervin Lupoe of Wilmington kills his wife and their five children before turning the gun on himself. Lupoe and his wife, Ana, had just been fired from their jobs as medical technicians at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in West Los Angeles.

Dec. 24, 2008: Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, of Sylmar, dressed in a Santa Claus costume, commits suicide after killing nine people at a Christmas Eve party at the Covina home of his former in-laws. An unemployed aerospace worker, Pardo had recently divorced.

Oct. 6, 2008: Karthik Rajaram, an out-of-work financial analyst, kills his wife, three sons and mother-in-law before committing suicide in their rented home in Porter Ranch.

May 2008: Five members of a close-knit Turkish-American family in San Clemente die in what authorities say was a suicide pact. A motive was never determined.

Feb. 23, 2008: Orland Cho, 41, killed his wife and three of his children in their Yorba Linda condominium before turning the shotgun on himself. A 14-year-old stepson was shot but survived.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What happens when a mom is alleged to "alienate"

Click on the title to watch a custody court at work.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Court-ordered child abuse

In this news story, an adult who was given to the custody of an abusive parent by a California court, writes of being forced to commit crimes. To read that letter, click on the title above.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

StopFamilyViolence.org reports bias in court decisions

Irene Weiser at StopFamilyViolence.org, writes:

We're uncovering what seems to be a national trend of murders that occur
during divorce proceeding and/or custody disputes.

More often than not, it's the man who kills the women and/or children, but
we've certainly seen it go the other way too.

In one way or another it relates to the disturbing trend of court's not
believing the mother's allegations of abuse, and favoring the (abusive)
father.

See our collection of stories on this topic here:

http://www.stopfamilyviolence.org/get-informed/custody-and-abuse/news-on-custody-abuse

(Or click on the title above to reach this link.)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How can we help courts hear the anguish of children before it is too late?

Click on the title above for the original article.

Prosecutor: Dad killed girl to avoid child support
By GREG RISLING (AP)

LOS ANGELES — A father who had no interest in his 4-year-old daughter did the unimaginable — hurling her off a 120-foot cliff to avoid paying child support, a prosecutor said Monday during the man's murder retrial.

Cameron Brown, 47, was charged with one count of murder and the special circumstance allegations of murder while lying in wait and murder for financial gain in the death of Lauren Sarene Key in November 2000. Brown, a former American Airlines baggage handler, has pleaded not guilty and faces life in prison without parole if convicted.

Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum said during his opening statement that Brown killed Lauren because he didn't want to pay about $1,000 a month in child support.

Defense attorney Pat Harris countered that it was an accident when the girl fell from Inspiration Point in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Hum portrayed Brown as an uncaring father who tried to shirk his parental responsibility at nearly every turn. After Brown learned the girl's mother, Sarah Key-Marer, was pregnant with Lauren, he first wanted her to have an abortion and then sought a paternity test that eventually proved he was the father, Hum said.

"Does he show any interest in the child he fathered?" Hum asked. "Absolutely not."

Only when he was forced to pay child support did Brown finally see his daughter — about three years after she was born, Hum said, adding that the total number of hours Brown spent with his daughter during her life amounted to about two weeks.

Hum argued that Brown and Lauren went out to the cliff where nobody could see them, and he "hurled" her into the Pacific Ocean.

"This man picked up Lauren, whom he fathered but was never a father to, and threw her off a cliff into the water below," Hum said.

Brown, wearing a dark suit and a red tie, stared at Hum during his opening statement and showed no reaction.

Harris gave a different account of his client's relationship with his daughter, insisting the case was nothing more than "character assassination." He dismissed the prosecution's contention that it was a "good-versus-evil" struggle between Brown and Key-Marer.

"It was two parents trying to work out arrangements so they could have a happy child," Harris said.

Harris said Brown carried a picture of Lauren in his wallet, gave her gifts and toasted with his friends when he learned he would get visitation rights. Two weeks before her death, Brown filed court documents seeking more visits with Lauren, Harris said.

"It doesn't make sense," he said.

The prosecution's first witness was Key-Marer, a British immigrant, who described her relationship with Brown as amicable but deteriorated during the child custody dispute after she said in court documents that he was showing little interest in Lauren's life.

Key-Marer testified that her daughter wouldn't share what she did with Brown and Lauren was upset the day she died once she learned Brown would pick her up at school.

"She said, 'No, no I don't want to see him today,'" Key-Marer said. "She was crying and I had trouble getting her out of the car seat."

In a wrenching moment, Key-Marer said after talking to her daughter on the phone she decided to leave work early and pick up Lauren. But she soon learned that Brown had arrived early and she wouldn't be able to get there in time.

She described waiting for Lauren that night, looking out her window for her daughter and Brown to return. Distraught, she and her husband decided to notify authorities because they thought Brown may have kidnapped Lauren.

"We knew something really bad had happened," she said.

Key-Marer broke into tears when she recounted how a female police detective told her that her daughter had died.

"I remember hearing the words 'cliff' and 'Lauren was dead,'" Key-Marer said before court recessed for the day. "I just couldn't believe it."

Brown was tried three years ago, but a mistrial was declared after a jury deadlocked on the severity of the crime. Some jurors favored a first-degree murder conviction, while others voted for second-degree murder or manslaughter.

Both sides intend to call experts to give their opinions on how Lauren died. Jurors will also take a trip to the cliff to see where the alleged crime occurred.

(This version CORRECTS UPDATES with afternoon testimony, details. corrects reference to number of times Brown visited daughter from 12 times to two weeks.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Are there ways we can correct systemic failures and avert tragedies?

How can our systems detect problems in advance to avoid tragedies like this? Click on the title above for the link to the original story below.

Suspect in San Jose murder-suicide lost custody of daughter three months ago

By Sean Webby and Lisa Fernandez
Mercury News
Posted: 07/08/2009 06:16:24 PM PDT
Updated: 07/08/2009 06:16:24 PM PDT

Three months ago Jian Ming Liang was convicted of child endangerment and had his 9-year-old daughter legally handed over to her mother in San Jose, according to San Jose police. This week Liang came from Southern California on an unexpected and tragic family visit — armed with a semi-automatic pistol.

Liang shot and killed his ex-girlfriend Ying He — and then himself — because he was upset over losing custody of their child, San Jose police said their preliminary investigation showed.

The child and He's husband escaped the carnage.

Local police have released little else about the murder-suicide or Jiang, 39.

"We don't know what his intentions were,'' said Lt. Rikki Goede, commander of the SJPD homicide unit. "We are still investigating."

But Arcadia police released a troubling story of how Liang had contacted school officials earlier this year to say that he "could no longer afford or wanted to care" for the girl.

The department launched a child neglect and abandonment investigation in March.

The girl was turned over to the Department of Children and Family Services and was later released to her mother.

Liang was arrested by Arcadia Police Department officers on March 23, 2009 when he attended a child custody hearing at Family Court in East Los Angeles. He was booked for felony child endangerment and abandonment.

Liang later plead no contest to a misdemeanor count of child abandonment and was sentenced to three years probation, police said. Liang's only criminal case in Santa Clara County shows a 2003 stalking charge that was dismissed. Online records show Liang had filed for bankruptcy in 2005.

San Jose police say they are not sure what Liang did before the Monday morning shooting.

Liang showed up at the Montecito Vista townhouse and confronted Shane Coffman, He's husband, in the garage area, police said. He fired a shot which grazed Coffman's earlobe.

Then, he went into the home and shot the girl's mother multiple times.

"It appears she was mortally wounded before the first officer arrived on the scene,'' Goede said.

Police later found Jiang's body. He had killed himself.

The dead mother's domestic problems with her old flame were dark shadows that rarely appeared on her sunny, public face.

Colleagues at the tight-knit respiratory therapy department at El Camino Hospital where Ying He worked, remembered her as "the sweetest person ever."

The 35-year-old San Jose woman went by her Chinese name "Ying" at work, and was known as "Brandi'' to others, including her husband's family. Shane Coffman, who survived the apparent murder-suicide, has declined to speak through relatives because the tragedy is simply too raw.

"It's such a horrible tragedy,'' said Ritu Joshi, who used to work with He, a night-shift therapist who regulated the breathing of patients in the intensive care unit. "She was awesome. She was kind to all her patients. She had sincere eyes and you just knew that she really cared. You would have never thought anything like this was going on in her life.''

Joshi and others didn't pry too much, but there were snippets of He's life that had dribbled out. Something about an ex-husband taking her daughter away from her. Then, her winning custody of her child a few months ago. She recently brought her daughter to work for the first time, colleagues said. She seemed so excited and proud to show her off .

Monday, July 6, 2009

Why do courts underestimate the danger to children?


Arizona dad kills his 3-year-old daughter and himself during his court-ordered visit. For video and story, click on the title above.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Who will protect children against parents who prey on them?

Click on the title above for the original story in the Tampa Tribune.

Child porn's dirty secret: Dads often behind lens

By ELAINE SILVESTRINI
esilvestrini@tampatrib.com

Published: July 5, 2009

RELATED LINKS

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website
TAMPA - He told his young daughter he was going to make her a model.

He shot pictures of her in skimpier and skimpier outfits.

And when she slept, the Tampa man photographed himself molesting her.

He created a Web site, charging strangers to view graphic photos of his daughter. Pedophiles could write in and say what they wanted to see her wearing.

The man was discovered when investigators searching his child-pornography collection noticed that sheets in some of the pictures matched the sheets on his bed.

They also saw explicit pictures of a young girl being molested. Investigators recognized her from family pictures.

The case was not unusual, authorities say.

That's because when children are victims of pornography, the photographers and abusers often are their fathers, stepfathers and grandfathers.

"Some of the darkest stuff you see is produced in people's basements," said Stacy Arruda, who supervises the Tampa FBI's computer crimes unit. "The most common that we see in this area ... is parents and stepparents abusing their own children."

Nearly twice as many children in a nationwide child-porn database were photographed by their parents as were victims of online enticement. The number victimized by parents was nearly seven times that of children exploited by strangers.

There was the case of a Tampa man traced by a Pennsylvania state trooper investigating child pornography on the Internet. When investigators searched his home, the man's 12-year-old daughter was there. Later, as agents reviewed pornographic images on the man's computer, there she was posed on a bed when she was 7.

'Our secret'

Several years ago, prosecutors say, the parents of a 14-year-old girl established a Web site with graphic photos of their daughter. The mother bought the girl provocative clothing; the father took the pictures and molested her. When investigators searched the Tampa-area home, the girl's closet was full of garter belts, stockings and platform shoes.

Then there was the man who took pornographic pictures of his 9-year-old great-granddaughter.

"Make a pretty face," he would tell her.

"Don't tell anybody," he would say afterward. "It will be our secret."

The Bradenton man was prosecuted after his great-granddaughter told her grandmother about the photo sessions. Investigators reviewing photographs discovered the man's 7-year-old great-grandson also was a victim.

When investigators asked the girl why she took off her clothes for her great-grandfather, she said it was because you're supposed to do what your grandparents tell you.

These cases are a dirty secret, and not only in families.

Media reports almost always leave out the relationship between perpetrator and victim in order to protect the child's identity. Most media organizations, including The Tampa Tribune, have policies that bar publishing the identities of sexual assault victims, especially children.

For that reason, the suspects' names also are being withheld in this story.

"Most people would not suspect that a girl's own father would do it," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Murphy-Davis, who prosecutes such cases.

"It's really shocking," said another Tampa federal prosecutor, Amanda Kaiser. "When you first start, you think, 'How could parents do that? How could they sell their children?' ... It's just sickening."

Some fathers are seeking financial gain, Kaiser said. Others want sexual gratification.

"I think they're sociopaths," she said. "I don't think they have any conscience. I think they lack empathy, and to them, children are just a commodity to be used."

Since Arruda began her job 31/2 years ago, she estimates the office has investigated about 100 such cases. Technology costs are falling, making exploitation easier.

"Anybody with a digital camera can take pictures of whatever they want," she said.

Sometimes male relatives trade photographs with other pedophiles online, Arruda said.

Fathers can get away with being abusers because they can exploit the bond of trust, authorities say. They groom their children to accept what is happening and have the leverage to keep them quiet.

Sometimes, the mothers know.

"You've got one of two situations," Murphy-Davis said. "The mother knows about it, so they figure it's fruitless to tell mom, or they've told her in the past and she's like, 'You're lying.' Or there's just too much shame with going to the mother and saying, 'This is what the man you love is doing to me.'"

Sometimes, the mother supports the abusing father at the expense of the child. One Tampa mother wanted to kick her teenage daughter out of the house and make her live with her grandmother so the father could remain there while his case was pending. The judge was so disgusted he ordered the father jailed. The mother's letter in her husband's defense angered the sentencing judge.

Prison sentences

The charge of producing child pornography carries a prison sentence of up to 30 years; possessing child porn carries up to 10 years; and transporting or shipping child porn brings a minimum mandatory sentence of five years and as long as 20 years.

The Tampa man who created a Web site with graphic photos of his daughter pleaded guilty to all three of those charges and was sentenced to 45 years in federal prison.

"What law enforcement tends to be seeing is that the children who are being used to produce these images are kids being abused in bedrooms and basements and living rooms across the United States and elsewhere," said Michelle Collins, executive director of the Exploited Child Division of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The division is a clearinghouse for law enforcement to share information when children depicted in pornography are identified. Collins said this helps prevent defendants from arguing that the children in their pornography collections aren't real.

Since the program started in 2003, more than 2,300 children have been identified in pornographic pictures and videos, Collins said.

Of those, 27 percent were photographed by parents or stepparents; 24 percent by neighbors or close family friends; and 10 percent by other relatives.

Just 4 percent were photographed by strangers. The rest were photographed by coaches, babysitters, their parents' boyfriends and girlfriends, or by themselves, often after being enticed by someone they met online.

"The individuals who sexually molest are most likely to molest children who they're a trusted adult toward," Collins said. "That's why there is such a low disclosure rate of children who are abused."

Reporter Elaine Silvestrini can be reached at (813) 259-7837.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

When courts deprive kids of great parents


Dr. Jerri Nielsen FitzGerald was also a battered wife who lost custody of her three children. Click on the title for a link to the following story.

Doctor in 1999 South Pole rescue dies in Mass.

AP – FILE - In this 1999 file photo released by the National Science Foundation, Dr. Jerri Nielsen, a National …
By MARK PRATT, Associated Press Writer – Wed Jun 24, 6:39 pm ET

BOSTON – Dr. Jerri Nielsen FitzGerald, who diagnosed and treated her own breast cancer before a dramatic rescue from the South Pole a decade ago, has died after the disease recurred. She was 57.

Her husband, Thomas FitzGerald, said she died Tuesday at their home in Southwick, Mass. Her cancer had been in remission until it returned in August 2005, he said Wednesday.

She was the only doctor among 41 staff at the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in winter 1999 when she discovered a lump in her breast. At first, she didn't tell anyone, but the burden became too much to bear.

"I got really sick," she told The Associated Press in a 2003 interview. "I had great big lymph nodes under my arm. I thought I would die."

Rescue was out of the question. Because of the extreme weather conditions, the station is closed to the outside world for the winter. She had no choice but to treat the disease herself, with help from colleagues she trained to care for her and U.S.-based doctors she stayed in touch with via satellite e-mail.

She performed a biopsy on herself with the help of staff.

A machinist helped her with her IV and test slides, and a welder helped with chemotherapy.

She treated herself with anti-cancer drugs delivered during a gripping mid-July 1999 airdrop by a U.S. Air Force plane in blackout, freezing conditions.

In a headline-grabbing rescue, she was lifted by the Air National Guard that October, one of the earliest flights ever into the station when it became warm enough — 58 degrees below zero — to make the risky flight.

After multiple surgeries in the U.S., including a mastectomy, the cancer went into remission.

"More and more as I am here and see what life really is, I understand that it is not when or how you die but how and if you truly were ever alive," she wrote in an e-mail to her parents in June 1999 from the South Pole.

Nielsen FitzGerald never lost her adventurous spirit and even returned to desolate Antarctica several more times.

"She had incredible zest and enthusiasm for life," said her husband, whom she first met 23 years ago when they were both on vacation in the Amazon. "She was the kindest soul I ever met. She was intelligent, with a great sense of humor, and she lived each day to the fullest."

She documented her ordeal in the best-selling book "Ice Bound: A Doctor's Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole." It was later made into a TV movie.

The disease made her stronger, she said in November 2001.

"I would rather not have it. But the cancer is part of me. It's given my life color and texture. Everyone has to get something. Some people are ugly, some people are stupid. I get cancer," she said at lecture in Denver.

Nielsen FitzGerald spent the last decade speaking around the world about the cancer and how it changed her life, and she worked as a roving ER doctor in hospitals all over the Northeast.

"She fought bravely, she was able to make the best of what life and circumstance gave her, and she had the most resilience I have ever seen in anyone," said her husband. "She fought hard, and she fought valiantly."

The couple would have celebrated their third anniversary next week.

Indiana University cancer specialist Dr. Kathy Miller, who by e-mail and videoconference helped Nielsen treat herself for nearly five months before she could leave the South Pole, said Nielsen's willingness to speak about her fight against cancer helped give hope to other cancer patients.

"She was very passionate about continuing to live her life," Miller said. "She continued to work for many years, she married again, she traveled extensively. I think that gave a lot of our patients hope that even when disease recurs life can still go on and we can still find a lot of good things in that life."

Miller said Nielsen's advocacy helped cancer patients much like that of Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and actress Christina Applegate.

"It's easy to underestimate the importance of those public messages," Miller said. "We see increases in screenings when people who have public lives come forward in this way."

Nielsen FitzGerald's passion for life shone through during a visit to the University of Toledo medical school last October, even though her cancer had metastasized to the brain and she knew she did not have much time left, said vice provost Patricia Metting.

"You couldn't help but be moved by this woman and her profound words and just the optimism that she had," Metting said.

Besides her husband, the Youngstown, Ohio-area native and graduate of the University of Toledo medical school is survived by parents Lorine and Phil Cahill, brothers Scott Cahill and Eric Cahill and three children from a previous marriage, Julia, Ben and Alex.

Memorial and funeral arrangements were pending.
___
Associated Press writers Doug Whiteman in Columbus, Ohio, and Tom Davies in Indianapolis contributed to this report.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Why do courts underestimate the danger to children?


Well-behaved 7-year-old, forced to spend summer with his father in Massachusetts, is dead within a month. Click on the title for the Boston Herald story.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Why do courts underestimate the danger to children?

Click on the title above for this story of a new bill in Florida secured by a mother in memory of her two children who were killed by their father in a custody case.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rates At Which Batterers Get Custody In America (75%)

The following posts by attorney Joan Meier from October 9, 2008, can also be seen by clicking on the title above or entering this link in your browser:
http://abusesurvivors.meetup.com/boards/thread/5575497


Rates At Which Batterers Receive Custody
by Joan Meier, Esq.


One statement in Breaking the Silence: Children's Voices that has provoked controversy was my statement that "the studies are showing" that up to 2/3 of accused or adjudicated batterers receive joint or sole custody in court. While no empirical study can definitively determine a universal statistical rate, the key point is that the research consistently shows that accused and adjudicated batterers receive joint or sole custody disturbingly often. This confirms the anecdotal experience of domestic violence attorneys and victims around the country. The following research supports this perspective.

I. A History of Domestic Violence is Common among Contested Custody Cases.

The remarkably consistent research on this issue is compiled in my previously-issued statement, Research Indicating that the majority of cases that go to court as 'high conflict' contested custody cases have a history of domestic violence (Nov. 9, 2005).

One good example is a study cited by Janet Johnston, a leading researcher of parental alienation, which found that, among custody litigants referred to mediation, "Physical aggression had occurred between 75% and 70% of the parents . . . even though the couples had been separated. . . [for an average of 30-42 months]". Furthermore, in 35% of the first sample and 48% of the second, [the violence] was denoted as severe and involved battering and threatening to use or using a weapon."

- Janet R. Johnston, "High-Conflict Divorce," The Future of Children, Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1994, 165-182) citing Depner et al., "Building a uniform statistical reporting system: A snapshot of California Family Court Services," Family and Conciliation Courts Review (1992) 30: 185-206.


II. Domestic Violence Perpetrators are More Likely to Contest Custody than Non- Abusers.

The American Psychological Association's Presidential Task Force on Violence in the Family, the leading review of the research as of 1996, found that men who abuse their partners contest custody at least twice as often as non-abusing fathers. They are even more likely to contest custody if the children are boys.

- American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence in the Family (1996) at p. 40.


III. Accused and Adjudicated Batterers Receive Joint or Sole Custody Surprisingly Often.

The research on this has only emerged in the past few years and most studies have been small and local. Nonetheless, they document disturbing trends, which surprised even me when I first discovered them.

A. Multiple studies have documented gender bias against women in custody litigation.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that women are favored in custody litigation, both the experiences of battered women and the empirical research are showing that women who allege abuse are deeply disfavored in custody courts.

- Janet R. Johnston, "High-Conflict Divorce," The Future of Children, Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1994, 165-182) citing Depner et al., "Building a uniform statistical reporting system: A snapshot of California Family Court Services," Family and ConciliationCourts Review (1992) 30: 185-206


II. Domestic Violence Perpetrators are More Likely to Contest Custody than Non- Abusers.

The American Psychological Association's Presidential Task Force on Violence in the Family, the leading review of the research as of 1996, found that men who abuse their partners contest custody at least twice as often as non-abusing fathers. They are even more likely to contest custody if the children are boys.

- American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence in the Family (1996) at p. 40.


III. Accused and Adjudicated Batterers Receive Joint or Sole Custody Surprisingly Often.

The research on this has only emerged in the past few years and most studies have been small and local. Nonetheless, they document disturbing trends, which surprised even me when I first discovered them.

A. Multiple studies have documented gender bias against women in custody litigation.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that women are favored in custody litigation, both the experiences of battered women and the empirical research are showing that women who allege abuse are deeply disfavored in custody courts.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Gender Bias Task Force was one of the first states to document the gender bias against women in family courts. This court-initiated study expressly found that "our research contradicted [the] perception" that "there is a bias in favor of women in these decisions." Moreover, it found that "in determining custody and visitation, many judges and family service officers do not consider violence toward women relevant." The Court's study further found that "the courts are demanding more of mothers than fathers in custody disputes" and that "many courts put the needs of noncustodial fathers above those of custodial mothers and children."

- Gender Bias Study of the Court System in Massachusetts, 24 New Eng.L.Rev. 745, 747, 825, 846 (1990)

More recently, and since the evolution and widespread adoption of "parental alienation syndrome," a multi-year, four-phase study using qualitative and quantitative social science research methodologies by the Wellesley Centers for Women found "a consistent pattern of human rights abuses" by family courts, including failure to protect battered women and children from abuse, discriminating against and inflicting degrading treatment on battered women, and denying battered women due process. Histories of abuse of mother and children were routinely ignored or discounted.

- Wellesley Centers for Women Battered Mothers' Testimony Project, Battered Mothers Speak Out: A Human Rights Report on Domestic Violence and Child Custody in the Massachusetts Family Courts (Nov. 2002)(hereafter "BMTP"), Executive Summary at 2.

A comparable study by the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence found that most of the women surveyed felt the history of abuse was not taken seriously and that they were ignored, disrespected and discriminated against by court personnel.
- Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Battered Mothers' Testimony Project: A Human Rights Approach to Child Custody and Domestic Violence (June 2003), pp. 47, 49, 6.

A study of the Domestic Relations Division of Philadelphia Family Court conducted by the Philadephia Women's Law Project in cooperation with the court, found that litigants are often denied due process, and that applicable legal standards are "not always observed, particularly in the consideration of abuse in custody proceedings, leaving families at risk."

- Tracy, Fromson & Miller, Justice in the Domestic Relations Division of Philadelphia Family Court: A Report to the Community, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE REPORT, Vol. 8, No. 6 (Aug/Sept. 2003), p. 94.


B. Studies show Accused and Adjudicated Batterers Receiving Sole or Joint Custody Surprisingly Often.

My own survey of the case law in 2001 identified 38 appellate state court decisions concerning custody and domestic violence. To my astonishment, 36 of the 38 trial courts had awarded joint or sole custody to alleged and adjudicated batterers. Two-thirds of these decisions were reversed on appeal.

- Meier, Domestic Violence, Child Custody, and Child Protection: Understanding Judicial Resistance and Imagining the Solutions, A.U. J. Gender, Soc. Pol. & the Law, 11:2 (2003), 657-731, p. 662, n. 19, and Appendix.

These cases included a case in which the perpetrator had been repeatedly convicted of domestic assault; in which a father was given sole custody of a 16-month old despite his undisputed choking of the mother resulting in her hospitalization and his arrest; in which the father had broken the mother's collarbone; had committed "occasional incidents of violence"; and had committed two admitted assaults. More such instances can be found in Meier, supra.

The American Judges Association has found that approximately 70% of batterers succeed in convincing authorities that the victim is unfit for or undeserving of sole custody. Another way of saying this is that 70% of batterers obtain sole or joint custody.

- American Judges Association, "Domestic Violence and the Courtroom: Understanding the Problem . . . Knowing the Victim" http://aja.ncsc.dni.u... (at "Forms of Emotional Battering. . . Threats to Harm or Take Away Children")

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

- Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Battered Mothers' Testimony Project: A Human Rights Approach to Child Custody and Domestic Violence (June 2003), pp. 33-34, 47-49


A study of 300 cases over a 10-year period in which the mother sought to protect the child from sexual abuse, found that 70% resulted in unsupervised visitation or shared custody; in 20% of the cases the mothers completely lost custody, and many of these lost all visitation rights.

- Neustein & Goetting (1999), "Judicial Responses to the Protective Parent's Complaint of Child Sexual Abuse," Journal of Child Sexual Abuse 8 (4): 103-122.


The Wellesley Battered Mothers' Testimony Project found that 15 out of 40 cases resulted in sole or joint physical custody to the fathers, all of whom had abused both the mother and the children.

- BMTP, supra at Appendix A.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Gender Bias Task Force found that 94% of fathers who actively sought custody received sole or joint custody, regardless of whether there was a history of abuse. While fathers received primary physical custody 29% of the time, mothers received primary physical custody in only 7% of the contested cases. The Study also cited other research which similarly found that fathers who sought custody received primary physical custody 2/3 of the time, with mothers receiving it less than ¼ of the time; and another study which found that fathers seeking custody received joint or sole custody 79% of the time, with mothers receiving sole custody in only 15% of those cases (compared to fathers' sole custody in 41% of the cases).

- Gender Bias Study at 831-832 and citing Middlesex Divorce Research Group relitigation study and Phear et al., 1983.

While the Massachusetts study and those it cited were not able to identify what proportion of the contesting fathers were batterers, the studies cited in my other Statement indicate consistently that 75% of cases have a history of domestic violence, with a substantial proportion of severe violence. Hence, it is likely that a substantial proportion of the fathers receiving joint or primary physical custody in this study had committed domestic violence.

- Meier Statement, Research Indicating that the Majority of Cases that go to Court as 'High Conflict' Contested Custody Cases have a History of Domestic Violence (Nov.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

What good legislative leadership can do

Rhode Island's Senate agreed to establish a Commission to examine problems in Family Court, but did not have the leadership to chair it. Here is what legislators in California are doing. To see the original article, click on the title above or paste this link into your browser:
http://www.insidebayarea.com/oaklandtribune/localnews/ci_12573211


Public officials call for major changes in family law
By Kamika Dunlap

Posted: 06/11/2009 06:54:02 PM PDT
Updated: 06/11/2009 09:03:13 PM PDT

OAKLAND — One by one, parents around the Bay Area are beginning to step forward to share heart-wrenching stories of the injustices they experienced in California's family court system.

These parents have joined with thousands of others statewide to reform the family courts and protect child victims of violence and sexual abuse from judicial decisions the parents say place children in harm's way.

"I'm living proof this is happening today," said Susan, a California Family Court litigant and mother whose daughter was placed with her accused molester. "The family courts crisis is a plague and it's destroying peoples' lives."

About 58,000 children per year in the U.S. are ordered into unsupervised contact with physically or sexually abusive parents following divorce, according to experts at the Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence.

Many people concerned about the systemic problems with family court attended a daylong public forum Thursday at the Alameda County Conference Center.

Some compared the family court crisis to the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandals because of what they call an institutional level of collusion of harm against children. Event organizers said they hoped the forum would inspire families who have survived traumatic family court ordeals to come forward in order to shed more light on the breakdown of the family court system.

Participants, including family court litigants, child advocates and the general public, gathered to discuss the family court crisis and take a closer look at problems and solutions. The forum's session featured public testimony by speakers and a panel of legal experts and attorneys who gave free general legal advice about how to best protect themselves in the family court.

The event was organized by the Center for Judicial Excellence in partnership with UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law, California Protective Parents Association, Justice for Children, California Safe Child Coalition, Child Abuse Solutions and the Incest Survivors Speakers' Bureau.

Their collective goal was to push to improve the judiciary's public accountability and strengthen and maintain the integrity of the courts.

In addition, the center produced a documentary, Family Court Crisis: Our Children at Risk, and screened a 12-minute clip at the forum.

The American Judges Association found that approximately 70 percent of batterers succeed in convincing authorities that the victims of their abuse are unfit or undeserving of sole custody.

Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele and actress Nancy Lee Grahn from ABC's "General Hospital" are family court reform advocates and also participated in the panel discussions.

Steele announced a new initiative to help better protect vulnerable children in family court. It includes her support of the passage of new proposed legislation by Assemblyman Jim Beall, D-San Jose, and Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, to reform family court. Her initiative also calls for the passage of Sen. Mark Leno's request for a legislative audit of Marin and Sacramento Family Courts. She also is pushing for ombudsman positions to be created in the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, where parents can go for help and to plead their case.

"The system has to change in California and across the country," Steele said.

Grahn did not talk in detail about her $1 million family court battle but said her experience was "maddening and perplexing."

She was upset to learn that some laws were unfair and that some court procedures were abusive and treated children like hostages or assets that need to be divided up.

After a three-year ordeal, Grahn finally gained custody of her 11-year-old daughter. She now works with community organizations and travels the state to meet with lawmakers and inform them about the about pitfalls of the family law system.

"I met people who were in similar or worse situations," Grahn said. "There are thousands of women who were protective parents and their children were taken away and handed over to their abusers."

For more information visit, www.centerforjudicialexcellence.org

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Why don't custody courts consider evidence? Part 2

This article by Karen de Sá appeared on Thursday, June 11, 2009, in the San Jose Mercury News.To see the original story, click on the title above or copy the link into your browser:

http://www.modbee.com/local/story/739503.html

Did system do right by the children?

Powerless and tormented, a Campbell mother awaits the story her daughter's bones will tell.

The remains of Alycia Mesiti, 14 when she vanished in August 2006, are in the hands of toxicologists and coroners. Since March, when cadaver-sniffing dogs found her body buried in the unkempt yard of her father's former home in Ceres, detectives have scoured for evidence from the girl's petite frame.

Last week, Mark Edward Mesiti was charged with the murder and rape of his daughter. He remains in a Los Angeles County jail on $205,000 bail on unrelated charges of child endangerment and running a methamphetamine lab.

Girl's dad accused of murdering Ceres teen in 2006, as well as drugging, molesting her

With a lengthy criminal past, the 41-year-old still was granted custody of Alycia and her older brother in Santa Clara County Superior Court less than a year before the girl disappeared.

The death of the smiling teen, who loved horses and the singer Shakira, lays bare the intractable choices that Family Court judges face every day, but the tragic outcome has everyone who worked on Alycia's case looking back wondering what more could have been done.

"Dad's story was he was getting phone calls periodically" from the missing girl, said Ceres police Sgt. James Robbins. "But it doesn't appear she ever left the house."

Legal thicket

The family's legal history is a tangle of allegations traded through restraining orders and court filings. A court investigator described Alycia's mother, Roberta Allen, now 39, as an unfit mother who had battled with depression.

Alycia and her brother, now 19 and in the military, were placed in Mesiti's care by the Family Court in November 2005. During the previous seven years, court records show, Mesiti had been convicted of state and federal charges, including bank fraud and drunken driving. He was charged with domestic violence and ordered to attend anger-management classes after pleading guilty to a lesser charge. After failing to comply with court orders to attend drug and alcohol programs, he landed in prison for violating probation.

Nonetheless, Allen described her yearslong legal battle as "very angled toward Mark. I couldn't afford an attorney. He had one."

Over the nine months the children lived with their father before Alycia disappeared, police and child welfare workers fielded repeated warnings of danger in their single-family home in a neat, unremarkable Ceres neighborhood.

Beginning in 2005, the children's court-appointed lawyer, Jonnie Herring, reported her concerns, recommending only a supervised, temporary placement with Mesiti because of "sufficient issues and risks to these minors." In 2006, she reported that Mesiti had failed to comply with court orders to enroll his children in school and remain in touch.

"I am deeply concerned about both minors, especially Alycia," Herring wrote in a report to Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Vincent Chiarello.

Allen said she also reported that the children often were hungry, subject to abuse and unable to call their mother despite her court-ordered visitation and contact rights. Police confirm they made visits to the home.

Clearly, the Family Court had a complex case on its hands with few ideal options when Chiarello granted Mesiti custody. The legal battle had raged for eight years without resolution. The children had been bounced between aunts and grandparents and, in a reflection of the case's complexity, the judge appointed Herring to grant them an independent voice in court. Their parents had gone through mediation, counseling and psychological evaluations.
"There were a lot of issues with both parents," said Scott Sagaria, a San Jose attorney who represented Mesiti in claims his client made against Allen, including that she'd attempted suicide and once hit her son. Noting that attorney-client privilege limited his ability to discuss the case, Sagaria added: "There was a lot of conduct by the mother in the case where, in my opinion, the court had very little alternative."

'Cases with no good options'

Chiarello, too, has declined to comment. But Supervising Family Court Judge Su-san Bernardini, who spoke only in generalities and not specifically about the Mesiti case, described the difficulty of serving on her bench.
"Cases with no good options are a centerpiece of being a judge in Family Court," she said. "We have to make a decision no one else will make."

In the case of a tragic outcome, she added, "You wonder and you look back and you always say, 'Is there anything anyone could have done?' "

Allen, a former assembly worker now working for a restaurant, was deemed unfit by the court. She had made a frank admission to feeling depressed after what she described as years of persecution by her children's father. Before Chiarello's decision, records show, Allen told the court she had fled multiple states to get away from Mesiti and even to Canada, where she and the children stayed in battered women's shelters.

But while Mesiti's court filings were formal, typed responses from his private attorney, Allen's pleading letters to judges were handwritten. She reluctantly agreed to sign off on the custody order -- in large part, she says, because she could not afford to raise the children without the child support payments Mesiti had been ordered to make.

"There were plenty of red flags going up all over the place," she said, "but they wouldn't see them."
When Alycia disappeared in 2006, Allen said she never believed the girl had run off.

"I knew in my heart of hearts that she was gone, but no one would listen to me. I was fighting with police, saying, 'She's not a runaway, she's a missing person!' " Allen recalled. "But the police stopped taking my calls. They said, 'She'll come home, she'll come home.' "

Years of anxiety

So for 2½ years, Allen went mad with worry. Alycia's disappearance was not elevated to a homicide investigation until the longtime detective on the case retired and Robbins, the Ceres investigations supervisor, ordered a fresh round of interviews.

Robbins declined to give specifics because the case is pending, but he said those interviews turned up "detailed information we didn't have the first time."

Police obtained a search warrant for Mesiti's former home on Alexis Court, which he is said to have abandoned a few months after Alycia vanished.

The case broke open with the discovery of Alycia's remains. Within days, police burst into Mesiti's Los Angeles apartment and said they found evidence of a meth lab. Now, he and the girlfriend he had lived with in Ceres face a series of court hearings on drug and child endangerment charges; the girlfriend's 12-year-old daughter had been living with the couple when they were arrested March 28.

Mesiti was in jail when his daughter's memorial was held in April in a Cupertino chapel. During the service, a lifetime of classic childhood moments beamed from photos spanning her short life: Alycia mugging in an oversized T-shirt, stirring a pot of macaroni and cheese and hugging a Snoopy doll. In the last photos, she posed for her eighth-grade prom, a fleeting brush with adolescence.

For her part, Allen tosses endlessly most nights. She tries to stay focused on her last day with Alycia, when she and her daughter ate tuna sandwiches and splashed in a downtown San Jose fountain.

Their next encounter would be three years later at the Stanislaus County coroner's office in Modesto.
"I couldn't even pick up her personal effects," Allen lamented. "There was nothing. There's just nothing left of her."

Why don't custody courts consider evidence? Part 1

This story by Natasha Chen appeared on Channel 25 in Hillsboro, Texas, on Tuesday, June 9, 2009. To see the news video, click on the title above or paste this link into your browser:

http://www.kxxv.com/Global/story.asp?S=10505660

Father stated concern for daughters' safety before murder

The Hillsboro woman who killed one of her two daughters and critically injured the other had allegedly attempted suicide in the presence of the children on May 21, according to petitions from the girls' father.

The father, Lee Jeter, filed for divorce the day after that incident and also petitioned for a restraining order on the mother, Debra Janelle Jeter. He filed for sole custody of the children, and requested that visits from Debra Jeter be continuously supervised.

After the attempted suicide, Debra Jeter was transported to the De Paul Center on a mental health warrant. In a supporting affidavit, Lee Jeter stated, "I am concerned about her possible actions regarding the children."

But during the divorce hearing on June 4, Lee Jeter's attorney did not bring up the filed petitions. In fact, during the hearing, Lee Jeter voluntarily agreed to unsupervised visits from the mother on the first, third and fifth weekends of the month. The night of Debra Jeter's attack was the first of such scheduled visits.

Because the petition for a restraining order and the request for supervised visits did not come up in the hearing, Hill County Judge Harris made his ruling based only on what was presented in court. The judge thus permitted Debra Jeter's unsupervised visits. The transcript of the hearing shows that neither party discussed Debra Jeter's attempted suicide in detail, but did mention that she has been taking prescribed anti-depressants.

When Judge Harris spoke with News Channel 25 off camera, he appeared extremely shaken from the tragic events. The Jeters' divorce is still pending.

The role of adult denial in child sex abuse

The article below by Amanda Richardson appeared originally at newssun.com on June 10, 2009. To see the original, click on the title above or paste this link in your browser:

http://www.newssun.com/opinion/col-0610-richardson

Mothers need to protect their children from sexual predators

In Michigan, the mother of missing 5-year-old Nevaeh Buchanan says person of interest and registered sex offender George Kennedy was like a "father-figure" to her daughter. Mother, Jennifer Buchanan, admits to looking past Kennedy's previous child sexual offense and allowing him to build a relationship with her daughter.

While my sympathies go out to this mother over the disappearance of her daughter, we can all learn a lesson from this mother's mistake. Buchanan minimized this predator's offense and put her daughter directly in harm's way. Allow me for a moment to speak from personal experience and be a voice for survivors and children everywhere.

As a child, my own biological father severely abused me both mentally and physically. I was just 10 years old when his abuse became sexual. After four years of silently dealing with my father's abuse, I finally got the courage to tell my mother. My mother's reaction was a common one: denial. She became a contributor, if not an equal contributor, to my abuse.

In my early 20's, after years of brainwashing, denial, and silent suffering, my brother was able to validate my abuse. As a child, he had suspected my abuse and placed a tape recorder in the bedroom, catching my father's abuse in the act. My brother's tape marked the beginning of a very long and difficult healing process: confronting my father, saying goodbye, forgiving, and eventually having the courage to press charges. Despite all of these revelations, my mother continued to deny and minimize my father's abuse, leaving our relationship behind in order to continue a relationship with him.

Though my situation differs from little Nevaeh Buchanan, the lesson here is the same. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and a mother of a 3-year-old little girl, I find myself wanting to scream out, "Mothers - Protect your children!" Current statistics indicate that at least 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. We need to use the National Sex Offender Registry to our advantage and not be in denial about the potential of these predators. Be on the lookout for common signs of sexual abuse in your child:

1. Unusual interest in or avoidance of all things sexual in nature.

2. Aspects of sexual abuse in drawings, games, or fantasies.

3. Sleep problems or nightmares.

4. Sudden fear of a person or place where the child was previously comfortable.

5. Depression, withdrawal, eating disorders.

We have come a long way in our country in bringing awareness to childhood sexual abuse, but with an estimated 60 million survivors in our country today, we still have a long way to go. Mothers - be a voice, a protector, and an advocate for your child. If ever you need help with identifying or reporting abuse, please call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4ACHILD.

Amanda Richardson is author of 'Saved From Silence.'

Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities & Child Sex Scandals, ed. by Amy Neustein, PhD



This book review by Anne Grant originally appeared in the Providence Journal on Sunday, May 10, 2009.

For decades, while victims of child sex abuse fought Roman Catholic bishops in New England, dozens more in Brooklyn, N.Y., met a wall of resistance from District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes and the informal council of Orthodox Jewish leaders who assured Hynes’ long tenure in office. Jewish victims feared reprisals against their families in Orthodox communities even after five non-Jews, beginning with an Italian-American boy, persuaded a grand jury to indict a charming yeshiva administrator, child therapist, and rabbi, Avrohom Mondrowitz.

The New York Times gave the story a few lines in 1984, when Mondrowitz, charged with sex crimes against children, disappeared. The Times reported nothing further for 23 years. This book skillfully gathers the voices of those who struggled against official silence to speak truth and demand justice in this case and others.

The editor, sociologist Amy Neustein, has midwifed an endangered subject matter to safety in the Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, & Life. She dedicates the book to the memory of her father, an Orthodox rabbi.

Among the startling histories recounted is the case against Rabbi Solomon Hafner in 2000, when a Yiddish-language newspaper in Brooklyn published a full-page notice signed by 50 prominent rabbis. They reminded readers of the “severe prohibition” against informing non-Jewish authorities against another Jew. This included reporting child abuse to police. The ad warned in religious Hebrew that such a mitzvah [positive commandment] entitled any Jew to kill the informer.

Mitzvahs like this defended against Czarist goons and Nazi storm troopers. But what if a rabbi sets up a fraudulent yeshiva to scam Pell grants? If secular authorities and media pursue these crimes, will they be smeared as anti-Semites? What if authorities allow Jewish leaders to assault Jewish children with impunity? How will modern ethicists parse the caveats of the people who gave us the Ten Commandments?

Neustein’s fascinating collection includes perspectives from rabbis, lawyers, psychotherapists, social workers, and educators who seek to empower children against predators. One chapter tells the parallel history of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

“In a place where no one will take responsibility,” advised the sage Hillel, “try to be responsible.” Attorney Michael Lesher pursued Mondrowitz to Israel, where authorities arrested the rabbi in 2007. If the Israeli Supreme Court denies his appeal, the prisoner will return to Brooklyn to face his accusers. This book helps us begin the discussions we have resisted too long.

Brooklyn D.A. shamed into action

To read about the plan for reporting abuse, click on the title above or paste this link into your browser:
http://www.thejewishweek.com/viewArticle/c36_a15385/News/New_York.html

Here is that article from The Jewish Week, June 11, 2009

BREAKING: Brooklyn DA Announces New Plan To Urge Reporting Of Abuse
by Hella Winston
Special To The Jewish Week

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who has been accused by some of not doing enough to prosecute alleged pedophiles in the Orthodox community, announced Wednesday a new initiative aimed "at helping sex-crime victims in Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish communities report abuse."

The effort, dubbed Project Kol Tzedek (Voice of Justice) and unveiled at a news conference at his Hynes' office, is being billed by the DA as a joint project between their office and a number of Jewish organizations, including Ohel Children's Home and Family Services, Tikvah at Ohel, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and the Jewish Board of Children and Family Services, all of which had representatives at the conference.

Conceived as an outreach program, Kol Tzedek will offer a confidential hotline and access to
"culturally sensitive" social workers and prosecutors from the office's Sex Crimes Bureau. It will be coordinated by Chana Widawski, a social worker who previously worked at the DA's office on a project that addressed domestic violence in the Orthodox community. Rhonnie Jaus, the chief of the office's Sex Crimes Bureau, Sarah Ellis, director of Victim Services and Henna White, the DA's community liaison to the Orthodox community, will also be involved.
Acknowledging the community's insularity and the cultural taboo against reporting abuse to the secular authorities, Hynes stressed the importance of partnering with Orthodox institutions and leadership in this effort.

"It is my belief that with the cooperation of these stakeholders who stand with me today, who have broad credibility within the Orthodox community, we will encourage victims of sexual abuse to come forward, utilizing communication channels to make them feel comfortable," said Hynes. He added that "by working together with the help of the leadership present today, and ... with community organizations, yeshivas, schools and other points of contact in the Orthodox community, we can best educate victims and potential victims and their families about the resources available through Kol Tzedek."

This is not the first time the DA has created a program specifically targeted at the Orthodox community, or at the issue of sexual abuse in that community. In addition to the domestic violence program, known as Project Eden, and a project to address drug abuse in the Orthodox community, Hynes' office launched, in 1997, the Offender Treatment Program to treat Orthodox child molesters.

That program, now defunct, was a partnership between the DA's office and Ohel. According to a 2000 article in The Jewish Week, the program had, at the time, 16 participants, half of whom had been through the court system and were receiving treatment in place of incarceration. The remaining half was comprised of offenders whom the community pressured to seek help without notifying authorities.

Indeed, these communities have a long history of dealing with abuse cases internally, in some instances convening religious courts to hear allegations, something that both victims and legal experts see as highly problematic. Such bodies not only lack the skills and training to evaluate abuse claims, but they are also highly susceptible to corruption. In addition, according to Marci Hamilton, a professor at Cardozo Law School and the author of "Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children," "Religious courts have no capacity to protect the public. They cannot put convicted criminals in jail or send those that are guilty but mentally ill to mental health facilities. The secular criminal system is created to be accountable to the people and to the needs of the people, no matter their religious faith. Accountability of religious courts does not share this feature."

Hynes suggested his new program would address this problem, emphasizing that "the key component of this project is to encourage the rabbis to encourage victims to come forward. And that is what has begun to happen. ... Will there be some who will be resistant? Sure. But I have been debating the [religious court system] for 19 years and I have said over and over again to rabbis who have become very good friends of mine, 'That is not your jurisdiction or authority. The authority to handle criminal cases lies within Kings County and I'm the elected district attorney.'"

Michael Lesher, an attorney and author who has long worked on this issue, is cautiously optimistic about Hynes' new effort, though he contends that this was not always the DA's position. In a chapter in a new book entitled "Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals," edited by Amy Neustein, Lesher and Neustein discuss the 2000 case of Shlomo Haffner. In this case, Lesher says, "all the facts suggested that the DA let a panel of rabbis make the decision about whether to prosecute a 96-count criminal complaint against a chasidic Jew. They pulled the case while the grand jury was still sitting."

However, Lesher "[likes] what the DA is now saying about the rabbinical courts," and told The Jewish Week that "This program sounds like the right sort of idea. But," he added, "[the DA's office] has many years of poor history to compensate for. [They] had [the Offender Treatment Program], whose record was troubling. There was a lack of transparency there, you didn't know how many offenders were involved, or what happened to them after they left treatment. I would hope that this [new] program shows that they have learned from the errors of the previous one."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

77 arrested for sex crimes against children in Florida

In a Florida sting, authorities removed five children from the homes of some of the 77 men arrested for sex crimes against children. To see news reports, click on the title above or paste these link in your browser:

http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/local/news-article.aspx?storyid=139523

http://www.tallahassee.com/article/20090610/NEWS0102/906100322/77+arrested+in+child-porn+sting

77 arrested in child-porn sting

Leon County man among those charged in 'Operation Orange Tree'

BY BILL KACZOR • THE ASSOCIATED PRESS • JUNE 10, 2009

State, federal and local authorities have arrested 77 suspects on child-pornography charges and rescued five young victims in what officials are calling "Operation Orange Tree," Gov. Charlie Crist said Tuesday.

Among those arrested was Nicholas Andrew Martin, 19, of Leon County. He was arrested on charges of 10 counts of sexual performance of a child.

"America's Most Wanted" TV host John Walsh and Attorney General Bill McCollum joined Crist at a news conference to announce results of the 10-week crackdown.

The suspects range in age from 17 to 83 and include two registered sex offenders. The last person was arrested Tuesday in Tallahassee. Nearly all have been charged with possession of obscene material or child pornography. One each has been charged with distributing child pornography, molesting children and obscene communication.

Five children were removed from suspects' homes, including three who were subjects of videos, said Florida Department of Law Commissioner Gerald Bailey. He said authorities found evidence the other two children also had been sexually victimized.

Seventeen suspects were in possession of a step-by-step manual on how to molest children, Bailey said.

Twenty-three law enforcement agencies participated. The Polk County Sheriff's Office was most active with 45 arrests. Other suspects were scattered throughout the state. Authorities executed 90 search warrants and seized thousands of child pornography photos and videos.

Walsh called the crackdown "historic" and heaped praise on Crist and McCollum, saying he hoped both Republicans win their next political races. Crist is running for U.S. senator and McCollum for governor.

"The cooperation between different agencies in the state of Florida I think is unprecedented," said Walsh, whose 6-year-old son was abducted from a Hollywood mall and murdered in 1981. "They are a SWAT team for children."

Crist said he "cannot think of a more despicable action and more harmful crime."

McCollum, who has made fighting cybercrime a hallmark of his term as attorney general, said he's determined to bring violators to justice.

"We're going to get 'em and where we don't get 'em, we're going to educate children to protect themselves," McCollum said.

Joyce Murphy, accused of kidnapping her daughter, testifies in California

It will not be easy to teach children to protect themselves from sex crimes in their own homes, for authorities seldom believe children who protest these crimes.

Sex offenders are often convicted for molesting and raping other people's children before authorities believe the pleading of their own families. For Joyce Murphy's testimony, click on the title above or paste this in your browser:

http://www.10news.com/video/19596398/index.html?taf=sand

Legislators must address dangers to children


The original version of this op-ed by Anne Grant and Phil West appeared in the Providence Journal on Tuesday, April 28, 2009.

IMAGINE CHILDREN being court-ordered to visit a parent who delights in taunting them. We have known many in Rhode Island.

After a moment of silence for the victims, the Illinois House this month erupted in anger when one member suggested they should investigate why a judge forced Duncan and Jack Connolly, ages 9 and 7, to visit their father, who then shot the boys and hanged himself. Struggling to comprehend the tragedy, the Illinois State University’s dailyvidette.com published an editorial calling it “a unique case.”

Far from being rare, custody-related killings are increasingly common. Last year, Maryland pediatrician Amy Castillo admitted hiding her children from their father when she saw alarming signs in his behavior. She warned a judge that her estranged husband, Mark Castillo, had threatened to punish her by killing their children. She pleaded for a permanent restraining order. But a psychologist reported that the father spoke of his love and commitment to his children, evaluating him at low risk if he took his meds.

The judge ordered the mother to hand over the children, ages 2, 4, and 6, for unsupervised visits. On March 29, they went with their father on a trip to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Instead of bringing them home, Mark Castillo drowned them in a hotel bathtub.

The Castillo deaths brought to seven the number of Maryland children killed by their fathers in custody-related murders in just over four months. Maryland legislators and judges, like those in Illinois, must wrestle with the risks they impose on children who are subjected to threats, humiliation and terror during court-ordered visits.

Rhode Island lawmakers find such cases equally baffling. In response to current legislation aimed at preventing similar tragedies here, one representative wondered if these are unfathomable “he-said/she-said” cases. Another doubted kids’ honesty, saying that “children lie all the time.”

Since 2004, when Rhode Island added separation of powers to its state constitution, we have gained fresh appreciation for how this ancient keystone of democracy keeps the three branches of government in proper balance.

Separation of powers requires our legislative branch to pass laws, oversee their implementation, and revise them as needed. When the General Assembly (legislative branch) established Rhode Island’s Department of Children, Youth and Families (executive branch), and also established Family Court (judicial branch), legislators’ work to protect children was barely beginning.

Many members of our part-time legislature work hard to address countless concerns of their constituents. Difficult child-custody cases require more investigation than our state can afford.

As retired professionals, we have volunteered through the Parenting Project to research custody cases and develop legislation that addresses these problems. We found that rules of confidentiality let an unregulated industry flourish. Private contractors — lawyers, psychologists, and guardians ad litem — have brazenly exploited this captive market under cynical pretexts like “parental alienation” and “friendly parent” provisions. National associations of psychologists and judges have denounced these ploys as inconsistent with their own professional standards.

Many states, including Rhode Island, have decided that it is in children’s “best interest” to have both parents share custody. This plan works in cooperative relationships but fails miserably when there is a history of coercive control, domestic violence or sexual abuse that puts children in heart-stopping danger. When a parent sexually abuses children, threatens to harm them, teaches them to lie, cheat, steal, sell drugs or prostitute themselves, the court should not require the other parent to accommodate such behavior by forcing children to comply with court-ordered visits.

No-fault divorces make custody dangerous in many cases by disregarding evidence of abuse. Judges assume that no one is at fault, even when neighbors know otherwise. Children suffer the consequences.

If the legislative branch fails to oversee and regulate the lucrative industry that thrives in this hidden world, children suffer. In such a menacing landscape, legislators who neglect their oversight responsibilities are like parents who neglect their kids.

Good legislators, like good parents, know their task is not easy, but they work diligently at it, gaining new insights, and growing ever more responsible in their protective role.

One bill now before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees would make DCYF more transparent and accountable in protecting children (S 0363, H 5667). Another would let judges heed the concerns of protective parents (S 0690, H 5484) before court-ordered visits traumatize children or end in tragedy.

Anne Grant and H. Philip West Jr., who are married to each other, are retired United Methodist clergy and former executive directors of, respectively, the Women’s Center of Rhode Island and Common Cause Rhode Island (parentingproject@cox.net).

Blog Archive

About the mother and child pictured at the top

On February 21, 1992, Rhode Island Family Court's Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah gave this two-year-old to the sole custody and possession of her father despite his history of domestic violence and failure to pay child support. The father, a police officer, brought false charges against his ex-wife, first saying she was a drug addict. (Twenty-two random tests proved she was not.) Then he had her arrested for bank fraud, then for filing a false report, then for sexual abuse, then for kidnapping. None of his charges stuck.

The child remained with her father and stepmother until 2003, when, at 14, she finally realized that her mother had not been a drug addict. The teenager persuaded Judge Stephen Capineri to let her return to her mother. There she began working on the painful issues of lifelong coercion and deception--a tangled knot of guilt and rage. Most painful has been her father’s continuing refusal to let her visit two dearly loved half-sisters, whom she has not seen since 2003.

She is one of countless children in Rhode Island subjected to severe emotional and physical trauma by Family Court when it helps abusive parents to maintain control over their families after divorce. When she turned 18 in 2007, she gave the Parenting Project permission to publish her picture on behalf of all children who have been held hostage by Rhode Island custody scams.

We are using this blog to provide links to stories that will help concerned people, including government officials, become aware of this form of child abuse and legal abuse. We must work together to improve the courts' ability to recognize the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic abuse who are trying to protect their children.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are looking for the story of the removal of "Molly and Sara," please visit http://LittleHostages.blogspot.com


About the Author and the Cause

Parenting Project is a volunteer community service begun in 1996 at Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, RI, to focus on the needs of children at risk in Family Court custody cases. Our goal is to make Rhode Island's child protective system more effective, transparent, and accountable.

The Parenting Project coordinator, Anne Grant, a retired minister and former executive director of Rhode Island's largest shelter for battered women and their children, researches and writes about official actions that endanger children and the parents who try to protect them. She wrote a chapter on Rhode Island in Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues, ed. Mo Therese Hannah, PhD, and Barry Goldstein, JD (Civic Research Institute, 2010).

Comments and corrections on anything written here may be sent in an email with no attachments to parentingproject@verizon.net

Find out more about the crisis in custody courts here:

www.centerforjudicialexcellence.org/PhotoExhibit.htm
www.child-justice.org
www.leadershipcouncil.org
www.evawintl.org provides forensic resources to end violence against women

about domestic violence in hague custody cases:
www.haguedv.org

more about domestic violence in law enforcement:
http://behindthebluewall.blogspot.com/



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