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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.)

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:

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:

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,

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:

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:

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 on June 10, 2009. To see the original, click on the title above or paste this link in your browser:

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:

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:

77 arrested in child-porn sting

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


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:

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 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 (

The Narcissism Epidemic:Living in the Age of Entitlement by Jean M. Twenge, PhD and W. Keith Campbell, PhD

This book review by Anne Grant originally appeared in the Providence Journal on Sunday, May 3, 2009.

Two psychology professors offer evidence that self-absorption in our culture has reached epidemic proportions. Grandiose symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, first described in 1971, are becoming the norm for a growing number of Americans. Perhaps the book arrives just in time to help those tumbling from great heights to rethink their values.

The authors do not make partisan accusations. (Left-wingers might point to capitalism’s ubiquitous commercials, right-wingers might blame civil rights movements.) They refute the myth that self-impressed people have a competitive edge. Research shows that long-term corporate health is more likely to follow a humble, steady CEO than the smartest guys at Enron, who cooked their books, convinced others of their genius, and created a wasteland.

Over three decades, the self-esteem movement has produced more failure than success in our schools, with chilling tragedies. Twenge and Campbell pile up proof this is a problem, from the cruel profanity of cyber chit-chat to crazed killers announcing their giftedness before shooting their way to immortality. None of it is pretty.

They trace the voracious appetite for articles on self-esteem in academic journals since the 1960s: Only recently have researchers seemed to notice the growing worm of narcissism that has done great damage, often with psychologists’ help.

I hope this book will open the door to more systemic analysis. For example, here and abroad, professional associations of psychologists have criticized their own colleagues who feed the epidemic in custody courts rampant with narcissism — bombastic judges, strutting lawyers, batterers demanding their children with help from psychological “experts” handsomely paid to sway opinions.

Perhaps psychologists can offer some critique of their profession when it encourages the wounded to indulge their fantasies and flaunt their power with no regard for the damage they cause.

Maybe psychology cannot treat this epidemic. The authors’ slender remedies seem hopelessly mired in homo sapiens, as if humanity were indeed the center of the universe. Self-examination, new parenting models, and a few promising school programs will not turn the tide of entitlement.

Swimming in a sewer, we lose our sense of awe. When I finished the book, I wanted to plunge into some stunning documentary with naturalist David Attenborough, full of facts, astounding photography, mesmerizing music, produced by humans, yes, but happily not those engrossed in contemplating themselves. When the social sciences discover that we are merely one small part of a truly awesome cosmos, they may find the humility that brings respite from this tsunami of self-indulgence.

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

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

Find out more about the crisis in custody courts here: provides forensic resources to end violence against women

about domestic violence in hague custody cases:

more about domestic violence in law enforcement: