FOR ABUSE SURVIVORS, CUSTODY IS A MEANS FOR THEIR ABUSERS CAN RETAIN CONTROL
After 15 years of estrangement following the birth of her son, Paulette found her ex, Steve, creeping back into her life. Steve used kind gestures: buying her flowers, cooking for her and her son, Luke, and fixing up her kitchen and patio. Eventually, Steve succeeded in getting Paulette to let her guard down and to fall in love with him. Months later, in August of 2015, Paulette and Steve were married. But Paulette quickly learned that Steve wasn’t all romance—in fact, he was controlling, erratic, and violent.
That October, Luke came to his mom’s defense after Steve yelled at her and told his dad to get off the property, according to police records. Suddenly, Steve attacked Luke and choked him in their front yard. Paulette called the police immediately and filed a report. Steve was removed from their home that evening by police officers. From there, Paulette and Luke obtained an emergency protective order. (All names have been altered in this story in order to protect the privacy of the victims.) While going through the divorce in 2016, Paulette received an unexpected phone call from two women—both were in the midst of custody battles with Steve. Because of his violent history, the women didn’t feel like Steve should have access to their children. Paulette knew that the courts didn’t work together to corroborate past histories or provide legal information to survivors who have been abused by the same person. Instead, she coordinated with the women to ensure that their all of their children were kept safe.
“I grew my bond with the ladies so tight that I feel like if he takes them to court, he’s taking me to court,” Paulette says. “We all feel safer knowing that we’re all together and that we know the same abuses, his background, and how he uses the system to victimize us.”