Best Weekend of the Year
One of the hardest parts of the broken custody court system is living in the pretend world imposed first by abusers and then by ignorant judges, lawyers and evaluators. It is a world where protective mothers are hurting their children by trying to protect them. It is a world where alleged alienation is more important than domestic violence and child sexual abuse. It is a world where a bogus theory based on the belief that sex between adults and children can be acceptable has more influence than medical research from the CDC that could be used to reduce dreaded illnesses and extend our life expectancies. It is a world where mothers and children are routinely disbelieved and abusive fathers are more important for children than safe protective mothers who are the primary attachment figures. Living in this pretend world is painful, unhealthy and detrimental to our health and well-being.
Every year since 2004, I have eagerly looked forward to the one weekend where we can come together dealing with reality no matter how painful. We can spend the time with some of the best people we will ever know. Inevitably protective mothers will speak with each other. Other women who are easy to admire are going through the same mistreatment by the family courts. Women who once believed they could not help themselves and their children are suddenly helping others. One of the mothers always says it sounds like we were married to the same man.
Living in a pretend world is not healthy. The ACE Research confirms that living with fear and stress is harmful. This is why it is so beneficial to spend this one weekend in a safe environment in which we can discuss the reality of the failed custody court system. Attending the conference is like spending a weekend in a spa for our minds. The BMCC provides a place where protective mothers and professionals who help them can heal. This support and healing must last us for the rest of the year.
The Importance of the BMCC
Protective mothers have every reason to feel discouraged. Many court professionals continue to ignore and disbelieve strong evidence of the need to protect children. Our children beg for protection, but their mothers are unable to save their precious children. The courts continue to err on the side of protecting abusive fathers and risking children. I understand why mothers might believe we are making no progress, but I think we are on a cusp of important reforms. The lack of progress in individual cases makes it seem like nothing has changed.
Before the first BMCC there was no protective mothers’ movement. A few moms connected through the Internet, but each one needed to reinvent the wheel. Dr. Mo Therese Hannah and Liliane Heller Miller helped start the BMCC. The conference helped connect mothers with the few professionals on their side. The conference became a place where we could discuss new ideas and share approaches that worked and that failed.
Lundy Bancroft gave a presentation at one of the early conferences that was a major part of the PBS documentary Breaking the Silence: Children’s Stories. The Courageous Kids came to a conference and brought mothers and professionals to tears of gratitude. The Courageous Kids have a moral authority no one else can have because the disastrous custody decisions were supposed to be for their benefit. Even the courts could not challenge their truths.
Dr. Hannah had a brilliant idea of creating a Truth Commission to take testimony from protective mothers. This led to a report from the Commission that exposed the failure of the court and offered good solutions. This report led a publisher to ask Mo Hannah to edit a book to put all the research together in one place. Mo asked me to co-edit Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody with her. This led to many critical research studies that will soon change the broken system.
Professor Garland Waller wrote a chapter in our book about the failure of the media to cover the child custody scandal. In her chapter, Garland said that we would need to reach a tipping point where the issue became better known and that is when we would start getting the publicity necessary to force needed reforms.
We are now starting to receive publicity from major media sources. The reason they are now more wiling to cover the issue is because the research supports what protective mothers have been saying. Eileen King arranged a meeting between the Washington Post Editorial Board and a group of DV experts. This led to an editorial commending the BMCC and several important news stories to help our cause. The Boston Globe conducted a major investigation centered around a failed child sexual abuse case. The reporters interviewed experts involved with the BMCC and mentioned the importance of using research like the Saunders Study. Other exposes came from Pro Publico, the 100 Reporters and Huffpost. I can tell you that more of these stories are in the works.
Achilles Heel of the Custody Courts
The courts tend to be very defensive about their mistakes. Mothers who criticize bad decisions are dismissed as disgruntled litigants. They are often silenced with threats, retaliation and gag orders. Abusive fathers given custody can be relied on to silence the children. When children do complain about their fathers or run away, courts blame and punish the mother.
Children that get involved in drugs or crime or commit suicide as a result of the father’s continued abuse are ignored as these bad outcomes occur to other children so it must not be connected to the court decision.
When abusers use access provided by the court to kill children, courts try to explain that they had no other choice or could not have known the danger. The Bartlow research found that judges dismiss these tragedies as a rare exception, but it is the one outcome that draws media coverage and public criticism.
Mikayla is a girl who will be five-years-old forever because the court in Minnesota failed to protect her. The court knew her father was abusive and that he threatened to kill Mikayla’s mother. Somehow the evaluator, judge and mediator decided this was insufficient to treat the father as dangerous. They said a threat against the mother fails to suggest a risk to the child. Ignorant of domestic violence dynamics, the court professionals failed to understand that abusers seek custody to hurt the mother and the best way to hurt her is to harm the child. Some of the fathers have even said they would keep the mother alive and kill the children so she has to suffer the rest of her life without her child.
Mikayla’s funeral occurred on what was supposed to be her first day of kindergarten. For years Leigh Block, Mikayla’s mother has been searching for something. She wanted to save other mothers and children from the tragedy she suffered. Leigh found the solution in the Safe Child Act. I have watched Leigh tell her story to a television reporter. She accepts the pain and emotion because Mikayla was a giving and loving child who would want to save other children from her fate. The story is compelling and the reporter struggled to contain her emotions during the interview.
Over the years the Battered Mothers Custody Conference has offered the best speakers about domestic violence and child custody. This year will be no exception. Professor Joan Meier, the lead author of a forthcoming National Institute of Justice Study that is much anticipated will discuss her research and accept an award. Rita Smith, the longtime executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence will also be honored along with Dara Carlin and Garland Waller.
Among the plenary speakers are Phyllis Chesler, author of Mothers on Trial; Joy Silberg, the researcher who found the courts send 58,000 children for custody and unprotected visitation every year; Camille Cooper who helped expose why this country has such a high rate of child sexual abuse and Maralee McLean, author of Prosecuted but Not Silenced.
Andrew Willis, leader of the Stop Abuse Campaign and I will be giving a presentation about moving from the Congressional Resolution to passing the Safe Child Act. We wish we had the ability to convey the need for the Safe Child Act the way Mikayla could. Sadly, she is too far away to attend the conference except in spirit.
We can only hear from Mikayla through her mothers’ voice. This is why we have created a fundraiser to bring Leigh to the BMCC.
No one but Leigh listened to Mikayla when it mattered most. Please help make sure Mikayla’s voice is heard at the Battered Mothers Custody Conference.
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Domestic Violence Writer, Speaker, and Advocate
Barry Goldstein is one of the leading domestic violence authors, speakers, advocates, and a frequent expert witness.