How to select a judicial candidate. Listen to the scientists
Tuesday, Travis County residents must choose Judicial candidates for District Attorney, County Attorney, and several Judicial seats for various courts. Before you vote, understand what is at stake.
Texas spends $90 billion every year to tolerate continued widespread domestic violence. Many people, including professionals, are unaware that domestic violence abusers are successful in manipulating custody courts and this is a significant impediment to preventing domestic violence. A recent study from the National Institute of Justice, in the context of other scientific research, confirms that custody courts are getting a high percentage of domestic violence and child abuse cases dangerously wrong.
Courts had an excuse in the 1970s when domestic violence first became a public issue because there was no research available. We now have substantial research but most courts continue to rely on the old outdated practices.
The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) studies are medical research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The ACE study says that children exposed to domestic violence and child abuse will live shorter lives and suffer a lifetime of health and social problems. Most of the harm comes not from the immediate physical injuries, but from living with the fear and stress abusers cause.
The Saunders study, from the National Institute of Justice, was designed to review the domestic violence knowledge of judges, lawyers, and evaluators. Saunders found that court professionals need specific domestic violence knowledge that includes screening for DV, risk assessment, post-separation violence, and the impact of DV on children. Judges without this information tend to focus on the myth that mothers frequently make false reports and unscientific alienation theories. This leads to decisions that harm children.
The reliance on myths and stereotypes together with the failure to consider current scientific research often leads to tragedy. In the last ten years, over 700 children involved in contested custody have been murdered, mostly by abusive fathers. In many cases, the court gave the killers the access they needed. Texas has allowed more of these child murders than any other state.
Without ACE, courts inevitably minimize the harm from domestic violence and child abuse. Focusing only on physical assaults makes it harder for courts to recognize true reports of domestic violence. Without Saunders, courts routinely disbelieve true reports of abuse. Most mistakes do not immediately lead to murder, but they do expose children to domestic violence and child abuse for the rest of their childhood. Contested custody is often the last chance to save children from the awful consequences of exposure to adverse childhood experiences.
The public also pays for these mistakes in the form of increased crime, decreased productivity, and a constant brake on the economy. Most of the expense of tolerating domestic violence is in health costs. Businesses that have to pay more for health insurance must pay their workers less in salary. Governments that have to pay more for Medicare, Medicaid, and employee insurance must either raise taxes or reduce services.
Electing judges is more difficult for most voters because the candidates are often less known and judicial ethics limit how much they can say during a campaign. Most voters never see judges or lawyers at work and so cannot tell who would make the best judge. For judges who will handle domestic violence cases, we would want to know if they are familiar with the research discussed in this article and the subjects Saunders said are important. We want to make sure they don’t rely on myths and stereotypes that are associated with dangerous decisions.
Of course, when we are discussing domestic violence custody cases the economic cost pales in comparison to the well-being of our children. We are tired of seeing children cry themselves to sleep. The research allows courts to protect the well-being of children by adopting best practices and making the health and safety of children the first priority. During the present Coronavirus crisis, we have learned the importance of listening to the scientists. For the love or our children, this must also apply to judges.
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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.