I am a child of parents who escaped the holocaust. Many of the most horrible things that Nazis did was done lawfully under the color of German law. German citizens who attempted to save Jewish children were violating the law--in fact, they faced the execution of their own children.
I grew up in the 60s and participated in social activism at the time. I believe deeply that there are times in history when the moral thing to do is to break the law. I graduated from law school in 1982. I don't talk about this much, but the first time I took family law I got a D in the class. I got a D because the professor asked a question, put up a scenario and asked what would you advise a client in this situation; I wrote a lengthy answer which the professor didn't like.
I've been confronted sometimes regarding what I said at a meeting such as this. At one point, a person confronted me and asked, "Did you really say that "Our family court system is intended to give abused children over to abusers." No what I actually said was "If someone were to create a family court system which was intended to guarantee that a large number of children would be handed over to their abusers it would like like our family court system."
But I don't assign bad motives. I don't go out of my way to draw the conclusion that people in the system have bad motives. It is really one of the most frustrating things, angering things, about our family court system. There are good people in the system who just don't do their jobs and as a consequence of them not doing their jobs, children are hurt.
I can understand people who have psychological disorders and they do horrible things because they have psychological disorders. I can understand they can't control themselves. I can understand running into some evil people in the family court system. Yet Family Court is full of good people.
From my perspective in order to make the system work, this means they have to do their best. Mom's have to do their best at every level when it comes to choosing a good lawyer, doing their best in taking care of themselves and not being self harming. Evaluators have to do their best and also Judges have to do their jobs. That is the only way it is going to work. It is bad how many psychologist are doing what they are doing and yet they know better.
You folks as you go out and become activists, for many of you, something horrible has already happened.
I use the cancer analogy, it is nobody's fault when a child gets cancer, but it happens. Mothers losing custody to abusers is a national health epidemic. You all have been the victims of it. You've suffered from it. You caught it. You stepped in it. Yet you are still Moms and you still have to do the best with it, and if you have an hour with your child, you have to make the best with that hour, because that will make a big difference with that child when he or she grows up. You have to commit yourselves to being with your kids and also to being a part of the movement and working consciously to stop this epidemic.
One of the things that is very depressing, really upsetting, was when Marilee McLean talked about her case last night and I know because I was at the rally at Denver which was 20, 25 years ago that her daughter was failed by the Court, and that story that Marilee told is still going on. It has't changed.
I just talked to a person here today who had the exact same story a month ago. Whatever we are doing we aren't doing enough and we aren't doing it well enough.
There aren't as many people doing it as long as I've done it, so it's my failure. You are newer advocates and now the mantel of activism is handed over to you.
I will acknowledge that some of the experts witnesses in my day were sloppy and incompetent. In the 1980s there was a psychologist who acted as a validator; people came to her to verify that there was truly sexual abuse. She turned out to be doing a bad job. Perhaps we made a mistake of looking for expertise from bad experts. Now these bad experts are out of business, but the good experts have been silenced at the same time.
There are bad experts now out there making fortunes selling quack theories and they get away with it in court.
I remember when I was starting out there was a brilliant psychologist in VT that everyone used. But she had one quirk; if you asked her six months in advance what her opinion was in summary, she'd give it and produce a report six months later matching that initial summary.
Finally, an opposing attorney asked her on the stand why she did a particular test, and she responded, in order to corroborate my opinion. That lost the case.
I had another expert who was considered a good evaluator regarding child sexual abuse. Good judges wanted to find out what was best for the child. Good lawyers representing Moms would tell them this Dr. V saw no evidence of abuse so you might as well give up. Dr. V. had done thousands and thousands of cases.
I then did a depositions of Dr. V and I asked him how many of these cases included ones in which a child was sexually abused, and he said maybe one.
You see, nobody had ever asked him that question.
PAS. PAS exists and judges know it exists. And when we spend our time screaming that PAS is junk. PAS is misused, but it exists.
A lot of Moms who know from direct first hand experience that their father is a dangerous, violent person. It isn't necessarily a bad thing for Mom to let their child know that, that there is some danger here. But it has nothing to do with a situation where a child has been sexual abused and the mother has also experienced rape and violence from the father. Further, if a child reports sexual abuse and yet there is no evidence this does not mean a child hasn't been sexually abused.
I have defended mothers who fled to protect their child.
What makes me crazy are these cases where the mother has already been determined either by court order or stipulation to be the best parent, where the mother is already the primarily custodial parent, and then the child discloses sexual abuse that hasn't been proven. I don't understand how the mere fact of this disclosure leads good mothers to lose their children. I don't understand the concept of how that leads the court to take that child away from the good mother and hand it over to the abuser who may not be an abuser, but maybe he is.
I hope that helps you to understand why that is crazy.
Again, on this theme of good people doing bad things this is what is hard for me to get my head around. There is this phenomenon where a parent comes to court with the accusation, an evaluator gives a report that he just doesn't know. Then, it comes up again on emergency docket, and another evaluator does testing which also doesn't show anything, but Mom shows stress. Or Mom says, "Tell the evaluator what you told me" which comes across as coaching. Still, the evaluator finds nothing. Unsupervised visitation resumes, and then a month later Mom comes back. Good people don't like believing that sexual abuse might have occurred. If there is a mistake and it turns out the child is being sexually abused, judges don't like to admit their mistake. So judges blame the mother. This is what is happening.
So for those of you undergoing this, you are not alone. People make mistakes--that's understandable. There is a tendency under these situations for mothers to fall apart and stop taking care of themselves. Keep in mind that you need to survive so that you can be there for your child.
When I was in VT an attorney called me and asked to meet with me. He told me and said I think I'd be derelict in my duty if I didn't ask you what you meant by a comment you made, "I can't recall how many times I've been arrested." I responded, "I can only say that each time that happened I was exercising my first amendment rights."
There are times when it is necessary for people of good conscience to break the law. I am not talking about mothers who break the law to protect their children. I am talking about everyone else who is an activist and talking about building a movement. Those of you who have lost your children, those of you who know someone who lost their children, keep in mind that no great movement has ever succeeded without people committing civil disobedience.
I did want to share with you a famous NE story which most of you have heard of. Henry David Thoreau ended up in jail for not paying his taxes and Ralph Waldo Emerson came to visit him and asked, "What are you doing in there?" and Thoreau answered, "What are you doing out there?"
When people ask why are you so obsessed with this, you need to ask why are you so complicit?
Rabbi Prince was a young rabbi in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis and he was charismatic and dynamic. He was giving sermons against the Nazis even before they took power, and when they took over, he gave sermons ever week telling Jews they have to leave. Finally, the Nazis deported him. Keep in mind that in the early years of Nazis they first deported people, but as time went on they killed them, only killed them when other countries refused to accept people and gave tacit approval of the death programs.
Here is what Rabbi Prince had to say at the March on Washington just before Martin Luther King spoke: the most important thing I learned under those tragic circumstances is that bigotry and hatred is not the most urgent problem, the most disgraceful problem is silence.
One last repetitive request, become active. There was a time in the South in this country when people grew up thinking racism was inevitable and the brutal system they lived under would never change and it was unimaginable how quickly things changed. Who would have imagined that when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, this was the beginning of such a great civil rights movement. At first, protesters against the war in Vietnam were a handful, and then within a few years the movement swelled into thousands and thousands. When college students began to protest apartheid no one imagined that this system could change. In Nazi Germany during the darkest moments during WWII people really didn't think they had a chance--the Nazi's were powerful, they were everywhere. But these people knew that if they didn't do anything, then evil would triumph.
They didn't know how long it would take, any more than you do. But don't give up please!