Victims of Domestic Violence are often referred to as the invisible victims. Thanks to TMZ, there’s been a recent spotlight on the epidemic of children trafficked through family courts in America, as Kelly Rutherford lost custody of her children who were sent to live with their father in Monaco. Other high-profile cases include Tamika Fuller who lost custody to her ex, Ludacris, and Dr. Maya Tsimhoni.
So what happens to the children in cases where good mothers lose custody to abusive fathers, nearly all of whom hold convictions for domestic violence?
Most of these cases end up with children alienated from their mothers. Oftentimes these children are lied to by their custodial fathers who brainwash the children into believing they’ve been abandoned by their mothers. Or maybe their controlling and abusive fathers project their own crimes onto the good mother. Some mothers, as a last resort to protect their children from falling into the hands of an abusive parent, will take their children and go into hiding. Children whose mothers had to take such drastic means of protecting their young are then brainwashed into believing their father’s version of events, that being that their mother is a kidnapper who must be feared.
Imagine the terror of living through domestic violence, of witnessing the man you call father beat and terrorize your mother knowing that at any moment it may be your own face with which his fist connects. Now imagine the judge takes away your only source of protection. Where do you go to escape the father who watches you bathe? The man who, in a state of rage just split your mother’s face open or slammed your sister’s foot repeatedly in a door? Where do you go for help when those in authority – those you were taught to respect, those you were taught would keep you safe – choose to place you in the custody of a violent and abusive parent?
Most of these children succumb to the brainwashing. They suffer from abandonment issues, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and many other mental, physical, and psychological disorders. Their lives are shattered, their futures uncertain.
During the course of my advocacy for Domestic Violence, I routinely hear the question why. Why do women who are victims of Domestic Violence stay? Ask instead why people abuse. They stay for a variety of reasons but none so great as the fear of losing custody of their children to their abuser. 58,000 children a year are sent to live with abusive parents in this country by court systems who profit from Domestic Violence cases or by judges who see these cases as isolated, failing to recognize the patterns in cases where good mothers lose custody of their children. It is an appalling violation of human rights for which The Women’s Coalition PAC has submitted thousands of briefs from women worldwide calling on the UN to take action.
But not all of these children choose to remain in the custody of the abusive parent.
Many of them have become their own advocates finding strength in their own voices to fight for their own freedom. The legal backlash against some of these children has been swift. Many are being arrested and detained at Juvenile Detention Centers (scroll through Safe Kids International’s Facebook page for more on these cases). Can you imagine being arrested as a nine-year-old child for not being nice to your abusive father and told that you will stay incarcerated until you have and maintain a loving relationship with your abuser while banned from seeing your mother and siblings? This is exactly what happened in the case of Maya Tsimhoni and her three children. Sadly, there are countless other cases just like this one.
Some children and their mothers will die trying to escape their abusers. While some children fight for emancipation other children choose to free themselves of the nightmare of abuse permanently by committing suicide. For some like Jack Landesman, the depression eventually takes its toll. He committed suicide at age 29 after suffering from depression for years.
Other children pay the ultimate price for the often blatant and willful ignorance of family court orders which place them in the custody of their abuser. Children like 4-year-old Lauren whose father threw her off a cliff and 5-year-old Phoebe whose father threw her from a bridge.
Some children do make it out.
Damon ran away at age 14 and went into hiding for two years until at age 16 he found emancipation through marriage. You can read his story here, and what a story! In light of his case, a new law has been proposed, called Damon’s Law. Written by civil rights leader Wendy Murphy, the law would make sexual abuse cases fall under the jurisdiction of criminal courts as opposed to family courts.
Unfortunately, not all who run away will succeed like Damon. Many will be left to fend for themselves on the street, vulnerable to human trafficking and the sex slave trade. The last time I checked, Atlanta led the nation in sex trafficking with 200 to 300 girls trafficked in the city each month. Some of these girls are as young as eleven. And it’s not just girls being trafficked. Their lives are wrought with danger from johns, STDs, drugs, suicide, and homicide.
Protective mothers are being arrested and charged with kidnapping for going into hiding with their children to keep them from being harmed by abusive fathers. Women like Erin and Doctor Genevieve Kelley. Doctor Kelley was sentenced to 10 months in prison for custody interference after trying to protect her daughter from her abusive father.
YOU CAN HELP
- The plights of domestic violence victims are terrifying. The deaths of these children and women at the hands of their abusers or as a result of suicide caused by depression stemming from abuse is heartbreaking and preventable. We must speak up for these invisible victims. We must be their voices.
- Sign this petition asking for congressional oversight hearings on the failure of family and divorce courts. (petition is now closed)
- Sign this petition asking the UN to recognize this women’s rights crisis.
Helping Domestic Violence can be as easy as contributing to Domestic Violence Awareness campaigns or by donating your gently used clothes, toys, school supplies, tools, medical supplies, and other household items to DV shelters. Women and children leaving these shelters are placed in homes in need of these vital items. Atlanta area residents you can donate at HOPE. Georgia residents can get involved with the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Awareness is spreading thanks to the efforts of The Battered Mothers Custody Conference, The Women’s Coalition PAC, Safe Kids International, and countless other organizations and groups who have dedicated their voices to helping the invisible victims of domestic violence.
For further reading, check out this article from HuffPost written by Alanna Vagianos: 30 Shocking Domestic Violence Statistics That Remind Us It’s An Epidemic.
If you’re a victim of Domestic Violence please follow this link and scroll down for a list of victim resources, tips, and leaving safety plans and always remember to search the internet in incognito mode!