by Julia Fletcher
A new friend with years of experience working as a domestic violence advocate was gracious enough to talk on the phone and wonder out loud with me. As we tried to figure out how to fix the family court crisis as quickly as possible, we shared anecdotes about different judges in different states mishandling abuse cases in the same kinds of ways – the kinds of ways with no oversight and no accountability. We talked about the custody evaluators who make baseless recommendations as they throw away our tax dollars and our children’s lives. We talked about battered mothers and abused children struggling to protect themselves in a court system that’s supposed to do that for them.
We also talked about something that hasn’t been done before. What might happen if all of us working for family court reform would focus at least a small part of our efforts on one or two of the same goals? We battered mothers and advocates have been scattering our efforts in similar, but separate directions. If we can find a way to work together and take one single best step in the direction of our many objectives, the family court audits, congressional investigations and family law reforms would happen sooner. We’ll be able to save more lives.
Tossing ideas back and forth, we sifted through the projects that would be best for this kind of team effort. We need better family court laws, rules and regulations. We need family court audits and congressional investigations. We need to let the public know what’s been happening in our nation’s family courts.
The crisis has been in the crisis mode for the last 30 years. We were talking about finding a way to speed up the process of all that needs to be done. Days and weeks and years are passing with no contact between abused children and their mothers who are kept from them for protecting them. If we don’t do something to speed up the entire process, those vulnerable victims won’t have time to wait for the years that will pass before we see the fruits of the new laws, audits, oversight and accountability.
As our conversation slowed and we were running out of ideas, we settled on the goal of educating the public to put at the top of our collective “To Do” list. It makes sense. As soon as more people know there’s a problem, more people will be available to help. Most people have no idea how many tens of thousands of women and children are abused and/or how lose their lives each year as a direct result of family court orders. They have no idea that billions of tax dollars keep the family court cottage industry pressing full steam ahead while their state governments pinch pennies to fill potholes and keep schools open.
Hanging up the phone, I liked the idea of educating the public about the family court crisis until I thought of the long road ahead. I thought of how unfair it is that all of this work should have been done decades ago.
Dr. Catherine Clark Kroeger was another educator and advocate. She promoted such broad-minded ideas as equality for women in the church and a home-life that’s peaceful and free from violence and abuse. She passed away on Valentine’s Day at the age of 85.
As I read one of Dr. Kroeger’s articles today, it occurred to me that she had a better idea of what our first collective goal should be. The top of our list will need to start with something even more basic than education. If the public is going to learn more about the family court crisis, they’ll have to feel comfortable enough with the subject to want to learn more. It reminds me of something the forensic investigator told me after she evaluated my daughter. She said something like, “Childhood sexual abuse is an epidemic because no one wants to talk about it.” Looking back on what happened in my daughter’s case in the ten years that followed, I see that she was right.
In her article Are We Declining in Empathy? Dr. Kroeger wrote,
“How then do we respond to a subject that is so uncomfortable as that of domestic violence? How can we even acknowledge it in our midst?
All too often we have simply ignored those who are endangered or wounded or desperate. As with all sin and affliction, we must first acknowledge its presence and then bear our concerns up before God. Those who take the trouble to inform themselves will best understand the problem. They will be ready to reach out to victim and perpetrator alike, to seek to alleviate the suffering of one while holding the other accountable. Perhaps persons of faith have lacked empathy because they have not made the hard decision to engage in the positive action that scripture enjoins.”
Thank you Dr. Kroeger for all of your good work.
When my time comes, I’ll look forward to seeing you in Heaven. I hope our goals will be achieved before I get there.