Sara Stokes’ story reads like the cover of a tabloid magazine.
The Port Huron native’s highest highs came with a rush of fame. She ascended from a childhood riddled with abuse to win an MTV singing competition, “Making the Band 2,” in 2002. Stokes became a singer in a hip-hop group called Da Band, going on tour and producing an album, “Too Hot for T.V.,” in 2003 with Sean (P. Diddy) Combs.
But when she fell, Stokes plunged to subterranean lows — with suicide attempts, drinking excessively, and engaging in abusive behavior herself. It was at Stokes’ most fragile point — when she was in the St. Clair County Jail two years ago on a domestic violence conviction involving her husband, Tony Stokes — that producers of a BET Centric reality show called “From the Bottom Up” approached her about the possibility of a comeback.
1 in 5 New York Kids Are Sexually Abused. Help Prevent That
The CDC reports that 1 in 5 children are sexually abused.
9 out of 10 of the perpetrators are never brought to justice and never appear on sex offender registries.
They are protected by New York State laws.
Sign this petition and change that. Protect NY Kids.
Nine Years and Counting
I met my ex husband when I was 17, he was 22 and in medical school. I fell for his charm. So, when it was time for me to get to medical school, I allowed him to talk me out of it.
The next thing I knew, I could only socialize with people he “approved” of. Within two years I had to apply for green card so he could get into a residency program. He got into residency at the same school I did my Phd studies in. His residency and childcare took precedence over my career prospects. So, my dreams of having a dual degree or at least a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard were crushed.
After he started residency he was always working. When I asked why he wouldn’t help with the baby, he started physically pushing me around. I constantly felt like I was walking on eggshells. Pushing and shoving, silent treatments, withholding kids, throwing plates – because it was ALL MY FAULT. My son has eczema because I was a horrible mother.
I could not leave him and shame my family, because I chose “love marriage” over “arranged marriage”. When his sister’s ex boyfriend talked to me, it is my fault “I am cooking up something” that is reason enough to push, shove, slap, and slit wrists. I should not call the police because if I call the police he would tell them that I am suicidal and cannot or should not take care of a child. They will believe him more because he is a doctor.
Soon, I got pregnant again. Then I found out he was having an affair with a nurse (not the first time I found him cheating in 7 years of being married). When I was 7 months pregnant, my son got sick and I asked him to help me. He kicked me on to the floor. He had to go see his girlfriend on her birthday.
A few years after my daughter was born, he was served for child support by his “baby mama”. His abuse got worse. I called the police because he threw me into a fish tank, kicked my son, and threw my 3 year old daughter on the floor. I could deal with him abusing me, but I couldn’t deal with him hurting my children. I couldn’t deal with my son growing up thinking it was normal to treat women that way. I couldn’t deal with my daughter thinking it was ok to be disrespected.
I got out of the relationship in one week with hopes that a quick divorce would mean a faster resolution, so we could work together on raising kids.
Boy, was I naïve!!!!!
What I got instead was 8.5 years and counting of court battles! I still believed kids need both parents in their life. Despite careful and conscious efforts to keep him in their life, 8 years later I lost custody of my two kids. This is after:
- My children said they were abused by their father, and child protection services got involved (NOPE – I did not call CPS).
- My ex was arrested for assaulting me in front of children during a visitation exchange.
- 4 child custody evaluations, 5 custody trials that lasted over 6 days each, several hundreds of thousands spent in legal fees.
I lost custody of my children in 2016 because a new judge believed my ex’s lawyer’s fabricated documents and didn’t listen to my kids. He changed custody on an emergency petition. When the kids were visiting him over Christmas break of 2015, they called the police when he attacked my son (then 14 years old). Child protective services investigated. So, my ex made up documents to use as a basis for his “parental alienation” story.
Before the emergency hearing, both kids told me their dad said ‘he has the judge in his pockets and he will make sure that they never see me again and I go to jail”. I get chills just thinking about it.
My situation may not be unique, but it shows there is NO textbook to help navigate a system that is inefficient, especially when you are dealing with a charming and unempathetic person with money to support unscrupulous lawyers.
My only hope is my kids survive this craziness with as little impact from the trauma as possible……
Make Family Court Safe for Kids
You can follow more of my struggle below, and her what my son has to say about this matter, by clicking here:
How I Got In, and How I Got Out
By Suzanne Suchan
Just 8 years ago, life as I knew it erupted in a nightmarish mental volcano. The floor of the house that I worked feverishly to build using delicate cards of pain, tears, scars, anxiety, band-aids and cover-ups imploded.
Living with domestic violence is a condition that develops from a subtle, gradual seedling. It is not a sudden, bam-in-your-face situation. The abuser leads you into a knight-in-shining-armor scene, using charm and implied, inflated self-importance of themselves and their family. They build up your trust, so you share all your darkest secrets and deepest fears. They are grooming you. They celebrate, honor and laugh with you. They put you on a pedestal. They make their move with the “L” word, jumping into swift commitment, and you are whisked away in this whirlwind of euphoria.
Now that you feel this is the best person on earth for you, and you for them, you declare love. Your partner uses the words ‘soul mate’ and ‘forever’ quite a bit, overstating how nobody else could ever have a relationship so uniquely perfect; and you can finish each other’s sentences. You feel so connected, bonded, like this person is the answer to your dreams of everything you wanted in a partner.
The hooks of love have been set. You’re smitten. A bright light is blinding you, or at least is distracting you, while the biggest transformation in your life is about to take place. It’s not a good one, and you have no idea. You’re smiling, looking the other way, in love.
In comes subtle hints that they don’t care for your choice of friends.. they make up things that you would look really awkward fact-checking which seeps to your family, your hobbies, your habits, your personality, your character and oh those dark secrets. In comes a “knee-jerk” slap..
In comes a pregnancy. I was terrified to move out and live alone with him, but, I felt that I had no choice and that it was the ‘right thing to do.’ I was too .. ?? proud ???? of my seemingly solid love relationship to admit how it was dangerously wrong, to anybody.
I was terrified of him and obeyed him out of fear. I left the first time when our first born was 6 months old. I believed his cunning setup, and desperately wanted the portrait he painted in my mind, of a loving happy family. I could see it. I wanted it, I went back.
Naturally once I came back it was a celebration, up on the pedestal, lovey lovey and all that jazz. We decided to give our first born a playmate and so I got pregnant. And it only got worse after that blissful ‘honeymoon phase.’ I left again, two more times.. before coming back and then marrying him. I was so removed and disillusioned that I turned against my own mother, not inviting her to my wedding and not letting her near when our last child was born another 10 years later.
Each time I left, he used intimidation like phone calls with certain songs playing. He would make radio requests when he knew I was listening. He would follow and stalk me. He would call, write and use every opportunity to create a situation in which I felt the need to respond, naturally including affair rumors, or that I am making a fool of myself and the whole town was laughing at me. The illusion that I could never fend for myself, survive on my own, or have any success without him.
I remember one time after a honeymoon phase, he was flipping out on me. He inflated himself up, hovered over me as I was seated at the kitchen table, and he was scowling. He skewered me with his steel blue eyes and froze me with his stone cold face. He kept on jabbing his pointer finger in my eye sockets. Through a tight jaw and gritted teeth, he let drool ooze down onto my face, and he visually trembled with rage as he impaled my soul with: “If you EVER leave me again, I will KILL your family, and then I will kill YOU!”
I never shared that until a couple of years after the breakup. It took a long time to sort through the mental rubble, to really look AT it, and identify all the behaviors that I tolerated and how I feared him continually. I can now see how brainwashed I was .. like an elephant tethered to a fence with a single rope. I could have walked and snapped it .. but I was so conditioned and scared that I stayed. What’s worse, perhaps, is that I was defending him by my silence.
And heaven help me if he hurt himself while hurting me.. such as the time he punched me in the mouth, and cut his middle knuckle on my tooth. He became more mad when he saw he was bleeding. (“Oh I’m sorry, was I supposed to pose a certain way for you to deck me so you don’t injure your hard working hands?”) Ugh.
My family had given up hope for me, but never turned their back. They did what they could. They had to protect themselves from the toxicity, and I had to bottom out for myself. You see, when someone is being victimized, nobody else can do anything to force them out of the relationship.
For example, for a long time I can say if our tenant would have called the police, I would have defended my husband, I would have blamed my clumsiness and made up a whole story of how I got such injuries. Ask any of my coworkers or tenants over the years; I’ve come up with some doozies to explain away black eyes, a blown out voice box, grab marks, cuts, scratches and bruises.
I was scared of a worse beating if I allowed the truth to be known.. and I didn’t see a healthy, safe way out. At a Thanksgiving dinner at his parent’s house, I was very badly bruised all over. I had layers upon layers of makeup on. When I wiped my mouth during the meal some of the makeup wiped off, onto the napkin, revealing some black bruising. I took a beating for that later that night, for not staying on top of it.
What if the police were called and they knew each other, or if they laughed it off and did nothing?
Thankfully our daughter saved my life. She was my wake up call. One weekday morning, she confronted me square in the face and said, “Mom, I can’t take living like this anymore. It’s him or me.”
We made an agreement that next time it was happening and I had enough evidence, that she would call 911. Within 2 week’s time, that’s what happened.
What was different this time?
This time, I hadn’t run away and moved out. This time, he was plucked from the home, by police. There was now a written report.
The most excruciating challenges that followed ended up being some of my most empowering strengths.
I had promised the kids that I would not go back again. Now I had something firm to hinge on. I gave my children my word, and there was no way I would violate that.
I wasn’t going to go back. I wasn’t going to accept him back. This time it was final.
In fact, I was so prepared from leaving 3 times prior that I was able to predict all the tactics he would use. I wouldn’t tune in when he made himself cry, or when he said he’d “just let me leave if it ever happened again,” or that he “wanted to be a family man” or how WE “would get counseling if it happened again,” how he loves me inside and out and bla bla bla.
I told his brother, who helped us move, how he would hint at threatening suicide if I didn’t take him back, and that he’d claim to have chest pain or a pain running up his arm’ .. suggesting he was on the verge of a heart attack. Yep he tried ’em again.
Now, I was better prepared.
Instead of letting my heart strings be pulled again, or letting my compassion take over, I came back with “then go to the hospital.”
The kids and I had moved to a different house the following spring. He spoke to our eldest on the phone, threatening “Tell Mom I know where she lives.”
I responded with “So does everybody else because I’m in the phone book.”
That was when I began to feel empowered. I was no longer hiding, afraid of being found. Not this time, and not ever again.
When you separate from an abuser, it’s like a huge old dying tree in a windstorm. It creeks for a long time, losing a few branches. It wobbles with the fiercest winds, larger branches break off, before it finally falls.
When it does fall, there’s a huge backlash. And you need to take cover to protect yourself from the dust and debris flying everywhere.
Since getting out, I have heard from hundreds of former victims, men and women, grandparents, parents and children. Many felt nobody else would understand what they were going through .. that they couldn’t share what happened behind closed doors.. that nobody would be able to relate or help bring validation for their situation.
When I speak, I am powered by a sea of faces who shared their stories with me. Some have lost their voice. My mission is to talk about domestic violence, raising public awareness because 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are directly impacted… The public needs a voice. Some have asked that I be their voice and in their honor I will never be silenced, ever again.
I share how I made it, and how I am on top of my game, loving life, and doing everything I ever wanted to do, and actually a heck of a lot more!
I started a local support group (in Orchard Park NY), and offer speaking engagements anywhere in the world. I’ve created several helpful, healing workshops and am happy to serve on panels as a SME (topic expert) in domestic violence and abuse.
Nobody will ever take this smile away, or break my stride, ever again.
Help End Abuse in My Community
Survivor of a 22 year violent marriage, founder of Love Shouldn’t Hurt Inc., Suzanne is an award-winning mentor and a powerful inspirational speaker. She exudes excitement and enthusiasm that creates a feeling of welcomeness, of ‘I can do it, too’ and one of overcoming any obstacle in an open, accessible way.
Suzanne created her own set of workshops under the “Happy Camp” name, workshops designed to empower people to pursue their dreams and reconnect with their true self, as well as how to manage toxic situations and find inner peace.
Voice of the underdog and the ‘Pied Piper of Positive’ she hosts a radio show, coordinates awareness events, and is living testimony of a happy life outside of domestic violence
How many times did I find myself on his bathroom floor cowering beneath him, feeling the hot spit land on me as he screamed? Stop crying like a baby. You’re crazy. No one else would put up with you. How many times did I shudder on that floor counting my breaths, bringing myself back from the brink of suffocation during a panic attack that was triggered by one of these maniacal and regular assaults? But he never hit me.
How many hours did I remain on that bathroom floor after he had gone to bed, my eyes red with burst blood vessels? How many times did I hear the sound of his snores and realize he had fallen asleep, no more than a meter away, to the sound of me hyperventilating while still in the throes of that panic attack? How many times did I whisper aloud, “How did I get here? How did I become this woman?” How many times did I tell myself to get up, call a cab and walk out the front door? How many times did I get up and look in that mirror and fail to recognize myself? How much hate could I have for the broken woman staring back at me? But he never hit me.
How many times did I crawl into that bed, rather than into a cab, and wake up with his arms around me, telling me that I brought it out in him? He wasn’t like this. I made him like this. I needed to change the way I approached him about these things. Be less accusatory. If I just softened my approach, it would allow him to react differently. How many times did I adjust my approach before I realized the only way to avoid the abuse was not to bring it up at all? But he never hit me.
How many emails and text messages did I find? How many parties did we attend knowing that one of the women was there? I learned quickly not to address it so that “I” wouldn’t ruin a perfectly nice evening. When his family member asked me if a lipstick she had found under the couch was mine, I threw it away and said nothing more of it. Neither did she. Another humiliation taken in silence. But he never hit me.
How many times did he tell me he was going to sleep, out for dinner with a client, couldn’t hear his phone, but actually taking out another woman? How many times did he ignore my calls and call the next morning telling me nothing had happened? It was sadistic. I could see how much he enjoyed being that powerful. How many defamatory lies did he concoct and propagate to my old colleagues and friends when I walked away from him? How many times did he smear my reputation? How many times did I go back, believing every promise that he was a new man, believing every half-hearted apology? But he never hit me.
How many times did a friend pick me up because he had kicked me out of bed in the middle of the night for questioning him about one of the women? How many times did I go back before those friends had had enough. How many times did I defend him and justify his behavior when I told a friend about what he had done? When did I stop telling anyone altogether to avoid the shame of the insanity of the circumstances I was somehow in — the shame of being a strong independent woman who couldn’t take care of herself enough to leave a situation that was so toxic? When did I stop expecting more? But he never hit me.
How could I explain to someone that I believed it was partly my fault, even though I was embarrassed to hear those beaten woman’s words spoken from my lips. No one really understood. No one knew him like I did. It was my job to protect him from the truth of what he did to me. I couldn’t let them think he was a monster. I wouldn’t tell anyone. I was entirely alone. But he never hit me.
My solitude meant that I could no longer see the reflection in other people’s eyes indicating what was normal. I could only see the reflection in his eyes and began to believe what he told me about myself. I began to believe his irrational explanations despite my own heart and eyes. I let him define reality. I became isolated. It became easier to cut off my support networks completely than to have to lie about everything. Than to face the humiliation of my reality. A part of me knew that once they knew the extent of what was happening, they would force me to get out for good. I wouldn’t be able to go back. I knew I would always need to even in the worst of times. But he never hit me.
I set a benchmark. The red line I wouldn’t cross. The minute he hit me, I would leave. But the truth is, I know I wouldn’t have left then either. I would have rationalized that in hitting me, he would realize how out of hand things were. Everything would change now. I wouldn’t have left. By hurting me, he showed me he loved me. He cared enough to go that crazy. He cared so much that he was overwhelmed by anger or jealousy or sadness and simply couldn’t control himself.
When it was over, I wasn’t permitted to mourn him. No one could understand how love, hate, fear and comfort could coexist simultaneously. They could not understand that in addition to my abuser, I also lost my confidant, the person to make dinner with, the person to watch movies with on a rainy Sunday, the person to laugh with, the person who knew me. I lost my companion. How can you explain to someone that the abuse was only a part of who he was? How do you explain that to yourself?
There are still days when I remember tender moments and wonder if it really was that bad. I still struggle with reconciling how he could love me to the point of tears and yet hurt me as if I was an enemy. Like a child, I’m learning to redefine the borders of normal behavior and to realign my expectations. I remind myself that acts of violence can never be acts of love.
For the first time, I see my own reflection in other women who have emerged from the depths of such darkness. Indescribably courageous women whom I have never met, but who have shared their stories and in doing so, saved me. These women embraced me with their pain and unknowingly convinced me that I was not alone, that I am worthy of more. I hadn’t believed that singular truth in a very long time.
Knowing that others were there has allowed the shame to dissipate. I used to default to the trained belief that I was crazy, overly sensitive or had imagined it all because I could not reconcile the love and the abuse. I have permitted myself to accept that both existed. Their stories have allowed me to forgive myself. To recognize how arbitrary that red line was. Seeing myself in their eyes has allowed me to name my abuser. To name my experience as an abused woman. And then to let go.
I pray now that my words will travel to the broken woman staring back at them and embrace her. I hope they equip her with the strength and love she needs to raise herself from the depths.
Help Us Stop Abuse
Reut Amit lives in Vancouver, British Columbia where she works at a commercial litigation firm. She holds a Master of Arts in Diplomacy and Conflict Studies from the IDC Herzliya and a J.D. from the University of Victoria. She writes essays and opinion pieces about feminism, politics, law and public policy. Follow her on Twitter @reutamit .
Great is the Story
By Melanie Blow
The stories of of children sexually abused within the Catholic Church dominate America’s understanding of the crime. When rumblings of the child sexual abuse scandal at Horace Mann preparatory school in New York City first surfaced, it seemed like a very different kind of scandal. Parents spending huge sums of money to send kids to a school where “everyone knew” of sexual abuse, and then defending the school in the media, seemed like a very different institutional abuse narrative. And this is where Great is the Truth by Amos Kamil and Sean Elder (available here), sheds some light on this confusing story and shows how ugly it truly is.
The author has the perfect perspective to tell this story- an alumnus, but one who entered on a scholarship, an outsider to the culture of privilege that predominated the school. He has a deep sense of gratitude to the school and teachers who changed his life, including some of the teachers who sexually abused his classmates.
And this is where the real story unfolds. The school was a second family. Teachers were expected to spend time with students outside the classroom. This holistic approach to students’ lives was considered the secret to the school’s success at securing students ivy league acceptance letters and amazing careers. But the lack of boundaries made sexual abuse easy. The familial atmosphere made teachers inclined to support each other and administrators inclined to support teachers. And the pervasive lack of knowledge and stigma that surrounds child sexual abuse ensured that mistakes were made and survivors were silenced.
After the author broke the scandal wide open with an article in in the New York Times, the full scope of the scandal became apparent; the most recent, most official count is 64 students and 22 faculty. New York’s Statute of Limitations barred all the survivors from New York courts, so the survivors had no legal recourse whatsoever. Many of them petitioned the school for settlements, which included an individual financial piece and an independent investigation to determine the full scope of the crimes.
And here the story becomes hauntingly familiar. The school refused to launch an independent investigation, and only gave the survivors a fraction of the $210,000 experts say amount to the crimes’ actual damages. And they justified it all with a familiar refrain; We’ve changed, this is ancient history, and we won’t be able to afford to do the good things we like to do if the truth comes out.
Anyone with any interest in institutional child abuse would do well to read this book. It brilliantly illustrates our society’s tendency to look away, to not recognize what they see, and for children to continue getting hurt. Great is the truth, and great are the efforts by guilty parties to suppress it.
Protect Kids From Sexual Abuse
Sean Elder has written for Newsweek; New York; National Geographic; O, The Oprah Magazine; and numerous other publications. He lives in Mill Valley, California.
How Much Was I Worth?
By Melanie Blow
When I was 13 my father raped me.
He only did it once.
He let his brother, my uncle, rape me many times.
They call us survivors because that’s what we learn to do.
We find a way of surviving, of getting through it. As a 13 year old I didn’t use all the right labels, but words like “rape” and “incest” were the first. Which 13 year old schoolgirl wants to claim words like that anyway? Sometimes surviving involves escaping. I did that too. As soon as I could, I left home and started a new life at college. I was lucky. A straight A student.
For many others escape means a bus station, the streets. A life of looking for love, and finding it in the arms of a trafficker. Drugs, sexual slavery, arrest and incarceration. It’s mostly victims just like me who get incarcerated.
Being raped at home first by my father, then my uncle, with the tacit approval of my mother, I didn’t know how frighteningly normal I am.
I didn’t know that a fifth of America’s children are sexually abused.
I didn’t know that about one in every ten of us experience the additional betrayal of parents who know, and do nothing.
Nothing. Their silence. Their permission.
I didn’t know, and I don’t know, if any money changed hands between my uncle and my father. I know his family were relatively wealthy. I know my father had just lost his job. I know my mother expected hers to end too. I know we didn’t starve. And I wonder what I was worth?
I didn’t know that trafficking brokers, just like my father, tend to rape their victims to sexualize them for the task ahead. It also helps victims build the psychological defenses needed to survive their future as sexual slaves.
I was incestuously raped. To me it makes a difference if money was involved. To society too. I’m sure there are no cancelled checks in my father’s drawer bearing the proud memo, “Sex with your daughter” but being sold adds an additional layer of abuse and trauma.
Today I advocate for all child victims of sexual abuse. Trafficked or not.
There is a growing understanding of the scope of child sex trafficking, and its damage. But treating child sex trafficking in a vacuum, without treating its causes, will ensure it continues for years.
Trying to end child sex trafficking by focusing on trafficked children is like eliminating cancer by only treating those suffering from it when it’s metastasized to stage 4.
Abuse, like cancer, can be prevented. Preventing it saves lives, money, and minimizes complications. Failing that, early intervention is the next best thing. Anything is better than the common alternatives- drugs, suicide, poverty, abusive intimate relationships, and sometimes commercial sex work.
Kids are at high risk for being sexually trafficked if they have a history of sexual abuse, being in foster care, and running away from home. In other words, having high ACE scores. An estimated 300,000 American children have at least two of these risk factors. High ACE scores mean desperate kids. Kids desperate for family. Desperate for safety. Desperate for love. So desperate they’ll settle for the ugly caricatures of these things a trafficker provides them with. Desperate kids weigh the pros and cons of sex with their family for free, or sex with strangers for money. That was me when I was a kid. I just made different choices.
Sexual slavery relies on a steady stream of disenfranchised, desperate, sexualized children. The runaways from abuse at home fuel the child sex trafficking market. Without these desperate kids child sex slavery can’t exist on the scale it does.
Let’s think about that for a minute.
One in every five children can expect to be sexually abused before they reach adulthood. The Statute of Limitations on the crime makes laws against it largely unenforceable – nine out of ten offenders will never see a day behind bars. Remember that the next time someone assures you their employees have all passed a background check!
We don’t do a good job at protecting kids from sexual abuse. Then when they are abused, we rarely help them.
We know how to prevent most non-sexual abuse and neglect. Maternal home visiting programs like Healthy Families NY and Nurse Family Partnership prevent abuse, neglect and maltreatment by encouraging bonding and teaching new mothers life skills. These are the evidence based programs that Nick Kristof argues for in his new book, A Path Appears. The group of people home visiting is least likely to work for are women experiencing domestic violence. Domestic Violence calls for best practices called The Quincy Solution that slashed domestic violence in all the communities that use it.
The other cause of child sex trafficking is people who feel entitled to use a child for their sexual gratification, and are willing to pay money for it. Buying a 14-year-old who’s billed as an 18-year-old, they convince themselves it’s consensual. They’re not pedophiles- their abuse is an extension of rape culture and male privilege.
Pre-pubescent children are usually trafficked by their parents or caregivers on a smaller scale. These children are usually raped by people who meet the criteria for pedophilia. People who are likely to sexually abuse children again and again, throughout their lives. Eliminating statutes of limitations on child sex abuse and allowing adult victims access to the courts is the best way to ensure pedophiles are arrested so we save today’s children. Fixing legal loop-holes that allow people who pay for sex from a minor to escape serious legal
consequences protects kids too.
Foster care is mostly reserved for children who either suffer absolutely horrifying or chronic abuse, neglect or maltreatment- kids with very high ACE scores, and the skills traffickers want. Some anti-human trafficking groups try to prevent trafficking by teaching children in foster care, and their caregivers, to recognize and avoid traffickers. Others focus on bolstering a community’s emergency shelter capacity. Those are great ideas, but like focusing only on stage 3 cancer. Better than focusing on stage 4, but still waiting too long.
What we all need to do is push for programs and policies that prevent the abuse from starting in the first place.
When children are “rescued” from trafficking, usually by arresting them for prostitution, there is growing awareness they don’t have homes to go back to. They need long-term, trauma- informed aftercare. This is wise and proper. But this wisdom rarely extends to non-trafficked kids.
Between 40-60% of child sexual abuse is committed within the child’s family. When sexual abuse is alleged during a divorce, the alleged abuser gets custody or unsupervised visitation 85% of the time. The allegations of abuse are viewed as a gambit for full custody by a malicious mother, even though research shows this happens less than 2% of the time.
There is no talk of “rescuing” these non- trafficked children, and except for the Safe Child Act from Stop Abuse Campaign, there is no serious talk of protecting them from abuse.
For me and so many other incest survivors, the idea of getting paid to do the same sexual acts for strangers I was doing to family for free was appealing. Even though I was a college-bound straight A student I had been taught my value in the world. Many sex abuse survivors echo that feeling. The logistics of working as a prostitute in a very small, rural town and concern for my sister were the only things keeping me from that choice.
Sex trafficking makes good headlines. It’s shocking and provides us with a perfect image of victims and bad guys. Slavery is bad. Sexual slavery is worse. We get that.
We are short-changing all our children if we are satisfied with them being abused and just don’t want them trafficked.
All children deserve a safe home to grow up in. That includes protection from incest, maltreatment, domestic violence and prostitution. Far too few advocates realize that we can prevent abuse from starting. We can. And we must.
Protect Children. Prevent Trauma
I Want A Divorce
By Destiny Roberts
I want a Divorce.
These four words would forever change my life. I blurted them out without even hesitating as I sat in the car, traveling out of state for a wedding.
I looked out the corner of my eye to see my husband’s reaction. Literally, it was like I said “Oh it is a nice day out today, isn’t it?” I knew in my heart I didn’t regret those words, but my husband had no reaction. Was it because he told me he wanted a divorce weekly, and now the shoe was on the other foot? Did he not hear me? I didn’t understand why there was no reaction.
Over the next few months, I was overwhelmed with flowers, poems, cards and promises by my husband. The very things I yearned for in our years of marriage, he was using to lure me back to the marriage that was a lie. There- I admitted out loud that my marriage was a lie, right from the moment I said “I do”.
Inside, I struggled. My heart knew I no longer loved him. In some ways I hated him, and yet my mind was playing a game. I felt guilty for wanting to leave him, I felt sorry for him, and I didn’t understand why.
One day at work, my husband called and said he had scheduled an appointment for me to see someone. Clearly, something was wrong with me because I wanted a divorce. He said no woman in their right mind would want to leave behind what he had given me. He constantly reminded me how lucky I was to have a husband who wanted me, because no one else ever did. I should feel honored- he could have anyone he wanted, but I was the lucky one. He reminded me daily of what a hard- working man he was and how he provided me with the finer things in life. He would hold my face, making me look around to see what he had provided me. It had nothing to do with me.
I hated him even more now. He voiced, to anyone who would listen and to those who wouldn’t, that there was something wrong with me because I wanted a divorce. As I drove myself to the appointment, I had butterflies in my stomach. I was shaking and scared when I walked into Dr. Smith’s office. As I turned the door knob and walked inside, there was no one in the waiting room. You could have heard a pin drop. I sat there thinking to myself what am I doing? If I don’t stay, what will my husband do to me when I get home?” I heard my phone buzzing- it was my husband’s number. I sat with the phone in my hand, trying to decide whether I should answer it or let it go to voice mail. I knew I had better answer it or I would be in trouble.
My voice was shaking when I said “hello”. He said “I’m just making sure you made it to your appointment ok.”
“I’m here, just waiting.”
“Ok, I’ll see you when you get home.”
To the outside world this would seem like a caring, doting husband making sure I made it to my appointment. To me, it was more than that. He always checked up on me and made sure I was where I was supposed to be. I always had to check in with him and let him know every move I made. If he didn’t like where I was or who I was with, he would make a scene. I would come home with my tail between my legs in embarrassment. Was he going to show up at my appointment?
I heard the door open behind me, and I jumped about 100 feet. Dr. Smith came out and asked “Are you ok?”
“Yes thank you.”
He said “You can come in and have a seat. We’ll get started.”
As I sat on his couch, I looked around his office. I am not certain what I was looking for, but I was trying to find something in his office to give me some sign that I was ok.
Dr. Smith took out his note pad and began asking me questions. But he seemed to be writing a lot more than what I was answering. Was he finding something wrong with me, like my husband said? What was he writing? I kept trying to tell myself it was going to be ok. Dr. Smith then put his pen down and asked “Now, can you tell me why you are here?”
I still remember hearing those words. My mouth opened, but nothing came out. My body couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe, what was happening? I looked up at him, my eyes welling up with tears, and said “I don’t know why I’m here. My husband scheduled this appointment for me because he said there’s something wrong with me.”
Dr. Smith looked at me and said “why don’t you tell me what’s going on.” Before I could take another breath, I blurted out that I wanted a divorce. There was a pause, and then Dr. Smith asked “was there someone else?”
“Does he have someone?”
“I lost count.”
“Is there anything else?”
I tried, but couldn’t look at Dr. Smith in his eyes. I didn’t know what was going on. Dr. Smith said “Ms. Lyon, its ok.”
I slowly tried to gather my thoughts. I looked up, and said in a very faint voice “I’m scared. My husband hurts me, I want to leave, but I feel guilty. I cannot do this anymore.”
Dr. Smith looked at me and gave me the sign that I had been yearning for. He sat there and let me cry, and told me it would be ok. I have tried so many times to remember the rest of the meeting but I can’t. The only evidence I have of this meeting is the crumpled piece of paper from Dr. Smith with information about Domestic Violence Services. I remember him telling me to keep this piece of paper in a safe place.
Dr. Smith called the next day. He told me my husband had contacted him, making sure I kept my appointment and didn’t change any appointments he had so graciously made for me. Dr. Smith advised him that he was couldn’t discuss the details with him, and would be more than happy to schedule an appointment with him. I later learned through the insurance statements that my husband scheduled two appointments for himself.
Over the next several months I met with Dr. Smith trying, to deal with the mental, emotional, and physical abuse I endured for almost twenty years. During one of the sessions, Dr. Smith promised me that a year from now I would look back and says “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” I sat there in his office and shook my head as I said “I don’t think that day will ever come.”
I never knew some of the things he had been doing to me for years were actually abuse. I never fully understood the feelings I felt were from the abuse I had endured and silenced, in fear of what he would do to me next. I felt like I was on a roller coaster, waiting for that last twist and turn so I could get off, walk away and never have to get back on. I wouldn’t be one of those kids that wanted to get back on this roller coaster-I found no amusement in it at all. The highs of the roller coaster represented the positive steps I took; the lows represented the setbacks I would encounter in dealing with my husband’s backlash as I exposed him. The dark tunnels and valleys that I kept going through were the secrets I hid for so long inside of me. My husband didn’t want anyone to see the mask he put on his face. He only wanted the world to perceive him as a great guy, and to see how terrible I was. This ride would haunt me for months because this is where my struggle was. I wanted to get off this ride but I did not know how.
I finally came to the pivotal moment in my life where I felt I had some direction and was ready to move on. Most people refer this as the “T” in the road. I finally left my abusive husband and started my new life. What most people call routine events were now new adventures for me. I started shopping at new places in order to avoid running into my husband who just happened to be there, grocery shopping, or at the bank cashing his check. This was not an easy task for me due to the fear that he had instilled in me. But I kept putting one foot in front of the other.
Over a year had passed since this nightmare became a reality and I couldn’t wait to schedule an appointment with Dr. Smith. I was not the same woman who had walked in his office on a cold snowy night over a year ago, and I wanted to be the person to say “you were right, why didn’t I leave sooner?” As I said this to Dr. Smith, he sat back in his chair and smiled. For the first time, he wasn’t writing down what I said. This meeting was different from any of our other meetings. This one finally brought closure for me. I had fought the good fight. I had won, and I now knew my course. We ended our session on that note.
It felt so different for me to be able to make decisions on my own and not to have to account to anyone. I still found myself calling my ex-husband to check in with him, telling him what I was doing, where I was going, etc. Why was I still doing this? I recognized that I still needed help in certain areas of my life, and this time I was able to choose my own counselor. I knew within my heart there was nothing wrong with me. But I still felt I needed help learning to trust people again, and more importantly, tearing down those walls I had built up so high that no one was going to get beyond them and breaking the cycle of talking to my ex-husband.
As I sat in Dr. John’s office, I was surer of myself. I was not looking around for a sign that I would be ok. I already knew that. This time, I savored not being afraid, not looking over my shoulder and jumping at every noise I heard. I actually could admire the art work hanging in the waiting room. With each piece of art, I wondered about the story behind it. I found myself creating a story in my head for the art. For a moment, I was created a happy story, a story that one day I hoped to have. Would I ever be able to find the fairytale that I had yearned for all of those years? Yes I would, I just knew that I would, since I already came to the realization that I was none of those things my ex-husband told me I was. I needed to find a way to erase that part of my life.
Ok, here we go, it’s my turn. I sat in Dr. John’s office, looking around, thinking that these walls could tell so many stories, and now mine would be told. Dr. John got right to work and left me sitting in the chair thinking to myself “I am not feeling very well.”
Dr. John wanted me to write on a blank sheet of paper what I saw in his office. It took me just a few minutes to write down that I saw furniture, books, lamps and a box of Kleenex. When Dr. John read his list- green walls, white light switches, a 12 X 12 room, photos of his family, and his computer- he explained that we both are in the same room, looking at the same things but we see things differently. He explained that’s how life is, and there’s an important lesson to be learned. He said “What you may see when you look in the mirror is not necessarily what I see when I look at you.”
I looked forward to my weekly sessions with Dr. John. I always came out of there with another revelation, another useful tool in my journey. I realized there would be bumps along the way. Those bumps would not define me, but how I choose to go over those bumps would.
After a few months, Dr. John explained that I had a lot of scars on the surface that looked like they had scabbed over and healed, but inside there still was an infection festering. In order to remove this infection, I needed to reopen those wounds. Dr. John tried to tell me this process would be very painful, but he asked me to stay in the game while we worked through this.
I tried so hard to stay in the game and see it through. I found myself exhausted, feeling as alone and confused as I had before I left my husband. I remember sitting in Dr. John’s office sobbing after a few months of this, telling him I cannot do this. I was reliving every step of the abuse all over as we opened up the scars and dug the infection out. The wounds that I believed had healed in reality never had. The surface of the abuse had only been touched; not the underlying abuse itself. As Dr. John kept working with me week after week, I found that the more he kept digging; more puss kept coming out of my wounds.
Finally, one day I sobbed in Dr. John’s office because I was overwhelmed with what I had been through. I finally grasped the extent of the abuse I had endured, including things I had suppressed and did not even realize until that moment. That’s when Dr. John asked me to write a letter to my abuser. In this letter, he was very specific that I had to tell my abuser exactly what he did to me, how it made me feel, and why I felt about him like I did. Dr. John further assured me that it could be as nasty as possible- we wouldn’t send it. Dr. John told me to take my time in writing this letter.
I felt this would be an easy, but in hindsight this letter took almost a year to write. I struggled with trying to write how I felt and what he did to me. At every session, I felt like I had failed because I couldn’t write this letter. Dr. John assured me it was ok. This was part of my healing, even though I didn’t see it.
Finally in late February, I sat down over the weekend, and to my amazement, I completed the letter. I was meeting with Dr. John later that week and I finally would be able to share it.
As I sat in Dr. John’s office, he asked me to read the letter. As I read, I paused and looked at Dr. John, then continued reading. Dr. John asked me to stop, and asked what was wrong? I put my letter away and cried. It was at that moment that I realized my scars were healing. He asked me why I was crying. I said I am not crying because of me, but I am crying for the woman who wrote that letter. I feel so bad for the woman in this letter, she is so scared, so alone and so hopeless.
Dr. John looked at me and said “What I see in front of me is a very strong woman and who has let her scars heal.”
Make Divorce Safe for Kids
The Story of Surviving Myself
By Andrew Willis
A 2015 speech at the Stand Up For Passion event in NYC.
It was a great job. Jetsetting around the world, managing integrated marketing communications for global brands like Citi, IBM and HP. The cliche, “It’s Hong Kong, it must be Monday” and stopover weekends in attractive cities my reality.
I returned home to a beautiful 6,000 square foot stone house in Connecticut, my wife and two children. An ideal life. Work hard. Play hard. Good friends. Great family. Two vacations a year; sailing in the summer, skiing in winter. Church on Sundays.
Then I woke up.
Staring into the bright clinical lights of the Very Intensive Care Unit in a hospital far from home. I’d swallowed 300 Tylenol PM and wished the world goodbye. Almost a week before.
Leather straps hung off my bed by my feet and arms where they secured me.
My veins had coursed with crystal meth. My arms… bruised and punctured. My goodbyes said, not heard.
I had never even smoked weed until I was over 50. Taking drugs was my way of medicating away the pain and humiliation of remembering my youth. Still today much of my childhood years are cloaked under the shrouds of secrecy that protect our sanity but drive our depression.
Why? I had to know why this happened to me. Was it just my bad choices or was something else at play. I guess I went in search of excuses – but I found answers. I found I was not the only one. In fact I was no different to about a quarter of people. One in four of you in this room is hiding a secret from childhood.
My search for the answer, combined with the love of my two boys, family and friends has kept me alive.
My search initially led me to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study). A massive study of childhood trauma and its impact on health carried out by Kaiser Permanente with the CDC.
The answer at first overwhelming. The answer it affects us all.
The epicenter of the problem- abuse and neglect of children.
The higher your ACE score-the more types of abuse, neglect and household dysfunction you lived through as a child- the worse your health outcomes throughout your life.
My ACE score is 5. That explained a lot of my life. A life I enjoyed, but full of the stress of secrets. Secrets require lies. And lies spread, a bit like flies.
Someone with a score of one is twice as likely to be an alcoholic, twice as likely to suffer from chronic depression, and one-and-a-half times as likely to experience serious financial problems.
Someone with an ACE score of 4 is a staggering 40 times more likely to use intravenous drugs. And 114% more likely to have 50 or more sexual partners throughout their lives. More than 1 in every 10 of us attempt suicide every year.
When your score reaches six, statistically you can kiss 20 years of your life goodbye
A score of 9, well they are often the cases reported on shows like Criminal Minds.
The ACE research made me realize I wasn’t the only one. I was harmed by the boarding school teacher who took me into his bed at night when I was ten. An older boy who had raped me shortly before. An entire culture who thought kids needed to be beaten until they bled. All these things I lived through as a boy made me who I was. The soldier I was. The businessman I was. The husband I was. The father I was. Woven by invisible thread to the meth, 300 tylenol, promiscuous sex through to the bright lights glaring in my eyes and the nurse beside me noting that I had woken up.
Abuse is a public health problem. America’s biggest public health problem but one we don’t like to discuss. After all who wants to talk about incest and children murdered?
We’re all responsible for our behaviors, but not our histories. Neurologists show how ACE’s affect children, and the adults they become. Science. Not rhetoric.
Science affecting us all. Documented suffering on a universal scale. Costing American taxpayers a trillion dollars every year. More money than I can imagine.
$1 trillion has twelve zeros. It is over $200 billion more than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Australia . It’s more than the combined GDPs of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland.
Abuse and neglect are predictable and preventable. Prevention that stops massive human suffering and saves enormous sums of taxpayer’s money.
Changes in public policy protect children from most ACE’s.
The Stop Abuse Campaign is focused on helping communities make the health and safety of children their first priority. We achieve this through educating the public, legislators and public officials about state and local government policy changes that protect a child victim’s first right; not to be a victim at all.
We’re working with the community in Erie County, turning the child murder capitol of New York into one of the safest places in America to grow up.
We start with strong local leadership. Educate them about ACE’s and how to prevent them. Coordinated community responses the most effective.
- Preventing domestic violence, in the homes and in the family courts, happens by using an evidence based solution. The Quincy Solution. Stops Domestic Violence.
- Helping struggling mothers rather than persecuting them for the crime of youth pregnancy, through evidence based maternal home visiting programs achieves incredible, well documented results. And it leaves you wondering why states like New York are cutting funding today?
- If it takes a village to raise a child that means those villages must change old fashioned beliefs and stigmas that maintain the status quo.
- Now I’m sure many of you would be shocked if a registered sex offender moved into the house next door but the reality is 9 out of 10 sex offenders are not registered. Not prosecuted. Protected by archaic laws called statutes of limitations that protect rapists not children.
The sad truth is Adverse Childhood Experiences affect children at pandemic rates. And the aftermath affects us all. ACE’s can be prevented through public policy.
And that’s why I have dropped the corporate world of high pay and even better bonuses. Why I work for nothing, eating at friend’s houses and worrying about paying the rent.
The only way I can continue to live my life. The only way I can continue to drive the right of a child to grow up free of abuse and neglect is if you dig deep in your pockets tonight and donate what you can.
Donate $7, one dollar for every speaker tonight. Or donate an awful lot more because tonight’s speakers deserve your donation and right now deserve your applause.
Thank you for being here. Thanks for listening, And thanks for your generosity. With your help we will stop abuse and neglect.
Protect Children. Prevent Trauma.
That Awkward Moment When
By Melanie Blow
You don’t need to spend a lot of time catching up with real friends, and as my schedule changed recently, I found myself catching up with one I hadn’t talked to much in years. In catching up with her, the conversations about her kids contained a new player. Her 19-year-old daughter had a 19-year-old boyfriend, Dale. They grow up so fast.
It became clear that Dale was a very big part of their lives. He baby-sits her ten-year-old son- a very handy arrangement. But then one evening she mentioned that her day started when Dale called and asked if he could take her son on a bike ride. Then there was the evening when her son asked if he could spend the night with Dale. Not with his sister and Dale, just with Dale. Then there was the conversation I overheard between my friend and her husband where my friend said “would you please give Dale some money? He’s been spending so much time with Sammy”.
My blood ran cold in August.
I loved kids when I was 19- I still do. I worked at a summer camp when I was 19 because I enjoyed spending time with kids. But I also enjoyed leaving at the end of the day, listening to CD’s with “warning-explicit lyrics” labels, and conversing with people who could operate a juice-box without assistance. All things one can’t or shouldn’t do with a child in tow.
There are people in this world who believe child sexual abuse happens, and there are those who believe child sexual abuse happens elsewhere. My friend is solidly in the second camp. She’s such a good mother- I’ve watched her deal with her children’s illness, report cards and heartaches. She became a surrogate mother for so many kids in the neighborhood and in her extended family. And she loved them all- that’s who she is.
But she isn’t a survivor. All she knows about child sexual abuse is what she’s picked up from TV and a few friends. The media doesn’t represent the issue well- my friend is terrified of her kids getting kidnapped. The media doesn’t show that 20% of kids are sexually abused, mostly by people known and trusted by them and their parents. It doesn’t depict predators bonding with their prey, becoming a huge part of their lives. It doesn’t depict how they desensitize their prey to being touched, manipulated and silenced. It doesn’t show that kids rarely talk about it while they’re still kids. But the worst part of understanding child sexual abuse through the media is that it gives you the option of changing the station, turning it off, and eliminating it from your consciousness.
I’m a survivor- child sexual abuse is in the deepest parts of my being. My internal TV station is constantly on the Child Sexual Abuse station. Thankfully, at this point in my life that station doesn’t constantly broadcast horror flicks, but it’s still on. I know how common it is, I know how damaging it is, and I’m familiar with the common plot-twists survivors and predators employ. And I can see Dale seems to be reading from a common sex-offender script. I’ve memorized lengthy check-lists of warning signs that an adult poses a danger to a child, but they all boil down to this- if someone is more interested in spending time with your child than you are, you need to worry.
As a survivor, I often feel my life is lived outside the soundbyte realm of facebook memes and Hallmark cards. I don’t expect to ever see a meme on facebook that goes “that awkward moment when you realize your friend’s child is in danger- and your friend doesn’t.” But soundbytes or no soundbytes, I need to tell a friend and co-worker that one of her worst nightmares is on the brink of coming true, and that I can see it and she can’t.
The next day we worked together, I had the perfect opportunity. On lunch break, after she talked with her husband for ten minutes (a conversation where Dale’s name was mentioned at least twice), I walked up to her and said “Tammy, I’m worried about the way you talk about Dale and Sammy. It sounds like Dale is doing all the things someone does if they want to sexually abuse a child”.
She looked at me silently, a bit of tension in her face. She waited for the punch-line. Then her face relaxed, her brown eyes softened, and her mouth curled into a smile. She laughed at my naivety.
“Mel, I trust Dale. He’s Jodi’s boyfriend.”
“I know you trust him. But people who do that to kids are great at getting people to trust them.”
“But Mel, he’s 19. And he’s Jodi’s boyfriend.” The emphasis meant “he’s having sex with a grown woman.”
“I know. But look at Jerry Sandusky. He was married, and he still molested kids. And his age has nothing to do with it.”
There was a little more tension in her face.
“Tammy, please take a look at these websites.”
I thought about calling into work the next day. I could picture her patronizing smile all day. I could see her saying, with her eyes “poor Melanie. She’s so twisted. To her, the world is full of people who want to molest kids. And she doesn’t think I can protect mine.”
Instead, when I got there, she cornered me as soon as I was alone.
“Thank you so much for telling me that. I looked at that website. Dale has lots of those characteristics of sex offenders. I talked with Sammy- he says he never did anything to him. Thank God. But thank you so much.”
Sammy is ten. The average age of first victimization for sexual abuse is nine. Sammy has a long, risky childhood ahead of him. I know that 90% of those who sexually abuse a child will never see a day behind bars, so the odds are good Sammy will have another babysitter, or a teacher, or a coach, or a friend’s parent, who has sexually abused another child. But his mom can protect him better now, and he’s a lot safer. And knowing her, she’ll tell every parent she knows about what she learned. Grooming a child for sexual abuse isn’t a crime- there is nothing for me or my friend to tell the police about Dale. It’s not a perfect ending, but it’s a happy one. One well worth all the awkward moments.
Click Here to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse
Court Forces Young Wolferts Sisters Back to Allegedly Abusive Father
The Wolferts sisters, Danielle and Sydney (ages 15 and 16), ran away during visitation with their mother on July 17, 2014, after reporting abuse by their father and then remained in hiding until found with their mother on January 3, 2016. They have been held without charges in a Utah juvenile detention center, known as Slate Canyon, for more than three months, during which Child Protective Services substantiated their allegations of father Brian Wolferts’ emotional abuse, but failed to substantiate allegations of physical abuse due to insufficient evidence. The sisters have been ordered to return to his custody against their will as of March 23, 2016.
The Juvenile Fourth District Court initially decided that the Wolferts sisters would remain in Utah, but Brian Wolferts filed a requisition order to force the sisters back to his custody in Kansas. The Wolferts sisters’ present guardian ad litem Kacy Borlik strongly advocated for them to remain in Utah, but Judge Brent Bartholomew ruled that they be returned to Brian Wolferts in Kansas.
On March 11, 2016, Judge Bartholomew denied the Department of Child and Family Services’ request to have another 30 days to review and investigate recent evidence. Danielle and Sydney and their 20-year-old sister Brittany were prepared to testify to the alleged abuse and their custody preferences, but were prevented from speaking, due to a motion filed by their allegedly abusive father. Judge Bartholomew’s response to the motion states: “It is not in the best interest of the parties’ minor children to testify as to their custody preference.”
In recognition of children’s role in determining their own best interests, some states now mandate that children above a certain age be given the right to testify and declare their best interests in custody cases, unless the judge can provide a specific finding for waiving this right. Utah law does not entitle children to testify, and states that the desires of children over the age of 14 “shall be given added weight,” but are not the controlling factor. Unsubstantiated abuse allegations are often not considered in custody proceedings, but proving abuse is often very difficult, since abuse is not always carried out with witnesses present. The testimony of the children is sometimes the closest thing to evidence that the court can consider.
Domestic violence experts Barry Goldstein and Mo Hannah’s book Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody contains a chapter examining 175 homicides that occurred when children’s abuse allegations were disbelieved and custody was awarded to the alleged abuser. Goldstein said of the Wolferts’ case:
I think the brave sisters should be heard before the court blindly inflicts more harm. We recently interviewed dozens of the best judges from communities where court decisions disbelieving abuse reports gave the abusers the access they needed to kill the children. The judges said they didn’t create reforms in response to the tragedies because they thought the murder was an exception. The judge in the Wolferts case is using the same outdated practices that failed the dead children.
Past examples show that tragic outcomes are far from unfortunate exceptions. Returning children to parents they themselves fear and consider abusive has had tragic consequences in many cases. A disturbing Associated Press report found that, over the course of six years, at least 786 children died while under the supervision of Child Protective Services.
The sisters have already demonstrated that they would rather go into hiding and spend more than three months in a juvenile detention facility than live with Brian Wolferts. Advocates and family members would like the sisters placed in protective custody immediately and allowed to testify.
The girls’ mother, Michelle Wolferts, told Truthout:
As their mother who has always been striving for nothing more than to ensure that the world would offer them the right to in the very least have a semi-normal childhood, I have been given much reason to utterly give up on this hope. After years of helplessly watching them unnecessarily exploited through multiple, ongoing serious legal injustices, I am terrified that they will not be able to withstand acts threatened or taken against them. I hope that more people will start protecting and offering relief to mine and other suffering children.
Family members fear for the Wolferts sisters’ safety when they are subjected to reunification “therapy” (often termed “deprogramming“) to treat the discredited diagnosis of Parental Alienation Syndrome.
Utah 4th District Judge Christine Johnson signed Brian Wolferts’ amended ex parte restraining order, ordering Sydney and Dani into “The High Road to Reunification” program, conducted by unlicensed therapist Dorcy Pruter. The Tsimhoni children, who garnered international headlines last summer after being berated and jailed by Michigan Circuit Judge Lisa Gorcyca for refusing to have visitation with their allegedly abusive father, underwent this program with Pruter. The therapy proved unsuccessful and traumatic.
In spite of his own social media presence and history of interviews with media, Brian Wolferts filed a March 22 ex parte motion to silence advocates for the girls and shut down all social media for the case. As a gag order is not yet in effect, updates will be posted on Brittany Wolfert’s website and under the social media tag #LetThemSpeak as long as possible.
- “Parental Alienation Syndrome is predicated on the belief that children can be ‘brainwashed’ by one parent to hate an otherwise stand-up parent. The American Psychological Association has not accepted Parental Alienation, but judges are still using it to make custody decisions and order forced ‘reunification’ with parents against whom children allege abuse. Critics believe that Parental Alienation claims are frequently made by one parent to discredit abuse allegations made by the child or the other parent. The American Bar Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and The National District Attorneys Association have advised against giving credence to ‘parental alienation’ claims in court because of the danger they pose to victims of domestic violence and child abuse. One conservative estimate suggests that courts place 58,000 children in the custody of abusers annually.” [See more here.]
- On this page of Dorcy Pruter’s website, she describes her program as “NOT THERAPY” but “an educational and skill building workshop.” Her credentials include a high-school diploma, personal experience and her claim to being a “certified Conscious Co-Parenting, Custody and Reunification Coach.”
- According to the redacted exhibits describing the therapy, the Tsimhoni children were severely distraught when taken to fulfill the “reunification therapy” protocol. When informed that their father was there to meet them, their response was “obvious signs of outward emotional distress, i.e. crying, dry heaving, balling into the corner etc.”
Protect Kids in Family Court
Hope Loudon is a national activist and writer presently focusing on cases involving children’s rights issues and court licensed abuse. Her articles on the subject have appeared on the Huffington Post and in the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter @HopeLoudon.
One Mom’s Story
By Beth Suiter
Like one quarter of American women, I was in an abusive relationship. I had two children with my abuser. When I realized he was abusing my kids I left, and raised my children myself for 13 years.
My divorce took 7 years because my ex used the “Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Relief Act” to his advantage. He refused a standard parenting plan, insisting on ZERO visitation for himself. The judge said she doesn’t do zero visitation, but at his insistence she granted it. Years later, the same judge claimed I “failed to facilitate a relationship” and was causing “irreparable harm”
Fast forward a few years, and my ex was paying child support for another child. He filed for a child support reduction, wasn’t granted it, and then hired an attorney to file for “change of circumstances” and pursue custody of my boys. Judge Stella Hargrove, Maury County, Tennessee, gave my ex husband and his new wife full temporary custody of my sons, only visiting with them twice.
Before those visits they were strangers. But on Saturday 12/07/13, my ex took them to an unknown address in Texas. I didn’t know he had filed emergency exparte orders until the police knocked on the door to take them away..
The judge denied me all visitation, stating I could “potentially convince the children to want to live with [me]”. Judge Hargrove granted me a minimum of 2 phone calls per week, and she told my ex to monitor and record the calls. My ex strictly enforces ONLY twice a week with just 15 minutes to talk, and they must stop mid-sentence when time is up.
My sons were never neglected nor abused by me, so how is this ok?
I haven’t been allowed me to see my sons AT ALL for nearly 26 months now. Judge Hargrove told an attorney she “has no intention of ever giving those children back” to me. I never got to talk at the hearing, nor did any of my 20+ witnesses that showed up for an incomplete hearing. But my ex and his supporters were heard. This judge also wiped out over $7,000 in child support arrears. Our appointed therapist had over 13 years of employment with my ex’s law firm. This is a huge conflict of interest no one will address. The GAL didn’t do her job. Even my attorney agrees with that.
How is this affecting my sons? Well 15 minutes isn’t enough time to find much out, but I can tell you they’re surely suffering “irreparable harm” now!
This same judge threatened me in open court to have my sons immediately placed “in foster care if I don’t like” her rulings. What’s the difference? Either way they were going with strangers, and one being their father who had abandoned them for 13 years!
I hired yet another attorney, and in May 2015, was heard on motions in Lampassas county, Texas. I flew from North Carolina. We hadn’t had a final court date scheduled in over a year. My ex hired a Texas attorney to keep the case in Tennessee. The Texas judge said he’d need to talk with the Tennessee judge. They conferenced in July, where Judge Hargrove promised the Texas judge a hearing for me in August. I don’t know what happened, but we were not given a final hearing.
That summer I drove from Fort Bragg, NC to Lometa, Texas. My boys were in a rodeo that was open to the public. My sons ran to hug me when they saw me. We spent a little time together before their father found out and got violent.
The violence was recorded. Police reports were filed. But the DA refused to file charges, saying it was “a mess”. Yes. Mr. DA, it is. But this 6″ grown man snatched up a 15- year- old child and shoved him hard, making him to fall backwards forcefully. took my phone from him. He was angry my friend’s son was recording video of the ordeal. He drew back to hit him, then shoved him backward, hard. Once I got between the two of them, yelling “stop”. In the video, you can hear everyone yelling for him to stop, and you see the video being snatched. I didn’t fight back, although legally I could have. My ex then hit me in the stomach, saying “take your phone and never come back” with his finger in my face, My sons saw this from the back seat of his car.
My friend called 911. While she was speaking to them, my ex’s new wife snatched the phone off her ear. This was “interference with an emergency call”, but no charges were made.
The deputy who responded told me to stop recording my ex. Legally, you can record or photograph anyone in a public place at any time. I said “I will not stop recording, but I will not point the camera at him”, which he reluctantly accepted. He was concerned I was recording him while he threatened to arrest me. I insisted politely that Texas declined jurisdiction of this case, so my orders are not relevant there. There is no order of protection, so I have no cause to be jailed. After everyone left the rodeo, he allowed my friend and I to leave, but insisted my friend drive. He thought I was too upset.
We had court 12/28/15, to hear my motions for a final hearing date, physical visitation, and reunification therapy via Skype with a therapist who specializes in “high conflict” families. We were told judge Hargrove would only have 1 hour for this hearing. She stated it was, “futile”, since she didn’t agree I should have visitation. She couldn’t deny me a hearing. When we arrived for court, the entire day’s docket was miraculously clear. We went on for 3 hours, and at the end she denied all of my visitation motions, including Skype. The judge said she believes I would continue to alienate my children from their father if given the opportunity. In other words, she feels I should have no contact with my sons based on something I’ve never done in the past, but may hypothetically do in the future.
I was questioned about attending the Rodeo by my ex-husbands attorney, and why I spoke to my sons knowing my ex has temporary full custody. I said “I am not going to tell my children to go away if they approach me, I can’t do that.”
Our final hearing on these “temporary orders” is on May 9th & 10th 2016. Meanwhile, My ex posted a photo of his face covered in blood, with sunglasses on. It seems he’s sending me a message. It isn’t the first time he’s sent threatening or intimidating images of himself after a court date.
You can read more about my story here https://www.facebook.com/Bring-Logan-Lane-home-668689129845084/
Make Family Court Safe for Kids
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Pleading For Power
By Jackie McCullough
Anger is a plea for power. When I was a child my parents felt angry most of the time, and they behaved in many negative ways when they were angry. I thought it was my fault when my alcoholic father raged at me, threw a stool in front of the sink, and slammed me onto it to reach the sink so I could wash dishes. I thought, must be I was supposed to know he wanted me to wash the dishes. Yelling, screaming, hitting, and slapping were some of the behaviors they exhibited when they were angry.
The anger is a feeling, not a behavior; even though feelings are always accompanied by actions or behaviors. When we feel happy our behavior might be to smile. If we feel sad, our behavior may be to cry. The smile and crying are not feelings, they are actions/behaviors that accompany our feelings.
Raun Kaufman of the Option Institute tells us, “When we are angry, we are not powerful. We are pleading for power. We are feeling powerless, not powerful. This doesn’t make anger bad or wrong – just inefficient and uncomfortable. You may get mad and yell, or simply bury your anger and keep it voiceless, but it is there, boiling up inside. When you are at ease and unclouded by discomfort, you can act with maximum effectiveness. It’s time to start building within yourself an unshakeable sense of strength so that your can powerfully voice what you want – without getting upset.”
People can feel angry without yelling and hitting those they blame for their anger. In actuality, they are the cause of their anger, because of the beliefs they hold about themselves and their world. My parents’ anger about my not doing my chores was about their feelings of powerlessness of getting the chores done, not about me.
Anger is not powerful, it is a cry for power. Many people believe, “Maybe if I get mad enough, I will get some power over this situation.”
“…our rush to anger and upset usually distances us from the possibility of changing and creating personal miracles in our lives and cements us into being stuck in our unhappiness.
A person or event does not create happiness of unhappiness; that is the stimulus, and the stimulus just ‘is.’ How we judge it determines how we feel and how we act. If we judge a circumstance to be good we feel excited, happy, fulfilled and tend to support or move toward the experience. If we judge it as bad, then we feel duly angry, fearful, anxious, or sad and tend to move away from the experience, because our society has taught us to use discomfort to take care of ourselves.” Barry Neil Kaufman, Happiness is a Choice.
Have you ever tightened up your body for some sort of “protection?” Tension doesn’t protect us, it makes us less able to function in the ways we want. We are often afraid if we don’t resist a situation and get angry about it, we will be used as a door mat and stay stuck in the situation. That is, believing someone else is accountable for our discomfort. Reality is, we are always the only ones responsible for how we feel.
I had a foster son, Sean, who lived with me when he was 17. Sean lied a lot. How many times do you think I might have been angry about him lying in the two plus years he lived with me? Not as many as I would have before I learned that the stimulus isn’t the source of our discomfort. I knew he was doing what he thought was the best way tontake care of himself, so I didn’t judge the lying. Of course, I preferred him to tell the truth, but he fabricated tales anyway. Even when I was angry, it didn’t stop Sean from lying.
Maybe if we are angry enough about a person or situation, maybe we’ll find a way to change it. Maybe not! Anger usually only gets us more anger and unhappiness!
We get angry, fearful, anxious, and judgmental:
To motivate ourselves & others.
As a reinforcer – to perform, & stay the course.
As a gauge to measure the depth of our caring, our humanity – we believe if we judge something as terrible, we will know we care very, very much.
Being non-judgmental is powerful, not passive. We don’t have to use anger in order to have preferences and go for what we want in our lives.
If the electricity goes out, we can still want it to come back on, without being upset. No matter how angry we get, the electricity will come back on whenever it does. Our anger just makes us and those around us more distressed.
We can probably drive more comfortably and safely, when that other driver does something “stupid” if we don’t get angry, but use our energy to stay safe. Our anger will not make other people on the road better drivers! We may get upset for a moment or an hour or a day, but it won’t impact that person cruising down the highway, oblivious of the world around him or her. It’s not personal. They are just bad drivers, and our anger won’t improve them!
Truly accepting a person or a set of circumstances feels like letting go in the most gentle and liberating way, a joyful movement inward that frees us from anger. Unencumbered by judgments which cause anger. we find a reservoir of energy more expansive than ever imagined. This does not reflect a moral standard or any verifiable truth. We use it simply as a reminder of the possibilities and happiness any of us can create in response to any circumstance.
If our happiness does not depend on anyone else’s actions, reactions, words, or commentary, then we are not at anyone’s mercy.
Never be angry again?? It might be worth trying.