Brexit, Trump and Family Courts
By Andrew Willis and Barry Goldstein
What Do Brexit, Trump and Family Courts Have in Common?
People are shocked to learn how often family courts give custody to dangerous abusers and place children in jeopardy. The public was also surprised when Great Britain voted to leave the European Common Market and when Donald Trump won the Republican nomination. We expect to be governed by leaders who consider truth a good approach; ignorance a negative. We see maintaining reality as a prerequisite for intelligent decisions and expertise something everyone supports. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said that everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts. That is why the failure of so many people to adhere to such basic expectations seems so bizarre.
The trip away from reality started innocently enough. Courts needed to develop responses to domestic violence before research was available. They made choices based on popular misconceptions that were later proven wrong. Today we have a specialized body of research and genuine experts to help courts protect children. But most courts have been slow to integrate this research even from the most credible possible sources. They ignore proof that exposure to domestic violence is far greater than previously understood, and that the professionals courts rely on do not have the specific knowledge they need to recognize and respond to domestic violence.
Some judges have gone so far as to refuse to listen to domestic violence experts because they are always opposed to domestic violence. In other words they support the laws the courts are supposed to enforce. In many cases evidence of domestic violence and child sexual abuse are kept out. Sometimes this is based on technical evidentiary rules, but more often attorneys discourage clients from presenting the evidence or judges bar evidence that would undermine the decision they want to make.
The results are catastrophic. Every year 58,000 children are sent for custody or unprotected visitation with dangerous abusers. In a recent two year period researchers found news stories about 175 children murdered by fathers involved in contested custody. In many of the cases the courts provided the abusers with the access they needed to kill their children. Judges in the communities where these tragedies were committed were asked what reforms they created in response to the murders. Their answer was none. They all assumed the tragedy in their community was an exception. Although mothers make deliberately false reports less than 2% of the time, in child sexual abuse cases, family courts give custody to the alleged offenders 85% of the time. This means many children are being sent to live with their rapists.
Computer games that simulated presidential elections used to include the impact of gaffes by the candidates. Many of the gaffes involved offensive statements often about women or other marginalized groups. In the real world, the candidates would apologize for their statement, commit to speaking more respectfully in the future and hope their offense would not end their chance for election. In light of this year’s campaign, such events seem quaint.
During the campaign, Donald Trump made multiple offensive comments about women, blacks, immigrants, Muslims and many others. His typical response was to defend or justify his offensive comments, make of them as if to prove he did nothing wrong, then claim the offended groups love him.
In the past, candidates would be caught in lies. At the very least they would try to tweak the statement to correct it and avoid repeating the misinformation. Fact-checks prove Donald Trump lied repeatedly, but he continues to repeat the false claims. Despite all his misinformation, Trump has repeatedly said he has a great brain and has little or no need to consult with experts. He claimed to know better than foreign policy experts although he has no experience in foreign policy or government administration. One of his most high ranking supporters, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he didn’t know if Trump is qualified to be President.
We’re not here to take sides in a political race, but to reassert our belief that honesty, respectfulness, expertise and openness should be viewed as positives. Indeed the lack of these qualities should disqualify a candidate. We are especially concerned about his offensive sexist comments because they increase the danger women face every day and undermine our work to prevent adverse childhood experiences.
A similar pattern of lies and disinformation can be seen in Great Britain’s referendum to leave the European Union. The ‘Leave’ campaign made several promises that their leaders have walked away from within 24 hours of Britain’s vote to leave. Nigel Farage, the leader of Britain’s far right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), was asked whether he could guarantee the bold pledge he made that the weekly £350 million saving in EU contributions could be spent on the NHS instead. The slogan promoted on the side of a much photographed battle bus seen above. He responded simply: “No I can’t,” and added that it was a “mistake” of the official Vote Leave campaign to have claimed in the first place.
The facts and research about Brexit strongly indicated that passage would create economic disruption, political upheaval and the loss of a large sums of money. Leave Campaign supporters were told these serious problems were simply scaremongering by the establishment. They seemed to want to send a message about their anger, which may well be justified, without clear consideration of the risks.
Since the passage of the referendum, many of the experts’ predictions have already come true, again demonstrating the foolishness of rejecting truth, research, expertise and reality. Already there have been trillions of dollars lost in the stock market. Scotland has already started the process of negotiating to remain in Europe, thus breaking up the United Kingdom. The chance of the ‘Irish Problem’ restarting as Britain tries again to close its border with Ireland and Europe is real. The relationships between Europe and Britain have deteriorated, and there is no indication the concerns of the supporters will be addressed.
There is room for reasoned disagreement in the family courts and in the political arena. The Stop Abuse Campaign does not take a position concerning the election of candidates. We remain incredulous, however, that a significant group of people could possibly think it is acceptable to make offensive comments about women and other marginalized groups, to promote deliberate lies, to ignore the advice of genuine experts and promote a pretend world.
The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Research provides a unique opportunity to improve the world. Our goal is to prevent adverse childhood experiences. But we cannot take advantage of the opportunity in a world that acts based on lies, ignorance and unreality.
Make Family Court Safe for Kids
Andrew has spent his life practicing marketing, mostly for global brands.
He is survivor of child sexual abuse, domestic violence, and suicide.
Andrew has an ACE score of 5.