Our Family Courts Routinely Fail to Dispense Justice for Victims of Family Violence

In a remarkable juxtaposition of stories about the injustices foisted on women and children, consider the following two stories that where reported on the same day recently:

First, the Associated Press reported a story about a Detroit, Michigan family law judge who sent three children to juvenile detention for refusing to have lunch or talk with their father after he chastised them and their mother during a recent hearing in a years-long custody fight.

Weeks later, the children -- ages 15, 10 and 9 -- remained in custody. Oakland County Judge Lisa Gorcyca ruled that only the father could visit the children while they were at Children's Village, a detention facility in Pontiac. She also said the children should "be kept away from each other as much as possible."

The Judge stated that the children would be released only after talking to their father. While the 15-year-old boy apologized for his earlier behavior in court, he stated: "I do not apologize for not talking to him because I have a reason for that, and that's because he's violent and he -- I saw him hit my mom." After ordering the teen to juvenile detention, the judge added: "You may stay in there until you graduate from high school."

Second, The Washington Post broke a story about a judge in New Delhi, India who released a rapist from jail so he could attend mediation sessions with his victim in the apparent hope they could reconcile their differences and, possibly, marry. In a country where reports of rapes are on the rise and violence against women remains a public flash point, The Post reported that Indian politicians and police are routinely in the news for insensitive remarks about sexual violence, including blaming rapes on women -- for wearing provocative clothing, flirting on their cellphones and staying out late at night. "They are boys." "Mistakes happen." The story recited other outrageous examples, including one judge who dismissed a case against 35 men who gang-raped a child prostitute because that "is not rape."

These stories stand for the same preposterous proposition: Abusive men around the world are entitled to abuse their children, wives and other women with impunity. In fact, it appears in many instances that the judicial system is an active co-conspirator! Clearly, Judge Gorcyca believes that the abusive dad has an absolute legal right to compel his children to visit and talk to him, despite terrorizing them. And, don't kid yourself that children who witness abuse against their mothers are not victims. The clinical literature is replete with studies showing the lasting trauma suffered by children in homes where there is domestic violence.

What is truly shocking about these stories is that they are commonplace. We can't or don't want to imagine a judicial system that requires an adult woman to reconcile with her rapist. Yet, we do this and worse to children every day in courtrooms across our own country: blaming mothers and children who are beaten or raped for not reconciling with their abusers!

Of course this boy was alienated from his father -- his dad beat his mother in his presence. That's the child's fault? What sort of corrupt, perverted notion of "Justice" causes a judge to intentionally harm innocent children by locking them up until they "graduate from high school" unless they reconcile with their fathers?

And, now we have the Houston story about the murder of six children (and their mother and her current husband) by a vengeful former boyfriend. Despite a lengthy history of family violence and investigations by CPS of abuse and neglect since 2011 -- virtually nothing was done by the legal system to protect them. A suit filed by CPS to remove the children in September 2013 because they were in "immediate danger" was dismissed by the judge eight months later without explanation. While it is unclear why the case was dismissed, can there be any doubt that the effect was to make "preservation of the family unit" and "parental rights" a higher priority than the safety and welfare of these little children?

Our family courts have subjugated the right of a child to be raised in an environment free from abuse and neglect to the parents' supposed right to do as they see fit with their "property" for so long that it is second nature to force children to live in unacceptably dangerous and violent "homes." How is this any different than the horror stories we hear occurring in other parts of the world? We have no right to get on our high-horse about India. We are no better.

Children are citizens of the United States, endowed with the same constitutional rights as adults. Nowhere in our Constitution or Bill of Rights does it say that a child MUST reconcile or spend time with someone they despise or who has abused them. Until we take a hard look at ourselves and begin to stand up for the rule of law and the right of all people to be free from violence, we cannot call ourselves a civilized country.