Warning: Bias can lead to death

Everyone always asks, why doesn’t she just leave? when you bring up domestic violence. In Teen died after red flags went unheeded in Santa Clara County custody decision, the domestic violence advocate sums up the situation perfectly:

Many victims don’t leave because they have been told by their batterers that they will lose custody of their children, and in Allen’s case, her worst fear came true. Then, earlier this spring she received the dreaded call from law enforcement. “We think we found your daughter,” the officer said, “and she is not alive.”

There are many reasons why a woman doesn’t leave her abuser, but fear of losing custody is certainly one of the major ones. The public would be surprised to learn, but batterers OFTEN receive custody. In many cases, it’s because a battered woman presents poorly in court: nervous, anxious, depressed, fearful or hostile. Meanwhile, the batterer will appear in control and perhaps even charming.  

Mark Mesiti was awarded unsupervised custody in 2005, even though he had a lengthy criminal history including a domestic violence conviction. He violated his probation and was sent to prison. For the seven years previous to gaining custody of his daughter, he amassed a variety of charges. All were red flags. Welfare professionals and Alycia’s mother raised them during the custody battle.

The father was given custody after it was found that the mother was depressed — often the effect of battering — and therefore unfit to care for her daughter. As an alternative to this deadly decision, couldn’t we have wrapped the mom and her kids in supportive services and allowed them to heal together? Depression is treatable. Homicide is not.

This case is NOT an exception to the rule. It’s a common occurence. Battered women are often not believed. The court often thinks she’s being manipulative:

Victims of domestic violence in family court often present their case without representation, while perpetrators often bring attorneys. The imbalance of power the perpetrators use at home to control the victims follows them into family court. When this imbalance exists, victims may not be able to effectively voice their concerns and articulate their needs. Often we don’t believe them. The myth that they are lying about their abuse to gain the upper hand continues to haunt the system.

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