“…Courts continue to value the rights and freedoms of abusive men over women’s fundamental human rights to live and raise their children in peace and security.”
A Canadian activist has written an excellent column on the age-old crisis of women leaving abusive men—only to lose their children to them, and sometimes their children’s or their own lives in the process.
Unlike most journalists, Donna Johnson nails the cause of this crisis as persisting systemic patriarchy.
This article was written on November 25th—the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Although the two issues overlap, it is important to recognize that the Custody Crisis is different than Domestic Violence. Most custody cases involve some form of DV, but many do not. This means the core issue is not DV/child abuse, but Power—the power men have to take children from women and the power women do not have to maintain custody or protect them, regardless of whether the father is violent.
And, although Ms. Johnson correctly identifies the cause of the crisis as persisting systemic patriarchy, she mistakes some things. She suggests that judges are not protecting women and children because they cannot “read the evidence” so should work with battered women’s shelters to understand DV better.
But, since the cause of the Custody Crisis is the deliberate judicial entitling of men and disempowering of women—not that they do not understand DV/abuse—that will make no difference. The only thing that will make any significant difference is to remove the power judges have to take and endanger our children.
Why do we keep mistreating women who have been abused?
Instead of supporting them, our patriarchal justice system still throws them to the wolves.
I’ve been on this watch for 35 years, beginning in 1986 in a rural Ontario women’s shelter. My colleagues and I did some good work. But if you ask anyone who has been at this for a long time, you will hear the same answer: nothing has changed.
Women continue to leave violent men at their peril. No woman gets out of an abusive relationship unscathed, and some will pay the ultimate price with their lives and/or their children’s lives. These are the names we read aloud on Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Women continue to be thrown to the wolves by justice systems in every country on the planet. “The legal system is designed to protect men from the superior power of the state but not to protect women or children from the superior power of men,” wrote psychiatrist and author Judith Herman.
We live in a patriarchy, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.” In a patriarchy, men are both rule makers and judges, and they always come out on top.
Police and courts continue to value the rights and freedoms of abusive men over women’s fundamental human rights to live and raise their children in peace and security.
Most women are unaware that they live in a world that has little intention of helping them when they come under threat. It took years of witnessing police and courts slam the door on women to face up to it myself. It took years of burying women and children. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; it made no sense.
We insult, degrade, accuse and disbelieve the victims of men’s violence. We make them jump though hoops, appease and placate them, patronize them with half-baked solutions to life-threatening problems. We make them grovel.
Women are made to scurry like rats in a maze, searching for safe exit. Tossed a pellet now and again, they keep pressing those levers. But ultimately, all exits are blocked. Women and children are murdered in this country on a regular basis.
I think we need to ask ourselves why we are lying to women. Why do we keep telling them to leave when we have no real intention of helping them beyond providing supports and resources?
Leaving an abusive relationship does not stop abuse; it’s the time of highest risk. Shelters and resources don’t stop abuse either. Only stopping abusive men stops abuse.
Violence against women is not accidental. Neither are police and justice system failures. Both are necessary in a functioning patriarchy. They go hand-in-hand to ensure that women remain subordinated.
… Liel and Orli, five and three years old, were murdered Sept. 22 while on an access visit to their father’s Aylmer home. Despite their battered mother’s concerns for their safety (and her own) she was compelled to grant access.
...Women have the right to live without assault or the threat of assault, and without the fear that their children may be harmed. No woman should be forced to deliver her children into the hands of an abusive man. It should be automatic no-contact with assaultive men, with all resources thrown behind the mothers.
This must become the default position in our family courts, otherwise women and children will continue to needlessly suffer and die. The vulnerability of women, particularly those who are mothers, must be recognized.
Women must be believed when they say they are afraid — no exceptions — and their batterers must be swiftly and effectively sanctioned and restrained. In a situation of interpersonal violence, the woman herself is the crime scene. Her trauma and fear, even her silence and reluctance, with or without physical injury, is the evidence.
Our police stations, courts and prisons are flooded with suffering women. A paradigm shift is required to recognize the underlying patriarchal structure that drives and sustains men’s power and control over women.
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Cindy Dumas, M.A. has been researching, writing, and raising awareness about the Custody Crisis since 2003, when she was unable to protect her children from their abusive father. She fled into hiding when Family Court failed her and was tricked into returning home, when her children were given to their abusive father.