When Children Tell And No One ListensOctober 1997 By Sherry A. Quirk, Esq.
Americans are more aware than ever of the tragedy of child abuse: our national and local media carry daily reports of children who have been beaten, imprisoned, starved, burned or sexually and emotionally abused. Shopping carts, milk cartons, billboards, newspapers all carry the message that children should tell if they are being hurt and that to prevent abuse, just call a hotline and help will arrive.
However, we are slowly awakening to the fact that, even if suspected abuse is reported, this does not always result in safeguarding the child from further abuse. In fact, some of the worst cases are those where authorities were notified of abuse and had determined that the child was at risk, but nevertheless left the child in the care of the abuser. We are also learning that not only the woman who flees domestic violence is at risk from further violence, but that her children are often the innocent witnesses to her being battered -- or additional victims. And in far too many cases, the batterer has not only revenges himself on his former partner, but hurts or kills the children as well.
But there is an aspect to this violence in the family which so far has escaped the public's attention: the granting of sole custody or unsupervised access to the batterer or child abuser. According to the American Judges Foundation, "One of the most common reasons given for resuming an abusive relationship is the fear that the abuser will act on the threats of taking the children from the victim. Studies show that batterers have been able to convince authorities that the victim is unfit or undeserving of sole custody in approximately 70% of challenged cases."