Note: Cross posted from Silent No More!.
“Domestic violence is about control, not anger. Once a victim says ‘I’m leaving you,’ the last thing the batterer has over the victim is the children“.
Advocates of domestic violence victims say a growing number of batterers are using the tactic in court to gain custody of their children.
“In cases where domestic violence is alleged, the perpetrator’s attorney can put in this alleged parental alienation syndrome,” said Dallas psychologist Jane Toler, who will give a presentation on the issue at the conference. “Then, all of a sudden, it takes the focus off the perpetrator and puts it back onto the victim.”
Dr. Toler, who has a private practice and also works for The Family Place for victims of domestic abuse, said lack of awareness about the complex concept can lead to a violent parent gaining custody. That can raise questions about the safety of the children involved, she said.
The one-day family violence conference also will include presentations about women who use violence, elder abuse, the clergy’s response to victims, and domestic violence in the gay community. The keynote speaker is Carolyn Thomas, a Waco woman whose ex-boyfriend shot her in the face and caused extensive injuries in December 2003.
The conference, which is expected to draw about 200 people, is sponsored by the Dallas County district attorney’s office and the Dallas County Domestic Violence Awareness, Child Abuse Awareness and Elder Abuse coalitions.
Parental alienation syndrome recently has become a leading defense in custody cases – and a controversial topic among family violence experts.
Casey Alexander, president of Texas Fathers for Equal Rights in Fort Worth, said the defense should not be discounted.
“I tend to believe there are far more cases of legitimate alienation than there are guys beating their wives who are using this to get their children,” Mr. Alexander said, adding that he experienced parental alienation syndrome during his divorce.
Paige Flink, executive director of The Family Place, said parental alienation syndrome has increasingly been used against her clients.
“A lot of it is rooted in blaming the victim,” she said. “We’ve seen the judges taking the kids from the mother and giving them to the abuser.”
State law prohibits family court judges from awarding full or joint custody to an abusive parent if there is a finding of family violence. However, advocates say such evidence is not always presented in court, sometimes because the victim cannot afford legal representation.
Some abusers have gone so far as to accuse victims of domestic violence of going to a shelter just to keep the children away from them, said Katie Foster, regional training coordinator for the family violence division of the Dallas County district attorney’s office.
“Domestic violence is about control, not anger. Once a victim says ‘I’m leaving you,’ the last thing the batterer has over the victim is the children,” she said.
The division also conducted training on the issue in February, Ms. Foster said.
“There is a need for more awareness about this issue. There’s a need for more education about it,” she said.