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The Family Court Crisis in Dutchess County; Dutchess County "Funded" Victim Service Providers claim "no funds" for victim assist

Posted Jun 27 2011 12:18pm
A local Dutchess County domestic violence and sexual assault victim is facing what many mothers/victims are facing in the county and around the US: The Family Court Crisis.

"Rape upon Rape, upon Rape" as this victim describes her experience with DSS and the Family Court in Dutchess County.

The Department of Social Services (DSS) is responsible for taking a child away from a low-income, local mother/victim and placing the child with an alleged rapist/abuser. After being raped and abused into a premature delivery six years ago, DSS intervened and unjustly removed the baby from the mother. However, she was able to fight the first set of allegations and the case was closed and sealed and the child was returned. For four years, this local mother was kept in services by DSS and consistently complied by meeting all of her appointments. She received basic therapy. DSS failed to assign her to a caseworker and did not direct her to domestic violence and rape treatments and programs.

As a mother and victim, she wept as she spoke of the abuse and re-victimization in the courtroom and by DSS. She described the instances her abuser broke into her home and how she tried reaching out for help.

Her alleged rapist, the child's father, was awarded visitation rights by Dutchess County Family Court, which he completely disregarded the first year and failed to pay child support.

In 2010, after a violent sexual assault involving strangulation, this victim lost her housing trying to deal with the traumatic events without guidance and resources. She became clinically depressed, resulting in delinquent rent payments. Based on previous experiences, the victim believed that filing another report would endanger her and her child and she was in fear of retaliation. This victim reached out once again to DSS and the agency placed her and the child in a hotel with drug addicts and pedophiles. DSS intervened again due to a complaint at the hotel and suggested other housing options and assistance.

Tired, stressed, but hopeful, this mother did as she was suggested. While resting her eyes at the DSS office from the exhaustion of living in a chaotic drug and pedophile-filled atmosphere DSS placed her in, she was accused of "nodding off" by a CPS worker at DSS-, which is not a crime. Instead of helping her, DSS interviewed her, sent her for drug tests, which were clean, and in less than 24 hrs her son was taken again. The child was temporarily placed with a family member, and finally the alleged abuser was awarded temporary custody by Family Court.

As a National Crime Victims Expert and Advocate, it is clear that DSS chose placement into known, unsafe living situations for this mother and child; this is not uncommon. Many states have embraced “prevention laws and criteria” that are actually more harmful to families than helpful, often separating families without offering them assistance and services.

Domestic violence and rape is a regular occurrence across the nation. The Center for Disease and Control- Domestic Violence (CDC) claims 1 in 6 women will experience intimate partner sexual assault in their lifetime and 1 in 4 will experience domestic violence. Studies from www.cdc.gov find that the effects of rapes and violence lead to physical injury, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, possible gastrointestinal disorders, and complications leading to disabilities, hospitalizations, homelessness, drug abuse, and even death. Untreated, one can see how this limits generations, often continuing cycles of abuse.

Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey show that 64% of rapes and violent sexual assault are from intimate partners.

Intimate partner assaults are proven to go up in pregnancy and continue to escalate. A person who is prone to committing violent assaults on an intimate partner rarely limits themselves to only hurting their partner. Sexual assault in the home goes directly hand in hand with domestic violence. No one is safe.

We are giving a free pass to abusers when the system drops the ball and allows the re-victimization of victims, as in this case. When abusers are given custody, the child is further at risk for violent assaults, often leading to death.

There are solutions to this epidemic. Family Court Judges are in need of training; often Judges defer too much to the opinion and recommendations of CPS and DSS workers. Victims are in need of resource and public policy reform. Victims need pro bono lawyers that specialize in domestic violence, disability rights, and child custody. Victims in immediate danger need shelter.

Serious advocacy is needed to assist victims with permanent housing vouchers to ensure victim stability and government paperwork assistance. Extensive DV/SA support though peer-to-peer groups and therapy to help process the debilitating effects is needed for all victims.

Life skill classes are needed to teach victims about domestic violence, healthy relationships, boundaries, money management, parenting skills, and empowerment. My own work with women in these areas has been rewarding and reports from victims state that the benefits are great.

Comprehensive child educational support, therapy, and support are services needed for children surviving abuse and previous domestic violence incidents.

Unfortunately many victims are overly referred by Victim Services Providers and aren’t given the basic assistance and tools they need to survive. Each time a victim is turned away or ignored, they learn another layer of helplessness and acceptance of violence as the only way of life. For many, obtaining these services can be as rare as winning the lottery.

Our Dutchess County mom has reached out to all of the available service providers in the area and has been overly referred and not assisted. She is still fighting to get her child back and her life in order.

Thankfully, Tri County Crisis Center, Inc. has been willing to advocate, calling in National Experts for consults, obtaining free legal advice, and attempting to get this and other victims who have been wrongfully turned away into the resources they deserve and need.

With immediate and proper guidance and access to resources and tools, victims have serious potential and can live happier, healthier lives, raising well-balanced children.

If you or some one you know is a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-722-SAFE

You can contact at Tri-County Crisis Center, Inc. at info@tricountycrisiscenter.org or visit www.tricountycrisiscenter.org


Lisa Pous


National Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Advocate and Consultant
Survivor Speaker and Representative of Survivor Voices
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