By Mason Service Corps Student
Describe your service site and role?
I should first state that for personal safety reasons, I cannot share my photo.
I chose to do my work with Child Justice, Inc., a non-profit organization. As stated on their Website, they “provide legal services and advocacy for children’s rights. Child Justice seeks to ensure that courts protect children in cases of abuse and family violence.” Please read about the organization and the amazing work they do at: http://child-justice.org/about/.
I have been personally affected by this issue and have chosen to use my pain as fuel to help others in these circumstances. As such, I have volunteered for Child Justice for a number of years. I serve as a support for abused women and sometimes as just someone safe to talk to. I help mothers navigate behavioral problems that their abused children display and help to find psychological support services. I help meet the needs a woman may have – whether it be organizing a spontaneous move or helping to explain legalese. I court-watch for a variety of cases involving domestic violence, including murder trials, kidnapping trials, and civil cases at the intersection of child abuse, domestic violence, and custody. Court-watching is important for oversight of local courts and for counsel representing the abuser. In addition, I consult on these cases with attorneys representing the abused women and children. I also lobby Congress for H.Con.Res.72. Please look it up and write your representative in Congress to co-sponsor this legislation!
What did you learn from your Mason Service Corps experience that you will apply in the future?
I learned most through my interviews of the attorneys. They gave me good insight to the practice of law in this area. It is an emotionally exhausting job and it takes a very special way of thinking to win these cases. More law schools should have courses that specialize in this area of law.
How did this experience challenge your assumptions and stereotypes?
When an abuser challenges a protective parent in court for custody of the children, they are successful in gaining custody over 70% of the time. This is an overwhelming statistic and it happens in every state in the country – some jurisdictions are worse than others. It is infuriating that when this topic is discussed publically – nobody wants to hear it, believe it, or deal with it. A great current example is Roy Moore. He was a sitting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama and is a serial pedophile and abuser. When people like him or with his intrinsic bias hear cases involving domestic violence – they are not apt to believe the woman.
The post-Weinstein era has opened the flood gates and more and more businesses – even democrats in both the House and Senate – have started believing women. Women do not make up these allegations, neither do children. It is simply too difficult to do. In fact, statistics show that an abused child lies about being abused less than 1% of the time. I never thought I would see the day that women are believed and it definitely challenged me to start believing in hope a little more. My assumptions are being challenged and I hope they continue to be challenged and hopefully one day – flat out wrong.
Discuss a social problem that you have come in contact with during your service work. What do you think are the root causes of this problem? Explain how your service may or may not contribute to its alleviation
Judges are incredibly critical of women and hold them to a much, much higher standard and openly criticize them in court, calling them hysterical, crazy, and too sensitive to abuse. There are so many root causes of this. The most deeply ingrained is the tendency to disbelieve women, even when there is blatant evidence of abuse when the standard of proof in civil cases is the preponderance of the evidence. Judges are actually taught to discredit women when allegations of domestic violence and child abuse are raised after she leaves her abuser. Learning how to compensate for this in the courtroom will hopefully help to combat the bias.
What are some of the challenges you faced during this experience? What will you take away from your experience with Mason Service Corps
My biggest challenge was learning that abused women can react to a certain set of circumstances in a variety of unexpected ways. Reactions come in different forms and learning to recognize what triggers the client is important. Going through the divorce process with children is enough of a stressor for those who haven’t experienced abuse. For a client that is being abused and is forced to send her children to the man that abuses them is gut wrenching. Watching a woman not knowing if it will be the very last time that she sees her child is gut wrenching. Asking this person to think clearly, put emotions aside, and work on her case can be a near impossible feat. The client is very important and plays a big role during this process. If the client breaks down, so will the case.
I will take away from this course the need for continued and consistent self-reflection. Reminding myself of why I am doing this work will help solidify my commitment to this cause. It is a very exhausting line of work and if I do not take care of myself first, I can’t help others. Learning how to manage emotions is an important skill. Sometimes I envision the scene in Wonder Woman when she is running across the battlefield, dodging the arrows, and pressing on literally in the face of adversity. That scene gets me through days that sometimes feel impossible.
A note from SAIL Director, Patty Mathison: This student is a true hero in every sense of the word. I had the privilege to work with this extraordinary human being this past semester and was blown away by the care, the compassion and most significantly, her ability to overcome adversity and use that “pain as fuel to help others.” I had shared with this student that this does not need to be shared publicly, and she replied that she would love to share this as the more people know about this crisis, the better. I feel honored to have worked with and learned from this Wonder Woman.