Please Judge, No !
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Witnessing Abuse

Copied from Gaetane’s bog by Laura Napolli – 2010

To show Ms. Sharon Gerber, LCSW, that Mr. Michael Lutomski’s abusive behaviors weren’t just limited to just a few individual incidents, my attorney (David Sydow at the time) had given Ms. Gerber all the documents necessary for her to see that there was a pattern of abusive and controlling behaviors committed by Michael. These documents included Chloe’s “Reasons Why I Don’t Want To See My Dad”.

At one point during a session with Ms. Gerber we were talking about Chloe. I brought up my concerns about the effects of witnessing violence and how Chloe has witnessed a lot of violence form her Dad over the years. And the effects this has had on her and will have on her as she is becoming a teenager.

I was shocked when Ms. Gerber told me I shouldn’t worry about that. That Chloe was just fine. I said, Ms. Gerber, have you read Chloe’s “Reasons Why I Don’t Want To See My Dad”? From the look on her face I could tell she didn’t know what I was talking about. That was outrageous because I knew my attorney had given her a copy (2 weeks ago) and Chloe had given her a copy (1 week ago). Not only did she have two copies but she didn’t know what I was talking about!

So I took my folder out and showed her Chloe’s paper: “Reasons Why I Don’t Want To See My Dad” out. She grimaced as she shook her head.  I read the following passage about Michael attacking Tatiana in front of Chloe:  Dad got into a rage and the next thing I know he is pinning her wrists to the ground and yelling in her face with his eyes and veins bulging out and his face all red. She was crying and begging him to stop. I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared and felt awful as she was trying to defend herself. ...

As Ms. Gerber interrupted me saying I can’t remember what I interrupted her back and said: I would like to know how you think her father assaulting her sister in front of her affects Chloe. First Ms. Gerber said she wouldn’t call this “an assault”. Then she said that Chloe wasn’t affected because Michael’s anger wasn’t directed at her. Then she changed the subject and said: “I’ve talked to Tatiana and Tatiana sure knows how to provoke her Dad.”

Wow! Now, Ms. Gerber has totally proven that she knows nothing about DV. Tears are rolling down my face... because it is so frustrating to be sitting there in front of a woman who is supposed to help you but instead brings you down ... because it is so frustrating to be sitting there in front of a woman who is supposed to do what’s in the best interests of your children but can’t because she is not educated on the subject of DV or won’t because of pride, arrogance, and self-importance.  (Oh, I better wipe those tears of real quick or she will diagnose me with depression next!)

When custody courts first developed practices to respond to DV cases, there was a widespread assumption that children were not affected by abuse of their mothers unless the children were also directly assaulted. Many court professionals continue to act based on this assumption, despite extensive research demonstrating the serious harm to children of witnessing DV (in the broadest sense of witnessing).

Laws have been past in every state requiring custody courts to consider DV in making decisions about custody and visitation. These reforms were passed based on the research about the harm to children of witnessing DV.

In each age category, children have developmental goals they need to achieve as they move from infancy to adulthood. It is well documented that when children are impacted by DV in their homes, it interferes with their development, which in turn undermines future development. In babies, the abuse can lead to changes in the hardwiring of the brain that can affect them the rest of their lives. Research also demonstrates the long-term harm when children witness DV. Such children are more likely to engage in a wide variety of dysfunctional behaviors such as substance abuse; teen pregnancy; suicide; dropping out of school; self-mutilation; prostitution; crime; and boys abusing, and girls abused by, future partners.

The serious harm done to children who witness DV is a powerful reason to limit children’s contacts with abusers, but if the court professionals making recommendation are unfamiliar with the research, they are likely to make decisions that place children at risk.

Now I understand why Chloe and Sebastien nick-named Ms. Gerber “Ms. Umbridge”! If you go to Chloe’s page on this website, this is what Chloe says about Ms. Gerber: “Sharon Gerber turned out to be a mean person with a hideousness about her that reminded my brother Sebastien of Mrs. Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter. Sebastien and I nicked-named Ms. Gerber "Ms. Umbridge". After each session with her I was crying. After one of the sessions Sebastien had a panic-like attack.”

It was very painful as a mother seeing my children cry uncontrollably when leaving their sessions with her. But there was not much I could do: they were court-ordered to go. One day, after one of the sessions, Sebastien was crying and couldn’t breath. He said he was dizzy and felt like he was going to faint and die. His heart was beating very fast and it was really scary. We weren’t far from the doctor’s office so we stopped there as he continued to have the symptoms while I was driving there. The doctor said it was a panic-attack.

The doctor explained that it is not clear what causes panic attacks. But they may develop in association with major lifestyle stressors. Bingo! I thought to myself. Ms. Gerber is definitely a major stressor.

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