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Finding a Voice after Domestic Abuse


By Scarlette McCallum Nakamura


The morning after I submitted my editorial, “Chipping Away at Domestic Violence”, I awaken feeling terrified.  I wondered what retribution I might experience for raising my voice to criticize popular politics.  No one within my inner circle of family, friends, or attorneys wanted me to do it.  For two years, I had listened to their well-meaning advice; “dumb down”, “stay under the radar”, “wear navy blue and flat shoes”, and “for gawd’s sake don’t write anything”.  I considered the price my child might pay for my attempt to reclaim some personal power, and I considered the price to her if I did not.  In this context, I was somewhat heartened by the response posted by Nanci Kriedman, Executive Director of the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline.    


Re-victimization through the family court system is a real phenomenon.  The American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence states that litigious conduct after a separation is a sign of domestic abuse.  Moreover, a study conducted by the American Judges Foundation concluded that abusers manage to win custody of their children a whopping 70% of the time.  The truth of re-victimization, and the reality that many good parents of both genders, crawl off the battlefield having lost their children through the misuse of domestic violence laws, is precisely why I feel compelled to exercise my voice.


In the thirty short years of the domestic violence movement, great strides have been made.  What started as an uphill battle against cultural and gender bias is now a powerful legislative force.  While there were few places for a victim to seek refuge, there is now a shelter in most every community. These are important accomplishments, but perhaps its time for a bit of self-examination. 


The other side of the story is that across the country both men and women are traumatized by restraining orders obtained for nefarious reasons.  A study done by the State of Massachusetts, found that only about half of the restraining orders issued there involved any violence at all.  In Hawaii, there were over 5000 petitions for TRO’s last fiscal year.  One attorney told me that he and his colleagues make wagers as to which party in a divorce will win the race to the court for their TRO.  


A lawyer sitting the bench takes their career in their hands if they dare cut the wheat from the chaff in the escalating number of petitions brought before them.  Sadly, few judges will take the chance of denying one, even though a frivolous order can drain family resources and cause emotional harm to the children forced into the insane environments they create.


With regard to my case, Ms. Kriedman is technically correct in that the DVCLH was not involved in the custody matter which was heard by a mainland court.  I believe however, the DVCLH did sponsor my abuser in his criminal motions designed to gain custody.  If so, then public or privately donated funds were squandered to assist a deeply troubled man in his campaign of abuse by proxy. Yet, regardless of how my abuser’s attorney (the current Board President of the DVCLH) was compensated, the breadth of the litigious maltreatment that was visited upon me could not have been accomplished without the collusion of the local domestic violence community.


Without a warrant or proper investigation, I was taken away in handcuffs for writing two letters that contained no threats whatsoever.  A baseless TRO was granted by a judge who had just written a professional recommendation for my abuser’s girlfriend.  My child’s pediatrician, the school administrators, and my attorneys were all threatened with court actions.  They tried to file embarrassing personal information about a friend who had nothing to do with my case.  My mainland attorney was denied admittance into the courtroom when she simply wanted to observe the proceedings.  In one of her more noxious moments my abuser’s attorney proclaimed, in the waiting room, that I would be lucky to keep custody of my child. 


Was there a case?  No.  There was no “there” there.  I was nothing more than the quintessential community volunteer mom exercising what I thought was my liberty to open a civil dialogue.  The “case” was fabricated after my abuser became secretly engaged to a DVCLH insider three months after our separation.  I simply lacked the savvy to anticipate their well-planned, pre-emptive strikes. 


No system or organization should be judged solely by the antics of one or two loose cannons.  Yet, when one of those loose cannons ascends to the helm of a powerful Board of Directors, that organization not only sanctions these heinous tactics, it perpetuates a cult of vigilantism. The campaign against domestic abuse is a noble crusade but regardless of the redeeming value of their message, a bully is a bully is a bully.



“for gawd’s sake don’t write anything”

across the country both men and women are traumatized by restraining orders obtained for nefarious reasons 

There was no “there” there.  I was nothing more than the quintessential community volunteer mom exercising what I thought was my liberty to open a civil dialogue.