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Violence Against Women Act; Powerful Solution or Vigilantism
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The Violence Against Women Act - A Powerful Solution or Vigilantism
By Scarlette McCallum Nakamura,
Hawaii Reporter,  7/11/2005 1:15:35 PM

Sen. Joseph Biden recently introduced Senate Bill 1197, the Violence Against Women Act of 2005. Since the first VAWA was passed in 1994, tremendous strides have been made toward ending some of the most horrific domestic abuse. As a community activist who has worked to eradicate domestic violence, I am proud of the changes brought about by the VAWA. It has been effective medicine but it has produced some awful side effects.

The domestic violence community is now a billion-dollar industry, creating political fiefdoms of unprecedented power in our local communities. We’ve come to believe domestic violence is at such epidemic proportions, that in our collective shame we have sanctioned a movement that has become cult-like in its power over our courts. Every day, in family courts, in every jurisdiction in this county, someone (often a competent parent), becomes the target of a fraudulent domestic violence restraining order. Without the complaining party having to produce a shred of evidence, respondents are routinely put through a process of institutionalized denigration without the same Sixth Amendment protection we give to murders, thieves and pedophiles of our society. Responding to a TRO is an arduous, humiliating, and expensive task. In the aftermath, respondents are often separated from their children, suffer from depression, and exhibit symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many of the falsely accused bear the emotional scars of never being vindicated.

While men appear to be the victims of fraudulent restraining orders more often than women, in increasing numbers it is the male abuser who files for a restraining order against the female victim. In a recent San Francisco case, a woman was served with a Temporary Restraining Order after being thrown down a flight of stairs. Her court-savvy husband filed for a TRO claiming he was "afraid" of her because she had become emotionally unstable.

Dr. Sam Vaknin, a recognized expert on narcissistic abuse writes, "If all else fails, the abuser recruits the authorities, institutions, neighbors, the media, teachers - in short, third parties - to do his bidding. The abuser offers a plausible rendition of the events and interprets them to his favor. In contrast, the abused are often on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Confronted with this contrast between a polished, self-controlled, and suave abuser and his harried casualties, "it is easy to reach the conclusion that the real victim is the abuser, or that both parties abuse each other equally. The prey's acts of self-defense, assertiveness, or insistence on her rights are interpreted as aggression, liability, or a mental health problem."


My story is a case in point. Three months after I left my ex to escape his abuse, he became engaged to a staff attorney with Hawaii’s Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline. The litigious nightmare that followed, which I describe in my February 22, 2005 article - "Chipping Away At Domestic Violence" -included being served with a Temporary Restraining Order. Never mind that I resided outside the State of Hawaii and could not possibly pose a physical threat to my accuser. I was never violent. I never stalked or threatened anyone, at any time. I have always been (more than) a competent parent and a respected member of my community. What was my "crime?" I communicated with my ex-husband’s employer after the employer invited me to do so. I did it to try to keep our family out of the court system. My actions might have been naive, but they were not criminal.

Nevertheless, my accuser’s attorney was rabid in her prosecution of me, despite clear evidence that it was her client who was the abuser, not me. She proclaimed, in the court waiting room, that I would be lucky to keep custody of my child. She attempted to file embarrassing information about a friend who was not at all germane to my case. She got the judge to ban my mainland attorney from the courtroom when she only wished to observe the hearing. (Had I been accused of murder instead of sending an email, the judge’s decision would have been unconstitutional) The fact that this woman then became the Board President of the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline represents the height of hypocrisy on the part of the DVCLH, and a testament to the power of cronyism over ideology.

Nancy Kriedman, executive director of the DVCLH, acknowledged, in her response to my previous article, that re-victimization through the courts is a real phenomenon. She was technically correct when she stated the DVCLH and its leadership did not participate in a case against Scarlette McCallum Nakamura. That is because I write under an assumed name to protect my family from more abuse and court stalking. Ms. Kriedman claimed the DVCLH and its leadership "would not expose a person to the torment described by Ms. Nakamura" ...but the DVCLH leadership absolutely did.

I stipulated to the TRO because my mainland attorneys advised me not to travel to Hawaii to contest it. They were so stymied by the apparent collusion by small faction of the family court, they believed I might be facing yet another arrest on more trumpeted-up charges, and the possibility the Hawaiian court might take jurisdiction over custody of our child. Since stipulating two years ago, my accuser has made at least seven attempts to entrap me in a violation. I’ve spent an estimated $80,000 in family resources for attorneys to deal with the logistics of co-parenting and visitation. More importantly, this baseless TRO has caused deep emotional wounds within our child.

How do you measure the harm done to a child when one parent is "criminalized" for no good reason? What might be the long-term effects be to a child forced to live in a world so dichotomous that mommy and daddy must speak to each other through the police or attorneys? What do children learn about themselves when courtroom melodramas overshadow any hope of normalizing relations between children and their parents?

Family violence is a complex issue. The one-size-fits-all approach does a great disservice to families whose story does not fit the stereotypical model. In cases where violence can be verified and where there is a clear pattern of ongoing, escalating, abuse, then the draconian solutions of the VAWA are appropriate. For the huge volume of cases that do not fit this model (studies indicate as many as 50 percent), some kind of assessment or evaluation should be done before a family is forced to live in the toxic environment these orders create. Moreover, there must be real consequences to larcenous petitioners and their nefarious attorneys who ride the coat tails of popular politics to exploit these laws for their own advantage. Congress should pass the Violence Against Women Act, but with provisions that balance the system -- a system that in some jurisdictions borders on fanatical. We simply can not remain oblivious to the harm this legislation can cause innocent, gullible people swept up its tide wave.

"While men appear to be the victims of fraudulent restraining orders more often than women, in increasing numbers it is the male abuser who files for a restraining order against the female victim."

How do you measure the harm done to a child when one parent is "criminalized" for no good reason?

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