Reporter’s Notebook: Jennifer Collins speaks about her family’s case
The feature article
Complete stories about abuse written and drawn by then-8-year-old Zachary
Photo slideshow with artwork Jennifer and Zachary drew as children
Jennifer Collins says that her father beat her as a child. She says that she told court officials and therapists several times during a tragic and lengthy custody trial that she did not feel safe with him. Nonetheless, Hennepin County Family Court put her and her older brother Zachary in his custody when they were just 7 and 9. It was believed that their mother was unstable and coaching the two children. Despite findings of spousal abuse, her father, Mark Collins of Crystal, Minn., was seen as the more fit parent.
Today, at 23 years old, Jennifer feels cheated. As a kid everyone told her if she told the truth everything would be OK. "But it wasn’t, was it?" She says on the phone from her mother’s house in Western Holland. "I know I am an adult and it shouldn’t matter so much anymore, but I want justice for us kids and for other kids who are currently being abused," she later adds in an e-mail.
Jennifer and brother Zachary
Jennifer says her past has shaped her future. Upon graduation from college, the psychology major plans to be an advocate for change. She hopes to move to the U.S. and work on issues of family court reform and the rights of children. Someday, she would like to start her own organization for abused children, run by adult survivors of child abuse. "I think it is about time for such a bold organization…" she wrote.
For now, Jennifer is focused on getting the word out. She has started a website with several YouTube videos detailing her version of the past. She has sent over 400 emails to every U.S. Senator, member of the Minnesota legislature and advocacy groups she could find to raise awareness. She’s even worked with StopFamilyViolence.Org to set up an online petition on behalf of her family.
While reluctant to share the intimate, tragic details of her past, Jennifer realizes the power of her family’s story. They went forward to raise awareness about the system that they believe failed them. "[Family court] is the one who should be charged with ‘Failure to Protect!,’" she says.
Unfortunately, experts and advocates in the area of abuse say what happened to the Collins family is a widespread problem within the American judicial system. There have been several studies done around the country that show the difficulties family courts have in protecting women from domestic violence and children from abuse, says Dr. Joyanna Silberg, clinician and Executive Vice President of the Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence.
Every week the organization’s website is flooded with people in similar situations needing help. It is astonishing the number of custody cases where domestic violence is present in which the courts award the children to the abuser, she says.
"It isn’t as if people want to harm children. Certainly nobody consciously wants to harm children, but it’s a matter of systemic errors that allow children’s needs to fall through the cracks. The same systemic errors exist in many states and counties."
Abusers will often challenge custody because it is a way for them to continue to exhibit control over the woman or kids they batter, she says. "It’s almost a science of how to get custody when you are an abuser. There are websites and play books you can find on line. If you are accused of child sexual abuse, some lawyers will recommend the thing to do is to go for full custody… Chances are the court will look at you as, ‘here’s a nice guy who wants to be part of the children’s lives.’"
More often than not, a battered woman is not going to want let the children go to the home of the man who abused her, and she ends up looking hysterical and frantic as she pleads for their safety, at times defying ordered visitation upon the advice medical practitioners. Lawyers for the abuser will then capitalize on that behavior and make the battered parent look unstable—using labels such as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP) or Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), a disease not substantiated by the American Psychological Association with little scholastic or empirical evidence. Here’s a great Newsweek story on the subject.
Slowly some states are starting to introduce legislation to improve the system, says Silberg, who is working on federal reform to better protect children from abuse. In Tennessee, for example, a bill was passed making it illegal to use PAS as a custody reversal basis if abuse is alleged. In other places lawmakers are trying to do the same thing with MSbP.
The system changes slower than the cases cycle through. A little while ago Silberg worked with a client whose father was implicated for physical abuse and had punched his child in the face. He got full custody. Years later the mother was finally allowed weekend visitation.
"But that’s not uncommon. That’s a very common story," Silberg says. "If you spent a day in my shoes you would not believe you are in America. It’s like the Middle Ages, a Third World County. It’s truly a veil over reality. It’s so sad."
Posted by Beth Walton at July 29, 2008 2:38 PM
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Sadly, there are many instances where the misuse of the questionable diagnosis of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy is used to destroy families. Mama/MAMA is a documentary which explores this tragedy. http://www.munchausenmovie.com is the site for more info.
Posted by: Amy at July 29, 2008 5:28 PM
EXTREMELY powerful article. However, family court lets all parents down in so many other ways. For example parent is pitted against parent when they should both start off presumed equal. Courts should be used to enforce positive behavior of both parents while punishing those parents mutually for constant fighting in relation to children. Parents do not have to get along to do their job of raising children well, just like in the regular workplace.
Family Preservation Festival in Washington DC for the protection of all parents’ rights unless by clear and convincing evidentiary standards it would be harmful to the children.
Posted by: Lary Holland at July 29, 2008 11:05 PM
Thank you to Jennifer Collins for sharing her story, and for becoming a voice for abused children. I know you will be able to help others who are not fortunate enough to have a mom like yours, who was willing to break the law to protect you. Godspeed in your work to start your organization, and hopefully you’ll be able to advocate for those children and change the way the court operates.
Whenever a parent abuses ANYONE in the household, it is mental and emotional abuse on all the others. Viewing/hearing one parent beat another is mentally and emotionally ABUSIVE to the children. A child feels every ounce of that punch, and it stays with them forever. We need to write this into the law: If you are a convicted abuser of your spouse, you can NEVER get full custody of your children. You have shown that you can’t handle yourself and are incapable of providing a healthy environment. So get your sick self into treatment and stay away from your spouse and children until you have become a real human.
Posted by: M. Rice at July 31, 2008 1:46 AM
The same thing happened to my children and I in Ireland.
My son was called liar repeatedly- and the court agents would not believe him.
In fact they traumatised him so much- it still bothers him
They threatened to lock him up at 8 yrs old, never see his mother again and give Electric Shock therapy to normalise him.
Now he is 23 and sister 18- they are free and safe- no thanks to the court though, which is supposed to protect children and parents from violence.
Posted by: Catherine Mills at July 31, 2008 2:00 PM
Many readers will ask- what on Earth is this person on about??
Of course the Government wants to stop violence!!!!!!!!
Does it really??
No, that is propaganda.
Violent men and women are rewarded by the system in secret courts not open to the public.
Secret courts are supposed to keep the childs identity secret.!!
That is not what is being kept secret at all.
Rather- it is the corruption of the state agents, lawyers, judges etc that is kept hidden.
Domestic Violence Why Is It Still Allowed.???
I have been asking myself this same question for more than 12 years now, due to my own experience of it.
Having done my thesis on the subject I honestly believed I knew it all.
How could any woman allow this?? I used to ask myself.
No, it will never happen to me.!!! But it did.
All the words in those books were useless in the real world.
All the advise was futile because those who wrote on this subject had never been inside a secret Gestapo family court in their lives.
If they had, they were gagged from speaking out anyway.
I have remained quiet for those 12 years until my children were 18 and free from gagging orders etc.
Now, it is time to speak out the truth as to :
Why it happens, ??
Why it is even rewarded in the court system,??
Why is it allowed to continue??
Why it will never end with the law as it is now,??
Domestic violence goes back thousands of year when women were first enslaved by the Changos about 5,000 years ago.
The institution of marriage was later created to make sure the women were financially dependent on men.
Women and children became possessions of men.
Men were considered the more powerful and bit by bit women were demonised by the church as it gathered power over all people.
Violent men are really weak in themselves and only know how to get their own way through violence.
Men have been conditioned for thousands of years to take and take from women at will.
Women were equally conditioned to give and give without question, always putting themselves last in the family.
Today, we are at a stage in evolution where both are realizing that there is a new way to wards equality.
Not the equality used in the propaganda machine either, where women are being taught that they have equal opportunity so why are they still complaining??
This new equality recognizes women as the nurturers and men as equal helpers who feed their partners on all levels and encourage them to fulfill their full potential.
Inside each man and each woman is a God and a Goddess.We are now balancing both inside each of us and in society too.
Women should come first as a strong woman is then able to look after all the family.
Putting children first is not the answer in my thinking.
The mother must be strong in herself before giving birth and must be well looked after following the birth.
There are now men who suffer violence in relationships too. No wonder.!!!
Women see that to get to the top violence is often used.
Also, violent men are rewarded by our system so some women feel, well if he can do it so can I.
When I say violent men are rewarded I mean that when an abused woman comes forward for help from the system, many agencies become involved and she is led into a false sense of security.
Whatever self esteem she had when she left her abuser is soon knocked out of her by those who claim to protect her and the children.
The latest word from court experts is that Womens Aid is a feminist group led by Germaine Greer and ALL women there, put women up to making these accusations.
That is a big generalization to make and a dangerous one.
Social workers use a woman’s vulnerability against her.
Suddenly she finds herself more abused by their use of reverse psychology and mental torture that Hitler would be proud of.
For me it was different as I recognized the game plan and abuse quickly but for others with no qualifications, what chance do they stand.
As it is all done in secret and we are not allowed by law to utter a word under threat of prison and our children being returned to the abuser or put into care for someone else to abuse them more, we stay quiet. This suits the system perfectly.
For myself I certainly did not make it all up or follow instructions from woman’s aid or anyone else either.
Why would I leave the home I paid for and go homeless for 12 years to stay safe and keep children safe.
Hardly something one does for fun???
So , the court orders assessments etc, and almost all men guilty of violence are rewarded with contact to children.
Now, I ask you?? What message is that to send out to the abused mother and children??
To the abuser it says…wow….I still have control here.!!!!
The Judge is allowing me to get away with this and I can persecute her and the children every time at contact.
I give you an example from my own case. My ex did not want contact but his lawyer advised him to ask for it as he would look better in the eyes of the Judge for the case of violence.
So on contact, his words were."SEE I TOLD YOU, YOU CAN NEVER ESCAPE, THE LAW IS ALWAYS ON MY SIDE"
So, there it is, it is not actual quality time with children they seek but permanent control and the system gives it to them as a present for their wrong doing.
So little Johnny is dragged by the hair if so ordered by the Judge to have contact with a violent father.
This child learns to quickly identify that this violence is rewarded and is thus confused.
He remembers his Mum promised to keep them all safe and suddenly he is being handed over to an abuser.
Then the blackmail begins.
If Johnny says" I do not want to go with violent parent,"then his mum will be locked up in prison for not forcing him into violence.
If he still refuses, chances are he will be put into care where Social Services will make sure he has contact with violent father.
"Mum can walk the streets"as my Judge said to me.
The law must be obeyed.
Now, here is the confusing part.
If a mother stays in a violent relationship the Social Services will say she is allowing her children to be emotionally abused and take the children into care unless she leaves the abuser.
Then she decides to leave and the Social Services still take the children claiming she is unable to protect them herself as the ex might come to her new home and abuse them.
This is a no win situation. There is no escape as the law now stands.
So every week or so Johnny goes into the energy field of violence and carries it home like an unseen plague, where he begins to abuse his Mum and siblings first and then society.
Little by little the next generation of violence begins all over again and the woman asks herself- why did I bother going for help???.
She then tells other women not to come forward to be completely crucified by a system that proclaims to protect her and others.
I know of pedophiles and child abusers who still get contact.
Supervised at first, but then money comes into play and as in my case I ended up having to supervise contact myself.
So, the message is clear. NO ESCAPE.!!!!!!!
Thus it is clear that violence full stop is just propaganda.!!
Putting safe rooms in homes creates a prison within a prison.
Abused people should be allowed a new life in a new place.
Plus plenty of support and help to empower themselves so it does not happen again.
Mothers must empower their children to be strong inside on all levels.
Girls must see that they are not second class.
This is difficult as the legal profession is still extremely "old boys club"and full of pomp and many men are deluded into thinking they are above the rest of us.
Why is it allowed to continue then you ask??
One of the main reasons is the secrecy of the courts and the truth remaining hidden.
Also, violence creates vast wealth for the system.Peace does not.
Those who come forward are strong people and the system dislikes this trait and does everything to break that spirit.
For myself, I was told I was too powerful for a woman. So, what does that tell you.??
Men and women are used against each other in the system which makes billions from their misery.
Lawyers drag the cases out for all it is worth.
Rarely do they advise properly and treat many of us like dirt.
Psychologists and psychiatrists make huge sums of money for writing a pile of rubbish, or worse still, as in my case, a report was written up based on 5 minutes with psychiatrist, because he had all the information from my ex.
I know,!! the mind boggles.
I sat there in court not knowing who they were talking about.
I was labeled an alcoholic, a witch, a cult member etc.I mean, I pinched myself to see if it was all real and it was.
When I began making notes in order to correct these discrepancies I was ordered to put my pen down and stay quiet or go to jail for 3 months.
No, my lawyer did not speak up for me either.
He was only interested in the money he had received and was quite happy to hang me out to dry.
Also, in line for wealth are care homes and foster parents receiving £400 per week per child.
Many of the care homes are owned by ex social workers in fact.
As long as violence is rewarded because it creates vast wealth for the old patriarchal system then nothing will change.
Why would they want to change.????
There are some very gentle and peace loving men in society now and they should be honored and respected accordingly, as they feed and support women on all levels and help them nurture the next generation into peace.
These are the real strong men not macho fools.!!!!
Abusers should have to earn their right to contact.
Children should not be forced into it or bribed by social workers either, because then children feel they have been tricked into a situation where their own natural instinct said danger.
As long as we allow the people we gave power to with our votes, to continue to use OUR money in the manner above, then domestic violence will continue to increase like it is at the moment and women will become just as violent too.
Simply because that is the real agenda of our government.!!!!
The only thing that matters to the old system is power and money and control.
The only people that are listened to are dead people!!! Too late then.!!!
I hope that by shedding a new light on this situation, we, as a society will see how we are paying our Government with our tax money to actually condone violence because it is more profitable.
Catherine Mills BA, HdipEd, CTG,TTG
Posted by: Catherine Mills at July 31, 2008 2:04 PM
Thanks to heavily funded and well connected misogynistic father’s rights groups obsessed with stripping women of all rights,this is now massively happening everywhere,UK,France,Ireland,Spain,Russia,Australia,Canada,Austria,Germany,Italy,Serbia…fathers only need to apply for custody,regardless of what kind of fathers they have been,and they will win. And what kind of a human being has the heart to part a baby ,a toddler or an older child begging to live with the mother from his/her mother? That is not a man of an average mind hence most custody fathers have very abusive,sadistic past.In the UK,women are totally unaware that they are mearly incubators for their parents and completely at their mercy.The media REFUSE to report on dozens of thousands of good mothers who have lost their babies to abusers and who belong to organized campaigned backed up by academics,lawyers,many male.Is it because the media is also male controlled?
Posted by: Maya at August 6, 2008 7:23 AM
The secret family court tried to force me to send my son to visit the man who raped me – my son was born as a result of rape. I am one of the Pindown children’s home survivors. My whole life has been abuse, abuse and more abuse. The man who raped me was my father’s work mate. It’s a miracle that I survived all of this – I can only put it down to the fact that I became a Christian and begged and pleaded for God to help me and my family. They were all at my throat like a pack of rabid wolves and there was no-one to help me except God.
The ridiculous case went on for 7 years. They tried to label me with MSBP and PAS, but I pointed out that PAS was invented by a pedophile, so that put a halt on that idea! The rapist was forced to apologise to me in court, but they STILL tried to force my son to visit him, knowing full well how my son had been concieved! They actually tried to make me forgive and forget!!!!!And there was a threat implied if I didn’t. I have been treated in an absolutly disgraceful and inhuman way by the secret family courts. People are supposed to be kind to victims of child abuse and rape. Not one of them offered me a single crumb of kindness but the rapist has been treated like the Prodigal son!!! But God took care of me anyway.
Everything about the secret family courts is corrupt. They ought to be scrapped. The only reason they are secret is because if ever the general public really realised what was going on behind those closed courtroom doors there would be so much anger there would probably be rioting in the streets. The secrecy has nothing to do with protecting children and everything to do with protecting the wicked powerful men who are making a great deal of money from the whole dispicable system.
Posted by: Barbara at August 7, 2008 4:18 AM
While I sympathize with what you’ve gone through, I think that your depiction of PAS as being invented by a pedophile is wrong. PAS does exist, and those couples going through a divorce not involving spousal or child abuse who have allowed things to degenerate to the point that PAS is present need to be mad aware of it and work things out properly, so that there’s no further emotional pain and hurt. Of course, that does not mean that pedophiles should be able to claim this diagnosis in their defense, but still, there isn’t anything wrong with PAS.
As for the subject at hand: This man who did what he did to this woman is an asshole and should be the one under arrest, not this poor woman. And the U.S. government should be hanging its collective head in shame for allowing this to happen, as well as the big moron from Texas who came up with the stupid ‘No Child Left Behind’-hey George, you’ve left a lot of them behind!
Posted by: Neville Ross at August 8, 2008 3:04 AM
I strongly believe that the ‘Best Interest of the Child’ standard needs to be replaced with THE APPROXIMATION RULE. The new standard should be THE APPROXIMATION RULE if we want to stop abusers from gaining custody. (Abusers are rarely involved fathers.) The American Law Institute (ALI), Dr. Robert Emery (of UVA Center for Children, Families, and the Law), and even ‘Mo’ (Dr. Maureen Hannah of the BMCC IV 2007 Truth Commission) advocate the repeal of BIOC (the ‘Best Interest of the Child’ standard) with THE APPROXIMATION RULE taking its place as the new standard. (The Approximation Rule incorporates Tennessee’s ‘Protective Parent Reform Act.’) Let’s begin to urge our elected public servants to KEEP PARENTS WHO CARE IN THE LIVES OF THEIR CHILDREN by REPEALING B-I-O-C and ENACTING THE APPROXIMATION RULE.
Veronique Wyvell, RN
the MOMMY GO BYE-BYE blog
Posted by: Veronique Wyvell at August 8, 2008 10:00 AM
Brava for this great expose and to the courageous individuals, such as Dr. Joy Silberg, who are speaking out about this systematic horror show in our family court system. Everything claimed by these young people, who were "raised by the courts," is 100% accurate. I personally receive calls, e-mails, and letters from protective mothers all over this country, as well as overseas, begging for help with their cases. The overriding theme is that their abusive ex–partner already has won or is about to "win" custody of their children.
Ladies, think this could never happen to YOU? All you need to do is have a biological child with someone who is psychopathic, narcissistic, abusive, or otherwise sick enough to be willing–in his efforts to harm you–to cause massive harm to your child, as well. His task is simple enough; all he has to do is lie and manipulate the court system, making wild claims that you are a "fabricator," "crazy," "addicted," or an "alienator." He can then pay off all the court agents who are willing to do his bidding and take everything he says as the gospel truth, in exchange for his right to exercise power, control, and abuse over you and your kids until they reach majority age.
The family court system, as it seems to currently operate, amounts to little more than a black market that gives children and babies to the highest bidder. The ONLY thing keeping this Potemkin village-like fiasco going in our family courts is the secrecy that cloaks the misdeeds. We need a deeply serious and impartial investigation of the family court systems of all 50 states, conducted by authorities with the will and the power to massively reform this corrupt machine.
See http://www.batteredmotherscustodyconference.org for additional documentation about the family court fiascco.
Dr. Mo Hannah
Chair, Battered Mothers Custody Conference
Posted by: Dr Mo Hannah at August 11, 2008 9:00 AM
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