Video: Family Court Judge ASLEEP During CSA Custody Proceedings

Trumbull County, Ohio, August 2011: Shocking video footage shows a family court judge falling asleep, and what sounds like snoring or groaning, during testimonies involving child sexual abuse.

The judge can clearly be seen in the video, during several small segments, leaning forward with his head on the desk or on his hands, hunched over, while a witness is being questioned. In another segment, the Plaintiff’s witness looks towards the judge and says clearly, “He’s sleeping.” during her testimony. After a few seconds, the judge wakes up with a loud groan or snore.

This video was posted on YouTube by the advocacy group “Mothers Against Sexual Abuse” 

 

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House Concurrent Resolution 150 – Child Safety Should Be Top Priority in Child Custody Cases

This resolution aims to ensure that states know Congress believes child safety should be the top concern in custody cases, and we look forward to helping raise public awareness about these important issues. Our hope is that this resolution will lead to far fewer cases of child abuse and death at the hands of abusive parents.” – Attorney Craig Saperstein, worked on the Pillsbury team that drafted and advocated for the resolution.

 

A Call to Action!

We need your help to pass an important resolution that would make child safety a top priority in child custody and visitation decisions made by family courts. Also requiring state courts to  assess safety risks, and allegations of domestic or child abuse before considering other best interest factors.

The bill also urges Congress to “…schedule hearings on family courts’ practices with regard to the objective, fair, and adjudication of children’s safety and civil rights.

Read the proposed bill: H.Con.Res.150 – Expressing the sense of Congress that child safety is the first priority of custody and visitation adjudications, and that state courts should improve adjudications of custody where family violence is alleged.

House Concurrent Resolution 150 is co-sponsored by Congress members Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) and was introduced in the House in September 2016.

Protecting our children is one of the most important things that we can do for society. 

Unfortunately, some courts are overlooking potential signs of abuse and are relying on scientifically unsound factors to make decisions that impact a child’s life.

Courts should resolve all claims of abuse independently before looking at any other factors in deciding custody or visitation. An independent and rigorous investigation into claims of abuse, coupled with heightened evidentiary standards, will help courts prevent the endangerment of any child.” ~ Congressman Ted Poe on Resolution 150

Child abuse is a major public health issue in the United States, approximately 15 million children are exposed each year to domestic violence and/or child abuse. 

Survivors of domestic violence are often involved in child custody proceedings with their abuser. Similarly, child abuse allegations often surface in family court. Systemic failures in family court are failing to address or properly investigate abuse allegations, and result in rulings that reject reports of abuse, and rulings put the lives of children at risk of further harm or abuse.  Research shows that abusive parents are often granted custody or unprotected visitation by courts, placing children at ongoing risk; and that  a child’s risk of abuse increases after a perpetrator of domestic violence separates from a domestic partner, even if the perpetrator has not previously abused the child. 

House Concurrent Resolution 150 attempts to address these issues by putting into federal law:

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring) That it is the sense of Congress that—

(1) child safety is the first priority of custody and visitation adjudications, and courts should resolve safety risks and claims of family violence first, as a fundamental consideration, before assessing other best interest factors;

(2) quasi-scientific evidence should be admitted by courts only when it meets admissibility standards for scientific evidence;

(3) evidence from court-affiliated or appointed fee-paid professionals regarding adult or child abuse allegations in custody cases should be considered only when the professional possesses documented expertise and experience in the relevant types of abuse, trauma, and the behaviors of victims and perpetrators;

(4) States should define required standards of expertise and experience for appointed fee-paid professionals who provide evidence to the court on abuse, trauma and behaviors of victims and perpetrators, should specify requirements for the contents of such professional reports, and should require courts to find that any appointed professionals meet those standards;

(5) States should consider models under which court-appointed professionals are paid directly by the courts, with potential reimbursement by the parties after due consideration of the parties’ financial circumstances; and

(6) Congress should schedule hearings on family courts’ practices with regard to the objective, fair, and adjudication of children’s safety and civil rights.

HOW YOU CAN HELP move this Resolution forward

  1. Look up who your Representative Is: Find Your Representative
  2. Call or Write your Representative to ask him/her to become a co-sponsor of Resolution 150. You may also join efforts with a local group, advocacy group or support group.
  3. Repost and Share links to Resolution 150 on your social media accounts.
  4. Share Resolution 150 with friends, family and associates and suggest that they support Resolution 150 in the same way

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For More Information: 

DV LEAP Hosts Congressional Briefing to Address Injustices in Family Court

Poe Introduces Concurrent Resolution on Child Safety in Courts

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline

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California Family Code – Safety of Children is Primary Concern in Custody Cases, Prohibits Courts from Punishing Parents Who Report Abuse

“You must remember that the circle of violence from generation to generation can be broken.  Not just for you, but for your children.” ~ Cavin Law, Fresno, California

CC0 License, Pexels: https://www.pexels.com

CC0 License, Pexels: https://www.pexels.com

Across the U.S., efforts are being made to better protect children who have been affected by violence and are involved in family court proceedings.  

The California Family Code (Section 3020, 3027.5) promotes the safety of children in family court rulings. This is a law that has passed, and is actively being used – I am posting segments of the Family Code because I believe it offers valuable guidance that can assist other advocates, concerned professionals and lawmakers in implementing similar measures in their own states.

In California, state laws require courts to consider the safety and well-being of children as a primary concern when making custody or visitation decisions. Domestic violence or child abuse is deemed harmful to children.

Further, the Family Code states that parents who have a reasonable belief that a child has been abused or endangered, and make a report or seek treatment, can not be placed in supervised visitation, denied visitation or denied custody simply for making a report.

Relevant Sections Include:

California FAMILY.CODE SECTION 3020-3032

The Family Code established that the health, safety and welfare of the children is the primary concern when the Courts decide custody or visitation, and that child abuse or domestic violence is harmful to children: “3020. (a) The Legislature finds and declares that it is the public policy of this state to assure that the health, safety, and welfare of children shall be the court’s primary concern in determining the best interest of children when making any orders regarding the physical or legal custody or visitation of children. The Legislature further finds and declares that the perpetration of child abuse or domestic violence in a household where a child resides is detrimental to the child.

The Family Code also states that it supports parents to share their rights and responsibilities of raising a child, and supports that a child have contact with both parents unless contact is not in the best interest of the child due to abuse or safety concerns.

The California Family Code also states that if a parent has good reason to suspect child abuse and makes a report or seeks treatment, they can not be punished by the Court.

Family Code Section 3027.5.

(a) No parent shall be placed on supervised visitation, or be denied custody of or visitation with his or her child, and no custody or visitation rights shall be limited, solely because the
parent

(1) lawfully reported suspected sexual abuse of the child,

(2) otherwise acted lawfully, based on a reasonable belief, to determine if his or her child was the victim of sexual abuse,

or (3) sought treatment for the child from a licensed mental health professional for suspected sexual abuse.

In addition, a parent who is a registered sex offender or living with one shall not be granted physical or legal custody of a child; nor allowed unsupervised visits. Also, a parent who is convicted of rape (Penal Code 261) shall not be given custody or unsupervised visits with a child conceived as a result of rape.

 

Additional Information: 

Cavin Law – Domestic Violence Restraining Orders (Discusses California Family Code in Regards to Abuse Allegations)

Thurmond Arnold – California Family Law Statutes and Court Rules

 

 

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Judge Lisa Gorcyca Facing 30 Days Suspension – Her Actions “Strike at the Heart” Of a Proper Role of a Judge

Judge Lisa Gorcyca. (Photo: Daniel Mears, Associated Press pool)

Judge Lisa Gorcyca. (Photo: Daniel Mears, Associated Press pool)

(Michigan, Nov. 11, 2o16) The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission recommends a 30-day unpaid suspension and public censure for Oakland County Judge Lisa Gorcyca for judicial misconduct in the Tsimhoni case for holding 3 children in contempt of court and sending them to a juvenile detention facility. 

In addition, the Judicial Commission also wants to fine Gorcyca $12,553.73 as a penalty, stating her response to a complaint filed against her was “misleading” and forced them to perform an “evidentiary hearing” to uncover the facts.

The Judicial Commission wrote in it’s recommendation (p. 14-15), “...her (Gorcyca) misconduct was using the awesome judicial power of contempt to vent her frustration on three children because she wanted them to have a better relationship with their father. Her intemperate language was not only counterproductive in accomplishing what she wanted; it may well have been misconduct even if directed against the adults. But the fact remains she was targeting children, who found themselves in the middle of a protracted legal controversy that was not their own making. While dealing with children poses unique problems for any adult, it makes her actions from the bench even more unacceptable, for it strikes at the heart of a proper role of a judge when dealing with children; to be a safe haven and a refuge rather than a bully, a source of guidance rather than just another grown-up barking commands they cannot understand.

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether to impose the punishment. The Supreme Court has taken the recommendation under advisement.

C2A applauds the efforts of the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission in their diligence to investigate the complaint against Gorcyca, this is an important step in holding judges accountable and improving the transparency of the courts not only in Michigan, but sets an example for the nation that has been following this case.

For More Information Please Read:

The Detroit News: Commission: Oakland Co. judge should be suspended

Gorcyca Recommendation Uploaded by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit

Tsimhoni in Review (Watch Judge Gorcyca misconduct hearing at this sites, get information and updates on the Tsimhoni case)

 

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Legal Abuse – Psychiatric Ploys of Child Custody by Dr. Jeanne King

Abuse is about control and so is litigation. And the perpetrator thrives in this arena. It’s no surprise that battered women going through this ordeal (family court) end up homeless, penniless and childless.” ~ Dr. Jeanne King

In a divorce or child custody proceeding, an abuse perpetrator will often seek sole custody of the child in order to gain power and control over the victim. Abusers also seek custody as a way to deflect abuse allegations, and to portray themselves in a more favorable light. Incredibly, abusers win custody of the children they have abused at high rates. According to studies, an abusive parent will win custody in 70-83% of cases. 

How does this happen? The “Legal Domestic Abuse” video by Dr. Jeanne King exposes common legal and psychiatric ploys used by an abuser to convince a court that they are the better parent. These ploys also work to deprive custody (and visitation) from the safe, protective parent.

Psychiatric ploys are used when an abuser accuses the other parent of being mentally ill, unfit or accuses them of Parental Alienation Syndrome (or any of its by products). If the parent passes a psychiatric evaluation, the abuser will find or create a craziness in the parent – or in the children. Dr. Jeanne King says, “If we can’t establish that the mother is crazy, we’ll establish the children are crazy or going crazy under her care…this is how children become casualties in the abuser’s use of the court in their effort to control and batter their victims.“Misuse and abuse of the mental health system is causing fit, loving parents to lose custody and children to be placed in unsafe situations.

This video describes the legal and psychiatric ploys, and how they are used.

Learn more from Dr. Jeanne King: http://preventabusiverelationships.com/

 

 

Additional Information: 

10 Custody Myths and How to Counter Them -ABA Commission on Domestic Violence

Myths That Place Children At Risk During Custody Litigation

 

 

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Minnesota GAL Reform Efforts: Changes Proposed to Guardian ad Litem Appointment & Responsibilities (HF3564)

 

The efforts of parents and supporters working to address systemic failures within the (family court) Guardian ad Litem Program have resulted in sweeping reforms taking place in several states, across the nation. Will Minnesota be next to publicly address GAL program failures, its devastating impact on families, and seek reform?

In Minnesota, efforts are underway to improve the Guardian ad Litem Program by changing the laws that define the responsibilities of a GAL, and their role in family court. In March 2016, a proposed in a bill, HF 3564 was presented to the legislature.

HF 3564 as introduced – 89th Legislature (2015 – 2016)

The proposed bill, HF 3564, was a result of the collaborative efforts of parents who had been involved in the family court system, and experienced significant problems existing in the GAL program. These parents are motivated to improve the GAL program in order to better protect children, and to improve the system for all families

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The changes proposed in HF 3564, were drawn from a variety of sources, this is a collaborative effort, including: studies and research about the GAL program (including the 1995 audit), professional input from community sources and feedback from parents, from across Minnesota, who were involved with the GAL program. Other feedback used was drawn from a 1997 hearing before the Supreme Court, who was then considering adopting new rules to define the role and responsibility of a family court GAL. That hearing allowed the public to comment on the proposed changes and resulted in establishing the Rules of Guardian ad Litem Procedure. It is those Rules of Procedure that HF 3564 is now seeking to amend, as problems have continued to go unchecked within Minnesota’s GAL program for over 20 years.

An excerpt of a written statement submitted by advocates from Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center, Inc in March 1997 to the Minnesota Supreme Court, who were considering acting on recommendations from the GAL Task Force, struck a strong chord in explaining the issues that faced the GAL program then, and continue to be issues the program faces today: Although our experiences with the Guardian ad Litem vary to some degree, we all agree that the lack of structure, training, code of professional ethics, and accountability in the current use of Guardian ad Litem in Family Court have been detrimental to the mental and physical well-being of the children involved, the safety and security of their homes, and the performance of the Judicial System as to their best interests.”

Commonly raised complaints about the GAL program center around two main themes. First, Guardians hold too much power in family court, and routinely perform duties beyond their mandated responsibilities or otherwise abuse their power and position. Along with that is the complaint that judges overly rely on Guardians, and assign them to perform duties which are beyond their statutory duties, or which they are not qualified to do.

Another common complaint about the Guardian ad Litem program, is mishandling of domestic violence and child abuse allegations. The failure of a Guardian to recognize abuse, and how the cycle of abuse continues after separation, and into the legal process often results in fit, loving parents being unjustly deprived of custody and/or visitation. The children are then placed into custody or visitation with allegedly abusive or unfit parents, at great risk to their safety and well-being.

 

HF3564 address these issues, some of the changes the proposed bill recommends include:

  • – Limiting the length a GAL can be appointed on a family court case to 180 days. Judges may ask for an extension to the appointment if supported by new findings or if there are ongoing incidents of domestic abuse, neglect or endangerment.
  • – When a GAL is appointed to a case, a judge must issue an appointment order defining the specific issues of concern. The GAL should only investigate and report on those specific issues of concern. If additional issues or concerns arise, all parties must be notified in writing. A hearing may be requested to expand the appointment of a GAL.
  • – A GAL must include supporting documents and records with their report. If a professional report is included, a GAL must submit that report in its entirety without interpretation.
  • – A GAL cannot offer a professional opinion or statement to an area they are not qualified in.
  • – A GAL is prohibited from making any medical or mental health diagnosis, prognosis or treatment. However, a GAL can recommend an evaluation.
  • – A GAL is prohibited from making formal recommendations or mandating a client to work with specific professionals, providers or named services.
  • – A family court GAL cannot participate in a Child Protective investigation or screening. A GAL can make a mandated report, as required by law.
  • – A family court GAL should not make placement arrangements or remove a child from the home

HF 3564 as introduced – 89th Legislature (2015 – 2016)

In March 2016, the proposed bill (HF3564) was read in the House but failed to gain traction needed to move forward to be passed into law. The need for GAL reform remains strong, with families across Minnesota experiencing the brunt of program failures. In states like Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine, Guardian ad Litem reform was passed but required time, effort and dedication on behalf of supporters. The first steps initiated by these brave parents are just part of the journey; hopefully the ideas and the need for them presented in HF 3564 will take hold, and others will pick up the mantle to push for GAL reform in Minnesota. Minnesota has some work to do… but be encouraged by the progress in other states that have enacted reform. It is now up to us to respond to a call to action, and work towards reforming the GAL program to address its failures, to ensure better outcomes for children and families.

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Family Law Expert Shares: What Makes a Good Family Court Judge

Public Domain: http://cliparts.co

Family law expert, Henry Gornbein, shares his thoughts on what makes a good family court judge: What Makes a Good Family Court Judge? by Henry Gornbein

Gornbein is a practicing attorney in Michigan for more than 40 years who also works as a public speaker and author. He offers valuable insight from inside the courtroom.

Gornbein says some family court judges exhibit “Black Robe Syndrome” where they are arrogant, forget about the law or the needs of the litigants before them, and have a “holier than thou” attitude. However, Gornbein believes most judges are fair, considerate and work hard to resolve the issues in a case.

Gornbein then shares what attributes, he feels, makes a good family court judge, including (for full list please visit link above):

  • Work towards resolution, and go to trial only as a last resort
  • Remember that you are human, and could face a divorce or a similar issue as a litigant in court… i.e. treat others how you would want to be treated
  • Listen, and show compassion
  • Maintain control over proceedings in the courtroom, do not let arguments go on endlessly
  • Be fair and unbiased

What do you think makes a good family court judge? Share your ideas in the comments section! 

On a personal note. I was the victim of a crime, and when the offender was apprehended, I went to criminal court to make a victim impact statement. While I was awaiting my turn, I had the opportunity to watch the judge attend to business on other cases.

What I liked about this judge:

  • I was very impressed with this judge, he had an ability to balance the need for punitive action but also made the effort to instill lessons, and offer opportunities for litigants to get needed help, resources or to take steps to improve their situation.
  • The judge explained his decisions clearly, and when speaking to the litigant, he looked them in the eye and spoke with a firm but neutral tone. There was no lecturing, shaming, yelling or speaking down to litigants.
  • The judge was willing to work with the prosecuting attorney, and other professionals involved in the case, to consider other remedies or solutions. Or to incorporate those ideas or solution within the remedy of the law.

 

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(April 2015) Augusta Guardian ad Litem Program Implements New Guidelines to Improve Oversight and Accountability

“Guardian ad litem programs nationwide are under scrutiny for these problems and others, including violating parents’ due process rights, overstepping their legal authority and failing to protect children from abusive parents.

If these programs are indeed designed to represent the “best interests” of children, then the courts have a legal, moral and ethical obligation to ensure they are acting prudently.” ~ Augusta Chronicle Staff, 4/16/2015: “Finally, guidelines for guardians”. 

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(Augusta, Georgia: May 2015) For years, the Augusta Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program has been plagued with serious problems. Including: lack of accountability, judges making their own rules, certain GALs being assigned to more cases than others, unfair billing practices and lack of consistency in program rules and expectations.

Parents reported that they felt abused by the GAL program, and that their families had suffered due to its failures.“Instead of being a calming influence in often contentious and highly personal cases, local guardians ad litem actually caused more trauma.” (Augusta Chronicle, 4/16/2015). Many parents complained that when they filed a complaint, their concerns were dismissed or ignored.

In May 2015, the August Judicial Circuit  initiated a systemic overhaul, based on a 13 page list of recommendations,  to address problems, and to improve the GAL program. The new guidelines were written by the executive committee of the Augusta Bar Association’s Family Law Section to increase accountability, improve billing procedures, improve training, and create professional-conduct policies.

Significant changes have also been made to the application process; which applies to both new GALs and current GALs, who must re-apply under the new rules to be place on an “approved Guardian list”. Under the new rules, the Bar Association is responsible for reviewing the applications of prospective Guardians. To apply, anyone who wants to become a GAL must pay a $300 application fee and be interviewed. Instead of a 40 hour training course, a new GAL must have 5 years of experience in a related field, two letters of recommendation and a certificate from an organized training seminar. A prospective GAL must also participate in mentoring with another guardian who has at least 3 years of experience in the program. If the prospective GAL meets the requirements and passes the application process, they will be placed on on approved list that judges use to select Guardians.  In addition, 12 hours of continuing education is required each year.

To address billing issues, the new guidelines limit GAL fees to $500 per case (unless authorized otherwise by a judge) and must include an invoices to give detailed descriptions of all charges. GALs are prohibited from charging interest, and unpaid charges must be addressed with the assigned judge.

 

In July 2015 the reform efforts hit a roadblock when the Judicial Circuit refused to acknowledge the approved Guardian list, and expressed that they will rely on “judicial discretion” rather than conform to the new guidelines. According to Chief Judge Carlisle Overstreet, “...circuit judges did not endorse the list as the one they will use to appoint guardians and (said) that the family law group’s recommendations were only ‘filed as information.‘” (Source: Judges retain ‘absolute discretion’ on guardian ad litem appointments) The lack of consistency in the GAL program, with judges making up their own rules has been cited as a contributing factor to problems in the GAL program.

Concerns about the new GAL guidelines should not deter needed and necessary reform efforts. Efforts to improve the program and it’s services should be made a priority because program provides a service to the public, and directly affects outcomes for children and families.

Read More: 

Augusta courts respond to complaints against guardians ad litem

Judges retain ‘absolute discretion’ on guardian ad litem appointments

Protesters turn out against “Guardian Ad Litem” system

The Augusta guardian ad litem program overhauled

A Comprehensive Approach to Serving as Juvenile Court GAL (Guardian ad Litem Juvenile Training Video, DeKalb County Georgia)

 

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Update from Sarah Collins: Falsely Accused of Parental Alienation by the GAL for Having Summer Parenting Time with Children

Sarah Collins is a Minnesota mother of two young children who is involved in an ongoing custody case in Hennepin County. She is speaking out about how the family court system, and Guardian ad Litem program has abused its power, and discretion, and failed to protect her children from abuse. The children were exposed to pornography while in the care of their father, and there have been other allegations of abuse raised as well.

Sarah says she is being punished, and falsely accused of parental alienation, by Guardian ad Litem Susan Olson, who has failed to investigate the facts of the case and failed to contact collateral witnesses and professionals involved with the family. Instead of gathering facts and documentation, Olson relies on what she “thinks”. One example of this is that Sarah was falsely accused of parental alienation by Olson because she does not approve of her summer visitation schedule with the children. Sarah and children have historically spent the entire summer months together, which has never been questioned until Olson was appointed as Guardian ad Litem.

It should be noted that in Minnesota, a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) does not have the statutory authority to make any mental health or medical diagnosis or recommend treatment for either a parent or a child. It also violates APA ethical standards for a mental health practitioner to engage in “dual roles” (also known as multiple relationships). Any form of medical treatment should only be handled by a licensed professional, and in cases of domestic abuse, the professional should have knowledge and experience in dealing with abuse, trauma and related issues.

Sarah has filed a complaint against Susan Olson with the Guardian ad Litem Program, and feels that State Program Administrator Suzanne Alliegro, and the GAL program as a whole, is dismissing her concerns without proper investigation. Instead of protecting children, Sarah feels the GAL Program is working to protect its own.

Sarah claims that Olson has retaliated against her for filing complaints, and is in fear that she will permanently lose custody of her children.

Olson has denied any wrong doing. She has been a Guardian ad Litem with Hennepin County for over 10 years.

The City Pages previously published an article on Sarah Collins that can be read here: What to do when you can’t trust the guardian of your kids? by Susan Du (City Pages)

Sarah says:

Here is the statement from the Judge in our case regarding Susan Olson’s claims of Parental Alienation against me. Keeping in mind that her basis for these allegations were a complete refusal to speak with me for 9 months of the year she was on the case, refusal to speak to the children’s therapists, refusal to look into the facts in the case regarding transitions.

Basically, because the children have spent every summer for their whole lives with their brothers and sister in my home, that very same aspect of the life they have always known is what she has used to accuse me of Parental Alienation. So, if you are a devoted parent who built your life and work schedule around your children, you too are guilty of Parental Alienation by the standard set by the MN G.A.L. program led by Suzanne Alliegro. This has knowingly been done by letting Susan Olson make these Parental Alienation claims.

The Guardian also expressed concern that it might increase the danger of alienation of the children from Petitioner Burns. She expressed the opinion that there were numerous reasons not to give Respondent Collins more than 50% of the time and to take away Petitioner Burns’ ability to enroll the children in activities during his parenting time. She testified as follows: “Well, I think that taking away father’s ability to decide for the children during his time things such as enrichment camps doesn’t benefit the children. . . .The level of contempt that I observed early on in this case, in my view, disqualifies them as parents who would–parents who have children who would benefit from right of first refusal. . . .” (Olson Transcript, pp. 25-26.)

She further testified that it might lead to alienation: “. . . I think that it can lead to alignment to the children. I think if the court orders right of first refusal, particularly during just someone’s work hours, I think that it sets the children up to be aligned against their father.” (Olson Transcript, p. 27.)

Our family now knows how Susan Olson follows through on her threats.

After refusing to speak to our children’s therapists, despite the ongoing harm the children continue to report to their therapists, Susan Olson followed through on her threat to punish our family for questioning her on her lies and manipulations. The punishment was to set our abuser up to continue to seek full custody. How? By her allegations of Parental Alienation.

We have confirmed that at least one other case of Olson’s experienced this allegation as well in the month of May 2016. Susan Alliegro is responsible for this toxic woman’s harm of the victims of abusers and her own pride and ego are responsible for continuing Susan Olson’s wrath against victims and children.”

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U.S. Court of Appeals Rules Sex Trafficking Can Never Satisfy the Definition of a Crime of Violence

August 2015, United States District Court for the District of Maryland (Baltimore) –  In an outrageous ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, dismissed a pimp’s fire arm conviction for “possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence” because it has determined that sex trafficking is NOT a crime of violence and “because sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion can never satisfy § 924(c)(3)’s definition of a crime of violence..”Appellate Ruling No. 13-4755

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Sex Trafficking IS a crime of violence and involves receiving a profit from the sexual exploitation of human beings, including children. The response of the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court places victims of sex trafficking and other violent crimes at greater risk by refusing to acknowledge the brutality of these crimes; and thereby giving perpetrators a lighter sentence than they deserve.

The ruling was made despite evidence and testimony that the pimps Kevin Fuertes and German de Jesus Ventura ran a brothel in a Hispanic neighborhood in Annapolis, Maryland. Competitors were threatened with violence. The men are suspects in the 2008 murder of a competitor, and in the brutal beating of another competitor.

My thoughts after reading the ruling is that the Fourth Circuit Court did not view this case as “sex trafficking” but rather assumed the victim willingly entered into prostitution, which was also referred to in the ruling as the “sex trade”. The word “trade” implies the sexual act is not only done with consent but is a “trade” made among equals.

According to the Fourth Circuit ruling, “..we conclude that the conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) for possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence was erroneous because, we hold, sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a), is not categorically a crime of violence…”

SO if sex trafficking is not a crime of violence, what is it?

Section 924 (c)(3) defines a “crime of violence” as “an offense that is a felony and—(A) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or (B) that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.” ALL of these elements are involved in sex trafficking.

A victim’s efforts to escape sex trafficking are often challenged by further acts of violence and intimidation, and a countless number of are murdered. The efforts of these victims to escape, and to file criminal charges is heroic. 

Very few victims of sex trafficking actually make reports, and this ruling may deter other victims from coming forward because the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court has failed to recognize the brutality behind sex trafficking and instead has implied the victim gave consent to be trafficked, or is somehow at fault for the violence inflicted on her (victim blaming).  

The ruling was also made despite testimony from a woman who described being brutally beaten, forced to have sex, and held against her will by German de Jesus Ventura, one of the pimps. During the trial, a physician who examined the woman and did a forensic medical examination, reports, “Dr. — testified that — (the victim’s) explanations as to how she received certain injuries were generally consistent with her own observations during the examination.” The woman also stated that on one occasion the pimps fired a gun in order to intimidate her.

The pimps were also charged with transporting a woman out of state while engaging in the sex trafficking.

The Fourth Circuit Court also found, “..substantial evidence that Fuertes and Ventura forced (the victim)—a young woman illegally present in the country with no English skills and a third-grade education—into prostitution..

However, according to the Fourth Circuit Court” The evidence of threats and acts of violence was no more “sensational or disturbing” than the sex trafficking crimes with which Fuertes and Ventura were charged...”

How the Fourth Circuit can overlook the violence perpetrated on this victim, and others, due to trafficking is beyond comprehension – and is personally, to me, a concern to the safety and well-being of our community, and society, is at risk by judges who hold positions of power, and are not held accountable when their actions and rulings pose a danger to individuals, and the greater society as a whole. 

Let’s be clear – Sex trafficking is not consensual – it is slavery, and involves torture, abuse and intimidation in order to get victims to comply. 

In a 2012 speech delivered to the UN General Assembly Interactive Dialouge, Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Director & Former President of Chile says, “It is difficult to think of a crime more hideous and shocking than human trafficking. Yet it is one of the fastest growing and lucrative crimes. And an estimated 80 percent of those trafficked are used and abused as sexual slaves.This human rights violation is driven by the demand for sexual services and the profit they generate; the commodification of human beings as sexual objects..

Michelle Bachelet says that human rights and justice for victims must be put first in efforts to end trafficking, and to protect victims. The law should work to penalize the traffickers and their clients – not the victims. Fighting Human Trafficking: Partnership and Innovation to End Violence against Women

The Fourth Circuit ruling also contradicts a 2001 study done by the U.S. Department of Justice found that physical violence “was an intrinsic part” of sex trafficking.

A jury did convict Appellants Kevin Garcia Fuertes and German de Jesus Ventura  of a number of sex trafficking and related offenses. The firearm conviction would have brought an additional 5 years to the sentence, if not overturned in appellate court.

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For More Information on This Ruling and It’s Impact Please Read: U.S. Judge Rules Sexual Trafficking Is Not a Violent Crime (Andrew Mark Bennett, The Daily Beast)

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