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NYC Family Courts Endanger Domestic Violence Survivors & Children

Jun 26, 2008

There is little consideration of domestic violence in custody cases, and New York City court officials often disregard the law and the court’s own policies and procedures in ways that imperil victims of violence. These are among the findings of a report based on surveys of self-identified domestic violence survivors whose cases were heard in the New York City Family Court.

Voices of Women Organizing Project, a grassroots advocacy organization of domestic violence survivors, released Justice Denied: How Family Courts in NYC Endanger Battered Women and Children last month. More than half the women surveyed said that reports of child abuse or child sexual abuse against their ex-partners were not taken seriously in court proceedings. Women were also often instructed by lawyers and court personnel not to mention domestic violence in the court proceedings because, they said, it would hurt their case or was irrelevant. Ultimately, more than one-third of women surveyed (37 percent) lost custody of their children in spite of being the primary caregiver.

Justice Denied says, “Women are re-victimized by the Family Courts when allegations of domestic violence and child abuse are minimized or ignored when the abuser is either not held accountable or judged to be more credible.”

At the release of Justice Denied, domestic violence survivors, their children and families joined advocates in calling for more transparency and accountability in New York City Family Court. The report recommends that courts: enforce all laws and procedures and ensure that court proceedings are fair and just; hold judges, law guardians, lawyers and other court personnel to the highest standards of their profession; take seriously all allegations of domestic violence and ensure the safety of victims, including while they are in the courthouse; and hold abusers accountable for their actions and not allow courts to be used to further abuse and control victims and their children.

The report is based on two years of interviews with more than 75 domestic violence survivors, focus groups with battered women and teens in foster care, and meetings with court personnel. To read it, please visit www.vowbwrc.org/.

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