Human Rights Abuses
November 25, 2002
Wellesley, MA – The Battered Mothers’ Testimony Project released its final report on the Massachusetts Family Court system today, which is the beginning of an international campaign called “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.” The mission of the human rights report is to document and describe human rights violations suffered by battered mothers and their children in the family courts and to promote the necessary changes to the system to protect the rights of these women and children.
The report points out faults within the Massachusetts family court system relating to the treatment of battered women and their children, but also sets forth detailed recommendations to improve the current system. The research found that, in certain cases, the Massachusetts Presumption of Custody law, which states that custody should not be granted to batterers, is not being enforced, and the guidelines for judicial practice are not being adhered to. The report also states that battered women and children are at risk of harm – and are in fact harmed – in the context of court-ordered custody and visitation arrangements that require them to have ongoing, unprotected contact with their abusers. Some recommendations for change include replacing the single guardian ad litem system with a multi-disciplinary team approach, enforcing the existing presumption of custody law, mandating training for all family court personnel, and collecting more data about divorce and custody proceedings on an annual basis.
“Ours is a 3-year, in-depth qualitative project,” said Carrie Cuthbert, “where we interviewed 40 battered mothers who experienced problems keeping themselves and their children safe in the context of child custody and visitation orders issued by the family courts. We also interviewed lawyers and service providers for battered women as well as family court judges, guardians ad litem, and probate probation officers, many of whom identified many of the same problems as did the individual women we interviewed.
The research was prepared by the Battered Mothers’ Testimony Project at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. The report authors are Carrie Cuthbert (Project Co-Director), Kim Slote (Project Co-Director), Monica Driggers (Project Policy Director), Cynthia J. Mesh (Project methodologist), Jay Silverman (Project Steering Committee member) and Lundy Bancroft (Project Steering Committee member and former Guardian Ad-Litem).