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No safe refuge from mandatory mediation: Veena Charan (1990) vs Calif. Judiciary / Family Court Services

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This author went underground for her safety, later emerged, and has a few things to say about the justice response to calling domestic violence a CRIME and not a Dispute. 

Nowadays we’re back, in forms, in the press too often, and elsewhere, into calling it “domestic abuse.”  It’s a kinder, gentler word, like a bowtie on the contents of a garbage disposal.  Less upsetting, you know, than the truth.

I shared in early October that my situation is in transition (whose ISN”T that’s been involved?).  So assume that if I post here, it might be relevant, and important.  I’m going to talk about the SF Bay Area’s reaction to attempting to exempt domestic violence cases from mandatory mediation.  Even after Mrs. Charan got killed, obeying a (certifiably insane) restraining order.  I recommend this book.  I ALSO recommend you look at the earlier version, somehow. 

When Violence Begins at Home (2nd ed.)
A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Ending Domestic Abuse
Second Edition
by K J Wilson Ed.D.

Since its initial publication, this extensive reference has provided victims of abuse and their caregivers with guidance on everything from indicators of an abusive relationship to advice on leaving an abusive partner, from anti-burnout tips for helpers and social workers to current trends in domestic violence legislation. Recommended and praised by authorities in the field of domestic violence such as Susan Brownmiller, Del Martin and Karen E. Munch (“indispensable”, “the bible”, “one of the best”), the previous edition of When Violence Begins at Home has sold over 30,000 copies.


WHYquote this book now?

I have the 1997 version of this book.  AFTER I got OUT of my battering relationship and INTO family court, and was stumped at how the concept of my wish to retain a restraining order fell on deaf ears, spongy receptors, and virtual denial by the FIRST round through this venue, and as my livelihood (and work schedule, kids education, etc.) began to start the long dismantling process which later ended in child-stealing on an (unsupervised, of course) overnight, after which, Good Bye Mama (I barely saw the girls again) — at the BEGINNING of this process, I did what Moms do.  We go get informed.  I went onto a used books distributor and ordered as much as I could afford.  This was one of them.  It was SO helpful to me then, and I photocopied some of the pages to relatives to explain how this power-based “intervention” in my life AFTER I got free wasn’t appropriate, or going to be worked, in fact, back off! 

You see, I hadn’t yet processed that there’s a type of family dynamics that tolerates abuse, but will NOT tolerate talking about it, which is apparently stepping on some sacred cow.   I have many times spoken of the family court arena as “shock therapy” and some kind of total immersion experience (think baptism, if this fits your religion) into, this world ain’t what it was cracked up to be.   And those labels on the doors?  They are VERY misleading, for sure. 


This has to be a “fast” post on this resource book.  I am going to quote from the preface by Del Martin, and her (I presume? though am not sure) comments on how the system responds to mediation.  You see, in our area, we have MANDATORY mediation.  If it were not mandatory, more kids (I assert) would still be living with their nonbattering parents, when that’s an issue, and the court professionals would have to go drum up some more business elsewhere.    Due process MIGHT take place, and as a consequence, PERHAPS the courts wouldn’t be so overcrowded (supposedly the real cause for “mediation,” although I suspect a closer cause is to be found closer to the AFCC folks, and their wish to transform the language of criminal law, which is “old” (fashioned, i.e.) in to the more fashionable, and MUCH better funded, when it comes to HHS and OVW, etc. — behavioral sciences field.  For AFCC.com,search my blog. or some of the others linked here,  for more on this outfit.  Also see comments on NAFCJ.net, highly relevant, still.

QUOTING, for public information only, from Foreword by Del Martin, author of “Battered Wives.” 

page x:

Dr. Wilson states that the Texas Council on Family Violence considers traditional counseling, family therapy, and mediation inappropriate in a battering intervention.  Mandating couple’s counseling or mediation places the battered woman at a disadvantage and in further jeopardy.

We are not dealing with domestic disputes or communication problems.  The batterer communicates quite clearly that he is the head of the household and will use force to maintain that power over family members.  We are dealing with abject, unreasonable VIOLENCE.  . . .. Appropriate intervention must deal with the batterer’s violent behavior.  You cannot mediate violence.  This bears repeating over and over again.

THIS part is relevant:

Unfortunately the California legislature has not yet understood that message.  Despite the 1990 recommendation of the Natioanl Cuncil of Juvenile and Family Court judges that NO judge mandate mediation in cases in which family violence has occurred, California’s judiciary persists in blocking attempts to exempt domestic violence cases from our mandated mediation of child custody and visitation “disputes.”  The best we have been able to get is the right of the battered woman to have a separate hearing without the presence of her battering spouse, to have a supporter accompany her during the hearing (I rarely got) and to preumse that mediators and judges will be trained in the dynamics of domestic v iolence.”

“SF’s Commission on the Status of Women created a subcommittee [when in doubt, do a committee, right?] to look at a citywide response to DV following the murdedr of Veena Charan by her husband in 1990.  Except for one thing, she had done everything by the book over a period of 15 months.  She obtained a restraining order and awas awarded temporary physical custody of her 9 year old son.  She sought a divorce and participated in mediation through Family Court Services as mandated by Californa law.  She cooperated with the prosecution of her husband on felony wife beating.  (See my Giles’ Amicus post).  The one thing she didn’t do was to avail herself of the safety of a shelter for battered women and their children.”


And now she’s dead, and her son’s natural mother is gone:

Joseph Charan was sentenced to 12 months in jail.  THE SENTENCE WAS SUSPENDED, HOWEVER, IN LIEU OF CONDITIONAL PROBATION:  domestic violence cunseling, a stay-away order, and 30 days in jail.  A few days later, before reporting to probation, he murdered his wife in front of teachers and schoolchildren {so much for it being just a “family” matter} before killing himself.”  (emphases mine).

I really hope readers will check out this book.  Here is another section, page xi:

All governmental departments that were involved in any way were coopeartive in tracing Veena Charan through the system to determine what went wrong.  All except the Family Court Services director, who claimed immunity because of client confidentiality.  The presiding judge of Family Court and the city attorney backed her position.  Members of the investigating committee were frustrated.  They needed to know what impact mediation had on Veena Charan.”

Perhaps they might have focused on WHY those 12 months became only 30 days, not leaving Veena enough time to get herself and her son safe, and reflect on what next. 

“Since then unsuccessful attempts have been made to amend the mediation clause in the law to exempt cases in which there is a history of violent episodesA father’s rights still prevail over the endangerment of wife and child.”

I’d like to mention here, I LIKE men, I just don’t like violence as a substitute for relationship.  Any father’s rights visitors (we know there are several around these blogs), we are not talking about all men, only about ones who have already been convicted of beating their wives.  Or who did this without a conviction.  OK?  So don’t take it personal if the shoe don’t fit.  There ARE some men, I can testify personally, it DOES. 

From her page ix:

The role of the judiciary must not be minimized.  Educating judges can be a problem because of their discretionary power and the assumption that they are above public reproach.”  Last year (i.e., 1996), the SF eExaminer revealed that SF municipal court judges were using “civil compromise” in domestic violence misdemeanor cases.  Defendants were being let off with an apology and a few hours of counseling.  Those of us who had orchestrated changes in policies of the criminal justice system were shocked.  . . . . . (para).  Supervisor Barbara Kaufman called for public hearings, and the judges were outraged that we dared to challenge their discretionary privilege. {{Gee, sounds like the guy I used to live with..}}   But the civil compromise clause is a legal option for cases involving neighborhood disputes, property damage, or petty theft.  It was never meant to be used in the disposition of domestic violence caseloads.

It was NOT meant for things that could lead to multiple deaths, or even one, or even a broken bone, or homelessness, or things that DV tends to lead to.  In case you haven’t guessed, I am opposed to the use of mediation at ALL when violence has already been identified, which the presence of a civil OR criminal restraining order should establish, if it was properly granted.

I know how many people cover up this type of violence, and I was a reporter.  I was not a woman covering it up, I asked for help.  It took YEARS before that help came.  Then it was stripped away by the simple act of taking a quick off-ramp into the family law venue, which was ready and waiting for just such cases.  We even hit the mediator BEFORE any divorce was filed — because children were involved. 


I’m out of time today, but my comments, reading this 12years after it was published:


1.  The author talks (incl. of this foreword) talks a lot — as many of these coalitions do — about CIVIL vs. CRIMINAL venues, with a brief side-long glance at FAMILY.  However family law was in full swing by the 1990s, it began at least back in 1980s, and the push into mediation, earlier than that.  See afcc.org.  It’s what the family law venue is ABOUT, primarily.  I find that odd — are we not doing research?  Are we on a one-track line of research?  Which brings me to:

2.  “The love of money is the root of all evil.”  Oops, I didn’t mean to get religious.  OK, “follow the money trail.”  If these groups and women were advocating, including with legislators, commissions, coalitions, and so forth, that mediation NOT be appropriate for DV, andyet it’s still MANDATORY for it (in this SF area referenced), then WHY? 

Possibly, with the Internet not in as full swing as it is now, the facts had not yet surfaced.  But again, look at the funding going to the California State Judicial Commission (for one, example) and look at the Access/Visitation and Fatherhood funding.

Sometimes, some days, I wonder whether the feminist (and I’m one, believe me, by now!), battered women’s advocates and coalitions are — at least nowadays — playing Good Cop/Bad Cop in these matters, by simply not talking about the economics. Perhaps if there were more mothers who’d lost custody in their ranks, or battered MOTHERS in the ranks (I can’t assess, but I DO wonder), they would quickly see the role of the Child Support Agency (“OCSE” nationally) in all this. 

The flora and fauna to study in why women are STILL getting killed, children molested, others abducted, Moms in prison for trying to protect, Dads sprung  after 2 days in jail, to go out and murder (just substitute the names, they seem endless sometimes), in that if the effort even is made to prosecute, and it actually HAPPENS (not something a battered parent typically has under HER real control), it’s STILL no guarantee of safety. 

Nor is training a batterer, a mediator, or a judge to hopefully pay more attention to the training than to the rewards at the end of the tunnel for a case well “disposed” of, thanks to help from the government in Designer Family Land, where the real crisis is fatherlessness.  Not moral turpitude in government employees, a system of bribes, or a system DESIGNED to minimize and ignore domestic violence, assault & battery behavior, and instead more into publishing tomes on “Parenting after violence.

Please, let’s turn those spectacles around and start looking at the SYSTEM with a critical eye.  I’m not interested in so much statistics, and probability when it comes to the life and safety of someone I am related to.  I am interested in:




PURSUIT of happiness, which stalking, and being trapped in the family law venue, is kind of really getting in the way of.  To me, happiness was taking care of my kids, working, and participating in the community, developing good relationships with other people.

When I and my children are regarded as someone else’s property, that dynamic HAS to change.  And that includes becoming a “statistic” in someone else’s social science study of low-income people, or parents int he courts, or the impact of mediation on cases involving domestic violence, or any OTHER thing that has a federal grant number on the resulting report. 

ENOUGH, already!

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Written by Let's Get Honest|She Looks It Up

October 27, 2009 at 4:07 pm

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