Friday, October 05, 2007
By Lawrence Smith
West Virginia Record (WVR)
Members of Men and Women Against Discrimination, a Vienna-based children's advocacy group, rally in front of the Charleston Town Center along Lee Street on Oct. 1 to raise awareness of inequities in the way domestic violence cases are handled in the West Virginia judicial system. (Photo by Lawrence Smith)
CHARLESTON - The release of a study indicating that most of the petitions for domestic violence protection orders may be used for leverage in a divorce or child custody proceeding comes as cold comfort to those who've experienced it firsthand."I was so innocent, and the evidence was so profound, I was able to beat that in court myself," said Teresa Lowe.Lowe was among the 25 people who gathered along Lee Street in front of the Charleston Town Center Mall Monday, Oct. 1 as part of a rally and press conference held by Men and Women Against Discrimination. To kick off National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Vienna-based children's advocacy group staged the event to release two studies showing inequities in the West Virginia judicial system when it comes to domestic violence.The first study was an analysis of all petitions for domestic violence protective orders filed in Cabell County Family Court during the 2006 calendar year. According the study, 76 percent of all petitions are dismissed.Using the Cabell County statistics as a model, the second study showed that the time and resources lost in dealing with those dismissed petitions is $18 million.Though she now lives in her native Wood County, Lowe, 38, says the analysis of Cabell County holds true in Jackson County, where she used to live with her now ex-husband. In the course of their divorce proceeding, Lowe says he leveled accusations against her of child abuse in an attempt to gain custody of their children.Though the tactic eventually failed, Lowe says she and her children are still feeling the repercussions of those allegations."I've spent six years of my life tied up in court," Lowe said.Likewise, Chris Saunders says the same holds true in Wayne County which not only neighbors Cabell County, but also shares part of Huntington. According to Saunders, accusations of domestic violence were leveled against him on nine different occasions by his ex-wife, not including additional allegations he molested his daughter, which led to two warrants being issued for his arrest.Now since exonerated of all the charges leveled against him, Saunders, 37, who now lives in Burlington, Ohio, says the studies MAWAD released has a therapeutic effect for him."I just like seeing the information get out," Saunders said. "Nobody should have their children torn away for making false allegations."Hopefully, Sanders says, the studies will convince lawmakers to pass bills criminalizing false reporting of domestic violence, and creating 50/50 parenting plan."What we're talking about is children having a right to both halves of themselves," Saunders said.Charles Pope says both he and wife were victims of domestic violence. He for not being provided assistance after she battered him one night, and her for being provided too much assistance under the assumption she was the victim.According to Pope, who lives on Charleston's West Side, his wife become violent one night in January. Unbeknownst to him, Pope says, his wife was taking medication for depression, and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. "She just snapped," Pope said.When police came to their house at her urging, Pope says they were prepared to arrest him. However, with the intervention of his pastor, police placed her in custody.Instead of being arrested, Pope says, his wife was taken to CAMC for evaluation. Believing she was the victim of domestic violence, the hospital referred her to a local shelter for battered women.Later, when he attempted to have a mental hygiene warrant served on her by Kanawha County Sheriff's Department, Pope says, people at the shelter told deputies she was not there. However, when he publicly detailed his ordeal at a conference on male victimization in April, his wife was released from the shelter."And she really never got the help," Pope said.Pope says he hopes that police will begin to investigate each domestic violence-related case on its merits instead of arriving on the scene with the assumption the man is the guilty party. Likewise, he would like to see more services, especially overnight shelter, provided to male victims of domestic violence."There's too many politicians hooked up in the foolishness of all this," Pope said. "They don't believe a man can be a victim of domestic violence.""I'm living proof of it," he addedCharly Young says she knows too well of the man-is-guilty mentality many law enforcement officers have. Though she was not formally part of MAWAD's rally, Young, 29, who lives in downtown Charleston, donned one of their T-shirts and joined them in a march around the Town Center on her way to the transit mall. About two weeks ago, Young says, she and her fiancee got into a heated argument. The argument centered about coping with financial difficulties they are experiencing.Needless to say, police were summoned to their apartment. Despite telling police no blows were struck, and she shared part of the blame in creating the disturbance, Young said police encouraged her to press charges against her fiancee."The police really didn't care," Young said. "They just wanted to take somebody down."For Young, the matter was "culture shock." A native of Washington, D.C., Young said she moved to Charleston after leaving an abusive relationship in Baltimore in 2003. After being nearly choked to death by her former boyfriend, Young says she found it incomprehensible that her word alone could have sent her fiancee to jail.According to Young, the financial challenges she and her fiancee are having stem from a gunshot wound he suffered three years ago. He is still rehabilitating from that wound, and has not had steady employment since then.Though acknowledging money won't solve all their problems, Young says if more were done to alleviate poverty, then that would go a long way in curbing domestic violence."That is where domestic violence comes from in the poor neighborhoods," Young said.