January 11 2009 - Report From Battered Mother's Custody Conference

By Barry Nolan
January 11 2009

This is really hard to believe. I am sitting in a room filled with women who were beaten, and violated in terrible ways. The room is not in Bosnia, or some far flung third-world hell-hole. I am in a function room in a hotel in Albany at the
Battered Mothers Custody Conference.

Many of the women around me are sobbing now, as a child tells her story. “My father beat me” she begins. Well, she is not a child now actually, but she is a child to me. She is a poised, attractive young woman named Jennifer Collins who is a survivor of child abuse and of a Child and Family Court System that betrayed her and her brother, just as it betrays children across this country every day when it orders children to live full time with an abusive parent.

I know you do not believe me. And that makes me realize that this is the experience that these women who surround me have all had. No one believes them.
No one believes this can happen. But it does. Sometimes this happens despite voluminous evidence, eyewitnesses and medical records that the child has been beaten, even raped and sodomized by a parent seeking custody. Sometimes the courts do this even if the parent seeking custody has been convicted of, or admitted to domestic violence or sexual assault. I know you don’t believe me. But you would believe Jennifer if you were here.

It is a strange world in Child and Family court. For instance, even as much energy in the wider world goes into efforts to make certain that sex offenders have no access to children, that they can’t live near a school and walk near a playground, in this odd little corner of our judicial system, courts routinely order children to “reunite” with a sexual predator parent who hurt them. All in the name of “family re-unification”.

I know this sounds impossible. It is against all common sense. This is America after all. But come sit here with me, and listen to this woman/child tell her story. She has “aged out” of the system and is no longer under the thumb of a court that tells her she must be silent. There is a whole group of courageous kids like Jennifer who are old enough now to tell their story to you, face to face. Jennifer’s story is a pip. And it is pretty typical.

Jennifer tells us about her mother Holly and her dad. He was a batterer who beat Holly. And he beat the children. Jennifer moves her story along quickly to the day when her older brother, then about 4, tried to intervene as dad was beating mom. Dad threw the son against the wall and fractured his skull. There is much more. But I will move the story along quickly to what happens when Holly finally decided to leave this man who beat her and the children. She fled that terrible house, only to find herself in house of mirrors. The Child and Family Court system.

It is almost as if none of the people who run the Child and Family Court system ever read about or learned a single thing from sad saga of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal. It’s like they never heard about how victims of physical or sexual abuse are often silenced by their own sense of shame. How their terrible stories can sometimes finally come pouring out in torrents. It may be years later, but it is no less true. This is not theory. This is fact. We have all watched these sad dramas on the 6 O’clock news.

But, uniquely in Child and Family Court, if allegations of physical or sexual abuse are raised during a divorce where custody is an issue, the allegations are used, not against the perpetrator, but against the victim. There is this invented thing, a bit of junk science called “Parental Alienation Syndrome”. It basically says that any time a woman raises the issue of physical or sexual abuse, of herself or the children in the midst of a custody dispute, she is just trying to make the man look bad and make the children hate him. She must be lying.

Look, I am not a fool. I know people lie. I know some women lie. I know people say awful things about each other in divorces. I have watched Jerry Springer just like you. But I have also watched “To Catch a Predator” and I know “respectable” people can do horrible things. So, do a thought experiment here. Pretend you are a woman who had finally left an abusive relationship, taking your children with you. If your controlling soon-to-be ex-husband sought to get full custody of the children as one last slap at you, what would you say? OK? Sure, that sounds fair? Fat chance.

The thing a real court would do when this happened is to consider all the evidence, and talk to all the witnesses. Witnesses like the children. They were after all, there when “it” happened. This is what a court would do if a stranger were accused of beating them. Or raping them. But this is not what the Child and Family Court system does.

Jennifer, the survivor, tells us of the day the representative of the court came to take her away from her mother and take her to live at her dad’s. How she clung desperately to her mother’s leg, until they pried her fingers loose, lifted her up, carried her away, and compelled her to live with the man who would beat her. Jennifer tells us how her mother, desperate beyond all measure, kidnapped the children, spirited them away to the Netherlands, where they became the first Americans to be granted asylum. How she lived in a refugee camp, with refugees from Somalia and Sierra Leone, people who had to learn how to use toilets and forks. How this was better than “home”. This was a step up. She was with her mom.

Jennifer lived in exile for 14 years. She finally “aged out”. The court has no jurisdiction now. And so Jennifer had the freedom to come home, to America, to this room where I sit, surrounded by women who are now weeping with joy and cheering for Jennifer’s mom for being so brave and for Jennifer for telling her story to this room full of people who know her story is true. Because the same thing happened to them. So they believe her.

I believe her, too.

Jennifer Collins - Accounts of Childhood Abuse

My name is Jennifer Tveter, publically known as Jennifer Collins.

I am speaking to you all who share my frustrations in the current workings of the family court. I know all to well how the family court fails to protect children. I have only begun to publically share my personal experiences within the last year.

I am setting up my own organization CA3 -Children Against Court Appointed Child Abuse

My goals are:

1.) To aspire to be the voice of every child who is a victim of Court Appointed Child Abuse (CA- CA!)

2.) To find a way to hold the family court authorities accountable for their "Failure to Protect" children from abuse.

3.) To make it clear that CA-CA will no longer be tolerated and the 'The CA-CA stops here!'

I would like to invite you to look through this site. Please consider if there is any way that you would write your story and share it with other kids/young adults who are struggling to make sense of the abuse they suffered as children. You can always keep anonymous if you feel more comfortable. This is a summary of what happened to me:

When I was a little girl I was abused by my father. I told my mom that my dad was hurting me. She believed me and told the court. Even though my mother believed me and tried to protect me, I was not listened to by the family court system. The court thought that my mother was over reacting to ‘isolated incidents’ of 'harsh treatment' from my father and not a 'pattern' of child abuse. They suspected that our mom may have an unreasonable fear of our father because of the domestic abuse she suffered from him. The court found domestic violence but the judge said that our mom should get over the abuse.

My mother was accused of PAS, Parental Alienation Syndrome. When my mom stood up to the judge and tried to protect us, he decided to punish her by taking me and my brother away from her and giving us to our father.

On December 22 1992 I didn’t understand what was happening when a car pulled up and a court officer pulled me out of my mother’s arms and handed me to my abusive father. I was kicking and screaming “Mommy Please don’t make me go with him. He hurts me and he hurts my brother. Mommy I want my Mommy.” It was the worst day of my life!

My brother and I were forced to live in abuse for 18 months and 8 days. It was hell. We weren’t allowed to have any contact with our mother for what seamed and eternity. When we were finally allowed to have limited supervised visitation with our mom I told her “He’s still hurting us.” I showed her the bruises and welts on my back and bottom. The visitation supervisor gasped but then scolded me “you are not allowed to talk about those kinds of things anymore.” During another visitation I told my mom about even more abuse. The supervisor threatened us that if we mentioned that my father was hurting us again, we would not be able to see our mother at all.

The family court tried to silence me as a child but my mom had raised us to 'always tell the truth no matter what.' My brother and I secretly wrote messages to our mother when we were at our father’s house. During visitation we would sneak the notes in her pockets. We kept begging our mom to come rescue us.

Our mom finally "kidnapped" us back on June 30th 1994. It was the best day of my life!! While we were on the run, my mom researched the libraries of the local towns we were hiding in. She found the Elizabeth Morgan story, another mother who sent her little girl to New Zealand when the US courts failed to protect her. My mom decided to also try to get us to New Zealand. We spent a lot of time at airports trying to find a way out of the United States. Eventually we snuck out of the United States and we were apprehended in Europe. After 3 long years of living in Dutch refugee centers with other refugees from Bosnia, Iran, Somalia, etc... we were the first Americans to be granted asylum in the Netherlands. We continued to live in secrecy for almost 14 years when we were found by the FBI.

The United States brought criminal charges against our mom for kidnapping and tried to have her extradited. I searched the internet for anyone and everyone to help us. I started an email campaign and sent out over 1000 emails telling our story all over the world. Through the Leadership Council I found Dr. Silberg, a child psychologist who believes kids! She became my mentor and she is a tremendous support. I also found the most help from Marlene. Kaufmann the General Counsel for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission.) and from Congressman Steny Hoyer, the Majority Leader of the United States House of Representatives.

In September 2008 I returned to the United States for the first time since we fled 14 years ago to try to find a way to protect my mom. After all she was in this trouble because she believed me and my brother and she only broke the law trying to protect us when the courts failed. Eventually all kidnapping charges against my mother were dropped and she had to plead guilty to only one count of contempt of court. My mother said "I admit to having contempt for the court which failed to protect my children."

Now the Dutch government has granted our family indefinite asylum and we are safe in Holland. We would like to return home to Massachusetts but the same judge who didn't believe me as a child is still trying to take my 16 year old brother away from the only family he has ever known. We are forced to remain in exile for 2 more years until my brother turns 18.

Now that I am an adult I refuse to be further Silenced. I have decided to expose the injustices to children in the American family courts. I would really appreciate your help if you could come forward and share your story. Together we can demand reform of the family courts and protect young children from the abuse we endured.


Our story can be found in more detail on


Domestic Abusers Given Sole Custody

On February 21, 1992, Rhode Island Family Court's Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah gave this two-year-old to the sole custody and possession of her father despite his history of domestic violence and failure to pay child support. The father, a police officer, brought false charges against his ex-wife, first saying she was a drug addict. (Nineteen random tests proved she was not.) Then he had her arrested for bank fraud, then for sexual abuse, then for kidnapping. None of his charges stuck.

Despite all these false accusations against the mother, she never accused the father of sexually abusing their child, for there was no such evidence. Good parents do not subject their children to the ordeal of an investigation unless the children themselves show signs they are being sexually abused.

The child remained with her father and stepmother until 2003, when she was 14 years old. Having realized during a visit that her mother was not a drug addict, the teenager persuaded another judge to let her live with her mother. There she began working on the painful issues of lifelong coercion and emotional abuse. Most painful has been her father’s continuing refusal to let her visit two dearly loved half-sisters, whom she has not seen since 2003.

She is one of countless children in Rhode Island subjected to severe emotional and physical trauma by Family Court. After she turned 18 in 2007, she gave the Parenting Project permission to publish her picture on behalf of all children who have been held hostage by Rhode Island custody scams.