If You Care About Sexual Assault Survivors, You Should Care About My CPS Case

Help me.

I walked into the courtroom a mother, and I walked out neutered.

Before the hearing, I was playing with my two young daughters and another child. A little girl, who had wandered away from her mother to come play with us. The mom was talking to another adult. This was a familiar dynamic. I’m not the best with adults; I’m awkward, anxious, and defensive. But I’m great with kids. Kids don’t make me nervous. Kids are sparky little humans who, most of the time, just need a little more love, attention, or food. Before the hearing where my daughters would be forever taken away from me, I held their hands and the hands of another child, a stranger’s child, the child of a mother who wasn’t paying attention, and skipped in a circle singing “ring around the rosy.” I colored with them, using the paper and crayons I had stashed away in my bag because I was the mom who always thought ahead. I sang with them. And then I walked into a courtroom and had them taken away by a magistrate who had seen none of that, and who knew nothing about me except that I went to methadone treatment for heroin addiction four years earlier.

I walked into a courtroom a mother, and walked out severed. Permanently disfigured by the worst kind of loss. It was trauma beyond any other trauma I’ve ever experienced. Worse than being strangled to the point of seizure. Worse than being held and beaten in a motel room for days. Worse than being stalked, spit on, bitten, and insulted. Worse than rape. Having my daughters taken from me, and being thrown onto the streets of a state where I knew no one but the people who had abandoned me in this terrible way…was worse than rape. Closing in on a year later, it still is. Every day of my life since April 13, 2018 has been worse than the days I was raped. Every day.

It’s hard-near-impossible to live with, but I’ve gotten used to the empty, poisoned feeling of being robbed of my children; the way someone gets used to, I imagine, the feeling of being amputated. A constant, excruciating pain, a phantom nagging–but one you know. The day it happened, however, I was not used to it. I was terrified. I was lost; literally. The world spun away from me. My PTSD kicked in worse than it ever has, my brain and body aflame in stress. For a few moments, I believed I was dead. I really did. I thought I was still throat-clutched beneath my ex-boyfriend, my life wheezing out of me. I thought I was in a hell of his devising. Because where other than hell could someone who had never harmed her children–who loved them so deeply–have them taken away based on hearsay, accusations, and conjecture? The United States judicial system is not at all judicious.

Having my children rent from me is worse than rape, but it’s also made worse by having been raped. The fact that I am a physical and sexual assault survivor was used against me by the state of Florida to take my kids. They didn’t word it like that. Instead, they cited my traumatic reaction outside of the courtroom. They cited this blog, where I discuss what it’s like to live and parent in the aftermath of abuse. They cited a comment where I wrote about considering whether I was dead; that sense that this world is so obscenely wrong that it couldn’t possibly be real–a comment written after my kids had been taken, I’d been thrown out of my home, my purse had been snatched leaving me with no cash, no card, and no ID, my foot had been run over and I had not eaten in 24 hours. Nobody would think or behave well under those circumstances, but especially not someone with PTSD because of sexual assault.

When I was suddenly homeless, living day-to-day in a motel on the charity of family members who kept telling me they couldn’t afford to keep helping, I was constantly haunted by the fear that I would end up out there on the streets. Alone. At night. Defenseless. Can you imagine how terrifying that is for someone who has been sexually assaulted? For someone who has lived through being grabbed on the street and nearly raped by a stranger? I was thrown into this state of terror, the wounds of my PTSD ripped open–and then my symptoms were used as evidence that I am a bad mother. This is how child services treats sexual assault survivors. I myself was just a child, who everyone failed to protect. I was a child who became an adult under the tattoo of fists. I was failed by this system, and now this system is using the results of that failure against me. Not one instance of child abuse or neglect has been cited, because there are none to cite. My entire case has been based on my lack of money, and symptoms of being a sexual assault survivor.

Am I perfect? No. But my dysfunctions are the result of severe abuse, and of having my agency robbed from me. Continuing those actions are only causing more trauma, more harm, and an exacerbation of my PTSD symptoms. The actions of the state, the guardian ad litem, the judge, and the caseworkers who mishandled my case and denied me agency have harmed me, exacerbated my trauma, and left me worse-off than when this case began. How is bullying an abuse survivor in her children’s best interest?

To make matters worse: the presiding judge was formerly a sexual assault prosecutor. She fought to put men like my ex behind bars. But she has shown me no sympathy. She has treated me like the abuser. Not once has she acknowledged that I am the victim of the people she used to prosecute. She has shown no clemency toward me, nor has she taken into account the love my children have for me or that I have for them. She has switched sides; now she is continuing the harm that was begun by the people she used to prosecute. That hurts. Someone who I would expect to be understanding instead has treated me like I am the monster.

If you care about justice for sexual assault survivors, you should care about my child welfare case.

15 thoughts on “If You Care About Sexual Assault Survivors, You Should Care About My CPS Case

  1. Seriously that judge is being so judgmental (excuse the pun.) Would they take away the kids of a mother living with cancer? I don’t think so. Just because you happen to have a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re an inadequate mother. People are more than their illnesses, geez. I know it’s hard right now but do try to take care in this new year Betty. I’m rooting for you.

    • Thank you Jasmin. I appreciate your support…knowing that someone across the country not only wishes my family the best but also agrees with me is incredibly validating (which I really, really need right now). Thank you.

      • I am constantly horrified by what has happened in this situation! Yes my love I believe you. The system doesn’t serve people with mental health issues. And addiction. OH MY GOD… I remember fighting for custody of Sterling. Me against the entire side of his DAD’s family. Guess what? I made it. How many rehabs ..The last one HOUSE OF UHURU. Nine months in that hell. But I am supposedly a success story. WTF? And survived domestic violence. I left our apartment in Los Angeles with helicopters overhead, a standoff, me against gang members, and we did it. But I had to have an escape plan. After all that I had to do family reunification and get back with him even though I had a restraining order, had gone into hiding…But now I understand court. My female attorney explained to me that I had to leave the domestic violence and everything else out of it. Someday I would love to meet you just so I could give you a hug. You are a powerful woman and strong, loving, and capable. I beleive in you!

  2. Dear Betty, proof is in the pudding! You have to pull yourself up by the boot straps and show this judge and the agency’s that the best interest of your daughters is being with you. I know you are hurt and broken at this point, but try to remember your actions will be what bring your daughters home. Now is not the time to worry about yesterday, but what tomorrow will bring. That means to do any and everything that is requested of you in state or out of state. Many states will do complimentary case management. Try to see if a worker would help you! Good luck and know we are all praying for you and your daughter.

    • Shelly, I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt here and assume that you mean well by this comment. For the future, however, if the phrase “pull yourself up by the boot straps” is included in something you’re saying to a person with a mental illness, addiction, or really any other medical condition out of their control, you’re being cruel and unhelpful. We can’t just will trauma, PTSD, depression, addiction, or any other illness away. It doesn’t work that way. If it did, I would have done it 10 years ago. Nor are child services these benevolent helpers you seem to believe them to be. I have had my case manager changed three times now; I had to dig and search to find out who my latest one was because nobody told me. When I finally discovered her name and contact info, she had next to no information. She seemed nice, but didn’t actually offer me any concrete help getting the case back on track. The services they want me to complete conflict with each other in an impossible way. When I was fully compliant, I was labeled non-compliant, and had my negative drug tests marked as positive because the judge didn’t like the creatinine levels in my urine. She did not take my 16 years of veganism into account nor did she wait to hear any kind of medical expert opinion. My case is being mishandled, many of the decision makers are biased against me despite never having seen me with my kids. You’re implying that this is somehow in my control, but it’s not. I was exercising daily, staying sober, bugging my case manager for referrals, showing up to appointments, and trying to get as much work as possible–but the judge completely ignored all of that and treated me like I was just out getting high and ignoring my referrals. When she did that, she removed any element of hope my case had, showed me that what I do doesn’t actually matter, and removed any element of hope from my case. Please don’t act like this is something I can fix on my own. This system is not just. I need money. If I had money, then maybe I would get my daughters back.

  3. The judicial system in this country is seriously flawed. Most judges have no understanding of what it’s like to live with an invisible disease nor do they care to understand. To them it’s the almighty dollar that makes the decision of the outcome of someone else’s life. Ripping children from a mothers arms because of her past and because of the amount of money she has in her pocket is just wrong. And it pisses me the fuck off.

    • Thank you Steff. The numbers strongly suggest that you are absolutely correct. About 75% of child welfare cases are neglect-related. Very few (less than one-third) involve physical or sexual abuse, compared to the amount that are due to a parent’s inability to keep the power on, or hiring a cheap, underage nanny because she couldn’t afford a licensed, age-appropriate sitter. These are real concerns, but they’re not related to a lack of love or positive intent. They are directly caused by economic problems. Just like my case. How many families could have been preserved if our government had done a little more “throwing money at the problem.:” How many children, like mine, would be left untraumatized if our judges didn’t equate poverty with child abuse? The evidentiary standards are so low for these cases,without juries of our peers to evaluate them (just rich judges), but the punishment far harsher, more overall traumatizing, and father reaching than the average criminal case. And we are all turning our backs and taking a blind eye. Well I say NO MORE. If you care about justice for sexual assault survivors……..you need to care about THIS.

  4. Oh, my – how you distort what happened – how you always blame others – always. You over-dosed on heroin nine times. Your husband was in Florida because of a psychotic break – Broward county – a representative – came on here once and disputed everything you maintaineed.

    Elizabeth – I am sorry for what YOUR life gave you – what you experienced – but with all your still on-going problems – which you identify – how is that good for your kids – and, for instance, why did you move back to Seattle when they were still with your mother-in-law – remember calling her a crone – when I’m sure she didn’t her life to include raising kids? You write – I write – professionally not just for recovery blogs – and guess what – you can write anywhere. So it was better for you in Seattle – not for your kids who couldn’t see you physically anymore.

    Everything you write is “oh, poor me” – guess what again – everyone has problems – everyone – you are not unique. And, now I read your kids have been taken from you forever – yes, that is so sad – but it is not your poverty – look at who you are – for once in your life. You are mired in your past – and guess what – people with your problems do move forward – and think of what these CONTINUOUS problems do to their kids. Do stop feeling forever sorry for yourself – which, is, basically what this is all about.

    • Ehhh…A bit of advice, hun, from this professional writer to you: If you want to lift your writing career beyond snarky pseudo-stalkerish comments on other people’s blogs, you may wish to begin by improving your reading comprehension skills. It’s also a good idea to learn the distinction between fiction and non-fiction (do I remember calling my mother-in-law a crone? I do not; the only post in which that descriptor appears is a work of fiction). Finally–especially if you plan to do any kind of journalism or non-fiction work–you absolutely must acquire the ability to fact-check, rather than relying on whatever assumption feeds into the pre-conceived notion you have on a topic. I can’t imagine the level of narcissism a person must posses in order to hold the ludicrous belief that she has a better understanding of a situation she’s only read about than the people who were actually there. You say I distort what happened; well then why don’t you tell me the undistorted version of what happened, from your clear vantage point behind the computer screen? Or perhaps you can cite that comment from the Broward County employee who disputed everything I’ve written about; not only is that such a clear violation of privacy laws that it amounts to a windfall for me in the form of a lawsuit I will obviously win, it’s also easily proven slander since everything I’ve written regarding my case is backed up by the pile of documents and court transcripts I have in my possession. So PLEASE direct me to this comment so that I may begin the process of suing the county.

      Oh but, ahhh…I see, you have in fact identified the true events of my life that you know so much better than I: Instead of sacrificing amazing housing/rent assistance in my beloved hometown of Seattle to pay full-price on an apartment in Broward just to be near my daughters, I abandoned them for the city I love. And instead of fighting for my daughters tooth and nail, I’ve just randomly let them be taken from me forever, before even the mandatory year has passed.

      Well, anyway, I wish you the best of luck in your writing pursuits. As I mentioned already, I suggest you improve a few basic skills related to reading, understanding creative writing tools, and fact-checking. It’s quite embarrassing when you publish something–especially when it’s something where you attempt at cruelty by displaying your “superiority”–and then it turns out you’re wholly wrong about every single point you’ve made. That type of humiliation can be easily avoided by improving those skills I list up top.

      Best of luck to you.

      • You abandoned your children – why didn’t you get a paying job – anything – to stay near them? It is always you, you, you – forever negating how your children would be impacted by your decisions. Well, now you don’t have them – and your older son is living with your mother – or at least he was.

        Those are the facts – get a job – anything – that has been too much for you. To get yourself out of poverty – and maybe keep your kids. I’m cruel? I absolutely feel so sorry for your children – that’s who is important here – not ALWAYS you, you, you.

          • You won’t answer will you – Why not get a paying job – and exactly why you abandoned your children in Florida. To go back to Seattle!! Gee, and Broward Country was so mean about that! You showed your love by moving back to the other side of the country! Why didn’t you get a job there? All you ever do is blame others – just answer the above questions. They are honest questions. But you won’t, will you.

          • Now you’re getting somewhere! Asking questions. Absolutely what you should have done from the start, but hey–as long as you get there eventually, right? We all learn at different paces, nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately, you’re still not asking the right questions. You need to reach further back as this line of inquiry is still predicated upon an assumption. A really strange and perplexing assumption, honestly. I’m not really sure where you developed all of these assumptions–that’s MY question. Where did you come up with all this bad intel? Did you straight up fabricate it, or what? What happened?

            This is the best answer I can give you–I did not move to Seattle, even though not moving meant sacrificing an incredible housing opportunity that I’ll never get back. I’ve worked relentlessly since the Broward magistrate had me removed from my in-laws’ home, making me homeless in a state where I had no resources or contacts, until I managed to drag myself from the despair of homelessness to get an apartment that’s a short drive from my daughters. Regarding employment, I can’t discuss my awesome upcoming job because it hasn’t been publicly announced yet but I will definitely post it on here when I can! I’m super excited about it!! In the meantime, I’ve continued to work as a professional writer–not just for recovery blogs; I have bylines in Vice, Talk Poverty, Politico Magazine, Filter Magazine and so on–and, yes, my work has picked up more now that I’m not homeless. Still broke, but not more than I would be working minimum wage in this hellhole of conservatism. When you act as though working is enough to get anyone out of poverty, it exposes your privilege. That being said, I’m super excited about my upcoming project!! Fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly, but even if it doesn’t, I have my other contracts.

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