Mother Heros:Claudine Dombrowski

Claudine Dombrowski is an amazing human being.  Her efforts to free her daughter from the cycle of abuse are tireless.  An assumption I made when I read the accounts of mothers was that the recognition within the media would have been enough to alert authorities to act and make provisions for the safety of children.  Generally public scrutiny does make an impact upon the changes of our laws, but not in her or her daughters situation.  
Her Story:


PClaudine Dombrowski Photos of Abuse
As you view these photos keep in mind that the court awarded FULL CUSTODY of their daughter to the "man" who did this to Claudine.

To read Claudine's history that was submitted to the IACHR, click here

If you want to know some of the many reasons women stay in abusive relationships, click here

AFTER THE BIRTH OF HER DAUGHTER, 1994

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AFTER EX-HUSBAND BEAT HER WITH A CROW BAR, 1996

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AFTER EX-HUSBAND RAPED AND BATTERED HER, 2000

 

AFTER EX-HUSBAND HIRED SOMEONE TO ASSAULT HER, 2003

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THE "COFFEE TABLE" IN THE FATHER'S HOME IS A CHILD'S COFFIN.  MOUNTED ON THE WALL ABOVE THE SOFA IS A GUN.

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Claudine Dombrowski - Kansas

6. Claudine was a psychiatric LPN. Now she is disabled and though a cane is medically indicated, she continues to be mobile on her own. The father owns his own business in Topeka. The abuse started when she was four months pregnant when she found out he was married to another woman. The child was already 11 months old before they were married in late 1995. Four months after marrying, the father filed for divorce in March 1996. In May 1996, mother asked for permission to move with the child to another city in Kansas because of the closing of a hospital where she worked. She had obtained employment in the other city and it would help her escape from his unremitting violence. Permission to move was granted. Four days later, father filed to change custody of the child to him.

7. During the course of the litigation, he admitted hitting Claudine and that it was a reason for her to leave the home but claimed it was not the reason she left every time. He admitted he told her to leave, pushed her out of the home, and paid no child support. He admitted to twisting her leg and scratching her face. According to her, he beat her 2 - 3 times a week. He pointed and cocked a shot gun at her while she was feeding the baby. He cut up her military uniform. He beat her when the baby dirtied the house. She was kicked out, locked out and would leave 3-4 times a week to escape the violence. Often she was gone for 2-3 weeks to maintain her safety and that of the child. Though she had a perfectly valid reason to leave and was in fact protecting the child, court personnel later used that to claim she would hide the child and therefore he should have custody.

8. In one incident, he hit her in the head so severely she required 14 internal stitches and 14 external stitches. When the court questioned the parties about this on the stand, the judge was far more worried about where it happened and who was telling the truth than the admitted and verifiable fact that he did hit her in the head with an object that left that much damage. Whether he hit her in the head with a big stick in his driveway or he hit her in the head with a tire iron in her apartment – he hit her in the head resulting in severe injury. The judge however lectured both parties about lying. See Exhibit 1 for photos of the petitioner after beatings by the child’s father.

9. While the father admitted the abuse, he claimed it was mutual combat. However not only did she have a protection order against him, but the man has eight criminal convictions - three convictions for domestic violence against her, a conviction for a bar fight, a conviction for assaulting a police officer, a conviction for obstruction of justice, one for possession of marijuana and one for driving under the influence. Pursuant to his various convictions, he was ordered to attend alcohol treatment – he didn’t. He was ordered to a psychiatric evaluation – he didn’t go. He was ordered to anger management classes but was asked to leave because of his inappropriate behavior. Domestic violence professionals know that anger management is not a suggested treatment modality for domestic violence perpetrators.

10. Court personnel not only were blind to the violence, they were completely ignorant of safety issues for the mother and child. Dr. Bernie Nobo, a licensed social worker, testified that it was a volatile situation. He actually had to stop the father from assaulting the mother in a meeting. Still he said there was no danger to the child but suggested she might hide to protect herself. In fact, that would be a very sensible thing to do. He diagnosed her as primarily depressed and the father as adjustment disorder with mixed emotional features (depression or anxiety). Not only is depression a reasonable response to the situation, but as a social worker, he is not qualified to make such diagnosis. Nobo did say her parenting was fine and he recommended supervised visitation to father.

11. The court services officer knew of the domestic violence and in fact listed it as the biggest concern. But rather than deal with the perpetrator, she suggested that the child should be put into foster care – thereby punishing the child who would lose a perfectly good loving and protective mother and would punish the mother for being a victim of abuse. The officer claimed the mother was a risk to run though she admitted she had never had any trouble contacting her. The officer was more concerned that the father have access to the child than the safety of the child or the mother.

12. Kansas statutes require joint custody unless there is a reason for sole and the GAL recommended custody to father because he lived near the court while mother had moved out of town (with the court’s permission) and he wanted to keep this child near the other three step-children from other marriages of the father. The GAL never talked to the mother or child, to the day care or the child’s physician nor did he do a home study. The GAL said the violence was so far fetched he didn’t believe it though he only knew of one conviction for DUI and never talked to the battered women’s shelter. Astonishingly, the GAL recommended the mother go to anger management classes.

13. On April 17, 1997 during a settlement conference, the mother was stunned by her own attorney suggesting she agree to a joint custody arrangement with a man she knew to be extremely dangerous. Her lawyer and the judge threatened the mother that he would grant sole custody to the father because allegedly she would not work together with him. This of course completely discounts the impossibility of working with a man as violent as this perpetrator. Though admitting that the violence lessened when she moved away, the judge said he would give shared custody only if she moved back to Topeka where the father lived and where the violence occurred. Forcing her to resettle in Topeka near the perpetrator, a routine practice of family courts, is the state forcing her directly into danger. It is a violation of the fundamental rights of life, safety and to be free from torture and other maltreatment. Essentially the court required the mother to give up her right to life and safety for custody of child. She did. Only to lose custody as well. She agreed to the settlement only to change attorneys and file a motion to set aside four days later.

14. In 1998, the child's doctor reported the child had very poor hygiene when staying with father. The day care provider reported a change in her behavior after being with the father. She became either withdrawn or aggressive. A nurse requested an investigation of psychological abuse because of his treatment of the child.

15. On 31 July 2000, without any motion from either party and without a hearing, the judge simply issued an order that the mother had to relocate to Topeka if she wanted any possibility of obtaining custody. She did so but then in August, the judge ordered the child to remain with the father. In December 2000, supervised visitation was ordered for mother because she had allegedly returned the child late to the fathers over Christmas. They suspended all contact for several months and then she was allowed two hours a week supervised. The bizarre behavior of the courts was evident from as early as 1998 when they granted a divorce twice as evidenced by their own records – April 17 and October 28, 1998.

16. At the time of this filing, the mother had supervised visits once a week after having had no contact for 10 months based on an ex parte order without an evidentiary hearing issued 3 February 2004. At time of this filing, the mother had last seen the child on 15 April 2007 for one hour.

17. Over these 11 years of litigation, the judge was changed several times. One judge limited each side to five witnesses at trial and then continued to call them liars when they could not prove what they had said or disprove what the other had said because they were prohibited from calling witnesses. While the judge chastised the father for game playing in the court, he then berated the mother for not coming to agreement with the father. He could see how unreasonable the father was and the judge was not subject to violence from the man but yet he blamed the mother for not reaching an agreement. He said any child in this situation would grow up damaged but then blamed the mother rather than the father who was the one committing the violence. The judged focused on the mother’s move to escape the violence rather than the harm of the violence itself. The court excluded evidence of his extensive criminal record, medical records and other records of violence. In addition to mother, other witnesses knew of the violence and that the child witnessed it. But still the court saw no danger to the child.

18. In spite of an order of protection against the father and his eight criminal convictions, three against her, one judge said it was mutual violence and besides she provoked it. He said there was no evidence that the father mistreated the children and ordered joint custody and both parties to anger management. She was ordered not to call law enforcement about the father without getting permission of the case manager. In other words, he could assault her freely and she was not allowed to even call the police. She was told to stop gathering evidence against the father. In March 2005, she was ordered not to file any more motions in the court without permission from the case manager – she had filed a motion to remove that case manager. In other words, she was even denied access to the court.

19. The complete failure of the court to protect the victim continued after father received custody. When she complained that the father forced her to have sex if she wanted to see the child, the case manager said that it was just part of co-parenting so deal with it.

20. She appealed twice to the Supreme Court of Kansas. In the appeal, she alleged not just for herself but that the policies and procedures of the Kansas courts denied the right to a full and fair hearing, denied equal protection and due process, and violated fundamental rights. She first filed in 1997, the appellate court affirmed the lower court in 1998 and the Supreme Court rejected review in 1999. She appealed again in 1999 and again the appellate court affirmed the lower court in 2000.

21. In July 2002, mother again regained unsupervised visitation.

22. On 25 August 2003, Claudine was attacked with a hammer and her arm broken by Kathleen Sales. Sales later admitted she was paid by the father who assured her no charges would be filed. They weren’t.

23. On 3 February 2004, false allegations were made against mother that she sought to have harm done to the father. The mother objected to the order and asked for an evidentiary hearing. The request was never even heard. By March 2005, mother had only supervised visitation that has remained to this day.

24. In March 2002, Dr. Dale did an evaluation for unsupervised visits with mother and recommendation for therapy. The evaluation cost $5,000 and father admitted violence and the mother was found not to be any danger to the father or child. She was however ordered to shut down her web site that she had constructed. On the website she expressed her opinion and her facts about the case and the danger the child was being put into by the court. In a second order later, she was ordered to remove the child’s photo from another website. After this evaluation, she had unsupervised visitation from May 2002 until 3 February 2004.

25. Repeatedly when father files motions, they are heard with negative consequences for mother and child based on the flimsiest of evidence or none at all. But when mother files motions, they are never even heard. A home study ordered into the father’s home in February 2006 was never done. On 14 April 2006, the court held a conference in chambers and refused to allow the mother to attend. The court changed the orders from a home study of father to a study of mother to assess her risk to the child. The evaluation found no risk and was positive for mother. Still supervised visitation was not changed.

26. In a hearing on 10 April 2007, the mother has asked yet again that the child be protected from abuse and at least she have unsupervised visitation. Again the court refused. The child spoke out in 2003 and three CPS reports have been filed but in all three, they claimed that the mother coached the child who is now 12 and certainly
able to speak for herself and punished both mother and child by restricting visitation time further. The lesson is clear – don’t report abuse.

Her Story was submitted as part of a petition to the human rights commission:
Published on May 11, 2007 
IACHR Press Release.
 


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PRESS RELEASE
May 11, 2007

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Irene Weiser
actnow ^t stopfamilyviolence.org 
607-539-6856


MOTHERS FILE INTERNATIONAL COMPLAINT AGAINST UNITED STATES

Mother’s day complaint claims United States courts violate human rights of abused women and children.

NEW YORK, On May 11, just before Mother’s Day weekend, ten mothers, one victimized child, now an adult, leading national and state organizations filed a complaint against the United States with the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. The case claims that U.S. courts, by frequently awarding child custody to abusers and child molesters, has failed to protect the life, liberties, security and other human rights of abused mothers and their children.

“For more than 30 years U.S. judges have given custody or unsupervised visitation of children to abusers and molesters putting the children directly at risk,” says Dianne Post, an international attorney who authored the petition.  “These horrendous human rights violations have been brought to the attention of family court systems, and state and federal governments, to no avail. We turn now to international courts to protect the rights and safety of US children.”

The complaint details several cases with documented medical evidence of child sexual abuse, yet in each instance the father who was accused of abuse was given full custody of the children.  Several of the mothers were jailed by the courts because of their persistent efforts to protect their children from abuse, several were ordered not to speak of the abuse and not to report abuse to authorities.  Every mother was denied contact with her child for some period of time though none was ever proven to have harmed them.

"My life was completely shattered apart on that day and my childhood was destroyed," said Jeff Hoverson, the adult child petitioner, about the day a family court judge ordered sheriff deputies to deliver him into the custody of his abuser. "It was as if I was just kidnapped. I was torn from everything I knew....I was made into a possession rather than a child."  Hoverson endured years of trauma and fear living in his father's home before escaping and returning to his mother at age 17.  He is haunted by years of feeling helpless to prevent his father's night-time visits to his sisters’ bedrooms.

 “The cases in this petition represent the proverbial tip of the iceberg,” says Irene Weiser, executive director of the online organization  Stop Family Violence.  “We are contacted by an average of three protective mothers each week who have lost custody to fathers accused of child abuse - in many cases with supporting medical evidence. This is a nationwide crisis of enormous proportion.”

“The lives of thousands of children and mothers have been irreparably harmed by family courts across our nation,” says Joyanna Silberg, Ph.D., executive vice-president of The Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence, another national organizations supporting the petition. “The years of trauma and psychological abuse because of the courts’ failings result in lasting emotional damage to the children they are supposed to protect.”

Studies of gender bias in the courts, conducted in the 1980’s and 90’s, found disturbing trends of courts minimizing or excusing men’s violence against women, and favoring the abusers.  In 1990 the United States Congress passed a resolution recommending the prohibition of giving joint or sole custody to abusers.  Seventeen years later, the practice continues unabated.  Ten years ago today, leading national organizations were joined by  members of Congress in a protest in Washington D.C. to again raise awareness about the problems in family courts.  Today, petitioners say, the problem is systemic and widespread in family law courts across the nation.

The petition seeks a finding from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that the U.S. has violated the Declaration of the Rights and Responsibilities of Man and the Charter of the Organization of American States and a statement of the steps that the U.S. must take to comply with its human rights obligations in regards to battered women and children in child custody cases.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was created in 1959 and is expressly authorized to examine allegations of human rights violations by members of the Organization of American States, which include the United States. It also carries out on-site visits to observe the general human rights situations in all 35 member states of the Organization of American States and to investigate specific allegations of violations of Inter-American human rights treaties. Its charge is to promote the observance and the defense of human rights in the Americas.

Dianne Post, a 1980 graduate of the University of Wisconsin law school, has worked on issues of gender based violence since 1976.  In addition to private practice and legal aid, she has taught legal classes and been a consultant working or living in Russia, Cambodia, Hungary and some dozen other countries. She is currently in Vladivostok, Russia.

In addition to The Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence, other national organizations supporting the international lawsuit include: National Organization for Women and the NOW Foundation, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Justice For Children, National Family Court Watch Project, Legal Momentum, Family Violence Prevention Fund, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, Domestic Violence Report, Sidran Traumatic Stress Institute, and the National Center on Sexual and Domestic Violence. The petition is supported by many state organizations as well.

In December 2005, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition against the United States with the Inter American Commission on Human Rights for their failure to protect Jessica Gonzales’ three children from their abusive father, who murdered them.  Their petition, the first of its kind, asserted that domestic violence victims have the right to be protected by the state from the violent acts of their abusers.


For additional information contact:
Irene Weiser
Stop Family Violence
actnow ^t stopfamilyviolence.org 
607-539-6856

View the petition at http://www.StopFamilyViolence.org/468

Claudine's Advocacy for women and children forced to live in fear by court order:

Her first public appearence began in 1998:



Her next appearance is on her as an advocate for victims commenting on poor sentencing:


Claudine advocating for better sentencing at Shawny Courthouse:

The Results:


Claudine made her own video to inform young women of todays consequences when deciding to have children:



Insult to injury
The media advocacy only shows a snippet view of the work that Claudine has done over the years for the community of women and children.   Advocacy is a difficult job in itself which takes pure love and commitment to maintain the power needed to empower each individual as part of that social change.  Anyone dealing with closed institutions such as mental health, nursing homes, child protection and immigration would understand how the confidentiality practices can sometimes be more harmful than protective and often the integral appearance of its function can block whistleblowers from measures that would remedy internal corruption.  
Last year, Claudine lost her mother and had to seek permission from the court for her daughter to attend the funeral.  A rare moment where the last time that three generations of women would be together was a moment that any grieving family would capture and share with family and friends who were not able to make it.  Claudine made a memorial video that contained a precious moment of their reuniting and saying goodbye to her mother and her daughters grandmother. 

Since putting it up online, Claudine has received legal communication to take it down or face jail, due to the fact that it contains her daughter in the video.  The court has over time demanded many things from Claudine over the years that I doubt the judges themselves would comply if it was the other way around.  Whilst we expect family courts to invade our personal space in many ways in pursuing of information related to custody, there are boundaries.  These boundaries are enshrined in human rights; right to privacy, free speech, freedom of belief and to live free from torture - including psychological.  Have you ever asked a doctor to take a medication he/she prescribes?  Would a judge take down a memorial video of his or her mother if it was illegal without a challenge?  I know my readers well and confident in your intellect, that indeed you know this answer without hesitation.  Her case is coming up very soon and she needs your help.  If this court gets away with jailing Claudine, we have another mother silenced that our children of tomorrow cannot afford.    I urge you to write to your local politician outlining your concerns and copy this post to circulate this far and wide.  If you are in another country, you can do some of the following:
Inform your local media
Send this to your local affairs department and compel them to act.
Write to your local human rights organization.
 Share this with as many people, so that this court does not commit this in silence.
Add a comment to this post and share your concerns.

Your human rights counts on standing for others too.

1 comment:

Claudine Dombrowski said...

Thank you!!

Jail date is solidly set April 6th, 2009 at 1:30pm in Shawnee Count Courthouse. Judge David Debenham, Topeka, Kansas


-Claudine Dombrowski
(with love from OZ to OZ-)

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