My name is Charlene Kay Terry. I am a survivor of rape and domestic violence. I am also the mother of children born of this violence. My abuser raped me and forcibly impregnated me in his attempts to control and trap me. He knew, by his own admission after he succeeded, that it would be harder for me to leave him if I was pregnant. This is also why I am still, twelve years later, fighting for my safety. My children were also abused by my rapist (I placed my second child, my daughter, in an open adoption to save her but I could not part with my son after bonding with him for over a year.) My son and I were both left with PTSD symptoms due to the severity of the abuse. My son is now eleven years old, that leaves me with seven more years of danger to navigate thanks to the family court system that values my rapist’s rights more than our safety.
The primary challenges in my case are:
1. FINANCIAL: The long term abuse and efforts to protect us have left me financially devastated. Without substantial assets, I am unable to hire a lawyer knowledgeable of the unique issues involved in domestic violence cases. In addition to legal fees, there are court-related costs that are quite expensive. This means that my case is moving slowly, mistakes have been made, and my son remains in danger.
My inability to hire adequate counsel resulted in the retainment of an attorney who turned out to be a drug addict. She went on a four day drug binge during the time that she was supposed to be attending to important tasks on my case. She held most of the work for the last possible moment and then she was admitted to the emergency room for drug abuse (she was hospitalized for six days.) I was able to find another attorney who took pity on my circumstances but the judge denied a continuance for the new attorney to familiarize herself with my case, to prepare for the upcoming trial, and to complete the work left undone by my prior counsel.
2. INADEQUATE JUDICIAL TRAINING IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CASES: Judge William Davis, who heard my case in 2009 and 2010, stated “It is abusive to keep a child from his father.” During the initial stages of the restraining order proceedings, he also stated “You don’t want him to lose his job, do you?” My rapist’s finances and parental rights took higher priority than our safety.
I now have a new judge, Judge James Colaw. He has also given relatively minor issues more weight than the safety of me or my child and he is not familiar with the history or prior testimony in my case. He has stated that he cannot read the transcripts from prior hearings in order to familiarize himself with my case because the transcripts are “hearsay.”
3. WE FLED FOR OUR LIVES: Both my son and I were in fear for our lives when the permanent restraining order and relocation were denied. This has led to our separation, by order of the court. My son is now living with the very people that he reported for abuse. I am facing criminal Indirect Contempt of Court proceedings, which has stagnated the family law matters of protecting my child. My court date is July 17th from 1:30 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. If I go to jail, that is even longer that my son will have to wait before I can try to help him and my new lawyer stated that it will be monumentally harder to get him home safe if I am found guilty.
4. MY SON IS IN THE “TEMPORARY CUSTODY” OF THE PATERNAL GRANDPARENTS: The paternal grandparents are enablers of abuse and are after-the-fact accessories to the crimes. They have raised two abusive sons (who are self-harmers, woman and child abusers, stalkers, and my rapist, possibly the brother as well, has suicidal/homicidal ideations.) The paternal grandparents contributed to the denial of my permanent restraining order through their perjury in court. Not only have they lied in order to protect their family reputation and to keep their abusive son from facing consequences for his actions but they have also advised him to lie to cover up the crimes (advise that he has taken to heart.)
Their “temporary custody” permits them to prevent me from gaining access to evidence as their signatures are now required for the release of confidential information on my son. Essentially, the abusers and enablers of abuse have control over the evidence in this case. They have also been permitted to deny my son a legal voice in the courtroom (by way of a Guardian Ad Litem.) The judge stated that both parties must agree to a GAL, since my son is now eleven years old and hearsay laws would otherwise prevent a GAL from testifying. Due to the serious nature of the abuse, my son has complex PTSD symptoms and cannot be expected to testify on his own behalf, especially while living with the very abusers that he fears. He reported the abuse previously but now that he is forced to live with them he is unlikely to be brave enough to speak in his own defense.
The paternal grandparents have also funded my rapist’s court case against me. They are furious that I reported abuse by members of their family and they will do whatever it takes to hurt me and to silence me and my son.
5. THE TRAUMA OF LIVING IN THE SAME CITY AS MY RAPIST/ABUSER/STALKER AND FACING HIM IN COURT: The rapes, physical and emotional abuse, threats of suicide and homicide, and being held against my will has left me with PTSD symptoms. While I have made progress in recovering, being forced to live where he can locate me and seeing him in judge’s chambers, across a table that is too narrow for my comfort, has brought back many of the symptoms that I thought were gone. The nightmares returned when I returned to this city. I cannot sleep at all when I know that I will be seeing him in court. The prolonged legal process of struggling to achieve safety from my rapist/abuser causes additional trauma and stress.
What would have helped in my case and in similar cases:
1. Stop placing children into the care of the abuser or rapist’s family. Their family has a motive to hide the abuse and to lie to protect their reputations. There should be a presumption against placing children with the family of rapists and abusers, especially when the child has already been a victim of a member of that family.
2. Stop appointing the family of a rapist or abuser to supervise contact between an abused child and the abuser. It is inappropriate for a violent offender’s family to supervise these visits for the same reasons as stated above. It is additionally unacceptable when the offender’s family is asked to supervise contact between the child and the non-offending/protective parent (due to safety issues with the violent offender.)
3. Stop permitting abusers to restrict access to evidence or to prevent the child from having legal representation, regardless of the chronological age of the child. The interests of the abusers are in direct conflict with the interests of the child yet the abuser is given a great deal of power over what evidence is available and whether the child’s needs are addressed in court.
4. Reform family courts, or provide resources, so that destitute victims of violence can have fair representation and access to evidence. Legal aid clinics are often unable to adequately help in these complex and costly cases.
5. Assign violent crimes to the appropriate courts, not to family court. This is not a “family matter,” these are human rights violations and violent crimes that should be treated as such. Domestic violence and rape cases do not belong in family court settings that are designed for reunification and cooperation between non-violent parents. When one parent is dangerous, this creates a hostile environment for the victims of violence and forces them to comply with the demands of the abuser.
6. Abusers should be held accountable for their actions. Most cases of domestic violence and rape are never prosecuted, regardless of the severity of the crime. We need special courts that are designed to handle the unique circumstances behind the power and control of domestic violence; this should not be at the whim of the District Attorney who is looking for easy cases to prosecute.
7. Children should not be used as sanctions against a parent who did not follow court orders. Children are human beings and should be granted full rights but they are treated as pawns in family court. This places the children and adult victims of violence in dangerous situations.
8. Permanent restraining orders, with adequate protections, should be more accessible. The bias and ignorance of judges often leads to the denial of these restraining orders, in spite of evidence of serious abuse. The remedies for judicial failures are limited to appeals. Appeals are time-consuming, costly, and the victims are often left without protection while the appeal is considered. Appeals are also limited in the nature of the judicial failure and are rarely successful. We need faster, comprehensive remedies when safety and lives are on the line. This is essential if we are to give women the freedom to leave their abusers (without the fear that he will hunt her down and kill her and/or the children) and to break the cycle of violence.
9. Statute of limitations need to be adapted to the special circumstances behind domestic violence. Since these cases are about power, control, and victim intimidation (to prevent reporting of the assaults), the Statute of Limitations should not begin until the victim is no longer being intimidated or controlled by the abuser. These cases have much in common with brain-washing, kidnapping, and cults – victims rarely report their circumstances until they feel SAFE to do so. Many victims don't accept the extent of the abuse until they are SAFE because victims of violence find ways to survive that alter their realities (denial is often essential to just get through the day.) We don't tell kidnapping victims that the Statue of Limitations has expired on all of the serious charges and they simply chose to stay. Domestic violence is a long-term struggle that should be treated as a complex and connected incident, not taking the individual incidents of physical and sexual violence out of context of the big picture.
Violence against women and children is not taken seriously in the courts; effective and appropriate measures are not being used to remedy the problems that we face in keeping ourselves and our family safe.
Please review my case. Family court is not helping me or my child so I am reaching out to anyone who cares about the safety of women and children. We escaped this violence with our lives but we need your help to achieve long-term safety and well-being.
Charlene Kay Terry
*I have set these documents to post on a set date so if you are seeing this then it is because I am in jail for protecting myself and my son from our abusers.