CA3 - A safe place for ‘Children of Abuse’ to find their voice -
My name is Jennifer Collins. When I was a little girl I was abused by my father. When my mother tried to protect my brother and me, my father accused her of “Parental Alienation.” The court found that both of my parents were correct; my mother was right that my father was abusive and my father was right that my mother was keeping us from him. So… the court decided that the current custody agreement wasn’t working and they reversed custody to the very man who was beating us. How do I sanely explain what insanely happened to me? How do I make sense of something that can’t be rationalized? Even now, it seems unreal - except I know what happened to me and the court documents show that this "drama" is really a documentary.
"Happy childhood" - I've wondered a lot about that throughout my life. Does that mean the same thing for everyone? Is a "happy childhood" a break in between beatings or is it never being beaten at all? My father used to beat me and my brother. Just as (or perhaps even more) traumatizing was watching my father beat up my mother. It wasn’t just a quick smack or just one excessively hard blow. He would go on and on for what seemed like an eternity; tormenting her, slapp ing her, yelling at her, punching her, kicking her, pulling her hair, etc… I used to hide in the closet with my brother and it wasn't for a game of "Hide & Seek". We would leave the door open a little bit because I was afraid of the dark. Through the crack, we would watch with horror the savage abuse of our poor, sweet, loving mommy. That memory alone has scarred me for life.
When my father repeatedly slammed my 4 year old brother into a wall and fractured his skull, that is where it all should have ended, but it was only the beginning... Child protection was called by our priest or the doctors. (I still can’t figure out who was the first one to call because that is kept anonymous.) My mother was threatened that if she didn’t leave our father, we would be taken away and she would be charged with “failure to protect.” She did what she was told to do; she fled with us and filed for a temporary Order for Protection which was extended for a year.
As a child I thought what happened up until this point was both of my parents' responsibility. This is a common mistake also made by many professionals and the public who fail to understand the abuser is soley responsible for his actions. Once the court system “took responsibility” for the safety and well being of my brother and me, they must share the blame for failing to protect us since they were completely aware of my father’s abuse. Even though it was my father's fists and his ongoing use of violence against us, he was allowed to hurt us under their "watch." So from this point on, I hold the court 100% responsible for every ounce of terror, trauma and injury we suffered at our father's hands! Although my mother was awarded custody of us, despite my father's well-known and well-documented use of force and violence against us, my father was somehow awarded unsupervised visitation with my brother and me! This is our entry into the “INjustice System” (as I experienced it.) How could this happen? The search into answering that question became the root of my investigation and examination of our family court system, which su bsequently led to the creation of my organization CA3 – Children Against Court Appointed Child Abuse.
My mother was only 22 years-old when she fled from my father’s violence yet she was even willing to return to my father when she came to understand how she had been betrayed by the system that was put in place to protect her and her children. Can you imagine escaping abuse, then coming to the realization that it was safer for your children if you went back to your abuser because you could distract some of the abuse away from them? This young battered woman was overwrought with guilt because we were forced to go alone with our father on visitations which left us facing the brunt of his anger since she was no longer there to protect us from him. My father continued to beat us and threaten our mother that he was going to kill us and himself so she would have to suffer for the rest of her life. This scared the heck out of all of us! Time after time my father would hold his hand or a pillow over20my face and suffocate me until it “all turned black.” Every single time he had me gasping for air I thought I was going to die. Now that I am older I realize how close he came to really killing us.
My father’s abuse continued up until my brother was 9 years-old and I was 7. We would beg our mother not to send us with him. She tried to protect us and let us stay home, but then our father showed up at our home with the police. They would enter our home, search for us and literally pull us out from under our beds where we were trying to hide to find safety - then the police would actually hand us over to the man who was hurting us! Sometimes our mom gave up and would just hand us over to him with tears running down her face, apologizing and trying to explain that she didn’t have any other choice. We were two terrified little kids who couldn't understand WHY our mom, who loved us so much, wouldn’t protect us. Regardless of all the evidence and witnesses to the facts of our abuse, our father filed for a reversal of custody claiming that our fear and unwillingness to go with him was actually caused by our mother's use of “parental alienation” against him. In another step deeper into the injustice system, we were ripped away from our mother and forced to live alone with our father!
Considering the circumstances, you'd think my father would at least try to put on a good show with the court’s oversight, but he continued to severely beat us regardless! The GAL’s "sage" words did little to help us: “Visitation with the mother is to remain supervised as long as the children keep reporting abuse.” Can you believe it? All my father had to do to keep control was to make sure that he kept beating us and he had it writing! This is 100% the fault of the court. I would show up at court supervised visitation with my mother and lift up my shirt to display the welts and bruises on my back and bottom that my father had left on me saying “He’s still hurting us.” Everyone gasped but did nothing. They'd tell me “You are not allowed to talk about those kinds of things anymore.” That is what I call “Court Appointed Child Abuse” - when the legal authorities KNOW that a child is being abused and does not do a thing to protect them. I thought what happened to me and my brother was unique but through research, I learned that thousands of children each year are court ordered into such abuse!
Having survived this nightmare, I’m sure you can understand that I wouldn't wish such a fate on any child. Can you imagine how I felt when I discovered that it's still going on in family court cases all over this country? Mind you, these are DOMESTIC VIOLENCE cases where violence, abuse and trauma were the reasons for the divorce and disintegration of the family in the first place!
Something has to be done! It is up to us grown children of abuse to come forward with our stories of how the system failed us. Then we need to demand change! That is how CA3 “Children Against Court Appointed Child Abuse” was born. Many people, even some politicians, are starting to take notice. Let’s join together to stop the CA-CA!
Please send me your story at CA3CACACA@hotmail.com.
written at age 23
Below, please see my previous letter giving details of our story:
Dear State Coalition for Battered Women,
My mother is a former battered woman who is the first Americanto receive asylum in Europe. My brother and I were abused children who were failed by the American Justice System, but fortunately we also received asylum in the Netherlands.
My name is Jennifer Anne Tveter (Collins.) We are from Hennepin County, Minneapolis Minnesota.
In 1992 custody of my brother (9) and I (7) were reversed to my abusive father because my mother denied visitation. In 1994 she ‘kidnapped’ us back and went underground. We fled the United States and were apprehended in The Netherlands for having inadequate traveling documentation.
After living in refugee camps for 3 years, we were finally granted asylum in 1997. We have been living (in secrecy) in Europe for 13 years. In May 2007 we were discovered by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The American authorities are trying to have our mother extradited back to the United States as a common criminal, but the Dutch government has refused. We are trying to get the charges dismissed so we can return home safely to the United States of America.
Our mother, Holly Ann Tveter (Collins,) date of birth: July 4th 1965, lived a horrible life as a victim of terrible violence: from severe beatings as a child, sexual abuse as a teenage girl and the systematic physical and emotional abuse of being a young, battered wife.
After two decades of being beaten, raped, tortured, demoralized, criticized and even blamed for accepting the violence, she finally got up the courage to leave her abusive life when my father fractured my brother's skull (Zachary was only 4 years old!).
Hennepin County Child Protection threatened my mother that we would be removed from her care and she could face charges of “failure to protect” if she didn’t leave my father. Yet once she left, the case was remanded to Hennepin County Family Court and our young mother (22) was thrown into an outrageous legal battle of ’he said / she said.’
The family court case dragged on for years and during this time, my father continued to beat my mother (in front of us) when he picked us up for court ordered visitation. During the visitation… he beat, punched, kicked, tortured and tormented me (7) and my brother (9.) We would cry and beg our mother not to send us. My father would call the police to enforce visitation and we would be physically dragged out from underneath our beds and given to this man who was hurting us.
Rather than accept that our mother was advocating on behalf of her abused children, she was accused of “Parental Alienation” and interfering with our father’s "Rights of Access.”
There was an abundance of evidence regarding the abuse: visible injuries, medical records, psychological evaluations, police reports, child abuse investigations, witness statements, etc… My father testified on several occasions that he hurt my mother (admittedly in the presence of us children) which required emergency medical care, but that every single incident and injury was an “accident.”
The judge even found that domestic violence occurred, but personally decided that our mother was too traumatized from the abuse to care for her own children. On the record the judge admitted that he personally couldn’t understand my mother’s fear of my father: “I’ve seen them and I’ve seen her in Court. I thought they had just separated and that he had just beat her with a belt and put her in the hospital because she was shaking like a little bird, and then I find out that they had been separated for a number of years, and it wasn’t the behavior of a person that had been separated from a man for a number of years.” He concluded that she must be suffering from a mental illness, although he wasn’t sure what ‘psychiatric affliction’ she had. Every single medical and psychological professional involved in our case denied this! The judge decided that it was easier to monitor my father’s physical abuse than the potential physiological harm from having a “broken” mother and he awarded the known abuser custody of two young children!
The court officers literally ripped me out of my mother’s arms as I was kicking and screaming “MOMMY HELP ME! HE HURTS ME AND HE HURTS MY BROTHER! MOMMY…. I WANT MY MOMMY!” The memories of that dreadful day still bring tears to my eyes. I will be haunted by that moment for the rest of my life! My mother kept fighting for our return and stressed that children should have rights too! The right to be safe! However the judge tried to silence her and a “Gag Order” was issued. My mother was warned that she would not be allowed to see her children as long as she continued to speak out against the court.
A Hennepin County family court worker told us kids that we would not be able to see our mom until we stopped saying that our father was still beating us (which he was.) When we were finally allowed to have (supervised) visitation with our mother, I showed the Hennepin County Visitation Supervisors the bruises on my back and bottom. I told them “He’s still hurting us!” The county supervisor scolded me saying: “You know you are not allowed to talk about those kinds of things anymore!” I was told to cover up immediately or we would be taken out of the room and we would not be allowed to see our mom anymore.
The judge issued a subpoena for our pediatrician to be held in contempt until he apologized to the court for accusing the judge of not protecting us. Even though the Judge claimed that my mother was a ‘danger’ to my big brother and me, he awarded sole custody of our baby brother, Christopher, to my mother in 1994! It is all too strange for words!
After trying every legal possibility to secure our safety, on June 30th 1994 this brave woman “kidnapped” us children right out from underneath her abuser. Please note that we voluntarily went with our mother! It was one of the happiest days of our lives! We went “underground” and eventually fled the United States in 1994. (Apparently the Judge reversed custody of Christopher as well, after we left.) After spending 3 years in various refugee camps our shy, petite, young mom won her case under the High Commission for Refugees and was the first American Citizen granted Asylum in the European Union! (My brothers and I also received our own asylum.)
Although we were always afraid of being caught, we finally found sanctuary and slowly but surely began to heal from the abuse.
Now my brother and I are in University and thriving! Christopher is in High school and doing very well. After 13 years of living in secrecy, we were found in the Netherlands by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation in May 2007. The United States Authorities are trying to extradite my mother back to the United States as a common criminal for federal kidnapping charges. The Dutch government has refused to deport her (and us.)
My mother and I first spoke with an FBI agent several months ago. He was quite sympathetic to our situationand assured us that it was safe for us to return to the States. Now another FBI agent has warned my mother that she is potentially racking up more federal charges against her because she removed us from the United States without proper documentation (and permission) and because we are living outside of the United States boundaries without a valid American passport. The Hennepin County Attorney is determined to prosecute my mother! We inquired with the County but were told that they do not negotiate with felons or terrorists. On top of that the Hennepin County Family Court officials are putting pressure on the district attorney’s office to prosecute my mother to the fullest for two reasons: that she is punished for “kidnapping her children” and used as an “example” to deter other mothers who might be contemplating running with their children as well. My mother was told that she needed to turn herself in and accept her punishment! My mother is a sweet, soft woman. She is terrified of getting ‘in trouble’ and going to jail. She has been mistreated her whole life. It is time for her to have peace!
My brother is 24 and I am 22. We are the “victims!” We want to be heard! We don’t think that our mother should be punished nor silenced any longer. We want to expose the injustice, help rectify the inadequacies of family court and find a way to insure the protection of bruised and beaten and children. First we need to help our own mother who faces criminal charges for protecting us. It is so complicated because there appear to be all sorts of different warrants: Locally for deprivation of parental rights, Federally for Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution, Federally for international federal kidnapping, and who knows what other charges. We want to get all of the charges against our mother dismissed. Surely it is an affirmative defense that she reasonably believed that she was protecting us, when the judge even found in a court order that my father was abusive!
It is quite remarkable that this shy, insecure, defeated, battered, young woman was the first American to receive asylum in Europe! It is embarrassing that our country fails to protect the most vulnerable citizens! Things need to change! We need to make a difference! We would appreciate any advice you may have.
Sincerely, Jennifer & Zachary Tveter (Collins)
written at age 22