National Crime Victim Awareness Week 2012

Court Related Abuse and Harassment

by Andrea Vollans

What does National Crime Victim Awareness Week mean? There are countless women who spend so much time being victimized by the legal system itself, sometimes I feel like we need Crime Victim Awareness Year. In fact I cringe a little when I hear “if a woman leaves her abusive husband or boyfriend, it will all be better.” As the Legal Educator for the YWCA Metro Vancouver, I spend about 80% of my time helping women cope with post-separation abuse which often takes the form of court-related abuse and harassment.

How do you describe Court Related Abuse and Harassment (CRAH)? In short, it is a legally sanctioned series of abusive actions; when is the systems designed to protect victims of violence are manipulated to become tools to abuse and harassment. As sociologist Jane Gordon, who went through years of court related abuse and harassment by her ex-husband says, “The psychological effect of this took its toll; the whole experience was devastating. Requests for appropriate restraints within the legal system were denied. I felt that there was no protection anywhere in the system for my interests or for those of my children; instead, judges informed me again and again that they would not interfere with my former husband’s access to the judicial system

The slow movement of the court process is something abusers often take advantage of. For example, I’ve had women spend hours sitting through unnecessary proceedings, sift through hundreds of pages of affidavits, or having to respond to false accusations. She misses work, she pays for a lawyer, she has to take trips to Legal Aid and various other appointments to ensure that court can happen. It’s the use of court itself to abuse. I can’t count the number of guys who have used cross examination of her on the stand as a way to badger her, to ask who she’s dating, to accuse her of lying or harming the child, or to try to bully her into withdraw previous statements of abuse in the courts.

Needless to say, the process can be incredibly financially draining. I’ve helped many women who have drained all the resources they were able to take from the relationship to spend on further litigation. Abusers capitalize by using the long process of court to avoid paying any kind of child and spousal support for as long as possible, to starve her into accepting smaller settlements or simply to punish her. For women on income assistance, the avoidance and sudden payments of child support cause havoc to her monthly cheques and severely affect the wellbeing of herself and her children. For some women, an abusive ex-partner’s sudden payment of child support sparks fear of another return to court because he only pays his child support when he’s going back to court to avoid being cautioned by the Judge.

Andrea with leaflets_1

Andrea Vollans, Legal Educator, YWCA Vancouver

The manipulation does not stop here. Often abusive ex-partners manufacture evidence to undermine his own abusive actions. For example, using wounds caused from a woman defending herself to allege abuse, or in some cases, creating injuries to allege abuse. By accusing the woman of being abusive too, the Judge might just assume they are both to blame and ignore the violence altogether.

Court related abuse and harassment is also the misuse of state resources like police, child protection workers and even income assistance. Abusers will lodge false complaints against women causing her to be watched and scrutinized – and in some cases, wrongfully charged. This can result is the devastative action of removing children being separated from their mothers and put into foster care or given to the abuser. It can also cause her to lose income assistance, which in many cases, is their only form of income. One abuser filed so many complaints with MCFD they had to make a special application to stop investigating his allegations, but to get to this point required a lot of intensive interviews and the child was pulled out of class many times to be interviewed. The school cast suspicion over the mom because MCFD wouldn’t come that many times unless there were real problems. Obviously, this can have a significant negative consequence for both the mother and her children.

Of course this leads to another abusers tactic, isolation. Abusers of this type are very difficult because they may threaten and harass those that support her, I’ve had complaints made against me, my colleagues have been threatened with lawsuits and many lawyers have quit because of abusers’ complaints to the Law Society.

Sometimes when I talk to my friends about how bad these abusers can be, they call me paranoid or they call me crazy. But you never know how far a guy will go to use the systems to abuse her or harass her. These guys will do whatever it takes to have their revenge or to continue to control. Why are we, through our courts and government systems, allowing women to be further victimized?

Because of my experiences with victims who are working through court-related abuse and harassment, I wrote a report through the UBC Centre for Women and Gender Studies in the Summer of 2010, Court-Related Abuse and Harassment – Leaving an abuser can be harder than staying.