From Watch NJ ARSJ's Community-based Participatory Action Research
National Support Needed New Jersey family courts are failing domestic violence victims, their children and perpetrators who are not mandated to standardized batterers intervention programs. Furthermore, the state's most vulnerable citizens are relegated to a broken system of justice, and influential state agencies / advocates have not moved responsibly to address the complexity and seriousness of the problem.
Facing reality, the rates of domestic violence incidences in New Jersey have not moved in a positive direction for its citizens in far too long. This paralysis is due to a lack of full application of the law, ineffective training, uncoordinated services, closed systems of funding, bias against women, and an emerging, bully-ish rhetoric that falsely portrays victims of domestic violence as "opportunistic" and "alienating". All of these further batter victims and place them at greater physical and economic risk.
Who We Are: Watch NJ is a Participatory Action Research (PAR) collaboration between volunteers monitoring domestic violence (restraining / protective order) hearings in Middlesex County, NJ, and other concerned advocates and citizens who have been working against significant odds to end domestic violence in this state and elsewhere. Launched in 2005, the Watch NJ project was created and advanced by the Alliance for Racial and Social Justice as part of its mission to increase public engagement to collaboratively transform systems of oppression and injustice, and to do so in a responsible and sustainable way (through collective reflection and action) across difference.
What Watch NJ Found: In our 9th year of monitoring hearings, we have witnessed and are in the process of reporting major disparities that perpetuate domestic violence in New Jersey. Watch NJ is working to utilize its quantitative and qualitative data registry of domestic violence hearings to galvanize support and influence policies that address more appropriate remedies for families affected by violence. In addition, volunteers involved in court watch participate in ongoing training to continually develop their critical consciousness around power, privilege and oppression.
Dangerous gaps in justice include:
No Standards or criteria for mandating batterers to ethical treatment
High turn-around of family court judges hearing domestic violence cases
No standards or criteria for referring children and families to ethical therapy (mental health professionals trained in domestic and community violence)
No standard or protocol for therapeutic parenting time or visitation for batterers with their children
Lack of accountability loop or compliance when, in rare cases, services are mandated - there is a serious disregard for outcomes after retraining orders are granted
Hearings move too quickly to "clear the dockets", which is a dangerous way to respond to the number of domestic violence cases overwhelming the courts today
People of color are disproportionately relegated to this ineffective and dangerous system of justice
Courts are giving legitimacy to an unethical and debunked "diagnosis" called Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS) or Parent Alienation, which disproportionately labels battered mothers seeking appropriate remedies for their children as malicious toward abusive fathers.
Child protective services and other mental health professionals are not trained in or committed to understanding the intersection of domestic violence and child abuse / neglect.
Language and citizenship challenges are not addressed appropriately by the justice system and other systems of intervention for families affected by violence.
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"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality." - Desmond Tutu