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Group of La Crosse County moms says courts unfairly favor abusive fathers

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La Crosse County Courthouse and Law Enforcement Center

La Crosse County Courthouse and Law Enforcement Center.

A group of local mothers has sent letters to local officials flagging what they call a pattern of discrimination against survivors of abuse in the La Crosse County Family Court system, saying the court unfairly favors abusive fathers in rulings.

Four mothers in different parts of the county have launched a group to bring light to what they describe as a pattern, writing letters detailing their experiences of having their children forcibly reunited with what they consider an abusive parent.

The county said it is reviewing the complaints, and will collect input from the courts and others mentioned in the letters to better understand the situation.

“While I very much empathize with their situation and the alleged difficulties and indignities they’ve been subjected to, I will want to hear from all sides in this dispute before forming a judgment,” said Monica Kruse, La Crosse County Board chair.

The La Crosse County Family Court commissioner, Elizabeth Wright, did not respond to request for comment from the Tribune.

The group of moms said their own experiences highlight a broader national pattern, that women who speak out on abuse are more likely to lose custody than the fathers who inflicted the abuse, and that they know other local mothers have been treated the same way by the court, but are afraid to speak up.

In the letters, which were sent to the Tribune, La Crosse County Board of Supervisors and other community leaders, the mothers write that the court has specifically downplayed abuse, ignored findings and recommendations from outside professionals, ignored modern trauma-informed procedures, commonly characterized the mothers as “crazy” and manipulative and favored the father in unprofessional ways.

“My daughter was forced to reunify with my abusive ex-husband, and then he sexually groomed and abused her. Recognize the cycles and fix them,” one mother wrote in her testimonial letter.

The moms named themselves in their letters to officials, but those directly quoted in this story requested anonymity to avoid conflicts in ongoing legal battles and further harm to themselves or their children as survivors of abuse.

The other mothers reported the court tried to forcibly reunite their children with fathers who had ignored mental illness or cognitive disabilities in the children, had been sexually, physically and mentally abusive, and neglectful.

All four mothers reported in-depth histories of battles over custody, medical and educational rights over children, and legal and financial battles with their families.

Some of the accounts were able to be verified by the Tribune through legal information provided in the letters.

Often, the women wrote they had received outside professional recommendations and findings from therapists, social workers or other court systems, but those outside opinions were reported to be largely ignored by the La Crosse County Family Court.

The moms were also often painted as manipulating their children to perceive their fathers negatively, according to the letters, the court accusing the mothers of “parentizing,” alienating and coercing children’s testimonials.

Some of the mothers reported being forced to undergo psychological evaluations, in some instances where some results were never shared or were conflicting with outside professional medical findings.

The mothers also wrote that professionals within the court often acted unprofessionally, forming close and unbalanced relationships with fathers.

One mother wrote that a court official dedicated to “reunification therapy,” only met with her children for one hour during a two-year period, but worked closely with the father, saying the official “found him charming and bright.”

“La Crosse County is currently more interested in punishing women and children for speaking up, than in noticing the horrifying behaviors of abusive men,” another mom wrote in her letter.

“So let’s give the abuser his 87th chance at making precious memories with his children because ‘every child needs their father’ as the CAT (custody assessment) team would say. We’ll just sweep all that other ‘stuff’ under the rug and call it good,” she wrote.

The moms are calling on local officials to create change in the court system. In a statement from their organized group, Moms & Kids Surviving Abuse, they said that during a time when society is facing its long history of gender inequity, “we would do well to include women, mothers and children in these considerations.”

“The more survivors are ignored, the more survivors fall further prey to discrimination via legislation, enforcement and judicial proceedings,” the women wrote in the statement.

“If four mothers are willing to risk retribution to reveal our names and stories,” they said in the statement, writing that they found each other through simple word-of-mouth, “there are most certainly more of us, with even fewer resources to speak on behalf of us all.”

“La Crosse County is currently more interested in punishing women and children for speaking up, than in noticing the horrifying behaviors of abusive men.” One mom wrote in her letter

"La Crosse County is currently more interested in punishing women and children for speaking up, than in noticing the horrifying behaviors of abusive men."

One mom wrote in her letter

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