Inside A 'Batterers Program' for 'Abused' Women
Women Violating Women
By Nev Moore, iFeminists.com, July 29, 2003
When Hillary Clinton says it takes a "village" to raise a child, does this mean that snooping, nosey, prying and gossipy people will be surrounding all of us -- snoopers who are employees of the state with the power of police?
This woman wonders. I was forced by DSS to attend a "support group" for abused women, against my will. Or else I would never see my daughter again. That is what they told me. I was required to report every week to the Independence House, Hyannis, although it's supposedly for women who seek their help. It's run primarily by volunteers who are not counselors, therapists, or psychologists. They are all former battered women. Yet my DSS "service plan" stated that I had to attend for "treatment."
The meetings were held behind closed doors. I can't possibly express how much I hated and resented being in that room. The women were, in general, obsessive, neurotic, and vengeful. At the beginning of each meeting they went around the room and each woman was supposed to say a "brag" for the week. I did not want to participate in this childish game.
The first week I was there, one woman's "brag for the week" was that she'd had an abortion. Her DSS worker had suggested that she talk about it. Regardless of whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, most people would agree this is a sad, intimate and private act, certainly not a "brag of the week" in a roomful of strangers.
There was a volunteer facilitator and a confidentiality notice was read at the start of each meeting. It said that women did not have to talk if they didn't want to. Whatever you said in the room was strictly confidential and would not leave the room.
It Was Repulsive
I found it repulsive. And yet this is where I was ordered to go for "treatment" to "raise my self-esteem." Some women had been away from their ex's for six to eight years, yet continued to go to the meetings. It was like their victim hood was an all encompassing identity. They were addicted to being a "victim" so people would feel sorry for them.
Many said that although their husbands never actually abused or controlled them, they didn't always agree with them. So that was abusive. Many other women said, "I never knew I was being abused until I came to Independence House." [Hmmm...]
One woman who was not being abused, but I guess was just lonely, would often talk for the entire two hours. She was very loud and aggressive, constantly interrupting others. She told us that she was taking night courses, and her (male) teacher had asked her to stop interrupting and dominating the classroom. She proudly told us that she called him at his home and informed him in no uncertain terms that he had verbally abused her. It was easy to understand why she was lonely. The support group was like a social club for her, where she had a hostage audience.
There were other women who were, as my teenagers say, right off-the-loop. They were so intense and obsessive that they frightened me. Some would rock on the floor and wail, or curl into a fetal position and cry loudly throughout the meeting. One wanted to go to court and get a court order to have her ex sterilized so that he could never have children with another woman. Another (divorced from her ex) wanted to know where his P.O. box was.
The women got all excited, jumping up and down, and yelling out: "Follow him," "Watch him," and "Pay someone to follow him." I believe if men do this it's called "stalking.' I felt like I was trapped in the piranha tank at feeding time. On other nights, the group would be in depression mode, weeping and wailing. I don't mean to sound harsh and unsympathetic, but I did not want to be held hostage in a room listening to other peoples' problems. It was depressing and distasteful. At times when I was bored to the point I thought I was going to start crying, I would take out my wallet and make out my grocery list on a scrap of paper. The facilitator told me that wasn't allowed because I might be taking notes on what the women were saying. This is an accurate insight to the paranoia, negativity, and suspiciousness that pervades Independence House.
I realized that I never heard a facilitator encourage a woman to heal and move on with her life. They encouraged women to stay stuck in the victim mentality. I realized that, if women move on, they would no longer be clients. Each woman is worth many dollars to DSS and to Independence House. The more clients -- the more funding dollars.
Every week I received calls from our DSS supervisor, Larry Vadeboncoeur, chastising me for my "attitude" at the support group. He told me in a meeting at DSS that I would not get my child back until my attitude changed and I "processed my issues" and "did my stuff." What "stuff" was never identified, even after repeated requests from me for clarification. After all, I don't have a degree in psychology, so I don't understand these professional terms, like "client needs to do her stuff."
When I told Mr. Vadeboncoeur what went on in the meetings and that they were terribly depressing and distasteful, he snapped, "That is not what goes on at Independence House!" I didn't "share much" in the meetings because I felt nothing in common with the group. I said that I was forced to be there against my will and they needed to remove the word "Independence" from their title and stop handing out mugs that said: "Independence: the Freedom to make your own choices."
When I couldn't stand the breast-beating victim dance any more, I would offer small pieces of input. My feeling is that, if the guy was that bad, then good riddance to bad rubbish. By sitting in these groups forever, rehashing abuse, real or perceived, a woman keeps the wounds open and allows the man to still have power over her.
Each week I continued to get chastised by the DSS supervisor, Larry Vadeboncoeur, for my poor attitude and "not accepting the message." I was, much later, to read in my DSS file that, if they forced me to attend those meetings, I would "relate to" and "form a bond" with the women there. (Translation: accept the indoctrination and embrace my victimhood.)
It Was 'Confidential'
I began to wonder how what I was saying behind closed doors at a confidential support group in Hyannis was finding its way to a DSS supervisor in an office in Yarmouth. On two occasions I spoke with one of the directors at Independence House, Natalie Dupres. I told her that DSS was using the fact that I did not want to attend her meetings to keep my child from coming home. Ms. Dupres assured me that they never called or spoke to DSS. She said, even with a release from a client, they could only verify attendance and participation. They would "never disclose the content of what is discussed in a support group." She added, "You know what DSS is like," inferring that DSS was making it up. The only problem with this was that DSS was repeating, verbatim, what I actually was saying behind closed doors, including things that I deliberately fed into the group discussion just to see if they made their way back to me. They did. Ms. Dupres was never actually present in the support group meetings, which means that the group facilitators had been instructed to report back what I said in meetings.
The fact that I did not want to be there, and found the meetings boring and repulsive just increased my resentment and antagonism. But, with our child held hostage, I would have done anything that anyone ordered me to do.
Eventually, Independence House decided that they did not want me there informing the other women that they were primarily funded by DSS and that what the women said in the group could be reported back to DSS and used against them. At that point DSS decided that I had "processed my issues" as far as I was going to. So I was released from my enforced obligation to attend. The funding they received because I was attending was not worth having their little secrets exposed.
Our weekly schedule of mandated "tasks" for my husband and me included individual counseling for each of us, "angry man" classes for my husband, parenting classes at Independence House, random urine screens and three AA meetings a week for my husband, a weekly supervised visit at the DSS office, plus court days and meetings at the DSS office.
More Families In DSS . . . More $$ For Everyone Unhealthy relationship between DSS and domestic violence Industry
Two thirds of the funding to Independence House in Hyannis comes from DSS, channeled through the state Department of Public Health, while the other comes from private and corporate donations.
Therefore, Independence House is dependent on DSS for survival, and, therefore, beholden to DSS as the hand that feeds them. They quickly learned from their mentors, who are pros at it, that if you pad your client roster by coercing unwilling clients, you fight your way to a better position on the "funders" food chain.
Last year the Dept. of Public Health cut $350,000 of funding to Independence House due to complaints by women. Senator Henri Rauschenbach got it reinstated. The relationship between DSS and Independence House (and its sister organizations around the state) is unhealthy and symbiotic.
Because DSS has allowed the battered women's "advocates" to trade in their rusty VW buses for new Lexuses (that is literally true for some women who work at Independence House), greed has replaced integrity and an honest desire to help other women. They work together to dramatically increase their client statistics. When the support groups report women's conversations back to DSS, this information is used to charge the mothers with neglect, for "allowing" their children to be exposed to "domestic violence."
In court, DSS claims the women have "poor judgment" when it goes to court to terminate their parental rights. The proof? The fact that the women attended the battered women's center for services -- even though they were ordered to go by DSS. As further "proof" DSS will use the restraining orders that they forced the women to get.
Although I was coerced to attend by DSS, some of the women come voluntarily for help. The battered women's groups basically pimp clients for DSS in return for money. They are patronizing and condescending to their clients (not to mention deceptive). Women are coerced into accepting their cultish indoctrination via the use of threats, intimidation and fear of losing their children. In fact, they employ all the methods and behaviors that are considered abuse and control if committed by the women's husbands or boyfriends.
Independence House and its sister organizations provide DSS with additional clients. The women's groups get more money, and DSS gets more state and federal money. They both are artificially inflating their numbers. They inflate the domestic violence statistics this way and through the use of coerced restraining orders. By artificially inflating the domestic violence statistics they are able to create political hysteria -- leading to more funding.
Women are ordered to leave their husbands, even in the complete absence of real domestic violence or abuse. They are ordered to never let the fathers see their children, or DSS will charge the woman with neglect, again. Women are ordered to leave their homes and to sever contact with their mates. They then discover that, in order to get shelter, housing, food stamps, Medicaid, or cash benefits, they must claim to be victims of domestic violence to get a priority. Women are told they must do this to keep their children or to get them back if DSS already has them. The "Freedom to make your own choices" means the choices they want you to make. The choices that will benefit them financially.
How Did We End Up In DSS?
Government intervention turns to harassment
Thirteen months after my husband drank too much one night and with no problems of any kind after that incident, the social worker, Kathy Marciante, and Sue Ash, the domestic violence "expert," showed up while I was working in my garden in May 1997.
I was very surprised to see them as I had not seen or heard from any DSS social worker in a couple of months, so I didn't even think that we were still involved with DSS. The two women, in deadly serious tones, told me that I had to pack a few things in a bag, and that I and my children would have to go with them to an "undisclosed location."
After the shock wore off, I believe I burst out laughing. I felt as if I had just slipped into a "B" spy movie. The two women would not elaborate on their request, but kept adamantly insisting that I leave my home with them. They informed me that I would not be able to contact anybody or allow anyone to know where I was. I kept asking them why they were here, but I didn't get an answer. They said that if I didn't go with them, they would have to consult with their legal department about removing the children. My 16-year old son told them that they were ludicrous and there was absolutely no reason for them to be there. He also told them that our daughter was very close to us and clingy, and that it would deeply traumatize her to take her away from us and her home.
By this time the little one was home from school. She was very frightened and hid behind me. Eventually, I became angry and ordered them off my property, suggesting that they go down to a well-known crack neighborhood where they were needed.
Our daughter was too frightened to go to school the next day. We sat her down and told her that we loved her and would never, ever allow anyone to take her away. The following day they snatched her from her classroom. It was weeks before we saw her again.
It was four months before we were able to get a hearing before a judge in Barnstable Juvenile Court. We had 29 continuances before our case was heard. It was 13 months before our daughter returned to her home.
A Year of Snooping
It had all started the previous spring after my husband spent a night of drinking with a buddy and assaulted me outside of our home. A passerby called 911 on their car phone. Our children weren't present or involved, one being away on a trip; and the youngest, our seven-year-old daughter, was asleep in her bedroom at the upstairs back of our large, old captain's house. It is the practice of the police now to call DSS whenever they are called to a house where underage children reside.
Neither of us minimized or denied the seriousness of the incident, and we immediately took steps to ensure that this would never happen again. I made it clear to my husband that I would not accept a chaotic lifestyle, and he could not remain in the home if he chose to continue drinking. Of his own accord, he entered counseling and became active in AA. He stopped consorting with drinking friends and has not set foot in a bar since that night. I was clear about what I wanted for myself and quite in charge of my own life.
When the young, ditsy (there truly is no other adjective I can use) social worker from DSS showed up, we allowed her in and were civil. I explained clearly that as two intelligent, mature adults we were quite capable of managing our own lives, marriage, and problems. If I needed help, I knew how to dial 911. For several months she kept pushing me to attend "Independence House." Over and over, I explained in simple language that I did not feel myself to be a battered woman, and I adamantly did not want to go to Independence House.
I am not weak, dependent, nor in need of their services. I was hardly the profile of a dependent, beaten-down, battered woman being controlled by her domineering husband. I explained that my husband didn't control me, didn't control my money, and I was free to come and go as I pleased, have whatever friends I chose, and could say or do what I wished. [She wrote down that I was a textbook case of a battered woman "in denial."]
"Protecting My Abuser"
I explained to her that I had the life of my dreams, was happy and fulfilled, and that, outside of that isolated incident, my husband treated me like a princess. I told her, not that it was any of her business, my husband and I loved each other and were committed to our marriage. [She wrote that I was "protecting my abuser."] She would complain about her ex-husband (not that I had any interest in hearing) and condescendingly say to me, "I know how you feel. My husband was abusive, too." I would look at her like she had two heads and tell her that I never said any such thing. I do not feel that way. When I told her that my husband was very sweet to me and we had a great time together, she gave me a "service plan" on which one of the tasks was to go to Independence House for treatment to help me "lower my denial." [When I told her I was happy and fulfilled in life, she wrote down that I needed treatment to raise my self-esteem. Anyone who knows me will get a good guffaw from that one!]
If I said I didn't want to go to Independence House, she reported that as a sign that my husband was controlling and isolating me. She would tell me that we could meet away from my house where I could speak freely, if I could get away without fear of repercussions. I looked at her like she had three heads. No matter how many times I, or the children, would tell her that we were fine, there was no violence or abuse, we weren't afraid of my husband, and there was no cause for her to be involved with us, it made no difference. She would continue to write down that the whole family was "in denial," and we were protecting my husband out of fear.
I attempted to use logic by pointing out to her that our house is on the main street of a quaint, little historical village, across the street from the court house, the fire station, the sheriff's office, a few doors down from a Senator's office, and surrounded by antique shops and lawyers' offices. There is a thrift shop attached to our house and a realty office. We are highly visible in the community and well liked. No one had ever seen or heard anything amiss. There were no police calls to the house, not so much as a noise complaint. I pointed out that this was not a location where disruption would go unnoticed. It would be impossible to hide. [So she wrote down that there was "ongoing domestic violence."] It was about this time that I began to feel like Alice going down the rabbit hole.
At that time I was unaware that all the considerable funding to "combat domestic violence" was channeled through DSS. To the tune of $13 million a year. The DSS worker brought a "domestic violence expert," Sue Ash, to my home a couple of times. (What are the qualifications to be a "domestic violence expert"?) I reiterated my story, over and over. I felt like I was being subjected to an inquisition, and was down to reciting name, rank, and serial number. They insisted that I meet them for coffee at a diner. [Maybe I'd crack.] The expert also met Tommy and me together. The social worker dropped me and my daughter off at our house. I believed at this point that I had done everything I could possibly do to make DSS happy, without knowing why I should have to do so. My children had never been abused or neglected by any stretch of the imagination, so why was my life being micro-managed by strangers?
Harassment Starts Again
After a few weeks the social worker and supervisor started harassing me again, this time claiming that they had lost their copy of the restraining order and the court couldn't find it in their files either. I had lost all patience at this point and told them that it wasn't my problem and to stop harassing me. They continued to threaten to take the children unless I got another restraining order. Later on, in court hearings and in the DSS case file, they claimed that I had gone into the court building and just pretended to get the restraining order. My husband and I went over to court together to get another one. The judge this time was a village resident, Judge Gerald O'Neil. When we told the judge that we wanted a restraining order against my husband, he quipped that he'd never had a husband and wife come together to get a restraining order.
We said that we were being forced to get it by DSS even though there was no violence in our home, and that neither the children nor I were in fear. Judge O'Neil said that he didn't like DSS dictating to him in his court room, but if not getting the order would put our family at risk with DSS, then he would issue it. We got a restraining order for one year.
But it didn't stop them from taking our children. The fact that I had applied for a restraining order helped them. That's why they wanted it.
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*Nev Moore is President of Justice for Families, a group she founded to help parents who have problems with the DSS. They can be reached at (508) 362-6921 or P.O. Box 141, Barnstable, MA 02630. This article appeared on Shattered Men.