Gynecology Medical News

A new survey of court cases against battered women living abroad shows that when the women left their abusive partners and returned with their children to the United States, half of the time, U.S. courts sent the children back, usually to their fathers.

The survey, co-authored by a University of Washington researcher, also shows that almost a third of these estranged husbands filed criminal kidnapping charges against their wives.

Released in time for Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, the survey is intended to help to establish domestic violence as a factor in whether courts send children back to their fathers. And the authors of the report hope their website serves as a resource for women and lawyers faced with Hague petitions.

The children's return is in accordance with an international treaty, the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which affects thousands of children each year.

The Hague Convention does not explicitly factor in domestic violence in deciding whether to send children back to the country where they lived. But since the treaty was created 30 years ago, social science research has demonstrated that a child's exposure to domestic violence is just as harmful as direct abuse. Children who witness domestic violence are at higher risk for emotional problems, and later in life, they have a greater risk for violence in adult interpersonal relationships.

Now social scientists say that it's time for the law to catch up with science, especially as these cases are likely to dramatically increase as more binational families form and countries such as India and Japan consider adopting the treaty in the next few years.

"The law is not paying attention to the effects domestic violence have on women and their children," said Taryn Lindhorst, co-author of the report and a UW associate professor of social work. "This is like a tip of an iceberg: we've only seen some of the cases."

Lindhorst, an expert in the effects of domestic abuse for women, co-authored the report. The report is the first effort in the United States to interview mothers and attorneys about their experiences with the Hague Convention, in hopes of better preparing mothers and their lawyers for court proceedings in these cases.

The 404-page report, funded and published by the U.S. National Institute of Justice, includes analysis and excerpts of interviews with 22 mothers and 23 lawyers who represented mothers and fathers in Hague lawsuits and an analysis of court decisions on previous Hague cases involving domestic violence.

Most of the mothers had been living with their husbands in Europe, the Middle East or Latin America. They had moved abroad when their marriages were more stable or they had been tricked into moving.

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Gynecology Medical News

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