More Domestic Violence Shelters Allowing Pets

For years, I’ve been trying to educate people on the link between animal abuse and domestic violence. Not only are animal abusers much more likely to be perpetrators of domestic violence, but more and more women are reporting that their abuser has targeted their pets as a way to control and terrorize them. I personally have witnessed this, both in my own personal life and while working in the Domestic Violence Clinic during law school.

Society’s attitude towards pets is changing, and animals are often considered members of the family. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of options for women who want to leave an abusive relationship but won’t leave their pets behind. Many domestic violence shelters do not allow animals. Because of the strong bond with their pets and the lack of available housing for the animals at the DV shelter, women tend to stay in abusive relationships rather than make the devastating choice of leaving their pets behind to face an unknown and sometimes deadly fate.

Thankfully, the link between domestic violence and animal abuse is beginning to gain national recognition. Domestic violence shelters are slowly starting to allow pets, giving women the opportunity to leave abusive relationships when they may not have had one before. The AP just published an article on this topic. Click here to check it out. It has some great information on just a few of the much needed shelter programs popping up around the nation.


The Dylan Farrow-Woody Allen Saga – Part 2

This is Part 2 of a two-part blog post. In Part 1, I broke down the facts of this case. In case you missed it, after learning of the sexual abuse allegations against him, Woody Allen filed for custody of the adopted and biological children he had with Mia Farrow, including Dylan Farrow, his alleged sexual assault victim. Now, I’ll discuss the decision of the judge in that custody case as well as my own thoughts.

The judge in the custody case addressed all the facts and issued a very thorough 33-page decision. He found that Woody had done nothing more than provide financial support for the children. Woody didn’t know basic details of their everyday lives. He never dressed or bathed them, didn’t know their health history, didn’t know who their doctors are, didn’t even know their pets’ names or which children shared a bedroom. He had even less knowledge of their siblings and repeatedly differentiated between adopted and biological children. When Woody was asked why he should be granted custody, he rambled on for 11 pages worth of transcript and stated that he was a good father and Mia had intentionally turned the children against him.

The judge noted that Woody admitted he never considered the consequences of his relationship with Soon-Yi and that the therapists testified that he still doesn’t understand that what he did was wrong. He isolated her from her own family and disregarded the impact it would have on her, Mia, and the other children. The judge went on to say that Woody’s only response to Dylan’s claims of sexual abuse was to attack her mother without any credible support for his claims. As the judge stated, “his trial strategy has been to separate his children from their brothers and sisters; to turn the children against their mother; to divide adopted children from biological children; to incite the family against their household help; and to set household employees against each other. His self-absorption, his lack of judgment and his commitment to the continuation of his divisive assault, thereby impeding the healing of the injuries that he has already caused, warrant a careful monitoring of his future contact with the children.”

On the other hand, he found that there was no credible evidence to support the claim that Mia coached Dylan or that she wanted revenge for his relationship with Soon-Yi. He believed that Woody’s attempts to classify Mia as a “woman scorned” were an attempt to distract from his “failure to act as a responsible parent and adult.” He was also less certain than the team at Yale-New Haven that Woody did not sexually abuse Dylan. He noted that the team consisted of social workers and a pediatrician, that they destroyed their notes, sanitized their report, never saw the parents interact with the child, found there was no abuse without supporting data, and that they exceeded their role in the observations they made. The judge further stated that while we may never know what happened with Dylan, it’s clear that Woody’s relationship with her was grossly inappropriate and that measures needed to be taken to protect her.

Dylan recently renewed her allegations of sexual abuse. After Woody received a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Golden Globes, she issued an open letter to Hollywood, wondering what they would do if it was their daughter who’d been abused and questioning how the industry can reward and praise someone who has done something so vile.

Woody responded with his own statement, again accusing Mia of coaching Dylan and trying to get back at him for his relationship with Soon-Yi. Although Woody claimed that he had taken and passed a lie detector test, the truth is he refused to submit to one administered by the state police. He instead paid his own expert to conduct the test. Woody also claimed that he had been cleared of these allegations in the 1990s. Again, this isn’t the whole truth. After a thorough investigation, the prosecutor on the case chose not to pursue charges. Although he believed that there was sufficient probable cause to arrest Woody, he felt that Dylan was too fragile and did not want to put her through the stress of the trial, especially after all she’d gone through in the custody case.

All of this brings two questions to mind. First, are these the facts you’ve heard from the media? I know the stories I’ve seen are very different. The media is reporting as if this is old news and they don’t appear to be taking it very seriously. In fact, had I not done my own digging into this case, I never would have known about the scathing decision by the judge in the custody case or that he hadn’t actually been cleared in the past. Why? Why is the media so eager to sweep sexual abuse allegations under the rug? Why does it seem they just want us to forget about it? I understand people are innocent until proven guilty, and no one knows for sure what happened, but I find it disturbing and appalling that we as a society are so quick to dismiss a victim’s claims of sexual abuse. It’s even worse in a case like this where there seems to be evidence supporting the claims. The media is no better, as they’re quick to jump on the “woman scorned” bandwagon.

The second question is, what does this say about Hollywood? The allegations had NO effect on his career. Not only that, but his relationship with his girlfriend’s young adopted daughter had no effect. Actors continue to vie for roles in his movies and celebrate him and his accomplishments. The Lifetime Achievement Award and the speeches and standing ovation that came with it were just gross…there’s no other way to put it. Can you imagine what it must have been like for Dylan, if the accusations are indeed true, to watch an entire industry honor the man that violated her?

Obviously Woody has never been convicted of anything. He has every right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, I don’t think we should all be so quick to judge the victim and praise the abuser (allegedly). We should err on the side of caution when these types of claims are made. And the media needs to report ALL the facts, not just the sensational ones. There are many lessons to be learned from this whole story. But at least now you know the facts and can draw your own conclusions.

The Dylan Farrow-Woody Allen Saga – Part 1

*****Because of the complexity of this story, this will be a two-part blog post. Part one will focus on the facts of the case. Part two will look at the legal decision from the 1990s, the recent renewal of the sexual abuse allegations, and my thoughts on the story.*****

I may be a criminal defense attorney, but I’m just as passionate about victim advocacy, especially victims of domestic and sexual violence. So, the story of Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen caught my attention. I know there are a ton of blog posts out there that discuss the case and I’m kind of late to the game, but I originally didn’t plan on writing about the topic. However, after reading what’s been published, I couldn’t stay silent any longer. The way this was reported, I assumed it was a new incident. The media made it seem as if Dylan is just now reporting alleged sexual molestation some 20 years after it happened. Woody Allen released a statement (which various outlets, including TMZ, carried) acting as if the allegations had been thoroughly investigated 20 years ago and he’d been cleared. It was reported as if Dylan had been coached by a woman scorned, Mia Farrow, who was upset because he left her for her own daughter (and Dylan’s sister). This isn’t exactly the case.

The Relationship

Mia Farrow and Woody Allen had somewhat of a complicated relationship. Mia entered the relationship with three biological children and three adopted children from her first marriage and another child she adopted after the marriage ended. Woody did not have any interest in the children and the two essentially lived separate lives so that Woody would not need to be involved in the children’s lives. Mia later adopted Moses and Dylan but Woody was not involved in the adoptions. A few months after Dylan’s adoption, Woody suddenly became very interested in Dylan and spending time with her. He still was not involved with the other children.

A few years later, Mia became pregnant with their son, Satchel. Although this was Woody’s child, he had no interest in the pregnancy. After the birth, Woody intensified his relationship with Dylan and Mia began expressing concern about his behavior towards her. She voiced concern that Woody looked at Dylan sexually, read to her in his bed while in his underwear, and allowed her to suck on his thumb. Several witnesses testified at the custody trial that Woody focused on Dylan and excluded the other children.

Initial Concern

In the fall of 1990, Mia had Dylan evaluated by a therapist, Dr. Coates. Mia expressed her concerns about Woody’s behavior. Dr. Coates understood the concern and indicated that the relationship was “inappropriately intense.” Dylan began therapy with another doctor, Dr. Schultz. Around that time, Woody adopted Dylan and her brother, Moses.

Although he never had interest in Mia’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi, before, Woody began hanging out with her more in 1990. In 1991, he began speaking with her daily as she was lonely and unhappy at college. In January 1992, Mia discovered six nude pictures of Soon-Yi at Woody’s home. Mia then learned of their sexual relationship. Of course, Mia was extremely angry and hurt and began proceedings to vacate the adoptions. Over the next few months, Mia gave Woody a family picture with skewers through the heart of the children and a knife through her heart, defaced and destroyed pictures of Woody and Soon-Yi, and called Woody a child molester (referring to Soon-Yi). In the summer of 1992, Soon-Yi was fired from her job as a camp counselor for spending an inordinate amount of time on the phone with Woody.

The Allegations

On August 4, 1992, Woody went to Mia’s Connecticut home to visit the children. Mia had previously told her babysitter, Ms. Groteke, that Woody was not to be left alone with the children. For a period of 15-20 minutes Ms. Groteke was unable to find Dylan or Woody. During a different portion of that day, another babysitter observed Woody kneeling in front of Dylan with his head on her lap, facing her body. Dylan was sitting on the couch staring vacantly ahead. Dylan was observed later that day without underwear on under her dress.

The next day, the babysitter told Mia what she had seen. Mia asked Dylan about it, and Dylan confirmed the incident, adding that when she tried to get up Woody reached under her and grabbed her buttocks. Mia videotaped Dylan’s statements because she believed that her concerns about Woody weren’t being taken seriously by the therapists. Mia then called her attorney who told her to take Dylan to the pediatrician. It took a couple visits before Dylan repeated the story. It was also alleged that Woody sexually assaulted her in the attic.

Dr. Coates was notified of the accusation, which he in turn relayed to Woody and the New York City Child Welfare Administration. Woody filed for custody of Dylan and Satchel 7 days later. Dr. Schultz, who was on the payroll of Woody, first told child welfare that Dylan had started to tell her about the abuse but she needed more time to explore the subject with her. However, Dr. Schultz told others that Dylan never told her she was sexually assaulted.

Yale-New Haven Hospital was asked to evaluate Dylan to see if she appeared to be a victim of sexual assault. They concluded that Dylan had not been sexually assaulted. However, this conclusion is questionable, as the 3 people on the panel destroyed their notes prior to drafting their report, the doctor actually issuing the opinion never even spoke with Dylan, and all but one person on the panel refused to testify under oath about their findings.

After he learned of the allegations, Woody filed for full custody of Dylan, Moses, and Satchel. The judge in that case issued a 33-page decision which I will discuss in part 2 of this blog post. For now, you can see how Woody may have groomed Dylan to become his victim. Also, although Soon-Yi would say she was a willing participant, Woody’s relationship with her was inappropriate and his behavior predatory. It’s not surprising, though, that Woody would target two children who had been having behavioral and social problems. This is fairly common in sexual abuse and domestic violence situations. Check out part 2 where I’ll detail the judge’s findings and impressions of both parents as well as address Woody’s treatment by Hollywood and the recent media coverage of the case.

Domestic Violence Laws: PA vs. NJ

During my time at Rutgers School of Law-Camden, I was very active in the Domestic Violence Project and the Domestic Violence Clinic. I provided legal information to victims of domestic violence in Camden County, NJ who were trying to obtain a Final Restraining Order (FRO) and  represented clients in their court hearings. I quickly became used to New Jersey’s DV law and the protections it gave to victims. Having had personal experience with Pennsylvania’s DV system, I already knew that their protections were inferior to NJ. I never realized how inferior until I returned to PA.

I’m going to focus on final orders in this post. In NJ, when a person wants to get protection from somebody who is abusing them, they obtain an FRO. The PA equivalent of this is a Protection From Abuse order, or PFA. Each state has their own statute that specifically addresses what someone needs to prove in order to get one of these court orders. They’re similar but have a couple significant differences.

NJ requires a 3-step assessment. First, the victim and abuser must have one of the following relationships: current or former household members (this includes roommates), spouse or former spouse, dating relationship, or have a child in common. Second, the abuser must have committed at least one of the following offenses: homicide, assault, terroristic threats, kidnapping, criminal restraint, sexual assault, criminal sexual contact, lewdness, false imprisonment, criminal mischief, burglary, criminal trespass, harassment, or stalking. Finally, the victim needs to show an immediate danger of additional abuse.

PA has a fairly similar law. Once again, you have to show one of the following relationships: family or household members, sexual or intimate partners, or have a child in common. The abuser must have committed at least one of the following offenses: inflicting bodily injury, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault, incest, false imprisonment, placing another in fear of bodily injury, physical or sexual abuse of a child, or stalking or harassment which puts the other person in fear of bodily injury.

One of the key differences between the two states’ statutes is that PA requires that the victim be in fear of bodily injury or that the offense involve some element of bodily injury. NJ does not require this. NJ takes it a step further and includes acts which serve no purpose other than to seriously annoy the victim, such as repeatedly sending large amounts of text messages, continuing to contact the person after being told to stop, and using Facebook as a means to harass or intimidate the victim. These all fall under the general category of mental or emotional abuse. PA has a separate statute to try to prevent this type of behavior, but it doesn’t provide the same protection as the domestic violence law. I still remember sitting in court in PA and listening to a woman who had left her husband tell the story of how the man sent her hundreds of text messages despite being told to stop. The judge’s response? “Well, that’s harassment, that’s not domestic violence. Tell me what he did that’s domestic violence.” I think my jaw hit the floor.

It may not seem serious, but the main characteristic of an abusive relationship is control. Repeated contacts like this are often used by the abuser as a means to continue to control the victim even after the relationship has ended. It’s also a way to continue psychological abuse by showing the victim that even though they’ve left the relationship, the abuser will still be in their life. Physical abuse is not the only way an abuser victimizes somebody and PA has failed to recognize this by requiring bodily injury or a threat of it in order to obtain a PFA.

The other main difference between the two laws is the length of time a protection order can last. A PFA is good for a MAXIMUM of 3 years, which means it could theoretically last a shorter amount of time. NJ provides protection under an FRO for life. What this means is even in the most serious cases of abuse, victims and abusers in PA are aware that the PFA will eventually come to an end. The PFA can be extended, but that requires the victim to go through the whole process of telling their story and facing their abuser again which can revictimize her/him. NJ allows the FRO to stay in place until the defendant petitions the court and proves that it’s no longer necessary. In my experience, this seldom happens.

So why doesn’t PA take NJ’s lead and strengthen its DV laws? I had the opportunity to ask a judge who presided over family court and PFA hearings this question, and essentially it comes down to guns. Having a PFA or FRO against you means that you cannot own or possess any type of firearm, including ones used for hunting. The PA legislature and judges are hesitant to grant orders or change laws that would make it more difficult or impossible for a person to have a firearm. According to this judge, the right to bear arms is more important than protecting a victim of domestic violence. Even as a strong believer in the Constitution, I found that assessment disconcerting.

I think PA needs to take note of what its neighbor is doing.   The PA State Legislature should follow NJ’s lead in protecting victims of domestic violence. We all need to realize that physical abuse isn’t the only kind of abuse and expand the law to include those acts meant to control and demean. Only then can victims believe that it’s actually possible to safely leave an abusive relationship and move on with their lives.