In Memory Of Eric K. Barrow – A Protective Father

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Eric K. Barrow – Rest In Peace

 

“Fighting fires, you can do something about what’s going on, and you’re trained to. There’s always the possibility of bringing something terrible to an end. But the fact that my child was hurt . . . it’s like being handcuffed and made to watch it. ”  -  Eric Barrow

I never got the opportunity to meet Eric Barrow.  He passed away before I had the chance.  A good friend (and fellow child advocate), Eileen King, had the chance to get to know him through her work with The Center For Judicial Excellence and Child Justice.  When I read about Eric’s story through Eileen, I automatically felt a connection to him.  I have no doubt that Prince is up in heaven hanging out with this good man.  I write from the perspective of a protective mother, but I want to share Eric’s story so that we all don’t lose sight that fighting for children should be gender blind.  Sadly, dangerous parents can come in either gender.  Eric is an example of a protective father.

Below is a summary of Eric’s case that was prepared by The Center For Judicial Excellence back in 2008:


Eric and his son’s mother never married, but he willingly gave her child support, bought clothes for his son and visited him often during his first year. When the boy was around one, she began refusing to let Eric visit him, so he was forced to file for custody, since the Maryland courts won’t allow parents to file just for visitation. The court granted him three and four day visits in alternating weeks.

After the boy’s mother married another man, Eric knew that something was wrong. His two-year-old son would cry, kick and scream, and try to run away when Eric returned him to his mother and stepfather’s house. It got so bad that Eric reportedly had to give him candy to get him to go back. A few months later, the boy told Eric, “he keeps beating me, Daddy . . . make him stop.” Eric called Child Protective Services (CPS), but without photos or evidence of bruises or cuts, he was told that he was required to turn the child back over to his mother.

When the boy was about three years old, he disclosed to Eric that his stepfather was molesting him. Eric was dressing his son after a bath, and the boy said, “[Stepfather] kisses my penis, Daddy. I don’t want you to kiss my penis.” This time, CPS agreed to investigate, but they informed the boy’s mother first, and about three days later, Eric was charged by the boy’s mother with child abuse. The investigation found that the molestation claims were substantiated, but they couldn’t determine who the perpetrator was. The boy’s mother made him call his stepfather “Daddy,” which complicated the investigation. CPS and the court ordered the mother to take the boy to therapy, and the boy was eventually sent to live with his grandmother on his mother’s side.

A Guardian Ad Litum was appointed by the court to evaluate the custody situation, but Eric says he “acted more like the mother’s attorney and had an attitude.” The court then placed Eric’s son back into custody with his mother and stepfather. A few months later, the boy disclosed more physical and sexual abuse. Eric let his son tell the police about it, but they called his mother and sent him back with her. Three days later, the police followed up to investigate, but by then, the boy had changed his story. Eric later learned that the boy’s mother had threatened to beat him if he ever told anyone about the abuse.

Eric was forced into court many times to urge the court to enforce its order that the mother find therapy for their son. She eventually complied, but the therapist she found apparently informed the boy’s mother each time he disclosed about his abuse. After each disclosure, he was allegedly beaten by his mother and/or stepfather, and his therapist never reported the disclosures to the authorities, as the law requires. Needless to say, Eric’s son soon stopped talking about the abuse altogether.

Eric was forced into court to get a new therapist appointed to work with his son. After a year and a half, the therapist determined that their seven-year-old son was suicidal, and that he was vulnerable to gang violence, drug abuse and alcoholism. The therapist then blamed Eric for going to court to try to get the boy into appropriate therapy, saying that those court appearances about therapy were a big part of the boy’s problem.

Eric faults the whole system, including the police, who repeatedly placed his son in harm’s way. Eric knows that he “can’t give him back his innocence. I can’t make him see the world the way he saw it before.” Now he sees his son every other weekend, and they have a good relationship, despite their seven-year ordeal in the family court system.


What the above story doesn’t capture is that Eric was an American hero.  On September 11, 2001, when a plane flew into the Pentagon, Eric was one of the firefighters whose unit put out the fire.  A year later, on September 11, 2002, Eric’s his unit was at the Pentagon being honored for their incredible work to putting out the fire at the pentagon.  Eric, however, couldn’t attend the event because he was stuck in family court, feeling helpless, unable to protect his son.In March 2013, Eric passed away from a heart attack.  He died in the arms of his son, now a young man – the same some he fought so hard to protect.

There are many reasons that this story struck me when I read it.  Beyond the obvious bond that I have with this man whom I have never met, his story is another example that no matter what sort of life you lead, Family Court remains senseless and humbling.  Here is a man who showed incredible courage in the face of a terrorist attack that shook our nation to its core, and he so elequently explained how nothing was as terrifying as not being able to protect the very person he loved the most – his son.

Many people involved in Family Court reform often get bogged down in gender wars.  They spend hours upon hours arguing which gender has the advantage when it comes to Family Court.  What I have realized, however, is that there are cases across this nation where you see terrible things happening to parents and families of all kind.  At the core of this movement, however, is what is most important – children.

My fellow warriors –  please stand with me to protect our future – our children.

 

Will the Good Men Please Speak Up?

 

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“She’s the type of girl you need to fuck hard and rape in the woods.”

“Bitches are the craziest creatures”

“Dumb bitches learning their place…”

“Never hit a woman ever…. That being said, let’s formulate an excuse.”

- Quotes from American University’s Epsilon Iota Google Group thread

 

The above quotes were screenshots that were forwarded from American University’s (AU) unrecognized fraternity Epsilon Iota’s (EI) Google Group thread. An anonymous source sent screenshots of disturbing text messages and email threads to American University student media leaders and members of the University’s administration. EI is an unrecognized fraternity at AU in Washington, DC; the group lost its charter after an alleged date rape scandal in 2001. Though they are no longer officially recognized, they continue to operate of the campus of AU.

I write this post as I sit next to my peacefully sleeping, six -month old daughter. American University is nearly a stone throw away from where I am raising her. Reading through these disturbing text messages and emails, I wonder how I would be able to protect my little girl. How will I protect her from a society where groups of people still believe it socially acceptable to call a woman a “bitch”, strike a woman, or excuse the vial act of rape?

What is potentially shocking is that American University is not the only place where you can find this type of den of idiocy. Sadly, as we have seen in the news so often, rape (and this type of degrading behavior toward women) has become the ugly giant elephant that seems to be trouncing all over my beloved country. Americans are quick to point fingers at other countries for the atrocities that are committed against women; however, we often fail to recognize the horrible environments that so many American women face.

A few months ago, I met the Police Chief of a major police department in my area. This meeting was a result of a complaint that I had filed against the department after several police officers in his jurisdiction had mishandled evidence in a rape investigation, which ended up resulting in the arrest of a victim of sexual assault. While the Chief admitted that how his officers handled the evidence in this case “technically violated policy”, he was still unwilling to admit a deeper systemic issue.

This Chief then went on to explain how it was his belief that it is common for women to make false and malicious accusations of sexual assault. Though this statement shocked me, I decided to do my own informal poll of the good men that I know to see if the Chief’s theory held any weight. I thought, ‘If false accusations of sexual assault are so damn common, I must know several men who have been falsely accused of rape.’ Over the course of the next few weeks, I began to have this conversation with several of the men in my family and my close male friends. Overwhelmingly, they all stated that not only had they never been falsely accused of sexual assault, none of them had ever known anyone who had.

What occurred at American University is not a unique situation. In our country, we are suffering from the fact that many of the things these ignorant and barbaric men wrote are prevalent amongst even those in powerful positions. Given the statements of the Chief, it would appear as though he is of the belief that women often lie. He ignored the evidence that rape is often under-reported, and instead believed that women enjoy going around and crying rape.

While reading these quotes made me both angry and afraid, I was also hopeful. These quotes were disturbing, however, they started a conversation. I was hopeful that the voices of these poor excuses for men would be drowned out by the voices of the good men out there. This issue has long been a conversation amongst women. Women’s groups have continued to try and drown out the voices of the misinformed and backward men of our society. It is time that it becomes a conversation amongst the good men as well. This is not a female issue – this is not a male issue – this is a humanity issue.

Many of the good men who read this blog might also find themselves thinking about this issue while sitting next to their little girls. To the good men out there, whom share my sentiment of anger upon reading these quotes, I ask that you let your voice be heard. For your mothers, your sisters, your daughters, and the many women whom you may never get the chance to meet – be loud. Don’t let the voices of these barbarians be the only voices your daughters will hear. It should be the responsibility of all Americans to take back this conversation. Good men should be just as outraged about this behavior (if not more so) than women. Standing back and allowing these messages to strangle our society, however, is the same as standing in agreement.

And for the boys who wrote those nasty messages,  try to consider that moment (likely many years from now) when you will be staring at your reflection through the eyes of your own daughter.  Imagine looking at her face, covered in tears, as she tells you about how she has been sexually assaulted.  I ask that you consider how you might respond, given that you were the same kind of man who has just now harmed an extension of yourself.

 

Some Important Tips To Survive A Custody War

This past weekend, I took Stela for a walk after we went to church.  My church is located relatively close to the courthouse that I describe as ground zero of the Custody War that was fought against Lucifer.  Until recently, I wasn’t even able to drive through that area without breaking down into tears and shaking hysterically due to the painful memories of the things that took place in that courthouse.  This past Sunday, however, I decided it was time to come face to face with some of the memories that I had been avoiding.

As I walked past the courthouse, I noticed that it had almost doubled in size since the custody war.  My stomach twisted in knots as I looked at the millions of dollars of taxpaying dollars that had been pumped into this broken institution.  While I didn’t break into tears, I don’t think I will ever be able to walk past that place without thinking of the pain that I associate with that time.  I know I will never be able to look at Family Court as a place that cares about the protection of children as it should.

As I reflected on this broken system, and Stela sang her made up baby songs in sheer blissful unawareness, I thought about how my thoughts on Family Court have changed since I have had some time and distance from the legal abuse.  In the past year and a half since my son was murdered, I have spoken to many parents who are in the throws of chaos.  They are enduring their own personal hell in Family Court.  Here are some things I have learned, that you won’t hear from your attorney.  These tips won’t help me anymore, but I wish that I had heard them when I was in the trenches.

You are allowed to fire your attorney:  Legal counsel is expensive, and it’s important.  Bad attorneys don’t have angels on their shoulders telling them not to waste your money.  If you find yourself in one of the below situations with your attorney, run out the door as soon as possible and do not look back.

1)  A Jerk:  If your attorney speaks to you like you are a moron, and get’s mad at you when you get emotional – this will only get worse.  While your attorney shouldn’t be your therapist, a good family attorney will understand what is at stake and be experienced in dealing with emotional parents.  You should never feel like you have to apologize to your attorney for crying or being frustrated with the situation.

(Note:  While crying is completely fair during times of great distress, try and save these emotions for your therapist.  You want your attorney to be able to focus on the legal issues, and not your emotions.)

2) Distrustful:  Your attorney is your advocate.  I recently spoke to someone who made the grave mistake of employing the same attorney who represented Lucifer.  She noted that she was confused as to why her attorney was pushing for her to roll over, and allow her ex more unsupervised access when the man hadn’t established himself in the child’s life (by his own choice).  She wondered why iy seemed like her attorney was working for her ex husband. Sometimes when it appears as though your attorney has an agenda that doesn’t jive with your child’s best interest, it is because they do.  Bottom line – if you don’t trust the person, you shouldn’t give them a dime of your money.

3)  Inexperienced:  My first attorney was a disaster.  He was a business attorney who had a previous relationship with my parents.  When I initially realized that I needed an attorney, I didn’t know who to turn to.  Having never been in a situation like this before, I had no idea how specialized law really was.  While this unethical business attorney claimed he knew family law, he entered the courtroom like a five year old who just stepped through the doors of a University.  Sadly, before I realized that he had no clue what he was doing, he had already spent 30 thousand of my hard earned dollars.  Mistakes like this will cost you.  Before choosing an attorney, ask around for recommendations and go see them in action on another case.

Work to be the best version of yourself:  I will be the first to say that going through Family Court can make a sane person feel crazy.  It is an emotional experience that really cannot be compared to anything else.  Many of us feel as though we are being asked to send our children across a battlefield completely unarmed, while we watch him/her try and dodge the land mines in the field.  Just as you would go to the doctor to get a cast if you broke a foot, you must get counseling if you are going through a Custody War.  When you walk into the courtroom, you need to be the best version of yourself.  You need to be as calm and put together as possible, and you need to think clearly.  This is the fight of your life.  Your children need you to be sane for it.

In addition to going to a therapist, find a good friend you can talk to.  Go for walks, go to the gym, and do things that help to relieve stress.  So many people talk about being too busy to take care of themselves.  Realize that you are not helping your children if you are constantly stressed out.  If Mama ain’t happy – ain’t nobody happy.  (Note: this can apply to Dad’s too.)

Work on things you can control:  One of the hardest things for people to do in Family Court is accept that you have a very limited amount of control.  You cannot stop your ex from lying.  You cannot stop him/her from paying professionals to lie for him/her or from channeling their inner actor and crying on cue.  And ultimately, as painful as it is, you cannot control what the courts decide.  You can appeal your butt off and spend your entire life savings, but most people leave Family Court unhappy.  I would never advocate for giving up on your child.  NEVER give up fighting for your child’s best interest.  That said, for the time you have with your child, make it count.  Even if you only get every other weekend to see your children, make that time special and let them know how much you love them.  Enjoy those moments with your child because you really never know when they could be your last.  And even if your children have the long life my son never had the chance to have, you don’t want to look back at their childhood and realize you never enjoyed any moments with them due to the custody war.

I had 15.5 months with my son Prince.  While he spent 99.9 percent of his life with me, it wasn’t enough.  Now that I have to live with the fact that his father chose to end his life, it makes those times when I had to leave him for only three hours much harder to think about.  I can never get more time with my son now, but the memories that I have of him keep me strong.  I am thankful that, even though much of his life was spent in the horror of Family Court, I took the time to make his life wonderful.

Two days before Prince had his first birthday, we were in court.  I was a horrible day, and I left afraid of what would happen to my son.  For hours after the hearing, I felt like I was living in a complete fog that I couldn’t see through.  I was paralyzed with fear.  Even though I had planned a weekend at the beach, we almost didn’t go because I was so upset.

Luckily, my family was able to help me through that hard time.  They forced me to come to the beach to celebrate Prince’s birthday.  This was the last birthday Prince would ever have.  I am so thankful I was able to take him in the sand, and spoil him that weekend.  If I hadn’t gone that weekend, it would have haunted me to this day.

I will never know what it is like to be stuck in Family Court for 18 years.  I can only imagine what that kind of sustained terror can do to a person.  In my short experience, however, I have learned that the best thing you can do is be the rock that your children need.  Don’t let the terror ruin your ability to make your child’s life wonderful.