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Mission accomplished: a successful WDC Mothers Day

Don't know if it's my age or what but the six hour jet lag from Hawaii to the east coast just seems to get increasingly harder; I seriously don't know how Senators Akaka and Inouye handled it all those years - especially in their 80s! It's also hard to believe that just a week ago I was in Washington DC for the 2014 Battered Mothers Custody Conference - but let me start from the beginning...

With Senator Mazie Hirono
With Senator Mazie Hirono
Coti Haia

Although the official lobby day was for Monday, May 12th, I did things a little backwards and met with our Hawaii congressional offices on Friday, May 9th. My first stop was at Senator Brian Schatz’s office where my son (whose active in the YMCA’s Youth in Government program) and I met with Legislative Aide, Paige Heckathorn, to explain the national family court crisis for domestic violence survivor moms and their children. It’s never a pleasant tale to tell (always an unavoidably complicated story that flies in the face of common sense, believability and logic) and still a struggle to explain that what appears to be a matter for the state is actually a federal issue.

Next stop was with Senator Mazie Hirono and her Counsel – formerly from the Honolulu’s Prosecutor’s Office – Coti Haia. While already familiar with our issue, Senator Hirono asked if I could provide her with numbers and statistics to prove the assertion that DV survivors are losing custody of their children in Hawaii despite our HRS 571-46(9) statute. This request brought back a painful memory from 2010 when on the last day of the legislative session (then) House Speaker Calvin Say decided to not support a resolution brought forth by DV survivor moms that would have been able to provide this information. The proposed resolution – SCR91 – was asking for an audit of Hawaii child custody cases in a five year timespan to see if and how often HRS 571-46(9) was being applied in domestic violence related family court cases.

One of the many assertions by DV survivors that led to the creation of SCR91 was that HRS 571-46(9) was not being applied or used in DV-related family court cases because the statute purportedly “contradicted judicial ethics” where judges are supposed to treat each party in a case fairly and equitably; HRS 571-46(9) simply spells out what a judge is supposed to do in a DV-related child custody case which removes the “broad judicial discretion” the judges rely on to make their decisions. So one of the claims was that the judges routinely ignored HRS 571-46(9) placing their judicial ethics above the law (and last anyone knew, no one in this country is above the law). This is an outrageous and inflammatory accusation to be sure, but SCR91 would’ve proven how wrong (OR right) this allegation was.

Although House Speaker Say killed SCR91 literally at the very last minute claiming the House was not involved, that was not the truth – aside from then Representative Blake Oshiro, the survivors had gotten the full support of the necessary House representatives to bring SCR91 to the House floor for a vote! Every representative the survivors spoke to (except for the one) pledged to vote in favor of SCR91 if it went for a full vote so the news that it would not be presented to the House floor was devastating - especially for those of us who had spent our entire day literally running from legislative office to office. Then here we are four years later: DV survivors in Hawaii still losing custody of their children to their abusers despite state statute and still no facts and figures to prove what we know to be true… BUT there’s still a chance for a happy ending here because Senator Hirono wanted to know if Hawaii’s involved in the national epidemic I described to her. In order to show that what’s going on in Hawaii is the same as in every other state, SCR91 will need to be resuscitated (so perhaps by this time next year a resolution will be in-place so we can finally get those numbers and stats to her!)

Part of the problem in making something like SCR91 happen is the erroneous presumption that an audit is some kind of vindictive campaign with the goal of getting someone/people “in trouble” and “exposing them” when that’s not it at all! To make the intention better understood, let’s take DV out of it for a minute and take a step back to see a larger picture:

Ever have an encounter with something bad – like a bad movie, a bad haircut, bad food at a restaurant or a bad cold? What do we do when we experience those things? Don’t we complain about our experience then forewarn others so they can avoid what we’ve personally been through?

How about if we experience worse then bad like unfair employment practices, a drinking and driving death or a cancer diagnosis? We have organizations, unions and campaigns to call attention to these ills. Call it common courtesy, human decency or morality but when worse then bad things happen that could hurt the innocent and the unsuspecting we don’t keep it a secret, do we? No - we sound the alarm and broadcast the news to educate the public about those things (like the recent MERS virus) to avoid the worse then bad things from happening to others, right? And who do you think has more authority or credibility about a bad thing: someone whose “been there done that” or someone whose simply repeating what he/she's been told?

Think about MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) organization members – how desperate are they to get the message out that drinking and driving kills? They do all they can to warn the public in order to spare other families the pain and fate that they’ve suffered – would you consider their urgings and warnings a vindictive campaign against liquor storeowners to “get them in trouble”? Does seeking out the facts and figures about DUIs and DUI-related deaths mean they’re trying to “expose” and embarrass the alcohol industry? Of course not!

It’s the same thing for the DV survivors requesting a family court audit – the point is it’s a step towards getting a bad thing to stop and the bad thing is the abusers and child molesters getting custody or unsupervised access to vulnerable children already exposed to abuse. Could someone get ‘in trouble”? Perhaps, but that’s not the point or the goal! Ever hear that expression, “I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy”? THAT’S where DV survivors are coming from and if justice can be served in the process (the survivors getting their children back from their abusers) even better. NONE of this (prevention, education, justice) can be achieved however without getting accurate information first so perhaps by this time next year we’ll have what we need to move forward.

Following Senator Hirono’s appointment, I met with Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa and her Senior Legislative Assistant, Teal Takayama, then headed to Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbards’ office where I met with her Senior Legislative Assistant, Anthony Ching, who was a familiar face because I had met him several years ago when he was working in then Congressman Abercrombie’s office!

After the appointments, I took up an offer from Congresswoman Hanabusa’s office to go on a tour of the Capitol building led by one of her interns (and if you ever get to WDC, I’d highly recommend taking a tour through one of our congressional offices! Wear good walking shoes too because your feet will be tired!)

It was awesome as always to be at the BMCC on Saturday – many “old” faces and sadly, many new ones too. One of the survivor moms shared the tale of The Red Thread that was really appropriate considering the circumstances and issue that brought us all together.

The next day was the bittersweet day of Mothers Day – bitter for the survivor moms waking up alone without their child/ren but sweet for those of us who were able to get out of bed and stand in unity in front of The White House for those moms around the country who could not get out of bed. After a Speak Out and a march around the White House, one of our survivor moms led us in a flash mob dance (You Tube video soon to come!) and I haven’t been able to get the song “Ain’t No Mountain Higher” out of my head since. How could we possibly dance on such a sore day for so many? As one of the survivor moms said

They may have taken our children away but they cannot take away our hope and that’s reason to be happy.

(Then we did another dance to the song “Happy” where other passersby joined in.)

Back in Hawaii, I was dying to know how the Congressional Briefing went on Monday while I was in transit. Barry Goldstein emailed me to let me know that it went very well and the response was positive - such good news leaving me hopeful and Happy!

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