Column

Shockome Syndrome

By Michael McCormick and Glenn Sacks

The feminist movement is worried about the fatherhood movement. The California National Organization for Women recently issued a 95-page report called Disorder in the Courts: Mothers and Their Allies Take on the Family Law System, in which they warn "the fathers’ rights movement has been gaining strength and legitimacy. Fatherhood groups are well-funded, well-organized and publicly supported through conservative mouthpieces in the media." In the report, many prominent figures in the Feminist Family Law Movement (FFLM) call for a "mothers’ rights movement" to block the rising fatherhood movement.

The National Organization for Women attacked divorced dads in a resolution at its national conference in July. This spring several branches of NOW, including New York and Michigan, issued Action Alerts against moderate legislative attempts to help dads remain a part of their children’s lives after divorce or separation.

One of the fatherhood movement’s primary goals is to get family courts and family law to properly address the issue of parental alienation. Parental alienation occurs when one parent, usually the custodial parent, has turned his or her children against the other parent, destroying the loving bonds the children and the target parent once enjoyed.

The fatherhood movement has had some modest success in creating awareness of parental alienation, both in the courtroom and in the media. Now the FFLM is hitting back hard. NOW’s July resolution denounced Parental Alienation Syndrome as a "defense strategy for batterers and sexual predators that purports to explain a child’s estrangement from one parent, or explains away allegations against the estranged parent of abuse/sex abuse of child, by blaming the protective parent." According to NOW, the employment of this "unethical, unconstitutional, and dangerous" tactic is so common as to constitute "epidemic levels of abuse and dysfunction in our court system."

California NOW’s report attacks the fatherhood movement and relentlessly assails PAS. CANOW Executive Director Helen Grieco calls PAS a "scam," and says, "As activists we must continue to expose the true agenda of the Fathers’ Rights movement. We must eradicate the gender bias…that is rampant in our family courts." The annual Battered Mothers Custody Conference, which will be held January 12-14 in Albany, New York, espouses similar views.

Newsweek magazine, in a recent article called "Fighting Over the Kids: Why Parents Who Batter Win Custody," claims that "many parents nationwide…have lost custody due to a controversial concept known as parental alienation…Parental alienation is now the leading defense for parents accused of abuse in custody cases, according to domestic-violence advocates. And it’s working."

Parental alienation was the leading topic at a recent Dallas, Texas domestic violence conference sponsored by the Dallas County District Attorney and numerous domestic violence groups. The Dallas Morning News reports that parental alienation is "an increasingly common defense in child-custody battles [which] is raising concerns among those who work with victims of domestic violence…Advocates of domestic violence victims say a growing number of batterers are using the tactic in court to gain custody of their children." Recent lopsided articles in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Contra Costa Times, theProvidence Journal and many others have expressed similar sentiments.

Last October PBS aired Breaking the Silence: Children’s Stories on affiliates across the country. The film pointed to an alleged epidemic of loving, protective mothers losing custody of their children to abusive, molesting fathers after the fathers claimed parental alienation.

These claims are at best huge exaggerations. Judges still take charges of domestic violence and child sexual abuse very seriously, often far more seriously than the claims themselves merit. The judiciary’s standard operating procedure is to "err on the side of caution," even though this "caution" separates many children from the fathers they love and need. Claims of parental alienation are acted upon slowly. Most fathers who are targets of false accusations and parental alienation can only protect their relationships with their children by financing large legal battles. These battles often cost several hundred thousand dollars and take several years to prosecute.

The case of Rogerson v. Tessaro, in which a Hamilton, Ontario, Canada father fought for five years to have a relationship with his twin five-year-old boys in the face of their mother’s alienation attempts, provides a good example. In that case the mother apparently became enraged after the father, whom she’d separated from while pregnant, asked for a paternity test. The father was denied access to the boys for most of their lives, and had to fight the case all the way up to the Ontario Court of Appeal. The Court’s decision to actually act upon the mother’s parental alienation was such an event that it gained widespread media attention. According to the Ottawa Citizen, the Court asserted that the mother had sabotaged her children’s relationship with their father, writing:

"[The mother’s] persistent ‘troublesome conduct’ against the children’s best interests included unilaterally restricting the father to daytime visits and failing to inform him about the children’s medications, or to give him their prescription drugs, so that they would return home from visits with him sicker than when they left…" (emphasis added).

"The appeal court was also critical of the mother’s unilateral decision — without warning, just before the custody case went to trial — to uproot the boys from their school and community to move to another town further away from their father. ‘Moreover, the mother said that if the father moved to her new town, she would move again,’ the Court of Appeal noted."

The mother placed her two five-year-old boys in medical danger, psychologically abused them, psychologically abused their father, and repeatedly defied court orders. Did she go to jail for her child abuse? Was she forced to pay her ex-husband several hundred thousand dollars for his legal fees and the emotional distress she intentionally inflicted on him? Was she sanctioned for her contempt of court?

Not at all.

Though the mother and her allies complained bitterly, according to the Ottawa Citizen, her sole "punishment" was "by court order, the boys now reside with their father, but live with their mother most weekends and see her for mid-week evening visits." The court’s only sanction against the mother for abusing her children was to grant her the same limited custody rights which fit, loving divorced dads get as a matter of course.

In fact, the courts treat mothers with such kid gloves, and mothers are so unafraid of real court sanctions, that even after the court decision the mother continued her alienation attempts. According to the Hamilton Spectator:

"The mother maintains the boys remain deeply insecure and upset 10 months after the court ordered them to leave her home and live with their father.

"‘The other day, on Tuesday, [one of the boys] was crying and saying, ‘Don’t give up mommy. Don’t, don’t give up mommy,’ [the mother] said, imitating the young child’s plaintive cry.

"Justice Cheryl Lafreniere observed that the mother seemed unable to comprehend that she, by her behavior, might well be causing her children’s reaction.

"The mother rejected that notion in a recent interview.

"‘These children have their own minds and they know where they want to be. It has nothing to do with me."

The mother’s actions and rhetoric are standard for parental alienators. The alienating mother (or in some cases, an alienating father) insists that her children are in dire straits with their father, though she provides no real evidence for her claims. She assures the children and the public that she’s doing everything she can to liberate them, struggling against desperate odds in a system she says is stacked against her–a shtick which plays very well in the media.

When the little children repeat the words and sentiments mom put into their mouths, mom stands back and pretends that she had nothing to do with it–the children are "independent thinkers." This pretense is particularly ludicrous in this case, as the twin boys are only five years old. How would they "independently" get a fully-formed image of their dad–who they were rarely allowed to see anyway–as a monster?

The hell that alienating parents visit on their children was eloquently described by Michelle Martin, an adult child of divorce, on the CBS Early Show in September. Martin, who as a child was alienated from her father by her mother, told CBS that during her childhood she "couldn’t love [her] mom and dad at the same time." She explained:

"I felt bad…It shocked me how quickly and dramatically I changed my opinion of [my father]. I would have nothing to do with him…He hadn’t done anything to hurt me. And so, when I was asked for details [why she was so angry], I didn’t have them…I still, to this day, have to live with the mean things I said to him. The letters that I wrote to him. There are things I did purposely to hurt him."

The FFLM insists that false accusers and parental alienators are inventions of the fatherhood movement, and asserts that judges need more "training" so they can better recognize the veracity of women’s abuse claims when no conventional evidence is presented. FFLM luminary Lundy Bancroft, author of When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse, has written extensively on how courts should identify batterers in this manner. Bancroft, a leading voice in PBS’s Breaking the Silence, penned an article called "Making a Mothers’ Movement" for the California NOW report. He explains:

"Batterers are known for often being unusually appealing superficially, and sexual abusers are similarly often people who are identified as especially ‘good with children’…They may be professionally successful or socially popular, and may be involved in charitable or civic activities that make them appear outstandingly kind and responsible. Victims of both kinds of abuse face disbelief because ‘he’s just not the type.’"

In fact, Bancroft explains, dad often treats the child he sexually abuses very well, and as his favorite child.

Newsweek explains:

"Family-court judges often look favorably on the alleged abuser because he seems more willing to share custody than the accuser–who is hell-bent on keeping the father away from the child."

No doubt there are abusive or molesting fathers who are skilled manipulators, just as there are abusive, deceitful or alienating mothers who are skilled manipulators. But the FFLM’s underlying strategy is to put any man accused of abuse in a hopeless double bind. If he’s angry, foulmouthed, or lacking in self-control, judges are supposed to say, "Yes, look at him, obviously an abusive man who’s unable to control himself." Yet if a man is calm, reasonable and accommodating, according to the FFLM, judges are also supposed to see him as abusive. Heads mom wins, tails dad loses.

Similarly, a dad might attempt to defend himself against a false accusation of sexual abuse by demonstrating how well he treats his daughter and how close they are. According to the FFLM, these facts mean he’s a molester employing what Bancroft and the FFLM might call the "daddy’s girl" defense.

(We normally avoid making analogies to fascism or communism, but this "demonize the best and it’s easy to nail the rest" FFLM strategy is reminiscent of that of the tactics of Joseph Stalin, who is well-remembered as a mass murderer but is rather underappreciated as one of history’s great manipulators. During the 1930s Stalin was consolidating political control of the Soviet Union in large part by creating a false emergency of alleged "wreckers," "saboteurs," and spies who were destroying the USSR’s fragile, newly collectivized economy. Stalin explained that these wreckers usually were the most dedicated and conscientious workers and Communist Party members. When such workers were caught and exposed [i.e., framed and jailed], Stalin often went to great lengths to show the public how betrayed and hurt he felt. They had seemed to be such good comrades, but you can’t trust anybody these days. So if a worker is indolent or insubordinate, he’s easily labeled an enemy. If a worker is hard working and self-sacrificing, he’s easily labeled an enemy, too.)

The FFLM’s central tenet is that when allegations of domestic violence or child sexual abuse are made by a mother in family court, the judge must take drastic, immediate action based on the woman’s word and the woman’s word alone. Judges who question women’s claims and demand evidence, and who value protecting fathers’ relationships with their children, are recklessly endangering women and children.

For example, the FFLM often cites a 2004 Massachusetts survey conducted by Harvard’s Jay Silverman as evidence that family courts are betraying women. Newsweek recently explained that in Silverman’s study "54 percent of custody cases involving documented spousal abuse were decided in favor of the alleged batterers. Parental alienation was used as an argument in nearly every case." What the FFLM and Newsweek don’t or won’t see is that Silverman’s "batterers" who won joint or sole custody were never found to be batterers by any court. The fathers are "batterers" because and only because the mothers who sought to exclude them from their children’s lives say they are.

No doubt that some of those in the FFLM mean well and believe they’re protecting victimized women and children. The problem is that many of them have never met an alienating mother for whose line they did not fall hook, line and sinker. The FFLM has successfully taken its case to the public via the media by emphasizing what they call "Custody-Visitation Scandal Cases." Attorney Barry Goldstein of Justice for Children explains:

"Custody-Visitation Scandal Cases are endangering women and children across the country. Custody-Visitation Scandal Cases include most of the following criteria: Allegations of domestic violence; Gender bias; Extreme outcomes giving custody to batterer and restricted visitation to protective mother; Failure to take domestic violence seriously; Use of discredited Parental Alienation Syndrome; Use of common abuser legal tactics…"

The FFLM’s current Custody-Visitation Scandal cause celebre is Genia Shockome, a New York mother who in 2003 lost custody of her two children, now ages 11 and 9, to her ex-husband, Tim Shockome. Genia claims that Tim had abused her during their marriage, which ended in 2000. She has drawn support from officials from many branches of the National Organization for Women, as well as from Justice for Children, the Battered Mothers’ Custody Conference, Stop Family Violence, and much of the feminist blogosphere.

Shockome’s case gained national attention when she was jailed for 30 days for contempt of court by Poughkeepsie Family Court judge Damian Amodeo in May, 2005. The New York Postreported that Genia, a seven months pregnant "Mother of the Year," was sent "to prison over Mother’s Day," and portrayed Shockome as a heroic mother resisting a tyrannical judge. The FFLM, including many feminist bloggers, organized a petition drive to free Genia and to get Amodeo removed from the New York State Matrimonial Commission.

Shockome was recently featured in Newsweek magazine, which claimed:

"It took six years for Genia Shockome to gather the courage to leave her husband, Tim. He pushed her, kicked her and insulted her almost from the moment they married in 1994, she says. She tried to start over with their children when the family moved from Texas to Poughkeepsie, N.Y. It didn’t last long. Tim called her constantly at work and, after they split up, pounded on her door and screamed obscenities…The judge sided with Tim. This summer he was granted full custody of the kids, now 11 and 9. Genia was barred from contacting them."

On a superficial level, Genia appears to be an excellent poster child for the types of injustices the FFLM highlights. A closer look at the Shockome case, however, reveals as many problems with the FFLM’s characterization of it as one could take the time to name.

The entire premise of the Genia Shockome story hinges on the notion that Tim battered Genia prior to 2000 and, in repeatedly violating court orders to allow her children access to their father, she was acting to protect them. However, Genia’s allegations of domestic violence and child sexual abuse have never been substantiated in any court proceeding, nor supported by any witnesses. Writing with admirable restraint, Judge Amodeo, whose decisions in the case have been repeatedly upheld by higher courts, noted:

"In [Genia’s] August 2000 complaint in the divorce action, no mention is made of the domestic violence which Genia later asserted. She claimed that she was unaware that she was the victim of domestic violence; however, such a lack of awareness would not have made her unable to recount historical facts, especially if the severity and frequency of the abuse she alleged were true. Why didn’t she mention the abuse earlier in the case?"

There were three independent custody evaluations in the case, none of which found anything negative of substance against Tim Shockome. The first one called him a good parent, and the other two went as far as to recommend he get custody because of his parenting and because of Genia’s relentless attempts to drive him out of his children’s lives.

The most recent of these evaluators, Dr. Meg Sussman, has a feminist background and worked for Pace University’s Battered Women’s Justice Center. Sussman, who specializes in domestic violence and child abuse cases, recommended that Genia have only supervised visitation until she could accept the children’s father’s role in their lives.

In two in camera (in chambers) interviews conducted with the Shockome children on May 27, 2003 and January 22, 2004, neither child recalled any physical altercations between their parents, despite Genia’s claims that her children had witnessed Tim’s alleged violence against her. Moreover, neither child expressed any fear of Tim.

Genia’s only support for her contention that she had previously been battered came from the FFLM domestic violence advocates who testified in her trial. Yet none of these "experts" had ever spoken with Tim Shockome, and had no evidence of Tim’s abuse except for Genia’s assertions.

In trying to deny the children their father, Genia also made the obligatory child sexual abuse allegation. Tim consistently and adamantly denied this accusation, and Child Protective Services investigated these claims and concluded they were unfounded.

Two of Genia’s own witnesses testified that, in hundreds of visits made to Tim’s home, they never observed any inappropriate or sexually provocative conduct on the part of the children. Dr. Sussman concluded that Tim had not sexually abused the children, and noted that the children did not display any symptoms consistent with children who have been sexually abused. Ina Berg, the children’s therapist, did not observe any sexualized behavior in the children. The children themselves did not speak of any inappropriate behavior exhibited by the father. Genia alone professed to see the children’s behavior as indicative of sexual abuse, and none of the neutral experts in the case supported her interpretation.

Genia’s "evidence" of her husband’s sexual abuse of her children was that Tim ran the back of his fingers on the backs, arms, and legs of the children. However, during the trial, Linda Meeker, the nurse-teacher at the children’s school, testified that Genia herself had admitted that she also had engaged in the same innocuous method of massaging the children.

The mother’s side also alleges that Timothy harassed and threatened Genia through excessive phone calls and letters, and that Timothy was observed banging on Genia’s door while shouting expletives at her. An alleged witness to the door incident, Rebecca Watson, was supposed to testify on the mother’s behalf and confirm Timothy’s alleged violent outburst; however, Watson inexplicably failed to appear in court on two separate occasions to corroborate this incident. The Court noted in its findings:

"While it is acknowledged that the number of telephone calls made by father to the mother may have been outwardly excessive, these calls were not unjustified in light of the mother’s persistent refusal to abide by the terms of the Court order with respect to the father’s right of telephone contact with the children…[the calls] were not made with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm the mother, but were a direct and logical consequence of the mother’s lack of compliance with specific Court directives…Even if the father engaged in some rude conduct, that does not rise to the level of a family offense, particularly when viewed in the context of his frustration with the mother’s longstanding interference with his contact and involvement with the children."

Newsweek pictured Genia holding up a large drawing apparently drawn by her children, and explained:

"Parents like Genia keep fighting. ‘It’s so hard, having my children lost,’ she says, her voice breaking. ‘This was my life–my children.’"

What Newsweek ignores, though it’s right there in the court records, is that it is Genia who refuses to visit her own children, despite ample opportunities to do so. When asked during the trial why she had not visited her children, Genia claimed that she could not afford to pay the supervised visitation program’s fees. These programs were originally available to her free of charge, and later cost all of $25. At the same time, Genia had just purchased a new television set for her home.

In the type of exchange typical of Genia’s behavior throughout the case, Genia then claimed that she hadn’t paid for the television set–it was her boyfriend who bought it. However, the boyfriend, Aja Butler, later testified that he had no knowledge of how the TV set was purchased.

Genia refused to visit her children for two long periods prior to the May, 2004 decision, including the period which included her daughter’s birthday in November of 2003 and also Christmas of 2003. At one point, Genia refused to visit her own children for a stretch of nine weeks. The law guardian–another neutral party–said that Genia had explained that she didn’t visit her kids as part of her "strategy" in the case. Genia Shockome claims her children are "her life," but apparently they weren’t even as important as a new TV set or a custody "strategy."

Nor did Genia’s professed concern for her children lead to a desire to provide for them financially–she failed to make court-ordered child support payments until it was involuntarily deducted from her pay.

Genia and her FFLM allies attempt to portray her as a weak, na?ve Russian immigrant. However, Genia earned a college degree in Mathematics at an American university, had a very high grade point average, and works a well-paid technical job at IBM.

Genia’s supporters have touted her as "Mother of the Year," but this deceptive "award" has nothing to do with Genia’s parenting skills. As the New York Post explained, Genia was "named mother of the year by two victim-advocacy groups in 2003 after battling in court with her husband."

The FFLM portrayed Judge Amodeo as a bully for jailing Genia for contempt in May of 2005; however, the transcript of the hearing shows that Genia interrupted Amodeo on over 50 separate occasions. Amodeo bent over backwards to accommodate Genia, and only held her in contempt after countless warnings. Genia appealed Amodeo’s holding of contempt but a four judge panel of the New York Supreme Court unanimously upheld Amodeo’s decision.

Genia and her supporters, including Goldstein, contend that Genia has been the victim of "gender bias" and a judge with a grudge. This explanation fails to account for the fact that Amodeo’s decision was based on the opinions of many neutral experts, both male and female, some of them with feminist backgrounds. The ample legal help Genia has been provided by domestic violence organizations allowed her to appeal the case, and apparently all of the justices on the New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division are also biased against Genia, because they unanimously rejected her appeal in June. The court wrote:

"We discern no basis, on this record, to interfere with the Family Court’s findings, inter alia, that the mother lacked credibility…or that the opinions of her [domestic violence] experts were of little value, since none of them had ever spoken with the father…The Family Court concluded, among other things, that the mother’s animosity toward the father and her attempts to undermine the children’s relationships with him were harmful to the children and rendered her the less fit parent…Exercising our independent review, we find that the Family Court’s determination is supported by a sound and substantial basis in the record."

In fact, though Genia’s bankruptcy case had nothing whatsoever to do with her family law matter, she even managed to annoy the bankruptcy judge, Cecelia G. Morris. Morris–no surprise–noted numerous contradictions in Shockome’s statements, and decried Genia’s "refusal to accept any order or ruling that is in conflict with her demands."

Genia Shockome’s supporters expected Judge Amodeo–who was presented with no evidence of any violence against Genia beyond her own statements–to simply take her word for it, and allow her to destroy the bonds between the Shockome children and their father. Genia claims that a video filmed at the visitation center which shows her kids jumping up and down on a couch actually shows them masturbating–an interpretation which no other participant in the court proceedings shared. To this day Genia accuses Tim of all of the following: being a pedophile who got sexually aroused by changing his daughter’s dirty diapers; sexually abusing his children; masturbating in front of his children; taking his children to a sexual store; having a ferocious sexual appetite for women; having a ferocious homosexual appetite for men; being an abusive father who "beat the kids very often, 2-3 times a day" when Genia and Tim lived together; being a wife-beater; secretly beating his former wife who had a secret miscarriage; beating Genia so she almost had a miscarriage; intimidating five of Genia’s witnesses; insurance fraud, identity theft; immigration fraud; defrauding the federal government of $60,000; stealing; embezzlement; extortion; bankruptcy fraud; almost driving over Genia’s neighbor’s little son; and of violating a protection order over one million times. To say that Genia Shockome lacks credibility is like saying Attila the Hun had bad table manners–what judge in his right mind would take this woman’s word for anything?

While Genia Shockome is today’s cause celebre, there have been several other "Custody-Visitation Scandal Cases" over the past couple years in which the FFLM has claimed that protective, loving mothers have had their children taken away and given to abusive and/or molesting fathers. The most known of these are the Bridget Marks and Sadia Loeliger cases.

Bridget Marks lost custody of her twin four-year-old daughters to her ex-boyfriend in 2004 after she claimed that he had molested the girls. Marks successfully took her side of the story to the public via appearances on Larry King Live, PrimeTime Live, The O’Reilly Factor, Dr. Phil and others, as well as through sympathetic "news" articles in the New York Post and the New York Daily News. The record, however, demonstrates that Family Court Judge Arlene Goldberg made the correct decision in the Marks case.

Marks alleged that John Aylsworth, her ex-boyfriend, had sexually abused both daughters during a supervised visitation. In upholding Goldberg’s findings, two state Appellate Division, First Department judges, David Friedman and Peter Tom, explained:

"[The trial court’s] finding–for which there is ample support in the record–[is] that the mother coached the girls to make false accusations that their father sexually abused them. The Law Guardian and the neutral expert witnesses who testified in this case–the psychiatrist appointed by the court as the independent forensic evaluator, two certified social workers retained by the Law Guardian, and two social workers who supervised the father’s visitations during the tendency of the proceedings–all take the view that the accusations are false, and that the children were coached to make them. Even the expert witnesses called by the mother seem to have recognized that the accusations were made in a manner consistent with coaching."

John Aylsworth, the ex-boyfriend, never sought custody until Marks made the explosive allegations, and it is inconceivable that without the accusations Marks would have lost custody of her children. She would have had her girls, the court-ordered $4,200 a month tax-free in child support, and all parental authority over the twins. The only obligation required of her was a reasonable and appropriate one–to allow her girls to visit their father and have a relationship with him. Yet the court found that Marks had so much "unbridled anger" towards Aylsworth that she did not and could not allow this relationship, and was thus incapable of acting in the best interests of her children.

While Aylsworth has been vilified by Marks in the media, his four adult children all gave the court glowing reports of him as a father, and, according to Goldberg, "All persons who have seen him interact with the twins testified that he is a very good parent and that the twins love him and are happy with him."

Marks appealed the case, and the state Appellate Division, First Department, in what it described as a "close" call, did transfer custody back to Marks because it felt she could give the children more personal care and attention than Aylsworth, a casino mogul, would be able to. Pro-mother gender bias also drove the Appellate Court’s decision. Nevertheless, all four Appellate justices concluded that Marks had in fact coached her then four-year-old twin girls to believe that they had been sexually molested by their father.

Sadia Loeliger was one of the heroes of PBS’s Breaking the Silence: Children’s Stories. The film’s producers portrayed her as a heroic mom who had lost custody of her daughter due to her ex-husband’s family court machinations. In reality, Sadia Loeliger’s loss of custody had nothing to do with her ex-husband–a California Juvenile Court had concluded that she had committed multiple acts of child abuse. The court moved to protect Sadia’s then eight-year-old daughter Fatima by declaring her a dependent of the Juvenile Court and placing her with her father, physician Scott Loeliger, against whom there has never been any finding of wrongdoing.

Documented evidence of Sadia’s violence and abuse abounds. Doris Nava Arellano, Sadia’s babysitter for 18 months, testified against her, noting in a court affidavit that "every child in the house is afraid" of Sadia. Arellano asserts that Sara, Sadia’s then 15-year-old niece who was living with Sadia, "actually has scars on the back of her legs and on the left side of her head from Ms. Loeliger’s attacks on her."

Sara penned a desperate letter to her father in Africa, detailing the abuse she suffered at Sadia’s hands, writing, "She hits in front of anyone anywhere with anything. I fear for my life sometimes. Just recently she hit me in the head."

A child abuse investigator for Tehama County, California wrote that Fatima, then age eight, "says she is afraid to go home because she fears being hit again. She also expressed concern for the two other female minors in her mother’s residence." A therapist who conducted investigations for Shasta County Child Protective Services wrote that Fatima "told me she did not want to go home because she was afraid her mother was going to hit her." Another therapist wrote "On two separate occasions this child reported to me that she was burned ‘with a match’ by her mother, Sadia Ali Loeliger….I am extremely concerned regarding this child’s welfare."

Terri Lynn Sais, Scott Loeliger’s roommate after Scott and Sadia divorced, filed a crime report with the City of Salinas in which she asserted that Sadia physically attacked her and threatened her one-month-old baby boy. At the time Sais was babysitting Fatima after Scott, then a medical resident, was called in to work. According to Sais:

"Respondent [Sadia] hit me in the back of my head while I was holding the baby. She grabbed Fatima [then a 16-month-old baby] who began crying…I tried to call the police…Respondent [Sadia] grabbed the phone from me…[she] pulled my hair, hit me again on the back of my head…Fatima began crying and Respondent [Sadia] put a blanket over her head….I am very afraid of this woman and want her to leave me alone. I was also shocked by the way she grabbed her own child and how she proceeded to threaten and abuse me without any regard for the fact that she was holding her own child."

The Loeliger, Marks, and Shockome cases are examples of "Shockome Syndrome"–the FFLM’s predilection for making cause celebres out of alienating, deceitful mothers who lost custody because they abused or mistreated their children. The media’s tendency to believe the FFLM’s claims and make heroines out of these mothers is part of Shockome Syndrome, as is the enormous pressure brought to bear on the family law judges who held these mothers accountable for their actions.

The effect of Shockome Syndrome is exactly what the FFLM intends. Shockome Syndrome makes it harder for decent, loving fathers to preserve their relationships with their children in the face of false accusations and parental alienation. Yet as noxious as Shockome Syndrome is, it’s a disease with an easy cure–a dose of skepticism.

 

The court documents from the Shockome case are available on our website.

 

 

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    Dec. 1, 2006