Elsa Newman, loving mother and successful attorney, has been imprisoned in the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women for 11 years for a crime she did not commit (“Judaism Behind Bars,” Oct. 25). Her situation is one of the most monstrous examples of what is happening to mothers and children in family courts across the country.
We created the Battered Mothers’ Custody Conference in 2003 with the goal of hosting a national public forum to address the many complex issues facing battered women as they strive to protect themselves and their children during divorce, custody and visitation litigation. The 2011 Annual Battered Mothers’ Custody Conference dedicated its official session to Newman. In the program, this is what we write: “There are far too many battered mothers who have unjustly lost custody of their children for us to list here, but there is one whom we’d like to spotlight and honor this year. … A group of attendees are asking Maryland Gov. [Martin] O’Malley for clemency for Elsa Newman. Help us with prayers and signing the petition. Help free Elsa and all the mothers who have sacrificed so much for the safety of their children.”
We know what Elsa faced, because we faced it too. We know Elsa is innocent, because we were criminalized too — all because we sought to protect our children in family court. Family courts are poorly educated in the areas of child abuse and domestic violence. They rely on stereotypes and the testimony of highly paid “experts” to make divorce and custody decisions. Each year, they order 58,000 children to be torn away from their mother/primary caregiver and ordered to live with their abuser. Abusers, being highly skilled in deception and manipulation, appear charming, calm and collected in court. Mothers, traumatized and frantic in the knowledge that their children are being abused, are labeled “hysterical.”
Mo Therese Hannah, Ph.D.
Liliane Heller Miller
Co-founders and chairs
Battered Mothers’ Custody Conference