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  • From Madness to Mutiny: Why Mothers Are Running from the Family Courts and What Can Be Done about It
  • Hal Pepinsky (bio)
From Madness to Mutiny: Why Mothers Are Running from the Family Courts and What Can Be Done about It by Amy Neustein and Michael Lesher. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2005, 284 pp., $26.00 paper.

Amy Neustein, one of the authors of From Madness to Mutiny, has been termed a "protective parent," and her co-author, Michael Lesher, was for a period her attorney. To be a protective parent means that in the course of separation or divorce, Neustein came to believe that her child was being sexually abused by the child's other parent, and asked a court for relief. Dr. Neustein, whose doctorate is in sociology, lost custody on grounds that she brainwashed her child to get back at the child's other parent. In 1999 in New York City, Dr. Neustein founded Help Us Regain The Children (HURT). In the early '90s, I came to know her and countless other protective parents and supporters as we counseled by mail, by phone, and in person, and provided what ideas and support we could for the children's sake.

In From Madness to Mutiny, Neustein and Lesher review and reflect on documents from more than 4.000 cases, from interviews with officials and professionals, and from various government and professional reports. Theirs is a brave and much-needed effort. The effort is brave because people criticizing courts and professionals for failing to defend apparently abused children in such cases have personally and professionally been destroyed by litigation. It is brave as well because protective parents are caught between speaking out on behalf of their children, and subjecting children who are out of their control to possible retaliation, embarrassment, and humiliation in the process. It is much needed because children, whom I have come to believe form the ultimate underclass in the United States no less than elsewhere, are in my experience, every bit as abused by [End Page 230] officials and professionals as Neustein and Lesher report, if not more so.

In 1962, when Denver pediatrician Henry Kempe and colleagues wrote an eye-opening article on diagnosing "the battered-child syndrome," common wisdom was that only one child in a million was ever physically abused in any way. That would amount to fewer than a hundred cases in the United States today. Kempe et al. (1962) awakened us from this gross cultural denial. Nearly a quarter century later (1986), Canadian psychologist Phyllis Chesler published a North American finding, afterwards replicated, that although mothers were more often than not awarded child custody in divorce and separation proceedings, when fathers challenged custody, they won 70 percent of the time.

A decade later, protective parents Leora Rosen (a psychologist) and Michelle Etlin (who formed an activist organization like Neustein's) published a review of several hundred custody cases in which sexual abuse had been alleged by a parent. They reported that protective parents lost custody in the process in all but three cases.

Imagine this scenario that Neustein, Lesher, and I have heard, all too often, among others. Your 6–year-old child or children come home from visitation with gross signs of distress, emotional or physical, up to and including fever and what turns out to be sexually transmitted diseases. First, court dates for hearing new evidence keep getting put off. Second, you may even have your children taken away by a judge or child protection worker because you violated a judge's orders NOT to take the children back to their doctor or counselor because s/he "brainwashed" them. The rule in U.S. legal practice today is this: You will be lucky to find a lawyer who dares advocate for you in such a custody battle, and regardless, the harder you push, the more definitively you will be barred from contact with your children. By the mid-1990s, I came to share the view of experienced protective parents that any time unsupervised visitation rights of parents remained or became legally allowed, protective parents had but one choice: Do not openly protest as your children continue...


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pp. 230-232
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