Justice for A.M.

When she witnessed her husband physically and sexually abuse their infant daughter, A.M. sought help from all the right places: Child Protective Services, Legal Aid, and the police in Monroe, Louisiana. As a former safe space interviewer who worked with battered women, A.M. was familiar with the “menu” of agencies and organizations meant to provide support for Monroe residents victimized by such crimes.  However, after years of seeking help from police, governmental agencies, lawyers, and nonprofits, A.M. has received no help to end the ongoing abuse.  This is because her ex-husband has a well-connected private lawyer, while A.M. can’t afford one.  Due to the “legal services desert” in Monroe, the organizations that should protect A.M. and her daughter instead refuse to investigate their claims and thereby insulate the abuser, her ex-husband. To this day, A.M. seeks safety and justice for her daughter.

In November 2015, when my daughter was just three months old, her dad R.M. sexually molested her by putting his mouth on her vagina while he was changing her diaper. He did this right in front of me.  He was intoxicated by alcohol at the time, as he often was.  I didn’t contact the police because I didn’t have any proof of what happened, other than my own observation, and I feared they would not do anything to help. About a week later, R.M. did the same thing again. Both times he acted as if there was nothing wrong with his behavior. Over the next few months, R.M. became increasingly aggressive towards me and my infant daughter.  He was drunk to the point of stumbling around every night, and would snatch my daughter from my arms and then walk around the house holding her while he could hardly keep his balance.  He would also become angry and throw things at me.   He once violently grabbed my phone from my hand when I was talking, and pulled and pulled until it got it out of my hand, and then threw it across the room.  He took my daughter’s first doll and threw it hard at me while she was sitting in my lap. He was also verbally abusive and would shout insults at me, calling me lazy and fat.  I started sleeping in the living room with my child to keep him from harming her while he roamed throughout the house, intoxicated, at night.  I spent each of those nights trying to stay as quiet as possible, praying that he would leave us alone. I felt terrified to be in my own house, for my own safety and my baby’s. But I was not employed at that time, so I didn’t have the money to get out.

I consulted with a private lawyer, but I couldn’t afford to pay them or any divorce filing fees.  The lawyer advised that I wait to report my husband’s abuse until I got my income tax return so I would have some money for representation.  But by March of 2016, I knew I had to get myself and my daughter out of the house where R.M. was living.  My daughter and I moved to a shelter for women and children in abusive situations.  We lived at the shelter for several months.  At this time, I also contacted the Family Justice Center and reported R.M.’s aggressive behavior towards us. After hearing everything that he had done to us, Family Justice Center stated that they were mandatory reporters; I had the option of reporting the incidents to Child Protective Services (CPS) myself within twenty-four hours, or they would report it. They also told me to file for a restraining order to protect my daughter from R.M., but did not offer to help me prepare the filing.

I chose to contact CPS myself, and they started an investigation.  I had told a friend what I had been dealing with, and she recommended that I also needed to report everything that happened to the local police department so that there will be a record of the incidents. Taking my friend’s advice, I also went to the police and filled out the paperwork for a restraining order that same day.  But when I called to check on the status, the police stated they had lost the application.  I returned to fill out another application, but this time the police employee refused to let me fill out an application for a protective order.  She said I could only apply to protect my daughter if I had a letter from CPS or from her physician documenting her abuse. 

At this point, despite having reached out to the right agencies for help, A.M. was receiving no assistance to stop the serious, ongoing abuse of herself and her daughter.  But she was determined to press on. Despite unclear steps and multiple setbacks, A.M. contacted as many organizations as she could to find a way forward. Unfortunately, the police department, in a series of repeating events, refused to act on the reports of child abuse and instead acted to protect R.M. so that he could continue abusing his daughter.  Because A.M. did not have a lawyer, and R.M. did, the story of his abuse was not told to the judge who decided custody of our daughter – further enabling R.M. to continue abusing her.

CPS closed their investigation after about three months. They stated the case was inconclusive because there would not be any physical evidence when the abuse is “just” oral.  Furthermore, the police closed their investigation because they said it was a “he said, she said” case—therefore, unless R.M. confessed to child abuse, there was nothing they could do.  Obviously, this standard protects abusers at the expense of their victims, especially if the victim is too young to speak.

Near the end of 2016, R.M. filed for an emergency divorce and joint custody of my daughter.  For all of these steps, he had the assistance of a private lawyer.  I could not afford an attorney.  I contacted Legal Aid, a pro bono legal services organization, and explained the abuse and that I needed help to protect my daughter from my ex-husband.  Legal Aid assigned me an attorney, but when I told him the details of my situation, he said he regretted taking my case.  He also refused to represent me at the custody hearing.  Through a friend, I found an attorney who was willing to submit the required court document and attend the hearing with me so that I would not be there alone, but she made it clear that she was not doing anything beyond that.  She recommended that I not bring up any of the abuse at the hearing, because there was “no proof” of it – as though my own eyewitness accounts meant nothing.  I did not even have proof that there was an investigation done by CPS, because that information can only be released through a subpoena, and the attorney was not willing to issue one. 

I went in to the custody hearing knowing that the power dynamic between R.M. and me was severely unbalanced. R.M. is well-connected to law enforcement in Monroe.  His cousin is the city marshal, so he has many cop friends.  Before our daughter was born, when we were dating, he would always host his cop friends at our home. He is also good friends with the district attorney. R.M. is also represented in all his legal matters, including the custody hearing, by his private lawyer.  His lawyer is politically powerful – he is a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives. 

After the hearing, R.M. was awarded joint custody.  As for the Legal Aid lawyer, he said the only assistance he could provide was to help me file an objection after the custody hearing.  I did file an objection, but my Legal Aid lawyer still refused to represent me, stating that he did not think the outcome would change without proof of the abuse in the form of pictures or videos. 

A week before this custody hearing, I had tried a third time to file for a restraining order.  This time, the police accepted the application and filed it with the court.  But the custody hearing happened before the hearing on the restraining order.  Then, at the restraining order hearing, the judge denied my request, and said he didn’t believe that the abuse I wrote about in the application had really happened. It was as if every organization was working against me.

Requiring a confession from a child abuser, or a video of the abuse, makes it nearly impossible to prove that abuse is happening and therefore shields and enables the abuse. In the five years since their divorce, R.M. has continued to abuse and neglect his daughter.  The agencies that should be protecting A.M. and her daughter have turned a blind eye, justifying their failure to act on their fear of liability due to R.M.’s private lawyer’s protection. As a result, A.M. and her daughter are left alone to face constant terror with no recourse.

Joint custody means that every week, for days at a time, I have to live knowing that my daughter is alone with a man who has been abusing her since she was an infant.  R.M. has continued to seek more and more time with my daughter every year, and every year the court grants him his requests.  Currently, he has care of my daughter every other week in the summer months.  If he returns to ask for more time from the court, I expect he will get it.  More time with her father means more opportunities for my daughter to be hurt.

My daughter has suffered numerous incidents of abuse while in R.M.’s care – both by him and by his sister, G.P.  R.M.’s sister lived right across the street from R.M., and he would frequently leave my daughter in her care.  At the time that the joint custody order went into effect, my daughter had just started learning to walk and was still wearing diapers. R.M. would return her to me with in diapers so wet that the urine had soaked completely through her clothes. There were always injuries or bruises on my daughter when he brought her home, and each time I found them, she would tell me that R.M. had inflicted them. But, when I asked R.M. about the injuries, he claimed to not know that there was an injury or that it happened at my home.  

As a result of this abuse, my daughter went from never having a diaper rash to have yeast infections so often that she was diagnosed with chronic yeast infections—something I didn’t even know a child could have. She would take crayons or toys and stick them towards her vagina while wearing her diaper, saying that R.M. does that to her. She would also tell me that R.M. cut her vagina. Whenever I confronted him, he would either act as if he did not hear what I said or deny doing anything.

My daughter has on numerous occasions told me and others that R.M. and G.P. were abusive to her. R.M. would leave my daughter with G.P. while he worked, and my daughter stated that G.P. would hit her with a switch that she got off of a bush, or with clothing with hardware (like a zipper) that would cut and bruise her.  She would start crying when she saw the potty at my house, and when I asked why, she said it was because G.P. hit her for not going to the potty.  She also told me that G.P. would leave her outside, and wouldn’t let her in the house for hours, while R.M. was at work. On multiple occasions, my daughter came home with scratches or bruises on her legs and stated that G.P. hit her with either a switch or her hand. One bruise was so dark and so large on her leg that it did not fade for over a year.  

I submitted a photo of that bruise to the court during the renewed custody hearing in 2019.  The judge merely added a clause to the joint custody order mandating that only R.M. or I could use corporal punishment on my daughter. This did not stop the abuse, and G.P. continued to hit my daughter. When I reported these incidents to the police, they would simply say it’s my word against R.M.’s and G.P.’s; all R.M. and G.P. had to do was deny it. I received the same response on multiple occasions despite witnessing the physical abuse myself. During another incident in which my daughter told me that R.M. hit her in her head, I confronted him, and right in front of me, he pushed her in her head again so hard that she cried. His blatant actions demonstrated that he knew the police would not hold him accountable—and, predictably, the police again refused to take action when I reported this event.

During another incident, my daughter FaceTimed me early one morning from R.M.’s house while he was standing behind her. She told me that a bike fell on her, and when I asked her more about it, R.M. made a loud noise to intimidate her and prevent her from talking. Around 10 P.M. that night, he called me to say that she had a scar on her back, claiming that he did not know where it had come from. Rather, he asked me how it had happened, as if I were the one who had caused it. I reminded him that she said a bike fell on her at his house but he continued to claim that he didn’t know where the scar came from. R.M. stated that the scar was old and could not have happened at his house. His lying and gaslighting attempts made me extremely concerned about my daughter’s safety. I contacted the police for a welfare check.  They claimed to investigate, and said they looked at the scar and talked to my daughter. To my astonishment, the police repeated R.M.’s same exact excuse: the scar was old, and could not have happened under R.M.’s care. At this point, I knew that they were unwilling to take action against R.M. – consistent with every other time I called the police for help to protect my daughter.  Despite the fact that the police claimed to have gone to R.M.’s house and examined my daughter, they refused to write a police report on this incident – even after I requested one from the officer and his supervisor.

I reported these injuries and neglect to CPS, but they refused to investigate.  They told me that they don’t have enough funding to investigate all claims of abuse.  They also repeatedly brought up the fact that R.M. has a “good” attorney and that they were worried about lawsuits if they investigate him.  I could read between the lines. They had essentially told me: your ex-husband is well-connected and powerful, so he can do whatever he wants.  We won’t even look into your claims of child abuse, because we’re worried about our liability. 

In the fall of 2020, CPS did finally investigate my repeated reports of sexual abuse (but not the other physical abuse and neglect) of my daughter by her father.  But before they had conducted any investigation, the CPS worker told me that the case would “probably be invalid” because “there’s no physical proof of abuse.”  The Children’s Advocacy Center (separate from CPS) conducted a forensic interview and physical exam of my daughter.  They took a video of the interview, and gave a copy to CPS and the police.  CPS promised to update me with information about the outcome of this investigation – but they didn’t.  When I asked about the status, all they would tell me was that the investigation was concluded, and that it was now a criminal matter in the hands of the police.  But when I followed up with the police, the person I spoke to said they had already closed their investigation.  They concluded that they should disregard my daughter’s testimony that she was being abused, because she used the word “vagina” and a five-year-old child doesn’t use words like that unless she was coached by someone else.  Obviously, this is a ridiculous and invalid basis to discredit a child’s statements about how she has been harmed by her own father.

Because I have so often heard “there’s no proof” as an excuse for CPS, the police, and the court to discredit the testimony of me and my daughter, I attempted to get some proof when R.M. drunkenly arrived to pick our daughter up so, slurring his speech and reeking of alcohol.  I had contacted the police while he was still on the way to my house, because I could tell from our FaceTime call he was driving drunk.  The police told me to wait until he arrived and talk to him to see if I could smell alcohol on his breath, and then try to detain him and call them back so they could investigate.  I did exactly this.  When the police arrived, they moved R.M.’s car for him, but they refused to give him a Breathalyzer test.  When I asked that they conduct one, the officer refused – even though he admitted that R.M. had been drinking.  He said “it’s not illegal to have one beer and drive.”  R.M. didn’t take my daughter that night – the police said he had “changed his mind” about picking her up.  I have video of this incident.  But when I asked that the police issue a report, they refused – again, ensuring there would be no formal record or “proof” of this incident of R.M. attempting to drive with our daughter while drunk.

Like many abusers, R.M. uses his joint custody to manipulate and harass me.  He repeatedly comes to my home wrongly claiming that he was scheduled to pick up my daughter. I would contact the police and they would look at the court order and explain to him that he was there on the wrong day, but would not write a police report despite my requests. He also constantly violates the court custody order by taking my daughter out of the state without informing me. I notified the police about this once and the officer simply gave him a warning. R.M.’s behavior has gone on continuously since 2016 to this day. After so many failures, I stopped contacting the police about it because of their refusal to write a police report or do anything else to stop his behavior.

During multiple long years of witnessing my child suffering, and being constantly afraid for her safety and well-being, I have contacted the Department of Children and Family Services, the police, and any other organization that I thought could help to stop the ongoing sexual and physical abuse of my daughter—to no avail. She is now five years old and has been abused her entire life. She is strong and brave, and continues to hope and pray that one day she will be saved from this abuse.  However, as a result of this abuse, she has exhibited various types of self-harming, such as pulling her hair out, punching herself in the head and vagina, banging her head on the floor, and saying negative things about herself. I fear the effects that this abuse has had on my daughter, and I know that these impacts will only worsen if the abuse does not stop. I am determined to always keep fighting for my daughter’s safety, but with the lack of resources available in my area, I feel that there is no way out of this situation.

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