Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) spoke about domestic violence and its impact on children at a symposium hosted by GW’s Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Policy group Friday at Lerner Hall.
The two-day seminar, “Custody & Abuse Litigation and the Supreme Court,” highlighted the problems in the United States’s penal code that negatively impact the lives of mothers and children in households where abuse takes place.
“It doesn’t take a bruise or a broken bone for a child to be a victim of domestic violence,” Klobuchar said to the 60 people gathered in the Jacob Burns Moot Court room. She said parental fighting “inflicts a very real trauma” on the child.
The freshman senator from Minnesota spoke at length about Paul Wellstone, the late senator from her state, and his wife, Sheila, who were two strong advocates against domestic violence before they were killed in a plane crash in 2002.
“To Paul, domestic violence was always a matter of civil rights . they both felt a need to build a society without domestic violence.”
Klobuchar said they brought the topic of domestic violence “out in the open.”
“Before them, domestic violence was thought of as a family issue,” she said. “That’s why it was the number one most underreported crime.”
During her speech, Klobuchar praised the work of DV LEAP.
“There had been no organization locally to take appeals (from mothers in custody cases),” said Joan Meier, founder and director of DV LEAP and GW professor of clinical law. “We fill that void.”
DV LEAP, founded in 2003, seeks to enforce and advance the constitutional rights of battered women by providing legal representation to make appeals to court decisions the organization sees as unjust.
“There had been positive law reform, but it has not been adequately implemented in the courts,” Meier said.
Klobuchar praised the Crime Control and Prevention Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation co-sponsored by Sens. Joseph R. Biden (D-Del.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), but warned that it must receive adequate funds if it is to succeed.
“We spend $12 billion on the Iraq war each month,” she said. “We do not want to see a backslide because of funding issues.”
After the senator spoke, Wendy Titleman recounted her heartbreaking story of an abusive husband, Andrew Titleman, who assaulted their two daughters, both physically and sexually. Despite her husband’s brutality, Titleman lost custody and ended up being jailed and fined because of U.S. statutes.
“Life’s most basic relationship between mother and daughter was torn asunder,” Titleman said with tears forming in her eyes.
Titleman, the author of a memoir, “Let My Children Go: A Mother’s Journal,” is still in the midst of her legal battle. Last month, the Supreme Court denied her appeal to regain custody of her children.
She spoke in front of a PowerPoint presentation showing family pictures as well legal documents and a psychologist’s report to coincide with her heartbreaking tale. Soft piano music was played throughout the speech.
“I think the issues women and children are facing all over the country are not being recognized,” said Julie Field, a consulting attorney for DV LEAP. “Injustice is taking place in every courtroom in the country.”