Back in 2007, Glenn did a piece on the case of April Griffin and Matthew Sebuliba, but when he did, the case was far from over (See Turns Out the April Griffin Custody Case is a Little Different than Feminist Bloggers Say). My guess is it’s still not, but here’s the latest. Read the most recent article here (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/30/08) and a previous one here (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 6/20/07).
Griffin and Sebuliba live in Milwaukee. He’s a native of Africa, but is a United States citizen and a nurse. Griffin gave birth to Sebuliba’s son and when she applied for welfare benefits, state authorities forced her to name the father. The state filed a paternity action and Sebuliba responded with a request for joint custody.
Griffin followed that with a series of actions her own attorney called “outrageous.” She claimed, apparently without evidence, that Sebuliba had physically abused her. She claimed that allowing him to change the child’s diaper was “against her religion.” Child welfare workers stated that Griffin became hysterical during a supervised visit by Sebuliba, saying the child was not breathing, and demanded that 911 be called. EMS personnel determined that the boy was fine.
In court, she insisted on conducting the custody hearing herself, which resulted in the judge awarding custody not to her but to Sebuliba. After that, she took the boy and hid him in violation of multiple court orders. She spent 8 months in jail for contempt of court, during which the child never was found.
Once she was released from jail, the police eventually were able to locate the child in September, 2008. The boy was diagnosed with rickets, a disease resulting from severe malnutrition in which bones become fragile. In a confrontation with police, Griffin hugged the toddler so tightly that apparently she broke an arm and a leg.
As of September, the boy was due to be finally turned over to his father.
At the time Glenn wrote about this case, various feminist groups had already gone to bat for Griffin, claiming that the judge had granted custody to an abuser. One salient feature of the case is that, although Griffin claimed Sebuliba had abused her, the only evidence of abuse was of her abusing him. As in similar cases, such as Genia Shockome, Sadia Loeliger, Holly Collins, and Bridget Marks, groups supporting the mother tended to accept at face value claims made by the mother. And like those cases, judicial vetting of those claims found them to be false.
In any event, as of September, the child, who had never been in the father’s custody, was found to be suffering from a condition that comes about from being starved. Will the groups who fought so vocally for Griffin and against Sebuliba take notice?
My guess is they won’t, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look at this case and know it for what it is – the gatekeeping mother at or near her worst. Time and again we see mothers taking the most extreme actions including murder and kidnapping to enforce their idea of proper child custody.
We have a few studies on gatekeeping mothers – those who arrogate to themselves the power to decide what relationship a father may have with his child and the child with its father. Gatekeeping is seldom as egregious as it was when practiced by April Griffin. The phenomenon needs to be studied in more depth so that courts, lawmakers, psychologists and social workers can learn to spot it and deal with it effectively. More importantly, mothers need to learn to see the behavior in themselves, know that it is wrong and what to do to correct it.