Tacoma DV Victims’ Advocate Under Fire for Facilitating Parental Kidnapping

One of our readers recently asked: “I have often wondered how many women who abduct their children during custody disputes have received help from domestic violence ‘advocates’ that has helped them to cross state lines and hide from the authorities.”

While there is little information on the subject, and the number of authoritative studies is few to none, I came across this article in the Tacoma News Tribune (7/11/10).

According to this report:

In the midst of a custody dispute, a judge had granted Keisha Jackson’s request to take her children to visit her ailing father in Florida with one condition:  That she return within three weeks.

Instead, she apparently “absconded with her children,” driving a van rented with city funds by Tacoma’s Domestic Violence Advocacy Program specialist, Gloria China Fortson. Ms. Jackson used Ms. Fortson’s help to keep Kelvin Jackson, the ex-husband who had court-ordered visitation rights, separated from his children.

The article very sensibly asks the following questions:

Did the City of Tacoma”s top advocate for domestic violence victims act responsibly to protect a woman who reached out to escape the escalating abuse of an estranged husband?

Or, did Gloria China Fortson, acting on unfounded abuse allegations, butt into a custody battle, overstep her authority and misuse city funds to help the woman break the law?

A city investigation last year found the latter, concluding that the longtime victims” advocate broke city ethics rules in 2007 by helping a client leave the state with her children.

Fortson says she was just assisting a woman who claimed to be the victim of domestic violence, but police investigated Keisha’s DV claims and found “scant evidence” to back them up. The city investigator concluded,

“Evidence fails to substantiate that domestic violence issues regarding Mr. Jackson ever existed and further indicates Keisha Jackson”s representations of such as self-serving in the context of a custody dispute.’

Not only that, but Kelvin had been complaining to Fortson’s supervisor since 2006 about Fortson’s behavior. Those complaints, plus Fortson’s role in his children’s kidnapping, have resulted in the City of Tacoma paying Kelvin $29,000 to settle his lawsuit against it.

Meanwhile, Fortson, who has been found to have committed ethics violations in the misuse of city funds, is still on the job, still earning $61,000 a year of taxpayer’s money.

One of the curious things about this case is that Fortson hasn’t been charged with criminal conspiracy to kidnap the children. After all, she’s apparently been involved in this case since 2006; she knew what was going on; she knew it was a custody dispute. And yet she helped Keisha Jackson violate a court order and kidnap the children. That looks very much like a conspiracy to violate criminal laws. So where’s the district attorney in all this?

Beyond this single case, its facts raise some important issues. It is necessary for DV advocates to believe women who come to them complaining of abuse. If all that entails is providing temporary shelter and other legitimate services, fine.

But Fortson clearly overstepped her authority. To have acted this way in the context of a custody dispute in which the court had already looked into her claims of abuse and found them baseless cannot be acceptable. At some point, state authorities are going to have to start carefully regulating the actions of DV advocates. That will mean many things including forcing them to use proven, effective ways of treating DV perpetrators and victims. It will also require that actual investigations are made and reasonable conclusions drawn from known facts before people like Kelvin Jackson can have their children taken from them.

Due process of law is a good and necessary thing. At some point it’ll have to be applied to all aspects of domestic violence.

Thanks to David for the heads-up.

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