Using Civil Court for Acts of Domestic Violence

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Len Sipes: From our microphones in downtown Washington, DC, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Our guests today are Cathy Church. She is the Chief Executive Director of Access Justice Now. She’s also a partner in a law firm. Our other guest is Elaine Racine, and Elaine is a business owner and active community member, and she’s also a domestic violence victim. The topic of today’s show is domestic violence. The concept that there is a lifelong impact when we’re talking about domestic violence, but the other part of I find extraordinarily interesting is this concept of civil enforcement of domestic violence issues. Basically if you can’t get them criminally, maybe what you can do is get them civilly.

Our usual commercial, we’re up to 200,000 requests on a monthly basis for DC Public Safety radio, television, blog, and transcripts. The address is As always, we’re extremely appreciative of all of the contact, all the comments to us both good and bad, and suggestions in terms of new shows and what we can do better. If you need to get in touch with me directly, you can do so via email Leonard L-E-O-N-A-R-D.sipes S-I-P as in peculiar S-I-P-E-S@CSOSA or follow me via Twitter at So reintroducing our guest, Cathy Church and Elaine Racine, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Cathy Church: Thank you Leonard. Thanks for having us on the show today.

Len Sipes: Well, it’s my pleasure, ladies. Cathy, give me a quick overview of Access Justice Now.

Cathy Church: Access Justice Now is a 501(c)3 non-profit that was formed after an experience I had as a county prosecutor prosecuting Elaine’s ex-husband for attempted murder, and that experience, the criminal experience, made me think there had to be a better way to obtain justice for domestic violence victims. I thought about it and got some colleagues together, and we came up with Access Justice Now, which was built to legally represent victims of domestic violence in civil lawsuits against the batterers, not in criminal law suits. So in civil lawsuits, you’re trying to obtain the assets of the batterer and that was what it was built for and that’s what it’s trying to do as we speak today.

Len Sipes: Okay. Both of you are from the state of Michigan?

Cathy Church: Correct. Actually we live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which most people don’t realize that there’s two peninsulas to Michigan, so we’re up on the southern shore of Lake Superior.

Len Sipes: It’s cold up there.

Cathy Church: Well, today it’s kind of nice. I think we’re in the 20s and we’re feeling kind of fortunate about that.

Len Sipes: It’s a heat wave. Elaine Racine, you’ve been through some real difficulties. I think we talked a little bit before the show in terms of,domestic violence is not just an abstract issue for you needless to say. Cathy, when she was prosecutor, charged your husband with attempted murder, so obviously that issue alone, but domestic violence has been sort of a part of your life. First of all, before you answer that question, in terms of talking with domestic violence victims I find it’s not unusual for domestic violence to be part of the lives of some individuals. Am I right or wrong?

Elaine Racine: You’re absolutely right.

Len Sipes: Tell me about that, Elaine. Could you?

Elaine Racine: Well, I grew up in a house where there was domestic violence. My parents were also abusive to me, and so I looked on it as being normal. You also get a feeling of being very inadequate, very invaluable, and you carry that on. I met a man when I was 16 and married him at 18, and we were going to have a wonderful home, but he had also come from the same situation I came from and he quickly escalated into becoming a violent husband. I stayed with him for 25 years and had two children. It’s a very humiliating feeling and you do not want anybody to know.

Len Sipes: You feel trapped correct?

Elaine Racine: I don’t know if you feel trapped as much as you feel like you have to make this work. There’s such a feeling of when everything is going right and things are good, there is no reason for it and I think most of us that have been abused feel that we can make this work, and that was my overwhelming, over all of the years, feeling and I did not want anybody to know.

Len Sipes: You know, coming on a radio show like this that gets a couple hundred thousand requests on a monthly basis takes a lot of courage for you to do this, but I think your story reaches out to an awful lot of us within the criminal justice system and people beyond the criminal justice system, and I think your story provides the rest of us with hope and provides the rest of us with an understanding as to the difficulties of domestic violence. I think we, in general, this society basically says, and listeners to this show have hears me say this before about the issue of domestic violence, that it is episodic. It’s like a car accident, and yes it has ramifications and yes you have memories, but it’s something that fades over the course of months and you move on with your life. Domestic violence, I’ve talked to many women, it’s a life long tragedy and it just takes a tremendous amount of, I’m not sure quite what the word is, to remove yourself from it. Then when I say that, I get criticized by people saying, look, you don’t understand how trapped a lot of women are. It’s not a matter of removing herself from it. It’s a matter of simply surviving it and protecting herself and protecting her kids, and trying to cope with it the best way that you know how until you find a safe place to go. Am I in the ballpark or am I just stumbling through this, Elaine?

Elaine Racine: I think that part of you is in the ballpark and part of you has a foot out of the ballpark.

Len Sipes: Please tell me.

Elaine Racine: Okay. There is so much shame and humiliation connected with this, and you,I, not you, always felt guilty because I had been raised as when I was abused, it was for a reason because I had done something wrong, although in my childhood, I don’t know what I ever did wrong. I never was in any kind of problems, I did well in school, but you have that feeling of, you are bad because you’ve been told you’re bad. So when it goes on into a marriage, you still carry that feeling with you and to let someone know you are being abused, you are telling them that you are a bad, unsuccessful person and that is a very big part of it. You want it to end, but you don’t know how to make it end, you should be able to make it end, but you can’t and it’s all your fault.

Len Sipes: You’re a successful business owner today. You’re active in the community and you are on the board of Access Justice Now. Cathy, give me a sense as to the morass. Now you’ve been a prosecutor, you’re now Chief Executive Director of Access Justice Now, and let me give the contact points for Access Justice Now. It’s Cathy’s e-mail is We’ll be giving out those contact points throughout the program. Cathy, give some commentary about what you’ve heard so far.

Cathy Church: Well, I think Elaine just hit the nail on the head. You’ve got women, who through conditioning, whether from their childhood or wherever, feel complicit in the act of the domestic violence. So how do you reach out for help when you feel like you have unclean hands yourself, because somehow you’re to blame for this? It really is a catch-22 for them, and one of the things I’m going to point with Elaine, she suffered domestic violence multiple times before the final act of the attempted murder. Elaine never called the police. On the last go around, she was bleeding and in public, and other people called the police for her. I think what she’s saying is, it’s so shameful, it’s so humiliating because I was conditioned to believe I was part of the problem. How am I going to reach out for help and expose myself?

Len Sipes: And I do believe that a lot of women, and when we say domestic violence, yes, I understand. This is to the audience – I do understand that there are male victims of domestic violence, but the statistics overwhelmingly suggest that it’s generally women victims. When I in my six years of law enforcement experience, I don’t ever remember coming across a male victim, and there may be other reasons for that, but we are talking in the overwhelming majority of cases women victims, correct?

Cathy Church: You’re talking,the stats vary. I’ve heard,oops, I’m sorry. Elaine would like to say something.

Len Sipes: Oh, please, go ahead, Elaine.

Elaine Racine: Okay. When we’re talking about female and male victims, I have a friend. It’s a male friend, and he was abused as a child. It was his mother who did the abusing. She had a dowel and she would beat her two adopted children with the dowel, him and his sister. In fact, one time he fell down the stairs and she was so angry that he fell down the stairs that she took the dowel down and beat him at the bottom of the stairs. When he turned about, I don’t know, I think about 11 or 12, she took the dowel out one day to beat him. He grabbed it from her, broke it over his knee, and she said, I’ll just go and get another one, and he said, good, because I’ll beat you with it, and that is the difference. That is the turning point of being the victim or getting out of it, and that was the end of the abuse for him, but I don’t think there are many 11 or 12 year old girls that would go after their father like that because what would happen? Physically you are no match for them. He’s a large man, and I assume at that age he was large, probably larger than his mother, and at that point he made her bite the bullet, but there are not many women who are capable of doing that.

Len Sipes: I guess my overall point in all of this, ladies, is that there are literally millions of women in this country and children in this country who are being held hostage by abusive caretakers, by abusive parents, by abusive husbands, and they live their lives pretty much in stark terror. That’s one of the things when we talk about domestic violence, it is like saying an airline crash, okay, it’s over. Domestic violence is something that just permeates every part of our lives. Criminologists suggest that it is a huge correlate or a huge connection as to the overall crime problem that we have in this country coupled with child abuse and neglect, so it has extraordinarily serious ramification for our entire society. It’s just not an act. It’s just not a discussion of why a person left or didn’t leave. It is something that permeates our society and has unbelievable consequences.

Cathy Church: I totally agree with you. I think family violence, violence in society in general, is homegrown and one of the issues I had prosecuting batterers is that I never came across a batterer who hadn’t been victimized in childhood. So what I was faced with was prosecuting primarily adult men because they had the physical strength and society’s backing, basically, to get away with continued bullying if they so chose as adults, but I was faced with prosecuting these adult men who I viewed as victims originally, which is where they learned the violence from. I even had that feeling with Elaine’s ex-husband, and I remember sitting in my office during the trial because it was really beginning to bother me that this man had had such a horrible childhood, but yet we had to impose the law on him. The violence is homegrown, and if we do not address it as a society within the very first couple of years of children’s lives, I think we have no other choice but to watch it snowball, and that’s what we’re seeing now.

Len Sipes: And that’s the issue for a larger program, but I just wanted to bring that up. When I say domestic violence – I remember the first time, as a cadet in the Maryland State Police, where we went to a house and it’s not that the husband hit the woman. He beat her up extensively with a frying pan, and the damage to her was just mind-blowing, so to me, that’s domestic violence. The fact that that happens every day, day in and day out, hundreds of thousands of times, millions of times throughout this country and probably throughout every country, is something I find to be a national disgrace. But in any event. So we’re halfway through the program. Let me reintroduce both of my guests. It’s Cathy Church, Chief Executive Director of Access Justice Now, a partner in a law firm. Elaine Racine, a business owner, active community member and she is also on the board of Access Justice Now. The contact points for Cathy Church is and her e-mail is So we get into this larger issue, Cathy, of what to do about an individual involved in domestic violence. We hear all the time about individuals walking through protective orders. There are dozens of country songs about walking through a protective order. This is a real issue for us in terms of males, who in many cases simply will not obey stay-away orders and males, who in many cases continually abuse even after prosecution, even while waiting for trial. It is who they are, it is what they are, and they really don’t pay any attention to it, so the sense that I get is that Access Justice Now basically says, well, fine, you want to continue to do these sort of things, what we’re going to do is go after you civilly. Let’s see how you enjoy the system now that we’re taking your car or your house or half your income. Now, am I right or wrong? Is that an exaggeration or am in the ballpark?

Cathy Church: No, you’re on target. Look at the O.J. Simpson murder trial for Nicole Simpson. He went to criminal trial and we all know what the outcome of that was, not guilty of murdering those two people, but yet Nicole’s family and Ron Goldman, they sued him civilly, and here it is 20 years later, 25 years later, and they attached his Heisman Trophy, they attached his book earnings, and they continued to have an impact, a very real impact on O.J. Simpson’s life, and I believe he’s in prison now for even more criminal wrongdoing out in Nevada.

Len Sipes: That was the armed robbery or the robbery,not armed robbery,yeah, it was an armed robbery. But that’s O.J. Simpson. What about Jane and John Doe Schmo?

Cathy Church: Let’s say we’ve got someone working in a fast-food restaurant earning minimum wage, and I don’t even know what the minimum wage is these days, if we file a civil lawsuit against them and garnish up to 50 percent of their wages, their minimum wage wages, that’s going to be less resources for them to do bad things with. We all know it takes money in this world to be able to stalk someone or to buy a Taser or to buy a gun or to buy more alcohol. My thinking is, is if you grab their resources, cut them in half, that’s hopefully less weapons that they have at their disposal.

Len Sipes: Okay. I guess my issue is that you’re not necessarily out to punish them. I’ll leave the punishment issue for another day. You’re basically out there to get them to comply and to leave that individual alone and to obey the law, and if you’re not going to obey the criminal part of it, we’ll go after you civilly. I think that’s what you’re saying?

Cathy Church: Well, yes. I have this saying that says, if a crime occurs and there are no consequences for that crime, did a crime really happen? So if you have someone who’s bullying or battering their family day in and day out and there’s never any consequences, where is the motivation for that behavior to change?

Len Sipes: Okay, but are these people being prosecuted criminally? Is the civil action a sole action? Is it on its own or is it in conjunction with the criminal action?

Cathy Church: You have a lot of women with civil protection orders. They will not reach out and call the police when they’ve been battered, but they will reach out and get a civil protection order, so you can do them independently. There’s nothing that says you have to do the civil and criminal in conjunction with one another. You can do them independently, and some people feel,these women know their batterers and they know when their safety is at stake, and sometimes doing something civilly is a lot more safe for them than to involve law enforcement.

Len Sipes: And why is that? What makes it safe?

Cathy Church: I’m going to let Elaine see if she can answer that.

Len Sipes: Go ahead, Elaine.

Cathy Church: Why do some people feel more comfortable getting civil protection orders versus calling the police?

Elaine Racine: Because it’s not going to be in the paper, it’s not going to be on the television set, it’s not going to be on the radio; that’s what I experienced with my problem when my husband tried to kill me. It was on the TV, it was on the front page of our local paper with my name, my home address, my business name, my business address.

Len Sipes: They ran your home address and your business and your business address?

Elaine Racine: Yes. This is,remember,

Len Sipes: What sort of morons are they? I’m sorry, go ahead, please.

Elaine Racine: Really morons, let me tell you. Cathy really went after them for doing that, but I just felt so,I was so frightened, I was so alone because now I was living alone, and you don’t know who’s going to come up your steps. It was during the summer, it was during June and it was hot. I had all my windows closed. I had my doors closed and locked because that was the only way I felt safe, and I realized that that was not true, but it’s what you do to yourself mentally.

Cathy Church: She was totally isolated and although her batterer was locked up and in the county jail, the exposure that the media gave her exposed her all that much more, and so she is basically alone in her house trying to weather the storm. We have some very, very good resources here in Marquette County. We have victim advocates who are statutorily confidential advocates who met with Elaine and talked with Elaine and accompanied her through every stage of the proceeding, but at the end of the day, there’s no lawyer, cop, prosecutor, advocate standing with Elaine when she’s in her home late at night worrying about I just survived almost being killed, and now I’ve got to wonder what’s going to happen next.

Len Sipes: Okay, so where does this civil part of this come in?

Cathy Church: The civil part gives victims the ability, and Elaine can address this as well because after the criminal case, she divorced her ex-husband and as part of the divorce judgment, the court awarded her,they called it alimony or support, but basically what it was is they awarded her financial damages for the physical act of the attempted murder, so she was awarded a substantial sum of money. Now her husband is still in prison and we’re in the process of going after that money, but Elaine can tell you what that judgment for that sum of money,

Len Sipes: In civil court?

Cathy Church: Yeah, it was through their divorce. She can tell you what that means to her or meant to her.

Len Sipes: Elaine?

Elaine Racine: It means that if I can do that to him, he is going to be isolated in the lower part of the state of Michigan. He is not going to be able to come up here. What made me really dig my heels in was he had told me one day, just prior to the attack, he said, I will not kill you. I will kill your grandson because that will hurt you more, and that’s what made me dig my heels in. Now I know that if he is in the other part of Michigan – we’re the Upper Peninsula, he is in the Lower Peninsula – if he has to stay there with a minimal amount of income, my grandson is going to be safer, my boys are going to be safer because he is the kind of person that is not going to walk up to me or one of them with a gun and shoot us. He’s one of these that’s going to come in the dead of night.

Len Sipes: Or pay somebody to do it.

Elaine Racine: Or pay somebody to do it. Correct. But he would not have the stoicism to come and face someone face to face; he never did. He would always tell me how if somebody had done something that angered him, he might wait a couple of years and then he would go for a walk at night and throw rocks through maybe their window or slash their car tires or things like that. That’s the kind of person that we are dealing with, and I know that he is vengeful because he has written so many letters since he has been in jail.

Len Sipes: Well, taking the income takes away his ability to,it dramatically reduces his ability to retaliate.

Cathy Church: Hopefully. That’s the plan. Batterers will use anything as a weapon. They will use family members, they will use,I can’t even imagine everything they can use. Well, money, resources, are a huge weapon, so in my mind, logic says if you reduce those financial resources, you’re reducing the potential for the weaponry.

Len Sipes: And why don’t they, Cathy, and I don’t know the answer to this question, maybe you and Elaine know the answer to the question, why isn’t the standard criminal justice system enough to separate people and convince him that you are never to have contact with your victim ever again, period, and they go, okay, and they mean it and they obey it. What’s wrong with the criminal part of the system that stops people from doing what they should be doing?

Elaine Racine: Can I answer that?

Len Sipes: Please.

Elaine Racine: Okay. I have been watching the paper, of course, the court cases very closely since this happened to me. There was one man that was convicted a second time of domestic violence, arrested for it. He had, I can’t quote the exact amount of days or money, but he had like 90 days in jail with maybe two days served, and his fine was in the area of $300 and some dollars. What does he think? He won the case. He is going to go back to that woman. What effect did it have on him? I believe in certain segments of our society, especially the segment where these men thrive, it’s almost like a badge of merit, like a Boy Scout medal. Hey, guy, you got it twice and you got out of it twice – nice going. I believe that there is a segment of our society that does believe that. I don’t believe it’s as bad as it was 20 years ago, but I believe that Access Justice Now and other organizations can make this not something to be proud of, but something to be very ashamed of.

Len Sipes: So we’re saying that basically the formal, criminal justice system in this country regarding domestic violence is not enough?

Cathy Church: I think it could be improved. The analogy I like to use for that, Len, is that if you were having a cocktail party and someone suffered a heart attack and went down on the floor in your house, your immediate response, that of you and your guests, would be to call the first responders, 9-1-1, to get an ambulance there. If you have any female relatives who suffer a battering assault, ask them what their first response is. What are they going to do? Are they going to reach out to 9-1-1 and call the first responders? And to a person, on the cases that I prosecuted, I knew if 9-1-1 got there, the victim had called somebody else before. It could have been a sister, could have been a priest, could have been a neighbor, but the neighbor or whoever they called first, usually was pretty instrumental in getting them to call 9-1-1. So our first responders aren’t the first response for victims. There’s something fundamentally wrong there and it needs improvement.

Len Sipes: Oh, the criminal justice system is a mystery to most people to begin with, and I’ve represented the criminal justice system for 40 years and I thoroughly understand, which is one of the reasons why we do the radio shows, the television shows, and the articles that we do to try to demystify some parts of the criminal justice system to get people to feel more comfortable with who we are and what we are, and our ability or inability to protect the public. So the bottom line is, Cathy, the civil part of it, is what you’re saying, is necessary depending upon the circumstances?

Cathy Church: I think it’s a tool, and I think with this type of epidemic we have, it would be foolish to ignore any potential tool. I’m not saying it’s going to fix it, but I think it’s a tool in our tool bag that we should be utilizing. I think it’s easier,you should be able to get justice in this country without having your entire life publicized, so that everyone,Elaine was put on trial, basically, as a victim in a domestic violence attempted murder case, and to me, that was almost worse than the criminal assault itself.

Len Sipes: You know, I’ll be teaching a crime and media course for the University of Maryland University College in a couple of weeks, and I’m going to be using this as an example when I go over the section on victim’s rights because what happened to Elaine, I think, shouldn’t happen to anybody. It’s just unbelievable that that information would be offered in a newspaper. We only have a couple minutes left, Elaine. Can you summarize your whole experience from this? What you’re saying is that domestic violence is not incidental – it goes on for years and years and years, and you’ve got to have tools to combat it?

Elaine Racine: Exactly. I have had a lot of help from friends. My family turned against me, which was wonderful. They said there was no abuse in our home as we were growing up, yet I remember my mother calling my ex-husband, him going to get her – we would have been in our 30s at the time – and she came to our house bleeding and laid on the couch. So everybody, including the family members when they find out about it, although they’ve already known, want to hide it and it continues to want to be hidden. I had an uncle that has gone down to visit my ex-husband in prison and empathizes with him, and came to my place of business with a letter explaining exactly how terrible I was to him and how I had made the whole thing up. I cut myself.

Len Sipes: Well, we’re just about out of time. Elaine Racine, I want to thank you very, very much for your courage in terms of talking about this today. I think it takes a tremendous amount of courage to go through what you’ve gone through and be on the board of Access Justice Now, and I’m quite sure your example is going to be reaching out to an awful lot of women and maybe even some men who are trapped in domestic violence situations, and I think your example becomes sort of a shining star to them that hopefully will give them the courage to do what it is that they have to do.

Our guests today have been Cathy Church, Chief Executive Director of the program Access Justice Now. She’s also a partner in a law firm. With her has been Elaine Racine, a business owner, active community member, and a domestic violence victim. She is on the board of Access Justice Now. The website for Access Justice Now is Cathy Church’s e-mail is Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. Again, we appreciate all of your letters, all of your phone calls, all of your e-mails in terms of the programs. Keep them coming in. We really do appreciate your patronage. You can get in touch with me directly at, a court services and offender supervision agency in downtown Washington, DC, or follow me via Twitter at I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

– Audio ends –

Terms: domestic violence, civil court, spouse abuse, intimate violence

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