When my husband would not quit hitting our girls, I had to find a way to stop him myself.
By Jackie Saulmon Ramirez | May 23, 2013
Parenting differences often pop up when moms and dads do not agree on different issues. Do we spank, do we not? Do we raise children with my religion or his? Ideally, parents would decide on various parenting points and calmly discuss any problems when they arise, then present a unified front to children with their decision. Many parents will disagree and one will overrule the other or they compromise.
And then you will have parents like Mr. Ramirez and me.
From the time Chelsey was about five, we began to lock horns over spanking; he was strongly for and I was stubbornly against. An occasional pop on the behind might not be so bad but he always punished in anger and that is a huge red flag. He did not realize how heavy his hands were, compared to our small daughters. As they grew he began to use objects to hit like belts and anything he could grab. There was no reasoning with Mr. Ramirez— he truly believed that if you didn’t whip them they would be “ruined.”
My Parents Anonymous group has had many parents over the years who disagreed with their partner about discipline issues and I knew what to expect. Most of the time, the group member would work those problems out with their partner, sometimes not. Reporting to the child protective services was always an option.
Arlene, our facilitator, would briefly explain what the law considers as child abuse and that every citizen here in New Jersey is required to report suspected abuse. Abuse was defined by Arlene as “anything that left a mark on a child or injured the child in any way.” That was pretty simple but it was not easy to think about and that made our futures unclear.
There were several occasions where Mr. Ramirez swatted or smacked Chelsey for not understanding a math function after he had explained it for the third time or when she had not put things away or a less than perfect grade on a test. Katie would rarely be his target because she was able at a young age to stop him from picking on her. Chelsey was not as lucky.
“Chelsey is lazy,” he’d say, “What she does is Mickey Mouse!”
“You don’t know anything!” he would tell her.
We would usually end up in an argument with the girls and me on one side and him on the other. I thought about taking Chelsey and Katie and just leaving but I knew he loved them deep down and they loved him too. I was struggling with our situation and was unsure what to do. I thought much of his problem was due to the difference in our cultures; he came from a Latin American country after being juggled between relatives for most of his life. He finally mastered English, then came here as an engineering student and once he graduated he married me and then our girls arrived.
Then came the day of reckoning we waited for— he left a handprint on Chelsey. I went to my Parents Anonymous meeting the next day and told Arlene I needed to make a report to DYFS (Department of Youth and Family Services), that Mr. Ramirez left a handprint. She had her hands full getting ready for the meeting and asked the co-facilitator, Elizabeth, to assess the information and if needed, to make the report. We headed down the long hallway and I was anxious as to what would happen next.
Elizabeth was middle-aged, spoke pretty good English and smiled a lot. It turned out that she was from the same country as my husband; and in fact, her husband was friends and worked with Mr. Ramirez’s cousin. What a small world! Elizabeth sat across from me with her fingers interlaced and she paused, smiling. She took no notes and there were no forms as I expected.
“Do you have any idea the kind of trouble you could cause for your husband where he works?” she asked.
“Why? I am reporting abuse; what does this have to with his work?” I asked.
Elizabeth asked me about the marks he put on Chelsey the day before and if I had looked at them that day. I had not but I assured her they must still be there. I felt as if I was in an argument and I left the abuse assessment puzzled. If marks left on our daughter were not considered abuse, then how bad did he have to hurt them before we got help?
On the drive home I felt confounded and deflated; I expected to be getting help with the abuse but the tables mysteriously turned. Unsure of what to do next I called Develyn, another member who had been at the meeting that day. I told her what Elizabeth had said in our abuse assessment and told her I was upset and not knowing to do, I asked for her thoughts on the matter. Develyn was also the group comedienne and could always cheer me up. I felt much better after talking with her but she had a serious side and I could count on her opinion.
“Elizabeth was protecting her countryman.” She said.
“Her countryman? You mean because they are from the same foreign country?” I asked.
It was as if the fog lifted; it must be true, she was protecting my husband by misleading me or putting down what I said. She was a mandated reporter and she was covering up abuse. I had been too trusting and naïve but I cared more for my girls than a mere income, the focus for Elizabeth.
When Chelsey came home from school I checked the marks he left with his hand. They had faded somewhat and there were no bruises but you could see clearly where the print was. I made mental notes for the next instance of abuse.
When my husband came home that day I was calm and I told him point-blank I would report him to DYFS if he laid another finger on either daughter. This was not a threat— it was a promise. I was tired of pleading and trying to talk sense into somebody that obviously had no heart and no conscience.
Talking with the children was easy; I explained what happened with Elizabeth and the confrontation I had with their father. They understood I was doing all I could to end the abuse. I took it a step further and told Chelsey and Katie that they did not have to wait for me— they could report to a teacher at school if they did not feel safe, were afraid or if he threatened them.
Within a short time we were put to the test. Mr. Ramirez was upset with Katie this time; he yelled and picked up her plastic recorder (a musical instrument) and hit her on the leg by the time I reached them. As soon as he saw me coming he left Katie and walked out of the room without even looking at me. Katie had the exact shape of the recorder on her leg, there was no mistake. That was the trigger for me to make the next report.
I went to Mr. Ramirez first and told him I was calling to making the report and went to the kitchen. I called Arlene to make the report because she knew my family and the information needed to make the report to DYFS. The wheels were set into motion.
I went back to Mr. Ramirez and told him the report was made and an intake worker would arrive within 24 hours. He did not even look at me; I could feel his anger and it gave me a chill. The next day a man came to the front door. Mr. Ramirez went to open the door and spoke his first words to me.
“You better hope everything turns out alright.” he declared under his breath.
The man came in and was very respectful, asking questions and telling us what to expect. He asked to talk privately with the girls and they giggled as girls do. They showed the man the mark on Katie’s leg and they talked a while.
A couple of days later a woman came to the house, Mrs. Cornblatt, was to be our caseworker. She talked with us at length about our problems and especially Mr. Ramirez’s anger. My husband was very charming as he talked to Mrs. Cornblatt with his major complaint about me— he claims I cannot cook to please him. (Nobody can!) Mrs. Cormblatt set up weekly anger management classes for him that would start the next week.
After his first anger management class he came home in an unexpected good mood. He told me about some of the other men there, evidently with the same anger problems as he had. He handed me the printed materials and seemed to actually enjoy being there! I was thrilled; this could be a new beginning.
The next day Mrs. Cornblatt phoned to inquire if Mr. Ramirez went to the anger management class. I told her happily that he had attended the class and actually seemed to get a lot from the meeting. I told her I was thrilled with the progress so far.
The next week I brought in the mail and put things with his name on his desk. That night he came from his room laughing. He chuckled and strutted into the kitchen.
“This is what your fancy DYFS does? They are a joke!” he said and dropped the letter on the kitchen table smirking as he left.
“This is to inform you….” I read the letter addressed to my husband; Mrs. Cornblatt was evidently so impressed by him that she closed the case without any warning or input from us— the people affected by her action. He never attended another meeting and that closed the door on any ‘new beginning.’
At my Parents Anonymous group – with Elizabeth present – I told them that I felt punched in the stomach by what happened, I considered it an extreme failure of DYFS. I told the group that I drew a line in the sand that day and I looked Elizabeth in the eye as I explained. Even though we experienced a bad outcome this time, it was still very productive. Mr. Ramirez knows now that I do not make empty threats and I always follow through. If there ever was a next time I was not waiting around for CPS, I planned to call the police department directly. I had learned if they come out, they will remove Mr. Ramirez from the house and it would go to court from there.
Mr. Ramirez might have won a battle but he still lost the war. Katie and Chelsey understood they had my blessing to call DYFS or report at school any time they felt the need. As they turned eighteen, Mr. Ramirez thought he had leverage since they were now considered to be adults and not under the DYFS umbrella.
“Not so fast, Mr. Ramirez,” I said, “Now it’s not child abuse; the new term is ‘assault on a female.’”
In the years since the abuse and dealing with the effects of an impotent DYFS case we have managed to survive. We have also learned a few critical pieces of information about Mr. Ramirez. He has undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome and that has played a major role in how he treats us and others. He may never get a formal diagnosis because it has no medical repercussions, only social consequences.
Elizabeth broke confidentiality by telling Mr. Ramirez’s family members about my attempt to report him for child abuse. As a state employee she could have faced penalties or reprimands for disclosing the information I gave her. The fact that she protected a child abuser rather than the victim is reprehensible. I chose not to go further with a lawsuit after she lied about the abuse assessment because of my relationship to her – a relative to a friend – and I did not believe she would do that to any other Parents Anonymous members. Also, bringing a lawsuit could jeopardize other Parents Anonymous groups statewide and the groups were too important. The only we thing we lost that we truly missed was family connections in New Jersey so I guess I will leave it to karma to get Elizabeth in the end.
How would you have handled an abusive spouse or partner differently? If you have other suggestion, please use the contact or reply form below to let me know. Many other parents may be struggling with this very issue and your tip may be right for them. –Thank you.
Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.
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