DVLC’s Response to Chicago Magazine’s The Defender

In the February issue of the Chicago Magazine, Bryan Smith, author of “The Defender” frets that the “‘believe women’ creed risks seeping into courts of law.”  In a victory for likeminded folks who are fatigued with all the listening and believing the #MeToo movement has asked of them, the Chicago Magazine chose to publish a lengthy article on sexual assault and domestic violence without (apparently) consulting a single survivor, including our client whose December court hearing was portrayed in the article. Then, having published thousands of words describing the plight of three men accused of sexual assault, the magazine’s editors claimed that space constraints forced them to limit our response to three sentences.

As you may imagine, we have more to say.

The article’s portrayal of a DVLC case was so skewed as to be almost unrecognizable. Although the author of “The Defender” was within feet of our client and her attorney when he observed court, he never made any attempt to contact either of them. The article also omits important facts that the author almost certainly observed, as well as all of the historical context that he could have obtained through additional research and interviews.

  • The article implies that our client was required to prove that her father had contacted her / violated the Order of Protection. (“The father has lived up to every aspect of the order, she explains, but in the face of that lone “yes,” it means nothing.”) It is not legally required that the Petitioner establish violations of the Order of Protection for a judge to grant an extension of the Order.
  • The line “She’s told her lawyer that he’d sexually abused her when she was younger” implies that she has only made this allegation to her lawyer, when in fact she first disclosed the abuse many years prior to our representation.
  • The December hearing is described in isolation from the history of litigation and abuse, both of which are extensive.
  • In fact, our client alleges that her father sexually abused her beginning when she was six years old. As a result of these and other allegations, multiple previous court orders, from at least two other judges, restricted or forbade the Respondent from contacting our client, including one entered in the parents’ divorce when our client was 14.
  • She sought and obtained an Order of Protection the day she turned 18 in 2015 in order to prevent contact and in December 2017 was seeking to extend that Order of Protection.
  • Despite a court order in his divorce judgment forbidding him from contacting our client, the Respondent repeatedly made attempts to contact our client directly, including traveling outside the country to locate and harass her.  In fact, the Respondent violated court orders so frequently, he had been held in contempt of court on multiple occasions.
  • During the hearing, the Respondent denied that he had ever been held in contempt of court and Ms. Rotunno erroneously repeated his assertion, despite a clear record of the findings in the court file itself. The judge in the December hearing quickly located the record of the contempt finding and read it into the record. This exchange was omitted in the article.

 This inaccurate portrayal of the case is detrimental not only to our client, but potentially to countless others seeking protection from domestic violence.

Publishing this one-sided version of events hurt our client, for whom it is yet another instance of her father’s pattern of manipulation and harassment. It also harms thousands of other victims. Order of Protection hearings are generally public, and frequently involve disclosures of personal information that can be embarrassing, even traumatizing. Adding the possibility that a reporter may publish a one-sided version of the most personal conflict in your life, without giving you the opportunity to comment or respond, could certainly have a chilling effect on other victims’ willingness to testify.

Had the author made any attempt to contact our client or her attorney Elizabeth Koziol, the depiction of her case and indeed, the entire article, would have been more complex, more balanced and more credible.  Had the author read transcripts from previous hearings, or court orders from our client’s parents’ divorce or even spoken with our client or Elizabeth when he was in the courtroom, he would have had a more complicated story to tell. A story of a young child whose father sexually abused her. A story of an adolescent so fearful of her father and his manipulation that she asked a judge to keep her father from contacting her. A story of a young girl trying to protect herself and heal – even as her father disobeyed the judge, ignored her wishes and was found in contempt of court in a related case, for harassing her over and over again.

Contrary to the assertions in the article, in most cases, it is not at all easy for survivors to access justice, either through the criminal or civil justice systems. Yet the vast majority of people seeking these remedies and protections are telling the truth and deserve to be heard — in court and certainly in journalism that purports to tell their stories.