To whom it may concern,
I am writing to you on behalf of my aunt, Irene Bedard. Irene is an Alaskan Native actress, and is best known as the voice of Pocahontas in the Disney movie of the same name. She also had a starring role in the television miniseries “Into the West”. My aunt is very proud of her Alaskan Native heritage and used to take great joy in sharing that heritage with the world. However, my aunt’s light has been dimmed. I will explain why.
Irene moved to Alaska in an attempt to flee a horrific domestic violence situation. For 17 years, she suffered abuse, both sexually and physically, at the hands of the one person she should have been able to trust implicitly, her husband. The years of abuse left not only her body, but also her spirit and mind, battered. The abuse had been so pervasive, her health began to decline, rapidly. Her doctor began tests to detect cancer, unaware of the abuse. As heinous as the physical and mental tolls were, they were not the only price my aunt had to pay.
Her abusive husband kept her under financial control, taking her earnings, and forbidding her to work in her career field, unless he specifically approved the project. This had a detrimental effect on an otherwise promising career. As I stated earlier, my aunt starred in two important productions highlighting the plight of Native Americans. She intended to use her celebrity to bring light to the rich and beautiful heritage of all Native Americans, and Alaskan Natives, in particular. However, her husband’s control and abuse made this impossible. She could not work with bruises on her skin, and his constant presence at her work sites made not only Irene, but also others in the cast and crew uneasy. This cost my aunt jobs. No one wanted to have her husband on the set, and he would not allow her to work without him being there. While the loss of income was financially devastating for my aunt, the loss of her platform to share her heritage with the world was even more so.
As in most domestic violence cases, not only did my aunt’s husband hurt her physically, and caused her to lose her career, he alienated from her from family, friends, and fans, her support system. He had to have total control over her and their child. It was because of her son, Quinn, that she did not leave. She felt she had to endure all of the abuse for his sake. If she left her abuser, he would follow her, and, she feared, use, and possibly harm their son to force her to come back to him. She felt ashamed, embarrassed, humiliated, and powerless. It was only through an intervention by her family that she began to regain her spirit to defend herself, and make a better life for her son. She felt broken. But, with the love, encouragement, and support of her family, she felt there was hope for her and her son. With the help of her family, she moved to Alaska, where she could get treatment for her health, and counseling for herself and her son.
She filed for a domestic violence protective order, and for divorce in Alaska. She hired an attorney in Alaska, and an attorney in Ohio. Her attorneys told her that she could obtain jurisdiction in Alaska if, in fact, she could prove that domestic violence had occurred. She gathered her evidence, and found her witnesses. All the while, she was still being pursued and harassed, through her son, by her abuser, and even by the law. The very laws that are supposed to protect her were threatening to take her child away from her, if she did not return him to Ohio. But, she still held on to hope that this would work even though deep down she was terrified that she would lose the one and only good thing that came out of her marriage, her son. The Ohio lawyer told her, since she had filed for divorce first, and because this was a domestic violence case, by Ohio state laws jurisdiction would fall in Alaska. She went to trial, in Alaska, to prove the domestic abuse. She had to tell her story and relive the 17-year nightmare, again. When it came it to her abusers turn, he backed out of testifying, and offered her a deal that sounded too good to be true. He acknowledged the domestic violence, but stated that he would only stop contesting the domestic violence, with certain stipulations. Her lawyer explained the stipulations to her and said it would be a good thing because he would have a domestic violence conviction and she was on a limited time frame. She listened to his advice and accepted the stipulations. However, the attorney made a huge mistake, which would cost her greatly. The Alaska lawyer did not read the stipulations thoroughly. One of the stipulations of the agreement is the finding of no facts in the domestic violence case. This gave the protective order no weight in the Ohio courts. Additionally, it moved jurisdiction of the case to Ohio. This was not in her best interest at all. Ohio laws do not offer the same protection for domestic abuse victims and their children as Alaska laws do. Clearly, these concessions were not in her best interest, and his incompetence hurt her case. She even heard him admit to this, later, to her abusers attorney, none the less. The Ohio courts ordered her to come back to Ohio, with her son, or face a Contempt of Court charge, which would have put her in jail, and left her son defenseless and living with an abusive father. Without the protection of the Alaska courts, Irene had little choice but to move back to Ohio, and back to her abuser. Again, the abuser has her isolated from her family, friends, fans, and even work. Again, she is living in fear. Again, she cannot freely pursue the career of her choice. Again, she has to give what money she does earn to her abuser. It is abundantly clear why she was afraid to leave in the first place. Everything she feared about the legal system has happened.
How can this be justice? Why aren’t the courts protecting these victims? Why are they allowing these abusers to further harass and torment their victims by abusing the law? These laws need to be changed. The Alaska courts need to reassert jurisdiction immediately. We need to protect the victims of domestic violence or else these victims will continue to suffer in silence because of fear. Is it not a crime to assault someone? Is it not a crime to rape someone? Is it not a crime to stalk and harass someone? Then why is it acceptable for someone to commit domestic violence; a crime that contains all of these things, and often ends in death? Why is it acceptable for an abuser to gain custody of an innocent, defenseless child and keep the non-abusive parent from the child? What must it take for lawmakers, judges, police officers, and citizens to act? When will we stand up and say this is wrong, and we will not tolerate it? I am asking you now, on behalf of my aunt who is incapable of doing so, to act, to stand up with me. Stand up with me and make these changes. Change the laws. Protect all citizens of the United States from abuse.
Specifically, for my aunt, Alaska needs to intercede and move jurisdiction back to Alaska where it belongs. A state that believes a parent who commits domestic violence should not have custody of a child without proper rehabilitation, compared to Ohio, a state that feels both parents should have custody no matter what. No person who abuses their family should have custody of a child, or be allowed to garnish half of their spouses income, or to dictate where they live. Please, stand with me when I say domestic violence will no longer be tolerated in this country!