Testimony to the Louisiana Legislature

Bandy X. Lee
10 min readApr 14, 2024

By Bandy X. Lee, M.D., M.Div., in Support of H.C.R. 395

My name is Bandy Lee, and I would like to express my strong support for H.C.R. 39, which provides for the continuation of the Judicial Structure Task Force as established by House Resolution No. 30 of the 2022 Regular Session. This Resolution is important, because any level of oversight will help mitigate the current deadly crisis in the family courts, where resources are being used for violence against women and children.

I am a forensic psychiatrist and expert on violence who taught at Yale School of Medicine and Yale Law School for seventeen years before transferring to Harvard Medical School, where I am a faculty member of the Harvard Program in Psychiatry and the Law. I am president of the World Mental Health Coalition and cofounder of the Violence Prevention Institute. I served as director of research for Harvard’s Center for the Study of Violence, as well as co-founded Yale’s Violence and Health Working Group at the MacMillan Center for International Studies. I have consulted with governments on prison reform and community violence prevention, such as New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Alabama, California, Ireland, and France, in addition to the U.S. Senate. I helped author the United Nations Secretary-General’s chapter on “Violence against Children” in 2007 and have led a project group for the World Health Organization (WHO) Violence Prevention Alliance since 2011. I am a past fellow of the National Institute of Mental Health and recipient of the National Research Service Award. I also played a key role in bringing in federal investigators and initiating reforms at Rikers Island, a correctional facility in New York City known for extreme levels of violence. I authored a widely-used, authoritative textbook, Violence (Lee, 2019), 17 edited scholarly books and journal special issues, over 100 scientific articles and chapters, and over 300 opinion articles in outlets such as the Guardian, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Independent, and Politico. In addition to the WHO, I have served as an expert consultant for the United Nations, UNESCO, and the World Economic Forum. My clinical practice specializes in treating violent offenders, and I have served as an expert witness for criminal and civil courts in approximately eighty cases and for family court in approximately three dozen cases. I have previously testified on the dangers of family courts for the Colorado, New York, Tennessee, and Washington legislatures.

What is largely unknown, even for those within the judicial system, is that family courts, through excessive discretion and a lack of accountability and transparency, have become the source of a hidden, deadly epidemic. The warning by Yale Law School’s Robert Cover applies here more than anywhere else: “Interpretations in law … constitute justifications for violence” (Cover, 1986).

Family court judges are granted wide “discretion” with the law, initially with good intentions, but the lack of oversight and the power to conduct all proceedings in self-imposed secrecy have — much like the prison system I have studied for decades — led to disastrous results. That a world of brutality and violence flourishes not only in prisons behind concrete walls, but also in courts of law behind sealed records and gag orders, is one of the most disturbing realities I have come to witness in my twenty-five years of forensic practice — especially since innocent children are the primary victims.

We know from scientific research that the trauma and mortality of domestic violence and child abuse are as severe as any war combat. That family courts are failing to recognize domestic abuse, but routinely send children to their abusers and sever contact with their primary caregivers, is currently one of the greatest human rights emergencies on U.S. soil — especially since this has lifelong and intergenerational repercussions. All fifty U.S. states that are affected, and Louisiana is no exception (Associated Press, 2022; Jenkins, 2024; Silva, 2022).

The statistics are stark. Three-quarters of women in the United States who are killed by their abusers are murdered after they leave the abusive relationship. Of the approximately 100,000 contested child custody cases each year in the United States, a vast majority are actually domestic violence cases involving the most dangerous individuals our society produces. Abusive fathers are more than twice as likely to seek sole custody of their children than non-abusive fathers, and family courts award them joint or sole custody almost three-fourths of the time (Resource Center on Domestic Violence: Child Protection and Custody, 2023). Many fathers who are thus granted custody kill their children, such that up to 25 percent of the nation’s child murders by parent are the result of placement by family courts (Center for Judicial Excellence, 2023).

These are massive numbers, since child abuse is very common. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five Americans were sexually molested as a child, one in four were beaten by a parent to the point of leaving a mark on the body, and one out of eight witnessed their mother being beaten. Five children die per day from abuse in the United States, and four will have involved a parent. Almost one in three abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children, continuing this horrible cycle of abuse — and family courts may be a contributor to worsening trends (Friedman, 2019).

The Center for Judicial Excellence (2024) has tracked over 980 children murdered by a divorcing or separating parent over a sixteen-year period in the United States. A detailed study of 175 child murders by fathers in relation to contested custody showed that family courts had in many cases given the access they needed to murder their children, over the objections of the mother (Bartlow, 2017). For every murder, there are a greater number of suicides, and for every death, there are hundreds of injuries that require medical attention. Yet, these numbers are an undercount, as near-universal record concealment, sometimes against the litigants themselves, makes it virtually impossible to track the true number of child murders family courts enable.

Deaths are only the extreme end, since the “soul murder” that children endure with the experience of abuse is unseen from the outside. More than 58,000 children a year are ordered into unsupervised custody by their physical or sexual abuser following divorce in the United States (Silberg, 2008). These children are maximally exposed to lifelong psychological and physical illness, substance abuse, relationship problems, vulnerability to future abuse, as well as decades of loss of life, according to the highly-respected, federally-funded nationwide Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study (Felitti et al., 2002).

In a disproportionate number of family court cases, the “protective parent” loses custody for simply bringing up the abuse — or even when the children bring up the abuse. Thus, they strip children not only of their primary attachment figure and primary support, but the number one mitigating factor that could help them heal from the abuse. The result is that there is no greater tragedy for growing children, no greater loss for loving parents, and studies now show that large numbers of protective parents, usually mothers, die (Dalgarno et al., 2024; Thomas, 2023).

Child abuse not only affects the current levels of violence in society but has measurable impacts on the levels of heart disease, cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, mental illness, substance abuse, crimes, suicides, and life expectancy (Petruccelli et al., 2019). The economic cost of child abuse and neglect in the United States was estimated at 592 billion dollars in 2018 (Klika et al., 2020).

In spite of all this, pervasive practices of family courts knowingly granting the abusive parent primary custody or unprotected parenting time has tragically not only gone undetected — but have become increasingly extreme in their unchecked abuses. Many cases are prolonged for years if not decades, mainly for the purpose of obscuring the picture, appointing unnecessary court actors (Saunders et al., 2011), and hiring antiscientific “parental alienation experts” and “reunification therapists” to fix the results, fabricate false “evidence”, and suppress real evidence. The profits of doing so are estimated to be between 50 and 175 billion dollars per year (Berger, 2014) — more than the revenue of all other courts combined.

Furthermore, biases against women, children, and allegations of abuse endemic in family courts help dangerous individuals, especially men, to weaponize the courts as instruments of their abuse. Additionally, with higher courts reluctant to intervene and appeals seldom successful because of near-unlimited “discretion”, family court judges wield almost absolute power. They have essentially crafted a subculture that sharply deviates from mainstream society, quickly turning perpetrators into “victims” and domestic violence victims into “perpetrators”.

Tactical theories designed to produce this result, such as “parental alienation,” are discredited elsewhere but thrive in the context of family courts. This hypothesis, originally based not on research but on the personal biases of Richard Gardner, has been debunked scientifically and denounced by reputable medical, psychiatric, and psychological associations — as well as, most notably, the United Nations (2023). Yet, this “pseudo-concept” continues to dominate as a strategy abusers use to manipulate family courts and is being exported internationally at alarming rates. It enables the abuser to portray reports of child sexual, physical, and psychological abuse as lies and the children rejecting him as having been “coached” by the primary caregiver to “alienate” him — rather than being a genuine survival mechanism against his harmful acts, as all legitimate scientific, medical, and developmental studies support.

A national study of 4,388 custody cases showed that mothers who report abuse — particularly child sexual abuse — were losing child custody to abusers at alarming rates (Meier, 2021). It found that the family courts were excessively resistant to child abuse reports and frequently transferred custody from their primary caregivers to known abusers, including convicted sex offenders. If the father accused of abuse counter-accused with “parental alienation,” his chances of gaining custody doubled. If the mother accused of abuse counter-accused with “parental alienation,” her chances did not improve. Yet, studies have repeatedly established that not only is deliberate false reporting rare — as little as 0.1 percent (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010) — but that child abuse is greatly underreported.

The most dangerous abusers use children as pawns to torment their former partner or to gain child support, to seize marital assets, and even to incarcerate protective parents, with shockingly high rates of success. The greatest casualties are the children, who suffer immeasurably and not only lose the opportunity ever to reach their full potential but in large part become the next generation of angry rapists and murderers, if they survive that long.

As a result, whether through ignorance or willful blindness, bad decisions have become the deadly norm for family courts. A major National Institute of Justice-sponsored family court outcomes study came to the astonishing conclusion that if all family court custody decisions were reversed, they would be more correct (George Washington University, 2018). A cottage industry of lawyers, guardians ad litem, and poorly-qualified “experts”, backed by abuser groups (which call themselves “men’s rights” or “fathers’ rights” groups) has developed because in domestic violence cases, the abusers usually control the money, and it is more lucrative to help the abusers. Therefore, going far beyond the notorious “kids for cash” scandal (Chen, 2009), family courts are taking children from their stable homes and protective, primary caregivers to sell them to the highest bidder, which all too often means to their torture, rape, and murder.

For these reasons, oversight is critical and urgent of the family courts, as well as of all other courts that defer to them. H.C.R. 39, through the Judicial Structure Task Force, has the ability to provide some of that oversight and possibly to save innocent lives.


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Jenkins, W. (2024, April 11). Judges Baker, Green haven’t allowed mom to see her twins in more than two years. Central City News. https://centralcitynews.us/?p=15779

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Silva, D. (2022, June 17). Louisiana woman says her rapist was given custody of her child in ongoing court dispute. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/louisiana-woman-says-rapist-was-custody-child-ongoing-court-dispute-rcna34140

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Bandy X. Lee

Forensic psychiatrist, violence expert, president of the World Mental Health Coalition (worldmhc.org), and New York Times bestselling author.