Facts: Stepfather was convicted of raping Mother’s daughter. The Department of Children’s Services commenced an action to terminate Mother’s parental rights. After a trial, the court found that Mother refused to accept that sexual abuse had occurred (despite the jury’s unanimous verdict beyond a reasonable doubt), Mother allowed Stepfather to be alone with her daughter on several occasions, and Mother’s claimed “spotty” memory was “convenient and not credible.” After the trial court terminated her parental rights, Mother appealed, arguing “the evidence is not clear and convincing that she failed to protect the children and asserts that she was not aware that [Stepfather] was sexually abusing her daughter.”
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
The legal standard for committing severe child abuse for failing to protect a child is as follows:
Parents who have not themselves severely abused their own child may still be found to have committed severe child abuse if they knowingly exposed the child to, or knowingly failed to protect the child from, conduct constituting severe child abuse. A parent’s failure to protect a child will also be considered ‘knowing’ if the parent had been presented with sufficient facts from which he or she could have and should have recognized that severe child abuse had occurred or that it was highly probable that severe child abuse would occur.
The Court of Appeals found the record was replete with evidence that Mother failed to protect her daughter.
In addition to testimony of [Child], the record in this case includes the testimony of several of the adults who lived with Mother and [Stepfather] and pursued a “polyamory” lifestyle. [Child] testified that the first incident of abuse occurred on her ninth birthday, when Mother allowed [Stepfather] to take her out alone, purportedly to celebrate her birthday, and that other incidences of abuse took place in a field adjoining the trailer in which they lived or in a vacant house on the property. One of the adult participants in the lifestyle testified that [Stepfather] asked Mother for permission to “court” [Child] and to offer [Child] a ring in hopes of eventually getting her to be one of his three wives. Another testified that [Stepfather] made “very lewd” comments about young girls in Mother’s presence; that, on one occasion as they passed a high school car wash while driving to the store, Mother pointed out to [Stepfather] some girls that he might be interested in; and that there were pornographic images on the computer. Mother herself testified that she pointed out “young women” for [Stepfather]; that there was pornography in the house with which at least one of the children came into contact; that she had a profile on a bondage, discipline, and submission and masochism website in which she recorded herself as the “owned slave” of [Stepfather] and indicated that one of her favorite activities was “bottoming,” or taking orders, from men. . . .
Mother’s participation in the polyamory lifestyle and her master/slave relationship with [Stepfather] no doubt colored her perspective of the sexually charged, abusive and dangerous environment in which the children were being raised, the reality of which resulted in [Stepfather’s] abuse of the child. Mother’s conduct constituted willful ignorance of the facts that were there for her to see.
In conducting the best interest analysis, the trial court concluded it would be unsafe to return the children to Mother. The Court of Appeals noted:
Significantly, Mother testified at the termination hearing, held eight months after the criminal trial of [Stepfather], that “I still do not believe that my daughter was raped”; that she still talked with [Stepfather] “frequently”; and that she intended to stay married to him. This is evidence that answers negatively the inquiry at § 36-1-113(i)(1) of whether the parent “has made such an adjustment of circumstance, conduct, or conditions as to make it safe and in the child’s best interest to be in the home of the parent. . . .” Mother’s refusal or inability to acknowledge that [Stepfather] is a pedophile convicted of sexual abuse of one of her children troubled the trial court and is clear and convincing proof that it would not be safe to return the children to Mother.
Information provided by K.O. Herston, Tennessee Divorce Lawyer.