This is a case I’m going to have a lot to say about as details unfold. In 2004, a sixteen year old girl named Hilary Adams suspected her father was going to beat her soon, as he often did. She’d been caught earlier in the day downloading music or games in a manner her father believed to be illegal. She turned her camera on, set it up on a dresser, disguised the red recording light with a scarf, and filmed seven and a half minutes of her father whipping her viciously with a belt and cursing at her.
This man is a family court judge in Aransas County, Texas, hearing cases that involve domestic abuse. Belt whipping is perfectly legal in Texas, but few people seem to believe this video represents what the state law had in mind. You can watch the video here in its entirety; be forewarned, it is every bit as disturbing as you would imagine.
Judge Adams says he “did nothing wrong.” He was punishing his child, and he lost his temper, and he apologized. But if he’d never done anything like this before, how come Hilary knew to set up the camera? Here are some highlights (with the time they occur) from this alleged punishment. You’ll notice Hilary’s mother also participated – I’ll get to analysis of that later.
- 1:45. The judge: “Lay down, or I’ll spank you on the fuckin’ face!”
- 1:55. After nearly two minutes of beating her on the legs because she won’t turn over so he can beat her buttocks, the judge grabs Hilary by the jaw and shoves her down onto the bed on her back.
- 2:22. The mother takes the belt from the judge and says she’ll continue the spanking. The judge grabs for the belt, panting, “Give it to me! Give it to me!” in a weirdly breathless tone (as if he’s really exerting himself, which he is not). She won’t give it up, and so he leaves the room to get another belt for himself. The mother does calmly administer one single lash on Hilary’s buttocks, Hilary having cooperated with her request to turn over and take the beating, and Hilary’s cries aren’t nearly as loud as with her father’s lashes. Now, that is probably what the state of Texas had in mind. I’m not saying it’s great parenting, but it’s very different from what the judge is doing.
- 3:05. The judge bursts back into the room, followed by the mother, and shouts: “I never got my lick in on her!” He sounds almost cheerful. I guess he means a lick on the buttocks since he’s whipped her legs quite a few times. I suspect the mother told him she lashed Hilary’s buttocks, thinking that would placate him, but it only made him envious.
- 3:12. The judge: “Get on your stomach, or I’m gonna start beating you again!” Again with the weird breathlessness. I hate to say it, but what it brings to mind is sexual excitement.
- 3:30. The mother, to the judge: “That’s e-” The judge, to Hilary: “I have to beat you into submission!”
- 3:40. He asks Hilary if she’s going to put more games on the computer, and she wail, “No!” The judge launches into a lengthy tirade on why he didn’t even want “a fuckin’ computer” in the house. The computer is for her schoolwork, by the way, and they mention this several times. The internet also serves as a link to the outside world for an abused child – I’ve actually heard more than a few stories from abused kids about not being allowed to have computers. Draw your own conclusions.
- 4:18. The judge: “Is it fun to disobey your mom and dad?… You don’t fuckin’ deserve to be in this house.”
- 4:52. “I’ll just keep beating you, and beating you.”
- 5:17. The judge, in a low, dangerous tone: “If I hear so much as you raise your fuckin’ voice, one little bit to me, or your mother, or the wrong tone, or you do one little thing wrong, or you-” here, he’s back to a shout – “look at me fuckin’ wrong, I’m gonna take you in there and wear your fuckin’ ass out with this belt, you understand me?”
- 5:44. The judge: “You caused this, by your dis-fuckin’-obedience.”
He calls this event a beating four times. To use the phrase trial lawyers just love: were you lying then, or are you lying now, Judge Adams, when you say this was merely a punishment?
This doesn’t sound look or sound like punishment. What I see on that video is a man enjoying himself or getting some kind of relief. He never expresses regret at having to do this. Nor do I see a man who’s lost his temper. He seems very angry, but not out of control at all.
Lack of legal consequences
Legally, there’s nothing to be done – there usually isn’t in these cases, because the statutes of limitations (I believe 5 years is the most any state offers) don’t allow young adults enough time to process the events, get safely away from their abusive parents, wait for their younger siblings to be safely away, and then make charges. But there has been a public outcry from all over the world (see first link above) demanding that this man be removed from the bench. I guess if only every abused child had video of the abuse, people would believe them even against VIPs like judges.
Dr. Drew’s reaction
If you couldn’t stand to watch the video of the beating, you might really enjoy this one, in which Dr. Drew gets very hot and bothered and tells a judge from Florida he doesn’t care what the law says, because in psychiatry, they spend all their time trying to put back together the pieces of adults like Hilary. It’s heartening to see anybody get that unequivocally pissed off about child abuse on national television.
We know for sure – categorically – that physical abuse, being struck by an object… for young people whose brains are developing, shatters the brain’s upper limit of its ability to regulate, and actually changes the way the brain grows.
This is the sort of thing that’s so important for people to understand. You hear all this pseudo-science about how genes hardwire our brains to certain behaviors and culture has nothing to do with it. One of the reasons it’s crap is that the brain is so plastic as it’s developing – things that happen to us up to early adulthood determine which genes will be expressed.
Hilary’s mother, Hallie
Let’s talk about Hilary’s mother. She and Hilary are now close because Hallie has apologized (non-stop, according to Hilary) and seems genuine in her remorse. She says she was “brainwashed” by her husband into going along with him, and that the judge has kept emotionally abusing her since the divorce. When she told him she was never speaking to him again, he said he would cut off her alimony and take their younger daughter away from her. Weren’t we just talking about that abuse pattern? Do these guys have a manual, or something?
If you’re wondering how a woman could get to the point of helping her husband beat their child, you need to understand this: when you’re living with someone who gets that violent anytime anyone stands up to him, you don’t stand up to him. You either become very passive, or you become his collaborator in hopes of mitigating the damage. That’s what we’re seeing here – a mitigating collaborator. The mother calmly agrees with every argument the judge makes, because arguing with him would only escalate his temper. She takes over the beating not because she enjoys it – that’s clear from her demeanor – but because she’s hoping it will lessen his anger and protect Hilary from his more painful lashes. Several times she says “That’s en…” and stops herself because that constitutes standing up to him. As hard as it is to stomach, this is clearly a woman doing the best she can under circumstances that are as FUBAR as any war situation.
Most importantly, the mother has shown remorse and is not arguing that what she did was okay. She accepts responsibility and has done what she can to make amends. Despite how extreme her deeds seem out of context, they are human errors. The judge, on the other hand, has no remorse and feels he is being wronged. Perhaps the best quote from Hilary’s father so far is: “I really don’t want to get into this right now because as you can see my life’s been made very difficult over this child.”
The judge tells his side of it through a statement from lawyers:
Just prior to the YouTube upload, a concerned father shared with his 23-year-old daughter that he was unwilling to continue to work hard and be her primary source of financial support, if she was going to simply ‘drop out,’ and strive to achieve no more in life than to work part time at a video game store. Hilary warned her father if he reduced her financial support, and took away her Mercedes automobile, which her father had provided, he would live to regret it.
To the ignorant, this may sound like a privileged child seeking revenge for the withdrawal of her privileges, though fortunately most people seem to recognize that what the judge did is completely wrong, regardless. But it’s not that simple. Money is one of the ways abusers control their victims – and they will control child victims well into adulthood, if the victims allow it. And the victims often do, because many lack confidence that they can make it without their abusers’ financial help – a view abusers promote every chance they get. Abuse victims also tend to struggle in school (nothing like trying to take a test when you’re distracted by the headgames of emotional abuse, let alone injuries that make it hard to sit at a desk) and in making friends (a skill which translates in adulthood to “networking”), which doesn’t set them up for career success. (And at the moment, let’s face it: young adults with degrees are working part-time at video game stores.) Abusers who play this game often eventually threaten to end all support in hopes of forcing their victim to comply with their wish to keep abusing her. Some victims give in. Others, like Hilary, instinctively leap at the chance to be free of the abuse once and for all.
Exploring the absolute heights of ableism, the judge’s statement also says:
It is regrettable that Hilary Adams, a bright and gifted person, would include in her post that she is or was a disabled or a special needs child. As multiple media appearances clearly demonstrate, Hilary Adams is articulate, possesses a superior IQ, and is capable of functioning as a productive adult in today’s complex society. No one should take the affliction of cerebral palsy lightly. Hilary’s parents did not. Hilary’s condition was monitored as a child and her medical needs met. However, neither should a perfectly capable adult try to use an affliction as a device for media sympathy. It should now be apparent to the world that “disabled” was mislabeled.
First of all, you’re never cured of ataxic cerebral palsy (though there are treatments that mitigate the complications, and I hope this means Hilary benefited from them). It’s worth mentioning that physical child abuse can cause cerebral palsy. And children with disabilities are more likely to be abused than children without. A disability need not be visually obvious to constitute a problem, and functionality is not the measure of ability. I believe Hilary’s intent in mentioning her disability was not to get sympathy, but to let the world know how absolutely pitiless this family court judge is toward even disabled children.
The judge’s psychiatric profile
Hilary has expressed that she wants her father to get help. Her mother has referred to “an addiction” as a “family secret” that explains his behavior. Addiction certainly does not explain his behavior. It can cause once considerate people to behave very selfishly in service of their addiction, but it certainly never forced anyone to administer a sustained beating to a child. And deriving joy from someone else’s pain – and I do believe that’s what we’re talking about – is known in psychiatry as sadism, and it’s a symptom that has no particular link to addiction.
Hilary’s response to her father’s remarks about how he did nothing wrong is very telling: “It’s a shining perfect example of his personality and he believes he can do no wrong … He will cover up rather than admit to what he did and try to come clean.”
That’s narcissism. It’s quite possible that multiple psychiatric diagnoses would apply to this man, but I’m convinced Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the primary problem, as usual. It’s all about him, and everyone should understand that, and no one should ever criticize him, for he is above us all. Sadly for Hilary, NPD is incurable. It is treatable to a limited degree, but only if the patient is motivated to want treatment, and because this society consistently lets NPDs profit from their selfishness, why on earth would they want to change? This society fails to give them the incentive.
To Hilary’s concerns about his mental health, the judge has also responded through his statement:
If this entire event was a plea for help and healing, the methodology is certainly unorthodox. Judge Adams, who among other reasons, still has a minor daughter to consider, chooses to involve the media as little as possible whilst personal family matters are sorted through. The public may ponder what consideration Hilary Adams gave her little sister before subjecting the entire family to worldwide microscopic scrutiny, and permanent consequences.
Hilary has said it was concern for her younger sister and mother that prompted her to wait this long. The mother is now free of the judge, and has primary custody of the younger daughter. But you see from this how abusers always make sure they have somebody as a hostage to keep you silent. It takes a lot of courage to speak out, but at some point you realize the only way the hurting will ever stop once and for all is if you speak out, even if speaking out hurts someone in the short term.
I don’t think any of this went through Hilary’s mind consciously, but I know this thinking firsthand. Dr. Drew thinks Hilary has had therapy, and this is part of her healing process. I don’t know about the therapy, but there’s nothing more healing than telling people what you’ve been through and having them believe you and care. The internet is giving abused kids that chance on a scale never before seen.
Whatever happens, this guy needs to be removed from the bench without ever a chance of judging a case again in any state, ever. His former cases should be pored over carefully for signs that he has consistently sided with likely abusers, or dismissed claims of abuse as mere “punishment.”
Another thing that kept Hilary silent was that people she and her mother had confided in didn’t believe them in the past. This is typical, especially when the alleged abuser is someone important, like a judge, a doctor, a preacher, a cop, a military man, etc. To believe someone of lower social standing over someone with higher standing is an act of public defiance, and most people lack the courage to take that step. If you ever wondered why some people are so cynical about human beings, this is a good example.