Mother who pleaded guilty in son’s death has terrible history of her own

Last month, Cruz pleaded guilty to manslaughter for failure to provide medical care, in the July 14, 2013 death of her baby son Nicholas. Monday, she was testifying at a Gardiner hearing — basically, a prelude to sentencing — in the case of Joel France. At the time of Nicholas’s death, France was Cruz’s live-in boyfriend, and earlier this month, he too pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Both only admit to failing to provide the life-saving medical care for the child. Prosecutors Mihael Cole and Heather Keating are trying to prove that it was France who had a history of physically abusing Nicholas, that he also abused Cruz and that it was France who inflicted the death blows to the 26-month-old toddler.

Court hears of life of abuse

Marleny Cruz was trapped in a cycle of domestic violence and its heart-breaking repercussions, according to court proceedings. Cruz, who was sentenced to six years in jail last month, left the Dominican Republic as a five-year-old in 1992 to live with her father and his wife in Toronto.  Since then, Marleny and her family have had a lengthy history with the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. She suffered repeated sexual abuse by her father — as documented by CAS records, Crown attorney Mihael Cole told Justice Michael Code. She also endured physical abuse by her stepmom on numerous occasions. The stepmom was convicted on one occasion, said Cole.

Cruz had her first child, a boy, at the age of 18, but when the biological father denied “parentage,” she was left alone to raise him. She met the next troublesome domestic partner, Jonathan Donaldson, who fathered her second son. Donald inflicted “substantial sexual, physical and emotional abuse” upon Cruz. She remained in the abusive relationship and Donald was charged criminally by Toronto Police for physically mistreating her. In 2009, both boys were taken into care by the CCAS because, as a lengthy agreed statement of fact introduced as evidence says, “Ms. Cruz could not be trusted to protect her children from witnessing the abuse from Mr. Donaldson or to putting their needs before her own.” They have since been adopted.

Nicholas was born May 25, 2011, and was apprehended immediately by the CCAS and placed in foster care. But she was keen on getting Nicholas back and underwent extensive counselling, therapy, parenting classes and supervised visits – all to help her re-unite with Nicholas. By late June 2013, Cruz was doing so well — and Nicholas too — that she had regained custody of the little boy and the supervision order was about to expire. The CCAS was “about to support” her in ending it. However, Cruz met France in May 2013 and they were soon romantically involved, court heard. Their relationship soured quickly as the possessive, jealous France physically and verbally abused her, said Cruz. He was also violent towards Nicholas in early June 2013. Her dreams of raising Nicholas died when he did in July 2013 after she failed to take him to the hospital because she feared losing another child to CCAS, court heard.

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Generational Effects of Violence 

Domestic violence  is a chronic pattern. Part of this chronic pattern is the generational effect, which means that the legacy of violence is passed on from generation to generation. The consensus from research is that individuals with a history of abuse in childhood are at increased risk of maltreating their own children and/or partners and have a higher probability of living with a violent spouse. These parents often abuse their own children and/or fail to protect them from their violent encounters as in the case with Marleny Cruz. Our campaign Free Yourself Global explores the enculturation of violence through families over generations, and how does one, whether the abuser or the abused, interrupt the pattern of violence? We hope to bring together all of the voices of the participants of domestic violence, including recovering abusers, victims, children, educators, support agencies and health professionals, law enforcement agencies, politicians, celebrities and social entrepreneurs who work to aid in this cause. When all stakeholders come together in a grass roots forum, we strengthen our ability to understand, address, and end the cycle of domestic abuse.

  • Whether you are a recovering abuser and/or a survivor of abuser and/or a professional in this field, share your story with us here.
  • Click here for the WHO Regional Office for Europe policy briefing on the public health approach to preventing child Maltreatment in the WHO European Region.

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