Courtesy Times Up
By Barry Goldstein
The concept of Custody-Visitation Scandal Cases was developed because of the frequency of extreme results in custody cases in which children are endangered, safe, protective mothers are denied any meaningful relationship with their children and the results appear to be the opposite of what the evidence and the well being of the children would require. The Battered Mothers Custody Conference was started in response to what we believed were too many of these tragic cases to be viewed as exceptions.
When we look at an individual case, it is hard to be sure the decision is wrong without a careful review of the record. In most cases mothers are pathologized or demonized in order to create the appearance of a justification for the extreme actions taken. When the bad decisions backfire in a way that demonstrates even to the courts that the wrong decision was made, the defenders of the courts like to believe these cases constitute the exceptions to the usual good job done by courts. There is now a large body of research about these cases that show there are too many cases with extreme results and flawed practices to be conveniently dismissed as exceptions. To illustrate the problem, I want to look at four of these extreme cases not because they are exceptions, but because they represent the kinds of mistakes the court system routinely makes and will continue to make until it changes practices that were developed at a time when no research was available and have proven to be detrimental to the children the courts are supposed to protect.
In one New Jersey case I have consulted on, the father has a long history of domestic violence and after the separation, the children disclosed sexual abuse. In this as in all the cases I will be discussing, the mother was unquestionably the primary attachment figure for the children. DYFS, the New Jersey child protective agency, investigated the allegations, but failed to confirm them. As a result, the father was given custody and as the protective mother continued to believe the father was dangerous, and challenge the professionals who failed to protect her children, she has been limited to supervised visitation.
In a well known Kansas case that I have discussed with the protective mother, the father has numerous convictions for domestic violence and other crimes and a poor relationship with the daughter. Despite this, the court gave custody to the father and imposed ever greater restrictions on the mother’s access to the daughter. The mother has been active in exposing the broken court system and the court has wasted large amounts of time and money seeking to remove information from the Internet and silence the mother’s concerns. The court has retaliated against the mother with reductions in visitation and a variety of sanctions.
In a California case, the mother left the father because of his abusiveness to the mother. Initially, the mother agreed to give the father unsupervised visitation, but as he continued his abuse and threatened to kill the baby, she sought to restrict him to supervised visitation. The judge decided she was a liar, awarded the father unsupervised visitation and threatened further action against the mother if the judge’s belief she was lying was confirmed.
In a Maryland case the protective mother also sought to leave her abuser and when he made threats to hurt the children sought a protective order. Shortly before the mother appeared in court, she had sex with her husband. The judge, not understanding that it would not have been safe for the mother to refuse, assumed this meant the father could not possibly be dangerous and granted unsupervised visitation for the father.
One of the problems we have seen repeatedly is that when a court makes a mistake and fails to recognize or respond to danger caused by domestic violence, they will rarely admit to these mistakes. Instead we see the kind of retaliation and punitive measures harmful to children that was used in the New Jersey and Kansas cases. Nevertheless, the courts in California and Maryland would now admit they made the wrong decision. The case in California involved Katie Tagle as the protective mother. The father used the access given him by the judge to kill Baby Wyatt and then himself. Similarly, in Maryland, the mother was Dr. Amy Castillo and the father used the access provided by the judge to kill their three children and then himself.
The judges in California and Maryland are deeply disturbed by the outcome and genuinely sorry for their mistake. At the same time, they have defended their decisions saying they couldn’t have known of the father’s danger based upon the evidence in front of them. In one sense they are correct. The judges in these four cases all used the same outdated and discredited practices including the popular myth that women often make false allegations in order to gain an advantage in litigation. This contributes to the widespread inability of custody courts to recognize domestic violence and in turn led to the mistakes in these four cases and other cases endangering over 58,000 children every year.
If all or even a larger portion of the bad decisions led to an immediate and recognizable tragedy like the cases in California and Maryland, the needed reforms would have been adopted long ago and children controlled by custody courts would be protected. Most of the time, however, the cases are more like New Jersey and Kansas where the harm is better hidden and not as dramatic for the public. The children grow up without their primary attachment figure, often suffer private but horrible abuse and many become involved in a wide range of harmful behaviors in response to the direct and indirect abuse inflicted by their abusers. Most will never reach their potential as a result of the mistakes made in the custody courts.
Many communities have developed a practice in which child protective agencies team with the local domestic violence shelter. They cross-train staff and when a possible domestic violence case develops, child protective caseworkers consult with domestic violence advocates. This has resulted in child protective agencies being able to better recognize domestic violence and respond in ways that benefit the children. This should be considered best practices. DYFS recently adopted these best practices, but the New Jersey case was first investigated under the old flawed methods. The protective mother has asked DYFS and the court to take a fresh look at the original findings based upon better practices and the new research, but they adamantly refuse to consider the possibility that they made a mistake while using the old discredited practices. The judge has refused to consider any new evidence based on the up-to-date research and insists on proceeding with the case based on the unlikely conclusion that the mother’s allegations are false.
As with many mistaken decisions, the mother has been pathologized by the unqualified professionals involved in the case. DYFS regularly uses the same mental health professionals who intuitively understand they are more likely to continue to be used by DYFS if they reach conclusions that support DYFS’ findings. There is substantial evidence of confirmation bias in the work of the "neutral" professionals relied on by DYFS and the court. Since they "know" the mother’s allegations are false and she continues to believe them, she must be "delusional" and therefore unfit for anything but supervised visitation. If she were delusional, it would stand to reason that this would present a problem in the rest of her life. These professionals have never stopped to consider how she can be successful professionally, academically and in all other phases of her life. Perhaps the DSM should include a new condition "delusional in the custody courts."
At this point, the concern is that because she continues to believe the father abused the children (based on substantial evidence) and so if she had unsupervised visitation would say negative things to the children. This is the beginning and the end of the discussion by the unqualified professionals relied on by the courts. The mother is the primary attachment figure to her children, so separating her from the children creates a higher risk of depression, low-self-esteem and suicide. Where is the research that establishes what harm would be caused to the children if she made these statements and they were false? There is no such research, it is just assumed by professionals unused to looking for research to justify their beliefs and recommendations. How can we know if the alleged harm of the mother making statements about the father is greater than the established harm of taking children away from their primary attachment figure?
The Kansas case is similar in that they have long since ignored or minimized the very real danger the abusive father poses to the child and instead concentrate all their attention on the supposed harm the mother can cause by continuing to believe the father is unsafe and posting information on the Internet that helps to expose a broken court system. Judges are ethically required to avoid actions that create the appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest. Although they phrase the demand to remove material as if it benefitted the child, in reality the real purpose is to hide the history of abuse of the father and the failure of the court to act in the child’s best interests. Given the clear conflict of interest (they are seeking to remove materials that criticize the court), at the very least they would need convincing evidence that the mother’s beliefs would create a long-term harm to the child. Similarly, the removal of the mother from the child’s life, although she is the primary attachment figure creates a serious risk of harm to the child that the court has failed to address. Until the court can cite evidence or research to support its assumptions, the extreme actions present at least an appearance of impropriety. Ironically in both cases the courts put a high priority on placing the children with the parent it viewed as most likely to promote a relationship with the other parent, but when the abusive fathers sought to deny the children a meaningful relationship with the parent the children most need (the primary attachment figure), the same priority of keeping both parents in the children’s lives was no longer paramount. This is a common mistake in the custody courts and is one example of the widespread gender bias faced by mothers. In fairness, court professionals are often oblivious to the gender biased approaches they use, but tend to get angry and retaliatory when it is pointed out to them.
I believe it is outrageous that the custody courts have not made children’s safety the first priority. In the California and Maryland cases where there was evidence of a history of domestic violence and threats to kill the children, the court had time for only a brief hearing and refused to protect the children’s safety resulting in their deaths at the hands of their fathers. At the same time, In the New Jersey and Kansas cases the courts seem to have unlimited time and resources to investigate the "danger" the children might hear their mothers’ concern for their safety and well being.
Certainly there are mothers whose contact with the children needs to be limited. This would be in cases where there is a genuine safety risk such as a mother who is a drug addict, physically abuses the children or has a mental illness so severe as to make her unsafe to care of the children. In the absence of such safety issues it is virtually always wrong for courts to take the extreme action of barring unsupervised visitation. This is certainly true when it is done in the context of mothers trying to protect their children from fathers they believe are unsafe. The research establishes that because of the outdated and discredited practices court professionals routinely use, a large majority of findings denying the mothers’ allegations are mistaken. Even when her allegations are untrue, it is unlikely the risk she will make negative comments about the father is more significant than the harm of taking a primary attachment figure out of the children’s lives. In other words the harm to the children of these visitation restrictions is almost always greater than the harm the court thinks it is avoiding.
This was explained by Joan Zorza in her chapter in our book, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY, chapter 14 page 26. "Otherwise as shown in many parts of this book, courts often make mistakes that place the lives and safety of protective mothers and their children in jeopardy. In this context, it is important for courts that rule against alleged victims of DV to be open to the possibility that they made a mistake. Courts should be reluctant to take punitive or retaliatory actions against mothers who continue to believe their partners abused them." The courts in Kansas and New Jersey could have saved the children a lot of harm (and still can) by following this advice based on the most up-to-date research available.
The elephant in the room is the issue of corruption. Every time courts make decisions that appear to have no relationship to the evidence presented and make orders that cannot possibly benefit the children involved, they create the appearance of corruption. When courts seek to silence protective mothers and retaliate for criticism of the court or their abuser, they are promoting the belief that only corruption could explain these extreme and harmful decisions.
There are cases decided by corruption. The Judge Garson case in Brooklyn, New York is a prime example and his early release from jail after conviction further harmed the courts’ reputation. More commonly mental health professionals and some attorneys have adopted beliefs and practices that favor abusers because that is where the money is. Nevertheless, I believe the research establishes that most of these bad decisions are caused by outdated and discredited practices that are deeply ingrained after all these years. In my career, I have seen many good people who I like and respect use these practices and come to extremely harmful conclusions. It is important, however that the legal system open its eyes to this problem, review the new research and stop acting defensively to the justified criticism.
In the summer of Watergate, John Dean testified that he told Nixon about a cancer on the presidency. His assumption was that the illegal and unethical practices were committed only by Nixon’s aides. It turned out that Nixon himself was the cancer on the presidency and had to be removed. Today there is a cancer on the custody court system. Some children are dying and others have their lives ruined by unjustified and extreme decisions. Rita Smith, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence wrote in her Afterward to our new book that once the book is published anyone who continues to use the old practices must be understood to be committing malpractice. The four cases discussed in this article were originally decided based upon the old discredited practices. It is too late to save the children in California and Maryland. This is what happens when inadequately trained professionals rely on the myth that women frequently make false allegations. We can still help the children in New Jersey and Kansas by taking a fresh look at the cases based on the up-to-date research now available. The court system is at a crossroads. It now has the research to reform its training and practices so that they can better protect all the children. I hope they will treat the research as a gift and not an attack and use it to remove the cancer on the court system. In doing so the court system can support my view that the mistaken decisions are not based on corruption.
Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence expert, speaker, writer and consultant. He is the co-editor with Mo Therese Hannah of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY.
Still Standing American Mothers Political Party Blog Talk Radio Show Today at 5 pm CDT 6 PM EDT Call-in Number: (347) 205-9977
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Upcoming Show: 9/16/2010 5:00 PM
American Mothers Political Party
AMPP is a social movement seeking justice and accountability within the family court system which includes DHHS/CPS, psychologists and other so called experts.
We as mothers demand CITIZENSHIP and our Rights to our Children.
We demand that our children not be used as pawns by our abuser in a custody dispute.
We demand that Mothers and Children be equally protected against court ordered visitation with an abuser.
We demand that Mothers and Children be given the same rights, privileges and voice that the abuser gets in family courts!
We demand that our President take action now as can no longer afford to be silent and we won’t.
We demand the same "rights and freedoms" to which all humans are entitled.
Behind the closed doors of the dirty little secret of the family court system, thousands of women each year lose child custody to violent men who beat and abuse Mothers and Children.
Family courts are not family-friendly and betray the best interests of the child.
Until Mothers and Children’s voices are heard we will never shut up, give up or go away!
Upcoming Show: 9/9/2010 5:00 PM
American Mothers Political Party Still Standing
AMPP is a social movement seeking justice and accountability within the family court system which includes DHHS/CPS, psychologists and other so called experts. Special Guest! Barry Goldstein, attorney, teacher, author and advocate for women abused by their partner (and too often the courts) a book for women seeking to leave their abusers and for their friends, family, supporters and advocates. SCARED TO LEAVE AFRAID TO STAY Paths From Family Violence to Safety tells the story of ten women as they left their abusers seeking a better life. The book shows in these abuse cases how courts handle legal issues such as orders of protection, custody, visitation, support, marital property and criminal prosecutions.
A new collaboration book Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody
Co Edited with Barry Goldstein and Dr. Maureen Hannah with more than 25 of the leading experts in the U.S. and Canada have contributed chapters to this book. These experts include judges, lawyers, psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, journalists and domestic violence advocates. This is a show not to be missed! Join us once again for lively discussion on family court and its treatment of abused women and children!
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY brings together experts from the US and Canada for a multi-disciplinary review of the most up-to-date research and recommendations for handling, domestic violence custody cases. The book’s 25 chapters are written by those in the know: judges, lawyers, psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists, journalists, domestic violence advocates, and others intimately familiar with the details of these cases. These diverse experts approach the issue through the lens of different disciplines and professional experiences. Although they may not agree on every point, they do agree on at least one thing: that the family court system in this country is broken.
For more than two decades, protective mothers from every state in the country (as well as overseas) have been ordered to turn their children over into the care, and even the custody, of the children’s abusive fathers. This occurs even when there is adequate evidence of child abuse, domestic violence, and other harmful behaviors on the part of the father. Courts claim to be doing this to ensure that both parents remain involved in their children’s lives after divorce or separation, but in fact, in most of these cases, precisely the opposite happens: mothers are denied any meaningful relationship, or even contact, with their children. In the meantime, male supremacist groups claim unfair treatment in the family courts, seeking shared or total custody in order to avoid paying child support and to maintain men’s traditional control over their partner and their children.
We can argue about when we should have known, but today we know the custody court system is destroying the lives of thousands of children. It will continue to do so until it adopts the reforms advocated in this well documented book. As Rita Smith, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, writes in her Afterward, now that this book has been published, those who continue to use the flawed approaches and practices addressed in this book can only be construed as engaging in professional malpractice.
When the court system, like other entities, began to respond to domestic violence as a public health concern back in the mid-to-late 1970s, there was little if any research on the effects of, or the proper societal response to domestic violence. At the time, many believed domestic violence was caused by mental illness or substance abuse or was provoked by the victim’s actions. Domestic violence was equated with physical abuse, and it was believed that children were unaffected by it unless they, themselves, were directly assaulted. In recent years, these and other assumptions that the courts have long relied on have been exposed as the myths they are. Nevertheless, to this very day, the courts are operating according to these same outmoded ideas. It’s business as usual, with the courts continuing to churn out another generation of damaged children and traumatized mothers. This is the inevitable outcome of using outdated and discredited approaches to making custody decisions when domestic violence and similar factors affect the case.
One of the findings you’ll learn about in this book is that, of the small fraction (5%) of child custody cases that are contested to trial and often beyond, perhaps 90% involve abuse allegations against the father. These are not good guys sincerely wanting to raise their children—these are, for the most part, batterers who want to punish, hurt, and control their exes. Another factor contributing to the surge in men’s filing for custody of their children was the federal child support enforcement law that was put into place in 1993. In the decade prior to that, male supremacist groups had begun to encourage abusers who had little involvement with the children during the relationship to seek custody as a vindictive tactic against their partner. (We cannot count how many women have told us that their abuser had threatened them with some version of, “If you leave, you’ll never get the kids!”) Courts who are certain that children do better with both parents in their lives (regardless, apparently, of how sociopathic, addicted, or mentally deranged the parent may be), are delighted to see fathers who appear to be so devoted to their children that they will fight for them in court.
Contrary to what many might assume, the people who staff our nation’s custody courts have no real expertise about topics related to children’s best interests—children’s developmental needs, the mother-child attachment bond, the benefits of long-term nursing, the harms of maternal-child separation, and so forth. Judges usually aren’t required to have any education whatsoever on the major issues affecting the litigants who appear in front of their bench. Although there is plenty of published literature on such topics, such as on the effects of domestic violence on child witnesses or the developmental impact of lengthy mother-child separations–it’s hard to find anyone in the legal system, including custody evaluators, who bases recommendations on the generally accepted research on children’s mental health and developmental requirements.
The information provided by this book isn’t necessarily new, but it is all up to date. We also believe that the findings in this book are conclusive. Still, we want to be clear that our interest isn’t in attacking the court system; rather, what we wish to do is to work with the system. We hope to form a genuine collaboration with the courts and others charged with protecting our nation’s most vulnerable citizens. Our only agenda is for courts to use the most up-to-date research available to inform their decisions and make the safety of children the highest priority. We would like to work with judges and other court professionals to provide them with the information that was unavailable thirty years ago, when many of the current practices were first developed.
We must also say a word to the media. One of the chapters is written by Garland Waller, an award winning documentary film producer and professor of communication at Boston University. Her chapter speaks about the failure of the media to expose a crisis that has endangered so many of our children. Domestic violence experts emphasize the importance of looking for patterns and remembering the context of information. Journalists have been reluctant to publicize individual cases because it is hard to know the truth when the facts are disputed and when court findings are so often wrong. It is difficult to detect these patterns in a single case, but it is easy to see the patterns when we look at hundreds or thousands of cases and see obvious mistakes leading to dangerous outcomes.
Now that we have the evidence to prove that the United States family court system is broken, will the media do its job by picking up the story and making the public aware of what is going on? Of course, any one case can be called “controversial,” since it’s assumed that both parties have equally valid arguments to make. But domestic violence is hardly a controversial topic, and there is but one valid position to take on it, which is that it is harmful and unacceptable and must be stopped. In fact, every courthouse and every state legislature claim to work on behalf of victims of domestic violence. Now that we’ve proven the existence of these problems, will the media use its might to enlighten the public about this national scandal, compared by many to the investigations of sexual abuse among clergy to educate the public about these tragic outcomes? If the children whose lives have been ruined through bad decision-making by a family court judges had instead been made deathly ill by a bacteria living inside the cream of Oreo cookies, the media would have been all over the story. There would be public outrage, and rightly so, especially if it were then discovered that the FDA had known the cookies were bad but allowed them to be consumed in school lunchrooms across the country.
Is this ever-growing phenomenon of childless mothers and motherless children no less worthy of our intense collective scrutiny? Will anyone listen? Will you?
Now that we know that the custody courts are broken, what are we going to do about it?
– By Barry Goldsten, Co-editor, and
– Mo Therese Hannah, Co-editor
In a trend that started in the 1980s, and increasingly since then, family court judges across the U.S. have ordered thousands and thousands of children into unsupervised visitation with abusive biological fathers. In many cases, mothers have been denied any form of custody, with some losing all contact with their children. In the last few years, attorneys and social service advocates have met to address this issue at the annual Battered Mother’s Custody Conference. This book brings together the expertise and perspective of more than thirty contributors to BMCC in a comprehensive resource that arms advocates with the best thinking and most effective legal strategies in the battle to protect mothers and families from a system that often fails to address abuse and sometimes actually worsens the problem.
Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody presents insights and hands-on practice guidance from the leading experts on child custody cases that involve intimate partner violence and child abuse. Chapter authors address the prevalence of these problems, the complex reasons why protective mothers lose custody of their children, the things court agents and other professionals often do that contribute to bad outcomes, and the corrective measures that must be put into place to ensure legal protections for abused women and their children.
- Understand the harm caused by all types of abusive behavior, whether physical, verbal, financial, legal, or other forms.
- Guide the representation of protective mothers through research, case law, and consultation to improve case outcomes.
- Establish the paramount importance of children’s safety beyond all other priorities that may emerge in a child custody case.
- Provide judges with new insight into the dynamics of violence, recognize when experts and other types of witnesses are providing testimony based on myths, stereotypes, and discredited theories, and provide an empirically based, real-world rationale for orders emphasizing the safety of protective mothers and the accountability of batterers.
Written with the expressed goal of helping battered mothers assert their rights to a safe family life free from violence, the contributors to this book take a firm stand against so-called “balanced” points of view that attempt to explain or justify abusive behavior. This book is grounded in the belief that battering is never justified, and batterers are not entitled to “equal rights” to custody when the safety of a child is in question. Advocates who share that view will find this book a uniquely compelling ally in protecting and defending the rights of battered mothers.
©Civic Research Institute • P.O. Box 585, Kingston, NJ 08528
Tel: 609-683-4450 • Fax: 609-683-7291
Free speech for child molesters, but not for mothers who want to raise their own children. Manual on How to Molest Children Is Legal, Cops Say
By DEAN SCHABNER
A 170-page manual explaining step by step how to molest children which police in Orange County, Fla., believe has been circulating there for months, is not illegal. Investigators have stated that they still want to know where it came from.
Orlando police search for author of 170-page manual.
"I’ve never seen anything like it. It was pretty amazing when I first saw it just because how detailed it was," Orange County Sheriff’s Office Det. Philip Graves told ABC News Orlando, Fla., affiliate WFTV.
The manual, which was apparently written by someone who calls himself "the mule," is a how-to of child molestation, even explaining where and how to find potential victims, the station reported.
"I was more amazed that someone would be as bold as to create an actual 170-page document that would detail how to do it," he said.
More crazy crap from Warshak’s site
The real story of the 3 little pigs. (riiiight)
Cuz the big bad wolf wasn’t really bad, those little pigs are liars.
This marvelous book was a New York Times Book of the Year. Shows how things look very different depending on our perspective: an important lesson for alienated children. In addition to alienated parents, therapists should consider using this book in their work with alienated children. From amazon.com‘s review:
"There has obviously been some kind of mistake," writes Alexander T. Wolf from the pig penitentiary where he’s doing time for his alleged crimes of 10 years ago. Here is the "real" story of the three little pigs whose houses are huffed and puffed to smithereens… from the wolf’s perspective. This poor, much maligned wolf has gotten a bad rap.
He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, with a sneezy cold, innocently trying to borrow a cup of sugar to make his granny a cake. Is it his fault those ham dinners–rather, pigs–build such flimsy homes? Sheesh
Coercive Control** National Domestic Violence Fatality Review Initiative* Fatality Review Bulletin SPRING 2010
National Domestic Violence Fatality Review Initiative* Fatality Review Bulletin SPRING 2010
by Dr. Evan Stark
I wrote Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life (2007) to help close the gap between how domestic violence is officially defined, assessed and understood and the realities experienced by battered women and their children. Based largely on my forensic caseload and mounting evidence on control tactics from the U.S. and the UK, it describes an ongoing pattern of sexual mastery by which largely male abusive partners interweave repeated physical abuse with intimidation, sexual degradation, isolation, and control. Alternately referred to as coerced persuasion; conjugal, patriarchal or intimate terrorism; or indirect abuse; the model formalizes many of the dimensions illustrated by the widely used “Power and Control” wheel. Until recently, it had little influence on the academic or treatment literature.
I argue that many men adapted coercive control as their abuse strategy of choice when gains in women’s rights and resources made violence alone increasingly ineffective as a means to sustain male privilege. The coercive control model illustrates the range of strategies employed to dominate individual women and the resulting harms far better than alternative models. The adoption of this model is important because the current, violence-centered and incident-based approach has caused the domestic violence revolution to stall. Shelters, arrests, court protections and other measures have undoubtedly prevented millions of women and children from being more seriously hurt or killed. Moreover, both partner homicide and serious partner assaults are down, a consequence of the focus of criminal justice on the most serious physical assaults. There has been a normative sea change in acceptance of physical violence in relationships. But if partner violence against women is no longer just life, anyone with reasonable sympathies and a passing acquaintance with interventions to stem men’s abuse of women will sense the failure of a range of systems to mount an adequate response, the justice system included. Among the most dramatic facts are these:
· The drop in partner homicides has benefited men far more than women. The number of men killed by female partners has dropped dramatically since we opened the first shelters. But the number of women killed by male partners has changed very little among Caucasian groups, especially unmarried white women. It has declined more significantly among African-American women.
· Although severe violence by men against women has dropped, so-called “minor” violence has increased so sharply that overall levels of VAW today are about where they were in the mid-70’s. This type of violence—which survey researchers often term “normal” or “not abuse”– supports the most devastating form of abuse.
· Millions of partners have been arrested for domestic violence. But the chance that a perpetrator will be arrested or go to jail in any given incident is just slightly better than the chance of winning a lottery. Abuse has been turned into a second- class misdemeanor.
· Batterer intervention programs (BIPs) are widely offered as an alternative to incarceration. But these programs are little more effective than doing nothing at all.
The Domestic Violence Paradigm
To understand why domestic violence interventions are failing to improve women’s long-term safety, we must first consider the domestic violence model on which intervention and most research rely. Drawing on the criminal justice definition of assault, domestic violence laws and most research in the field equate abuse with discrete threats or acts of violence whose seriousness is assessed by applying a calculus of physical and/or psychological harms. Repeated partner assaults are referred to using the language of “recidivism.” There are three major problems with this model. To start, physical assault reoccurs in all but a tiny proportion of abuse cases and involves frequent or even “serial” abuse (more than once a week) in somewhere between a third (in population surveys) to a half (among victims who call police) of cases. Since abusive relationships last between 5 and 7 years on average, this means that a high proportion of victims experience dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of assaults, a major reason why they report abuse is “ongoing.” In fact, abuse resembles a chronic health condition like AIDS or a course of conduct crime like harassment, stalking or kidnapping more closely than a stranger assault or an acute, time-limited problem like the flu.
The second problem is that well over 90% of abusive assaults are non-injurious, relatively minor, and fall far below the radar of an injury-based model. Nevertheless because of their frequency in a typical abuse situation, low-level assaults have a devastating effect. A related problem with the prevailing model is that it fails to recognize that the level of fear and entrapment women present is the cumulative result of all that has come before rather than of the proximate event. When victims or their children present with high levels of fear in response to a seemingly trivial assault, they are thought to be exaggerating, or, in family court, to be manipulating or “alienating” their children from a father figure.
The third and most important problem with the prevailing model is that between 60% and 80% of the victims who seek assistance are experiencing multiple nonviolent tactics as well as physical assault. These tactics run the gamut from sexual exploitation, material deprivation and imprisonment to the imposition of rules for how victims carry out their daily affairs. More than half of the offending men we are arresting for domestic violence acknowledge they have taken their partner’s money, for instance. Many of these deprivations and controls are structural and induce an objective state of dependence or subjugation independently of how a victim processes the abuse psychologically, making terms like “psychological abuse” inappropriate. Because stalking, surveillance and many of the other tactics transcend the physical proximity of the parties, they neutralize ‘separation’ as an antidote.
The Effects of Using the Violence Model
The failures of intervention noted above follow directly from application of the violence model. Since well over 95% of domestic violence involves pushes, grabs, slaps, punches and the like, arrest is unlikely, even in mandatory arrest jurisdictions, and, if an arrest is made, almost no offenders go to jail. As abuse escalates and calls to police or visits to the emergency room are repeated over time, these victims are seen as ‘repeaters’ and the helping response becomes more perfunctory. Protection orders are predicated on the false belief that offenders and victims typically have the decisional autonomy to end abuse ‘between’ incidents. Because of stalking, surveillance and other forms of intimidation, however, these orders rarely end abuse, though they may change its dynamic. Because they take an incident-based approach, many judges become frustrated with victims and also adapt a perfunctory or punitive response. Everyone involved recognizes the situation is “tragic.” But because abuse is not understood as ongoing, its duration is attributed to the failure of victims to act on their own behalf. Few if any of the nonviolent coercive or controlling tactics are recognized, let alone incorporated into protection or prosecution.
The coercive control model defines abuse as a malevolent course of conduct; identifies the hallmarks of abusive assaults as their frequency and “routine” nature rather than their severity; anticipates the use of a range of coercive and controlling tactics in addition to or instead of physical violence; and assesses risk, including the risk of fatality, on the basis of a woman’s subjective level of fear and her objective entrapment rather than the level of violence or injury. My schema draws on the human rights literature to subdivide the tactics deployed in coercive control into violence, intimidation, isolation and control. Intimidation encompasses the tactics used to induce fear and humiliation and extends from literal threats, stalking and other forms of surveillance through varied forms of sexual abuse (such as inspections) to subtle threats only understood by victims and based on the unique knowledge a partner has because of his privileged access to his victim. Control includes the deprivation of basic resources (such as money, food or transportation); limitations on speech and movement; and the regulation of a victim’s everyday life. Isolation refers to a subset of control tactics that constrain victims’ access to friends, family, coworkers, helping professionals and other forms of support. Within a broad justice framework, it is useful to link violence to the right to security, intimidation to the right to dignity and to live without fear, isolation to the right to autonomy and control to liberty rights. Security, dignity, autonomy, and liberty are rights that are universally recognized as worthy of state protection. The emphasis on the violation of rights and liberties shifts the terms by which abuse is discussed from a psychological language of victimization and dependence to a political language of domination, agency, resistance, and subordination. Against this background, what men do to women is less important than what they prevent women from doing for themselves. In the forensic context where I work, women’s right to use whatever means are available to liberate themselves from coercive control derives from the right afforded to all persons to free themselves from tyranny, not from the proximate physical or psychological means used to subjugate them. Of course, before we accord women the same liberty rights we would accord men in a similar situation, we have to first grant that women have the same claims to liberty and equality as men. The absence of this recognition forces victimized women to provide proofs of psychological or physical victimization to gain full protection. The new model is rooted in the same tenets that gave birth to the battered women’s movement—that the abuse of women in personal life is inextricably bound up with their standing in the larger society and therefore that women’s entrapment in their personal lives can be significantly reduced only if sexual discrimination is addressed simultaneously. In my book, I challenge the advocacy movement to join its justice agenda to the larger equality and rights agenda of the women and civil rights movements.
The Particularity of Coercive Control
Coercive control shares general elements with other capture or course-of-conduct crimes such as kidnapping, stalking, and harassment, including the fact that it is ongoing and its perpetrators use various means to hurt, humiliate, intimidate, exploit, isolate, and dominate their victims. But unlike other capture crimes, coercive control is personalized, extends through social space as well as over time, and is gendered in that it relies for its impact on women’s vulnerability as women due to sexual inequality. This is obvious not only from the gender specific distribution of coercive control, but also from the fact that the majority of control is the micro-regulation of behaviors associated with stereotypic female roles, such as how women dress, cook, clean, socialize, care for their children, or perform sexually.
The coercive control framework does not downplay women’s own use of violence either in fights or to hurt or control men or same-sex partners. But my claim is that female-to-male violence is largely confined to “fights” between relative equals (which I do not consider “abuse”) and assaults where partners use violence to hurt or control a partner, but not structural deprivation, systemic isolation, sexual abuse and regulation. Outside prison or a similar institutional setting, there is no counterpart in men’s lives to women’s entrapment by men in personal life due to coercive control.
Control: Invisible in Plain Sight
The entrapment of women in personal life due to coercive control has been hard to discern because many of the rights it violates are so basic—so much a part of the taken-forgranted fabric of the everyday lives we lead as adults, and so embedded in female behaviors that are constrained by their normative consignment to women—that their abridgement passes largely without notice. Among my clients are women who had to answer the phone by the third ring, record every penny they spent, vacuum “till you can see the lines,” and dress, walk, cook, talk, and make love in specific ways and not in others, always with the “or else” proviso hanging over their heads. My book is filled with such examples. Against physical bruising, it is hard to take these little indignities seriously or appreciate that they comprise the heart of a hostage-like syndrome against which the slap, punch, or kick pale in significance. When women told us “violence wasn’t the worst part,” we mistakenly thought they were speaking metaphorically.
Some of the rights batterers deny to women are already protected in the public sphere, such as the rights to physical integrity and property. In these instances, law is challenged to extend protections to personal life. But most of the harms involved in coercive control are gender-specific infringements of adult autonomy that have no counterpart in public life and are currently invisible to the law.
The combination of these big and little indignities best explains why women suffer and respond as they do in abusive relationships, including why so many women become entrapped, why some battered women kill their partners, why they themselves may be killed, or why they are prone to develop a range of psychosocial problems and exhibit behaviors or commit a range of acts that are contrary to their nature or to basic common sense or decency.
The risk that battered women will kill or be killed is a direct function of their degree of entrapment by coercive control. In the late 1970s, we reached into the shadows to retrieve physical abuse from the canon of “just life.” Now it appears, we did not reach nearly far enough.
*The National Domestic Violence Fatality Review Initiative, housed at Northern Arizona University, is a resource center and technical assistance provider to state Fatality Review Committees examining the circumstances surrounding domestic violence homicide in order to better understand, intervene, and prevent it. More information is available at www.ndvfri.org.
**Dr. Evan Stark (PhD, MSW) is an Associate Professor at the Rutgers University School of Public Affairs and Administration in Newark and Chairs the Department of Urban Health Administration at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey School of Public Health. A founder of one of the nation’s first shelters for battered women, he has an international reputation as a researcher, trainer, advocate and forensic social worker. His book, Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women In Personal Life, was published in 2007.
HER EYES SPEAK
There is a child her eyes speak, where she cannot;
Of intense pain, please they say “forget me not.”
I am without a voice; it is you who must care;
Will you see my heart and stop my despair?
I know this sweet Angel; she is the daughter of mine;
I’ll yell, I’ll scream for you, through the end of time.
Time keeps traveling, and stands still for none;
I am still here my child, screaming for you, I have not gone.
One day my dear sweet child, the truth will be known;
I will do my best, so that you will never have to be alone.
I see your hopelessness, I feel your loss; I wear your pain;
No honey, I have not gone, I will always remain.
For it is you my sweet child that beats in my heart;
You are the air I breathe, you’re my every thought.
Do not give up, this is not the end; It is only the start.
As I believe that our love cannot ever be taken away;
The harder they try to, the stronger it will stay.
One day my child the world will be yours; and its beauty as well;
For the gift that I will give you; will be to always let your heart tell.
I will give you all that I can; the world yours will be;
Stand strong My dear sweet Child, wait and you will see.
I will never abandon you, I will Never leave.
“Hell hath no Fury than that of an Angel”