July 3, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The Partner Abuse State of Knowledge project has barely been completed, but it’s already having an effect. PASK is a massive undertaking by the journal Partner Abuse to gather and analyze the state of our scientific knowledge about domestic violence since 1990. Some 42 researchers pored over 12,000 peer-reviewed studies for three years and published their findings in over 2,000 pages of written findings published in an entire year of the journal. In short, PASK is the most exhaustive, comprehensive look at the state of our knowledge about DV in this country. If anything has the power to alter the utterly wrongheaded approach to domestic violence we’ve pursued for almost four decades, PASK is it.
And who’d have guessed that a paper like the Lincoln, Nebraska Journal Star would be among the first to take heed of what PASK is urgently trying to teach us? Read it here (Journal Star, 6/29/13). Into the bargain, the writers of the op-ed are both family law attorneys and they mince no words about the abuses visited on family court justice in custody cases. Rightly, they start with the basics.
The study concluded women and men commit physical and emotional abuse — and engage in control behaviors — at comparable rates. In particular, the study found 28.3 percent of women had committed domestic violence compared with 21.6 percent of men.
The study also found men and women were victimized at comparable rates. Overall, 23 percent of women were assaulted by partners at least once in their lifetimes compared to 19 percent of men. Across studies, 40 percent of women and 32 percent of men reported expressive abuse, while 41 percent of women and 43 percent of men reported coercive abuse.
But in Nebraska, as in every state, equal victimization on the part of men doesn’t mean they receive equal services by the DV establishment in that state. Far from it.
These findings are important because our current system largely ignores male victims of domestic violence. According to the Nebraska Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition, the 21 domestic violence and sexual assault programs in Nebraska provided services during fiscal 2012 to 13,264 women, 1,560 men and 8,790 children/youth-undisclosed. That means men comprised only 10.5 percent of the adult population served even though they comprise half or more of all adult victims.
They follow that with the none-too-subtle suggestion that if that state of affairs continues, lawsuits are sure to follow. For the first time ever, the newly reauthorized Violence Against Women Act contains an anti-discrimination clause that covers male victims. Therefore, failure to provide services to males is now formally illegal and actionable.
‘‘(A) NONDISCRIMINATION — No person in the United States shall, on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity… sexual orientation, or disability, be excluded from participation in… any program or activity funded… (under VAWA and related statutes).
It should be interesting to see how this works out in practice. It’s crystal clear that the DV establishment’s approach to combatting intimate partner violence (a) doesn’t work, in part because (b) it has always pretended that half of victims and half of perpetrators simply don’t exist. Of course we’ve known the facts about the gender-symmetry of DV for decades, but the ideologues in the DV establishment have always insisted that DV is at heart political, i.e. it’s about power. In fact, very little of what we call DV is meant to control the other partner. Most of it has to do with having been a DV victim as a child plus drug or alcohol problems and other life stresses like the loss of a job. As long as we think of DV as men beating women to control them, it’s no surprise that our responses to the problem aren’t very effective. The truth is that, in most cases, some simple psychotherapy would be the best way to get perpetrators to change their behaviors.
Eventually, we need to ease the problem of DV out of the criminal justice system altogether, except in cases of repeat offenders who cause significant injuries to their partners. Is there anyone on the planet who argues that jailing men based on mere allegations and issuing restraining orders against them actually works to reduce DV? If so, then why haven’t they? It’s true that rates of DV have come down dramatically (64%) since 1993, but so has all violent crime (73%). So it’s hard to credit the DV industry with any great success given the fact that DV has actually been reduced less than have all other violent crimes. I suppose it’s arguable that the DV industry’s approach has actually retarded improvement.
Then there’s the problem of family courts in which mothers and their lawyers long ago figured out that the way to gain an advantage in a custody matter was to level charges of abuse at Dad. For many years now, scrupulous family attorneys have been decrying these boilerplate allegations, but day after day, year after year, they continue. They do so for the good and sufficient reason that the tactic works. For every mother who fears losing custody or parenting time to a child’s father, Job One is to get him out of the child’s life. Enter the DV restraining order which can be based on as little as the mother’s uncorroborated assertion that she’s afraid of the man. With Dad temporarily out of little Andy or Jenny’s life, it’s all the easier to keep him out permanently.
Now of course those kind of alienating tactics are known by mental health professionals to be themselves a form of child abuse. But the same court that will shout to the heavens about the best interests of the child turns a blind eye to it. Did Mom lie in order to shove a fit and loving father out of a child’s life? Well, what of it? Family courts routinely ignore false allegations of abuse and – surprise, surprise! – mothers continue to make them.
One study of contested custody cases found domestic violence allegations were made in 55 percent of cases. Of those allegations, courts found 59 percent were not supported by evidence. Similarly, an analysis of domestic violence restraining orders concluded 81 percent were unnecessary or based on false allegations. This is consistent with other evidence that “between 50 and 80 percent of abuse allegations cannot be substantiated in child custody cases where a high conflict exists between the parents and there is a young child involved.”
By any measure, that’s an epidemic of false and pointless allegations. All courts have to do is take them seriously and punish parents who make them. Do that and the rate of false allegations will come down in a New York minute. Continue to ignore them and courts will continue to be inundated with claims, requests for orders, hearings on orders and incomprehensible living arrangements for fathers. We give mothers an incentive to lodge false allegations, so they do. Simple as that.
To no one’s surprise, family judges in the State of Nebraska uniformly don’t much care about being lied to for the sake of damaging children.
In our experience, Nebraska judges rarely sanction even malicious false allegations. Some believe they are unable to do so. The failure to punish this misconduct actually encourages it, which harms the children as well as the falsely accused parent. The mental health community recognizes false allegations are themselves a form of child abuse when used to interfere with the child’s healthy relationship with the other parent.
Thanks to PASK for telling the truth about DV, and thanks to the Journal Star for following up.
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