The Genocide of Battered Mothers and their Children

Archive for the ‘domestic law’ Category


In domestic law on July 20, 2011 at 1:49 pm
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By Barry Goldstein
Dear Custody Court Judge:

The research is now clear that certain extreme decisions in domestic violence custody cases that have become all too common are contributing to an increase in the frequency of domestic violence homicide and other harmful consequences. This is established in the leading resources about domestic violence and custody including THE BATTERER AS PARENT by Lundy Bancroft and Jay Silverman, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY edited by Mo Therese Hannah and Barry Goldstein and the major new Department of Justice study led by Dr. Daniel Saunders of the University of Michigan. Judges should be aware of the research that demonstrates the danger of creating these dangerous decisions avoid these decisions in the future and modify existing arrangements that create substantial risks to the children.

The decisions that must be avoided and corrected are ones in which an alleged abuser is given custody and a safe, protective mother is limited to supervised or no visitation. I will more fully describe these dangerous cases below and I am not saying it can never be right to give someone custody who was accused of domestic violence or child abuse or that a mother who makes abuse allegations should never be denied normal visitation.

I will discuss the harm and danger of these extreme decisions below, but judges should be aware that these decisions are probably the largest factor in the recent increase in domestic violence homicide. Furthermore these extreme decisions are never in the best interests of children even when the court is right that the abuse allegations are false and the mother seeks to take the father out of the child’s life for bad faith reasons. More commonly, the research demonstrates that court professionals who used flawed practices to justify the extreme decision also got the underlying facts wrong. Judges should look to the specialized body of research now available that can help courts make the best decisions in domestic violence custody cases.

Description of Extreme Cases

The extreme cases I am speaking about include evidence or at least allegations of domestic violence or child abuse. It is not limited to cases in which the allegations are confirmed or believed. The research establishes that courts fail to recognize valid complaints about domestic violence and child abuse with frightening frequency because of the outdated and discredited practices that continue to be used in domestic violence custody cases despite the scientific research now available. Furthermore, even when courts reject abuse allegations because of inadequate proof or in rare cases in which mothers make deliberately false allegations, courts have a tendency to punish mothers in ways that are harmful to the children.

Most of these cases involve mothers who are the primary attachment figures for their children. Primary attachment is created in the first couple of years of a child’s life so later care or custody of a child does not change the primary attachment figure. Some court professionals confuse continuity, which is a valid consideration with primary attachment which is far more significant to children. Primary attachment is often minimized by custody courts because of stereotypes and gender bias. Mothers are often expected to provide most of the child care so they receive little credit or benefit for doing so even though it makes a big difference to the well being of children. In fairness to judges, many attorneys fail to present evidence about the mothers’ early care for her children and the significance of that care.

In attempting to treat both parents equally, courts often fail to understand that the parents may not be of equal importance to the well being of their children based on past parenting such as superior parenting skills, non-abusiveness and primary attachment. When a court treats unequal parents as if their value to the child is the same, this is actually a bias favoring the weaker parent and certainly not in the best interests of the children. Children who are separated from their primary attachment figure are more likely to suffer depression, low self-esteem and to commit suicide when they are older. It cannot be beneficial to subject children to such substantial risks unless the primary attachment figure is unsafe, but courts routinely do so when they treat alienation as if it were more significant than primary attachment or abuse.

If custody courts were acting in the best interests of children as required by statute, they would be weighing the harms and benefits of any proposed custody-visitation arrangement. So if a mother was a drug addict she could not be relied upon to keep her children safe and healthy. If she beat the children, that would create an obvious safety risk. If she had a mental illness so serious that it would prevent her from taking proper care of her children, this would create a safety risk. I must emphasize, however that many of the mental health diagnoses seen in custody court are inaccurate because of flawed practices and biases and in any event do not create a legitimate safety issue. The kinds of safety issues discussed in this paragraph are more serious than the risks of separating a child from her primary attachment figure and would justify the extreme decisions discussed in this article. The problem is that most of the extreme decisions are justified by reasons that do not involve a safety issue and are likely to create more harm than benefit for the children.

The extreme decisions frequently imposed on protective mothers come in the context of a court system that is extremely reluctant to restrict fathers who abused their partners to supervised visitation as recommended by leading domestic violence experts such as Lundy Bancroft and Peter Jaffe. Children who witness domestic violence are prevented from reaching their developmental goals which in turn interferes with their ability to reach future developmental milestones. These children are also more likely to engage in a wide range of harmful behavior when they are older including substance abuse, self-mutilation, suicide, prostitution, crime, teen pregnancy, school drop-out and for boys to abuse future partners and girls to be abused by future partners. Again these are valid safety concerns that justify visitation restrictions. Some unqualified professionals unfamiliar with domestic violence dynamics minimize these risks because the parties are separated or the father stopped assaulting his partner when he no longer had access to her. Domestic violence is not caused by the victim’s behavior, but by the abuser’s belief system. There is no reason to believe the end of the relationship will change his beliefs so if the father is given custody or unsupervised visitation, the children are likely to witness his abuse of future partners. Over forty states have created court-sponsored gender bias committees that have found widespread gender bias particularly against mothers in custody cases. The willingness and almost eagerness to engage in these extreme decisions against protective mothers, together with the reluctance to limit contact with dangerous fathers demonstrates the impact of gender bias in domestic violence custody cases.

For purposes of this article, these extreme cases are ones in which there is no legitimate safety issue to justify decisions that place children in jeopardy. One common example of a non-safety issue is the use of alienation to justify the extreme decisions. One of the problems with alienation is that courts often allow fathers to make a general complaint claiming alienation without specifying exactly what the mother is alleged to have done. This makes it difficult to defend and raises due process concerns. If the concern is that the mother is making negative statements about the father, where is the research that demonstrates the long term harm to children hearing these statements? There is none. Children hear negative statements like this even in intact families. The most likely result is to harm the relationship with the parent making these statements if they are false. Even when the statements cause some harm to the relationship, these effects are generally short term. More often in domestic violence cases the real problem with the father’s relationship is his mistreatment of the mother or children as when Alec Baldwin called his daughter vile names, threatened her and then wanted to blame the mother for the natural effects of his abusive behavior. We often see mental health professionals lacking domestic violence expertise pathologize the victim and use this to justify the kind of extreme decision discussed in this article. I will discuss this in more detail below, but these are rarely safety issues. Courts also sometimes impose the extreme decisions to punish mothers who continue to believe their allegations of abuse after the court denied them, criticize the judge or otherwise act in ways the judge disapproves of. Given the harm to children of separating them from their primary attachment figure, none of these justifications rise to the level of safety issues so that the restrictions on the children’s ability to see their primary attachment figure are far more harmful than any benefit the court believes it is providing for the children.

Extreme Decisions Contribute to Rising Domestic Violence Homicide Rate

When domestic violence first became a public issue over thirty years ago there was no research to inform decision making by institutions charged with responding to domestic violence. The standard police response was to separate the parties and have the abuser walk around the block to cool off. This is how police officers were trained to respond and was considered best practices. Later, researchers found that this response was ineffective. In 95% of cases in which men murdered their intimate partner, the police had been called and used the standard response. On average the police had been called to the home in response to the abuser’s violence five times. The information from the research and lobbying by those working to end domestic violence led police departments across the country to adopt a pro arrest policy. These and other policies designed to hold abusers accountable and make it easier for women to leave their abusers resulted in a significant reduction in domestic violence homicides. The benefit of strict accountability was confirmed by some communities like Quincy, Massachusetts, Nashville, Tennessee and San Diego, California that obtained even more dramatic reductions in domestic violence homicide by stricter enforcement of criminal laws and restraining orders against abusers.

The steady decrease in domestic violence homicides continued until recently when many states reported a resurgence in intimate partner homicides. Some people have suggested the poor economy has caused this increase, but a lot of research and information suggests the frequency of custody court decisions favoring dangerous abusers and particularly the extreme decisions discussed in this article have been a major factor in the increase in domestic violence homicides. A large part of the reduction in domestic violence homicides had been aided by providing victims with safer ways to leave their abuser. Court decisions, particularly in criminal cases taking domestic violence more seriously sent an important message that society no longer tolerated abusive behavior. The frequent custody decisions supporting abusers have undermined this progress and sent the opposite message. Domestic violence advocates have told me that they are seeing more mothers staying with their abusers and taking his beatings because they are afraid the custody court will separate them from their children and they won’t be able to protect them. Of course some of these mothers do not survive this decision. At the same time, custody decisions that minimize the significance or fail to recognize the father’s abuse are sending a terrible message that society will tolerate this abuse. For many years, Dutchess County, New York permitted many court professionals with strong fathers’ rights sympathies to work in the custody court. This led to numerous extreme decisions against safe, protective mothers. This in turn led to a series of domestic violence homicides and now the community is trying to create a coordinated community response and change practices that have encouraged these tragedies including the murder of a police officer by an abusive father in the aftermath of one of these murders.

Custody courts also developed their practices to respond to domestic violence cases at a time when no useful research was available. The courts turned to mental health professionals for expertise based on the widespread assumption that domestic violence was caused by mental illness, substance abuse and the actions of the victim. We now have a substantial body of research that establishes these assumptions were wrong and the standard practices are working poorly for children. The evaluators and other mental health professionals routinely relied on by the courts are not experts in domestic violence and usually unfamiliar with the specialized body of research now available. This has led judges and lawyers to be taught a lot of misinformation and continue to use outdated and discredited practices. Significantly, the Department of Justice study found many evaluators and other court professionals do not have the domestic violence training they need. Those professionals without the needed training are more likely to believe the myth that women frequently make false allegations of abuse and therefore make recommendations harmful to children. We often see court professionals make reference to this myth and it is especially influential in the extreme decisions discussed in this article. Even if you know mothers in contested custody cases make deliberate false allegations only one or two percent of the time, you may be influenced by other court professionals making recommendations based on this myth. Parental Alienation Syndrome (also often referred to as parental alienation or just alienation because of its notoriety), which was recently rejected for inclusion in the DSM-V (that lists all valid mental health diagnoses) because there is no scientific basis for it, is based on the assumption that virtually all allegations of abuse by mothers are false. In fairness to judges, they were often never told that PAS is based not on any research but the beliefs and biases of Richard Gardner. Gardner, who made a fortune providing expert testimony for abusers made many statements to the effect that sex between adults and children can be acceptable. It is hard to imagine many judges would want to be connected with such beliefs if they had known the basis for the PAS formulation. Alienation tactics based on PAS are probably the most common basis for the extreme decisions as the theory recommends punitive actions against protective mothers without considering the harm to children.

Most court professionals have been taught that contested custody are ”high conflict” cases by which they mean the parents are angry with each other and act out in ways that hurt their children. The actual research shows a different story. Most custody cases are settled more or less amicably. Even abusive fathers who are willing to seek custody for strategic reasons will ultimately settle usually for an unfair financial advantage and often a custodial arrangement that gives him some continued control over his victim. Even though these fathers are abusive they are not willing to hurt their children in order to punish the mother. Of course most custody cases do not involve domestic violence and these are easily settled once the parties get past their hurt. Accordingly over 95% of custody cases are settled more or less amicably.

The real problem is the 3.8% of cases that go to trial and usually far beyond. The vast majority of these cases, probably around 90% are domestic violence cases that involve the worst of the worst abusers. These are usually cases where the father had little involvement with the children during the relationship, but suddenly demands custody as a way to pressure her to return or punish her for leaving. Abusers tend to be good at manipulation and court professionals are usually happy to find a father who appears to want to be involved in his children’s lives. The flawed “high conflict” approach works great for abusers because it requires the parties to interact and cooperate with each other. This gives him the access to his victim he sought by playing the custody card. At the same time it pressures the mother to cooperate with her abuser and punishes her reluctance to interact with someone she experienced as dangerous and difficult. In other words the “high conflict” approach gives abusers a huge advantage.

The most dangerous abusers are the ones who believe she has no right to leave him. They usually respond to her leaving in one or more of three ways. They respond by killing her which is why75% of men who kill their partners do so after she has left. They respond by killing their children. In the last couple of years over 175 children have been murdered by abusive fathers involved in contested custody cases. Most often they respond by going after custody as a tactic to regain control and too often custody courts help them do so.

In one California case featured on the Dr. Phil Program, Katie Tagle asked Judge Lemkau to limit the father to supervised visitation after he threatened to kill the baby. The transcript of the hearing shows that the judge stated he thought the mother was lying and threatened to punish her. During the unsupervised visitation, the father murdered seven-month-old Baby Wyatt and himself. I am sure Judge Lemkau was sincere when he expressed how sorry he was for what happened, but said there was nothing he could have done based on the information before him. In a sense, he is right. As long as he and other judges continue to use the outdated and discredited practices routinely relied on in domestic violence custody cases, you have little chance to protect the children whose futures you must determine.

The first priority in any custody case ought to be safety, but that cannot happen as long as custody courts continue to rely on professionals without the needed expertise in domestic violence. Many communities have developed practices where child protective agencies and domestic violence agencies work together on domestic violence issues. They cross-train staffs and when a potential domestic violence case develops, the caseworker will consult with a domestic violence advocate and even bring her to the home. This has resulted in a better ability to recognize domestic violence when it is present and respond in ways that benefit children. This should be understood as a fundamental part of best practices. Psychiatrists and psychologists are encouraged to consult with experts in fields in which they do not have expertise when that is a vital part of the case they are working on. Evaluators rarely consult with domestic violence advocates or other experts even though they rarely possess the domestic violence expertise they need or familiarity with current scientific research. Domestic violence advocates routinely conduct safety assessments for their clients. There are many common abuser behaviors such as strangling or choking his victim, raping or attempting to rape her and hitting her while pregnant that are associated with higher rates of lethality. We virtually never see evaluators discussing the significance of these and other dangerous behaviors. If they are not doing a lethality assessment, the evaluators cannot tell judges which alleged abusers are unsafe. Instead we routinely see evaluators focus on less important issues because they don’t have the expertise to recognize the dangers. Even worse they frequently seek to punish mothers who know their abusers are dangerous after failing to recognize the danger because of their lack of expertise. This is common in the extreme decisions discussed in this article.

There is good reason to believe there is a strong connection to the extreme decisions discussed in this article and the sudden rise in domestic violence homicides after many years of decline. These cases are dealing with the most dangerous abusers. The frequency of these extreme decisions has led many victims to stay with their abusers. Some of these mothers will not survive the decision. Perhaps most significant is that these decisions send a horrible message of support for abusers which only serves to support their dangerous beliefs. I am sure this is not your intent, but it is the message these extreme decisions send to the community.

These Extreme Decisions are almost Always Harmful to Children

The extreme decisions described in this article are the focus of much of the review of domestic violence custody cases because they trigger the most legitimate complaints. Thousands of these cases have been reviewed and we rarely find any attempt by the court professionals to weigh the harm caused by these decisions with whatever benefit the court believes it is providing to the children. The decisions are virtually always wrong because separating a child from her primary attachment figure significantly increases the child’s risk of depression, low self-esteem and suicide when older. When the justifications for limiting the mother’s contact with the child to supervised or less do not involve safety issues, the restrictions on the mother’s access are more harmful than any benefits. In other words, even if the court’s factual findings are accurate, the decision is a mistake.

Many of these decisions are based on findings that the mother suffers from some kind of mental illness. Repeatedly we have seen unqualified and biased mental health professionals pathologize the victim and impose false or exaggerated diagnoses based upon considering facts out of context. In many cases mothers have been labeled delusional or paranoid because professionals without adequate training in domestic violence failed to recognize the proof of the father’s domestic violence. Other common mistakes are based on the misuse of psychological testing. Most judges and lawyers are not aware that these tests were not created for the populations seen in custody court and are based on probabilities so may not apply to the parties in a specific case. The tests were designed for patients in mental hospitals who have severe mental illnesses. In the context of family court, parents under stress or with minor differences from the average person are diagnosed as if the differences are significant. Under the best of circumstances, the results of psychological tests are accurate between 55-65% of the time. If I went to court and told you that 98% of domestic violence allegations by mothers are accurate, you would quite properly tell me that you have to look at each case separately because this father might be part of the 2% and yet the courts routinely rely on tests that don’t apply to at least 35% of the parties. Even worse, the tests are less reliable when given to parties under stress such as victims of domestic violence and those involved in difficult custody cases. Evaluators rarely explain that the tests are based on probabilities. Repeatedly we have seen mothers who have no problems dealing with family, jobs, school and other parts of their lives labeled with disqualifying mental illnesses. While they may be impacted by the pressure of custody court and the use of litigation abuse by the father, these mothers are safe as parents and sane in every other part of their lives. In almost all of these cases the mother has always taken good care of the children and the father allowed and often demanded she provide the child care right up until she decided to leave him. She did not suddenly become crazy because she left him except in his eyes.

Another common excuse for the kind of extreme decision discussed in this article is some version of alienation. This is a common abuser tactic and in many of these decisions the problems with the relationship between the father and children were caused by the father’s behavior. Court professionals have constantly heard and relied on half a sentence. The half they are familiar with is that children do better with both parents in their lives. This is a true statement, but the rest of the statement is unless one of the parents is abusive. Interestingly this statement seems to get little consideration when a mother is taken out of the child’s life. As mentioned earlier, alienation issues tend to be short lived and there is no research that demonstrates the kind of long term harm that has been shown to children separated from their primary attachment figure. I am not saying that alienating behaviors are not a legitimate issue, but only there is no basis in scientific research that justifies the harm done to a child in losing regular contact with her primary attachment figure. Supervised visitation is not sufficient to avoid this serious harm.

These extreme decisions are also made as a way to punish the mother for continuing to believe her abuse allegations after the court denies them, her continued fear or anger towards her alleged abuser, attempts to obtain publicity, failure to pay support or economic sanctions, criticism of the judge and other similar issues. Courts that limit mothers’ contact with the children for these types of reasons fail to recognize they are really punishing and hurting the children. Significantly, the motivation of most abusers seeking custody is to punish the mother for leaving and it is particularly harmful for courts to help him do so. The fathers understand the best way to hurt the mother is to hurt her children, but the judge is supposed to help the children. Even if the facts the judge believes justifies action against the mother are true, they can never justify extreme decisions that place the future of the children in jeopardy.

Sexual Abuse Cases

Many of the extreme decisions come in cases involving allegations of sexual abuse. By the time children reach the age of eighteen, one-third of the girls and one-sixth of the boys have been sexually abused. The stereotypical rapist or sexual abuser is a stranger, but 83% of rape and sexual abuse is committed by someone the victim knows. For young children, this is often their father, but when allegations are made by mothers in custody cases, the alleged abuser receives custody 85% of the time and the mother is often denied any meaningful relationship with the children she tried to protect. A large majority of these decisions are wrong and it is extremely difficult for judges to get these cases right with the deeply flawed practices that are standard in these cases.

Many years ago, three brave children complained their father was physically and sexually abusing them. The mother obtained a protective order limiting the father to supervised visitation and sought custody. The children told the CPS caseworker, their attorney, the judge and the court-appointed evaluator what their father did to them. As is common in these cases, these professionals decided the mother was brainwashing the children and they threatened to take custody away from her unless she stopped. The judge ordered a resumption of unsupervised visitation that weekend. Before the first visitation could start, the father was confronted by the baby sitter in the presence of the children’s law guardian and admitted kissing his daughters on their privates. The law guardian immediately made a motion to stop the visitation which I supported. The judge consulted the evaluator who said the father used bad judgment, but there was no reason to stop the visitation. During the first visit the four-year-old was penetrated for the first time.

I called CPS based on the father’s admission which had not been part of the original investigation. When the judge found out he yelled and screamed at me saying that the allegations had already been investigated. This time a new caseworker did a thorough job and found the father had done even worse than we alleged. They filed charges against the father and he never again had anything but supervised visitation.

The caseworker and I were invited to a celebratory dinner after the mother won custody. The children had gifts for us, but most important they had a name for us. They called us believers because we believed them when all the professionals charged with protecting them didn’t. There is no greater honor than to be called a believer and the problem is that a lot of custody court professionals are not believers. They instead believe the myth that women frequently make false allegations as again confirmed in the recent Justice Department study.

The evaluator in this case was a psychiatrist who was the favorite evaluator of all the judges in Westchester County, New York. He had a very positive reputation and in fact was excellent in cases that did not involve domestic violence or child abuse. Many years after this case a mother was pressured to accept joint custody with her abuser and this psychiatrist was appointed to resolve any issues the parents could not decide on their own. The mother learned that the father’s new partner had suffered a mental breakdown at a birthday party attended by her son. She called the psychiatrist to discuss how to handle the situation. The psychiatrist responded completely appropriately and then told her that when she first called he thought she was going to claim that her son was sexually abused AND HE WAS FULLY PREPARED NOT TO BELIEVE IT. In other words, no matter how strong the evidence, if this evaluator was appointed (and he handled most custody cases in Westchester), a mother had virtually no chance of convincing him about her allegations of abuse and the judges were almost certain to follow his recommendation. While few evaluators would express their disbelief of all sexual abuse allegations so openly, his views are all too typical. This gives even good judges little chance to get sexual abuse cases right.

Sexual abuse is extremely difficult to prove especially with young children. Many professionals expect physical proof, but many forms of sexual abuse do not leave physical evidence and any evidence is often destroyed by the time the child reports the abuse. We often see valid claims of abuse dismissed for reasons that are not probative such as the failure of prosecutors or child protective to bring charges, the reluctance of children to discuss the abuse particularly with someone with whom they have not developed a trusting relationship with and unqualified professionals often take a child’s matter of fact demeanor as if it disproves the allegations. Most prosecutors know that victims often recant valid allegations of abuse for many good reasons, but custody court professionals routinely use this as absolute proof the mother pressured the child to make a false allegation.

When a mother or child makes allegations of sexual abuse the most likely circumstance is that the allegation is true. The next most likely is that the allegation is based upon behavior that made the child act out in ways that suggested sexual abuse but were actually boundary violations. Other common causes are good faith complaints that turn out not to be true or situations where there is not sufficient evidence to determine the validity of the allegations. The least likely cause is deliberate false allegations by mothers, but inadequately trained court professionals frequently jump to this conclusion which often results in the kind of extreme and mistaken decisions discussed in this article.

In one New Jersey case, DYFS and the court completely mishandled both the domestic violence and sexual abuse issues. DYFS has now adopted best practices for potential domestic violence cases by making consultation with domestic violence advocates a standard response. This has been shown to give them the best chance to recognize domestic violence and make arrangements that work best for children. This case started before they adopted best practices and so never consulted with a domestic violence advocate even though the case is ongoing. They failed to recognize the father’s history of domestic violence. After the father was given custody and the mother limited to supervised visitation, an unqualified therapist inadvertently discovered the father had broken into his previous girl friend’s apartment after they separated and she had to obtain a restraining order. The unqualified therapist forced the mother to have joint counseling with her abuser and ignored his discovery because he did not understand its significance. DYFS later hired a psychologist who was familiar with current scientific research and was the only professional hired by them to cite research to support her recommendations. She immediately understood his history of domestic violence, together with other evidence the unqualified professionals failed to understand the significance of, confirmed the mother’s allegations of domestic violence and should have resulted in a reversal of the mistaken living arrangements.

DYFS sought to limit the mother to supervised visitation after all their unqualified professionals decided she had made deliberately false allegations. The evidence included the decision by DYFS and the prosecutor not to bring charges. As discussed earlier, the difficulty in proving sexual abuse means the failure to press charges does not establish the allegations were false and in the case of the prosecutor the inability to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt certainly does not mean the charges were false. DYFS interviewed the child without developing a trusting relationship and when she didn’t immediately repeat her allegations or with other professionals was reluctant to speak about them they concluded the allegations were deliberately false. Reports from the child’s therapist with whom she had a trusting relationship showed that the child reported the abuse but was reluctant to speak about it and used a matter of fact tone. The unqualified professionals immediately assumed that either the allegations were true or deliberately false so when they discredited the allegations proceeded as if the mother deliberately made false allegations.

The psychologist later hired by DYFS reviewed the records and recognized that the facts used by DYFS to discredit the allegations were not probative and cited research to support her findings. Again DYFS and the court ignored the findings of the one professional, who was both neutral and familiar with current scientific research. In reality, this was a very young girl who did not know the significance of whatever was done to her. Something her father and grandmother did made her uncomfortable and she told the person she most trusted, her mother. It was difficult for her to tell others although she did tell her therapist and a few other professionals. She was uncomfortable speaking about it. The evidence does not definitively establish if she was sexually abused or if her boundaries were violated. These are the two possibilities supported by the evidence that the professionals should have focused on, but instead they focused on false allegations just as the Justice Department study says is done by professionals with inadequate training. The result is that the child is forced to live with a dangerous abuser and denied a normal relationship with her primary attachment figure who is a safe, protective mother. In other words the court created one of these extreme decisions because it relied on unqualified professionals and failed to look to current scientific research to inform its decision.

In a Dutchess County case, the mother did everything right and the actions she complained about were admitted and still she was found to have made false sexual abuse allegations to gain an advantage in the litigation. The mother met with the school nurse who told the mother about incidents in which her child acted out in a sexualized way. The nurse advised the mother to seek therapy for her son. She took the child to the family services center that is regularly used by the courts and police as the nurse suggested. They selected the therapist to treat her son. The mother was concerned that the father would scratch the children all over their almost naked bodies, but not on their privates. They reacted in an inappropriately excited way and begged their mother to do this to them. The therapist believed this constituted sexual abuse and called child protective. The mother begged her not to because she was afraid of the reaction by her abuser. During couples counseling, the therapist for the mother and father also concluded the father’s actions were sexually abusive. The father admitted what he did and promised not to do it anymore. CPS also confirmed what the father did, but did not consider this to constitute sexual abuse and so unfounded the case. In the custody decision the judge treated the allegations as if they were deliberately false and punished the mother even though the acts she complained of were confirmed and two neutral therapists believed the actions were harmful to the children. The abuser won custody and the mother, who had been the primary attachment figure, was limited to supervised visitation. When good judges use bad practices to create these extreme decisions, it is easier for bad judges to get away with the extreme decisions even when there is no basis because his decisions are not that different from the mistakes by good judges.

Extreme Decisions Usually Have Underlying Facts Wrong

When the mother is safe, decisions that give custody to the alleged abuser and limit her to supervised visitation are virtually always wrong because the harm of denying the children a normal relationship with their primary attachment figure is greater than any benefit the court believes it is providing. These wrong decisions can only be obtained through the use of deeply flawed practices so it is not surprising that courts often also made substantial mistakes in their factual findings.

Often the key to understanding the case has to do with the domestic violence allegations, but unfortunately, although most professionals now have some minimum amount of domestic violence training, they have never learned how to recognize domestic violence or the importance of consulting with a domestic violence expert who understands the dynamics of domestic violence and is familiar with current scientific research.

Judge Mike Brigner wrote that when he trains judges and other court professionals about domestic violence, the most common question he receives is what to do about women who are lying. When he asks what they mean they cite behaviors like returning to her abuser, seeking a restraining order and not following-up and the failure to have police or medical records. All of these are common behaviors of battered women for safety and other reasons particularly if she is still living with him, but court professionals repeatedly treat these actions as if they prove her allegations are false. Another common mistake is for a professional to observe the children interact with their father and when they don’t show fear, the professionals assume it means the father could not be abusive. The children understand that he would not hurt them in front of witnesses, particularly someone he is trying to impress. When court professionals believe these common behaviors disprove domestic violence allegations, they give the judge very little chance of recognizing valid allegations of abuse.

Another common mistake is to look only at physical abuse in considering the mother’s allegations. Domestic violence are tactics abusers use to maintain what they believe is their right to control their partners and make the major decisions in the relationship. Most domestic violence is neither physical nor criminal. Lawyers should present the pattern of the father’s controlling and coercive behaviors and judges should be looking for this pattern. This would include not only physical abuse, but verbal, emotional and psychological abuse. It would include economic abuse and control, litigation abuse designed to bankrupt or otherwise harm his victim, isolating behaviors, monitoring behaviors, threats as well as evidence that shows the father’s motivation for seeking custody. In cases in which the mother did most of the child care during the relationship, the court should consider why the father is suddenly seeking custody and why is he willing to harm the children he claims to love by removing their primary attachment figure. The father may not know the exact harm demonstrated by the research but should have a general sense that children are harmed when denied their primary attachment figure.

The Department of Justice study found that court professionals pay far too much attention to the anger or emotion a mother displays in court in comparison to its significance in determining how good a mother she is. Similarly over forty states have had court-sponsored gender bias committees that have found substantial bias against women and particularly against mothers involved in custody disputes. One of the common forms of bias is to blame a mother for the actions of her abuser. This is exactly what a court does when it blames the mother for her emotion or anger caused by the father’s history of abuse and use of abusive litigation tactics instead of blaming him for intimidating and coercive behaviors that caused her reaction. Gender bias is often difficult to recognize because it is not done deliberately or consciously and some court professionals become extremely defensive when this issue is raised. A good remedy is to frequently consider how you would have reacted to the same situation if the genders were reversed.

We often hear judges complain about how difficult it is to decide a he-said she-said case. Usually this is because much of the evidence that would have helped the judge see the pattern was missed because the court professionals did not know what to look for. In one case the father admitted telling his wife that he brought her here from Russia so she had no right to leave. He said she would never get away from him. This father, in effect told the judge his motivation for seeking custody, but the judge failed to use this evidence because he did not understand its significance. Most cases will not have such obvious evidence, but smart professionals can figure out the motivation from the history and context.

Consequences of Extreme Decisions

Abusers understand that the best way to hurt mothers is to hurt their children. This is why so many abusive fathers who had little involvement with the children during the relationship suddenly seek custody when the mother seeks to leave her abuser. Court professionals often miss recognizing the fathers’ motivation because they have repeatedly heard that contested custody are high conflict cases when most are actually domestic violence cases. The worst part of this work is hearing about the unspeakable pain suffered by mothers and children when courts send children to live with dangerous abusers and take safe, protective mothers out of their children’s lives. It is extremely frustrating because these mistakes cause so much harm, but could be prevented if the courts would apply current scientific research.

If there was a scientific basis for these decisions, an evaluator could tell the court how his recommendations have worked out for the children in earlier cases. There is no such research and the closest we have are the Courageous Kids. These are young adults who have aged out of custody orders forcing them to live with abusive fathers and denying them a normal relationship with their mothers. These kids have a moral authority that none of the rest of us has because the decisions were supposed to be made for their benefit. The decisions gave control to the fathers who had tremendous power and resources to silence the children. This means the many Courageous Kids who have spoken out, often in great pain in order to help other children from suffering the same fate, represent a small percentage of spectacularly mistaken decisions. They describe tremendous pain and suffering during childhood and many problems that last into their adult lives. In many ways they are the lucky ones because other children in this situation commit suicide, destroy their lives with drugs and other harmful behaviors or otherwise never reach their potential.

As discussed earlier these decisions lead to a higher crime rate in addition to the increase in domestic violence homicide. A large majority of our prison population witnessed domestic violence or suffered direct abuse. The extreme decisions discussed in this article increase this unfortunate population. These mistakes also have a profound negative impact on society. The increased crime requires substantial expenditures in the criminal justice system as well as property losses and injuries. These mistakes also substantially increase health expenses that raise insurance rates and taxes when the government pays health costs. At the same time, by destroying or limiting the potential of these children, and others, it reduces economic output thus reducing tax revenue.

As someone who practiced law for thirty years, I am particularly concerned about the harm these cases do to the reputation of the courts and the legal system. I repeatedly hear statements that the custody court system is corrupt. This is based on so many cases in which the disparity of the evidence and the outcome makes it look like only corruption could have caused such improper decisions. The extreme decisions that cannot possibly benefit the children further support the corruption conclusion.

While there are instances of corruption such as the Garson case in Brooklyn, I believe the research supports a different explanation. It appears the courts adopted flawed practices at a time when no research was available and have continued these outdated and discredited practices despite the current scientific research available. The use of myths, stereotypes, bias and misinformation are widespread in the custody courts. The use of mental health professionals as if they were the experts in domestic violence contributes both to mistaken decisions and widespread misinformation. Many judges have been unwilling to take a close look to scrutinize evaluators’ recommendations or to discredit evaluators who are unfamiliar with current scientific research. The problem is exasperated by a cottage industry of lawyers and mental health professionals who have figured out that fathers tend to have control of most of the resources in contested custody so the best way to make a lot of money is to support theories and approaches that help abusers. We frequently see courts treat evaluators and GALs who are biased in favor of fathers as if they were “neutrals.” These mistakes create an appearance of corruption that is extremely harmful to the reputation of the legal system.

Judges are supposed to be open to new information, willing to correct mistakes and to change their minds based on new evidence. I was particularly impressed with Judge Thomas Hornsby who wrote a chapter in DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY in which he said that in his nineteenth year on the bench he learned the right way to handle certain types of restraining orders. It takes the kind of ethics and courage we expect from judges to admit past mistakes like that. Too often we hear judges refusing to listen to a domestic violence expert based on statements that the judge has been on the bench for many years and doesn’t need this assistance. And then they send the children to live with an abuser. It is important for good judges to set an example and reverse decisions that research establishes are harmful to children.


When you made a decision giving custody to the alleged abuser and limiting the mother to supervised or no visitation, you thought you were doing something to benefit the children. In some cases you thought the father was the parent most likely to promote the relationship between the children and other parent.

In most of these cases once the father gains control he actually interferes with the mother’s relationship in ways that you would severely punish if done by the mother. Repeatedly abusive fathers use their control to undermine the mother’s relationship because that was his purpose in seeking custody in the first place. The subsequent interference in the mother’s relationship, including asking the court to limit her contact is a change of circumstance giving the court new information not available when the decision was made. The research now available that demonstrates the frequency of abusers destroying mothers’ relationships with their children is also a change of circumstance the court was unaware of when it made the decision. Domestic violence is very much about context and one of the common mistakes in custody court is to look at each incident and each issue separately thus preventing court professionals from recognizing the pattern of abuse. Judges sometimes make the mistake of treating a finding denying abuse allegations as settling the issue so that it can never look at the issue again or at least not the prior evidence. Best practices would be to look at the new information, such as the father using his control to harm the children’s relationship with the mother in the context of his history of controlling and coercive behavior so that even if the court failed to recognize his pattern of abuse earlier, the new circumstances, taken together with the prior evidence can be sufficient to confirm the abuse allegations if only the judge can be open to acknowledging the prior conclusion was wrong.

Even if the court continues to believe the mother’s abuse allegations were false and even deliberately so, current scientific research does not support limiting the children to supervised or no visitation with their primary attachment figure. The harm of losing a normal relationship with their mother under these circumstances is far more harmful than the risk she might make some negative statements. This research, by itself constitutes a change of circumstance requiring at least normal visitation for the mother. We have too often seen judges refuse to correct their decision for fear of looking bad by admitting an error. I ask you not to take the risk of a child suffering depression, low self-esteem or God forbid commit suicide. That would be a judicial error we cannot tolerate.

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. Barry can be reached by email at their web site



Father Of Boy Abandoned On I-20 Indicted For Attempted Capital Murder

In domestic law on July 20, 2011 at 12:53 pm
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SWEETWATER, Texas — A Nolan County grand jury indicted Carlos Rico, who allegedly tried to kill his 4-year-old son Angel leaving him on the side of I-20, Tuesday.

Rico was indicted on charges of attempted capital murder, injury to a child and endangering a child. He admittedly tried to kill Angel after voices told him to.

A Sweetwater basketball coach rescued Angel from 1-20 more than three hours later.

Angel’s biological mother and uncle are in the middle of a custody battle for the little boy.

Copyright 2011 KTXS. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



The parents of a slain Central Texas woman have won custody of her children from the parents of her ex-minister KILLER husband now in prison .

In domestic law on July 20, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Amazing that FATHERS RIGHTS would even be a question in keeping custody of Children after Murder Conviction of killing the children’s Mother – but it is. You can thank all the Fatherhood Funding and programs and Father exaltation for this.Apparently we as a society believe in fathers so much that prison daddy’s (Thanks Eric Holder) even mommy murderers– that children some how NEED their Father. (or FATHERS/KILLERS family – more than their mothers) even mothers family.

Thousands of dollars spent on just this one case.

KERRVILLE, Texas — The parents of a slain Central Texas woman have won custody of her children from the parents of her ex-minister husband now in prison for her killing.

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The Kerr County jury voted after eight hours of deliberation on Friday to award custody of the 10- and 15-year-old daughters of Matt and Kari Baker to Jim and Linda Dulin of the Waco suburb of Woodway.

The Dulins had sued for custody of their granddaughters, who had been wards of Oscar and Barbara Baker of Kerrville since their father was indicted and jailed in 2009.

The verdict was greeted with tears from all sides, including from the two girls. The eldest girl wept as she sat between friends, while the youngest wept as Barbara Baker held her.

Meanwhile, the Dulins embraced each other and cried. Matt Baker, who is serving a 65-year prison sentence for murder in the 2006 drugging and suffocation of his wife, shook his head.

Prosecutors at the former Baptist minister’s murder trial argued that he had killed his wife so that he could take up with his mistress and tried to make Kari Baker’s death appear to be a suicide by overdose. Only pressure from the Dulins compelled police to re-open the case and determine that she had been murdered.

A court-appointed adviser who conducted home studies on both the Baker and Dulin homes had recommended that the Dulins be awarded custody for several reasons, including the “unhealthy emotional environment” she says exists in the Baker home. The adviser, Stephanie Trulson, said Matt Baker and his parents continue to blame the Dulins for Matt Baker’s incarceration.

Testimony during the nine-day trial focused on allegations by two women that Oscar Baker had molested them decades ago when they were foster children of the Bakers. Baker denied the allegations. Another focus was the Bakers’ insistence of the innocence of their son and the Dulins’ campaign for his prosecution and conviction. The Dulins argued that the Bakers had brainwashed the children into believing that their maternal grandparents were evil and were persecuting their father.

Members of the extended Dulin family expressed sadness for the girls’ anxieties and grief. “My heart hurts for the girls right now,” Lindsey Pick, Linda Dulin’s niece, told the Kerrville Daily Times.

A friend of the Bakers, Ron Canter, also was sad. “It’s been a very trying experience for both parties. No one wins,” he told the San Antonio Express-News.



Montclair homicide victim’s child attended her funeral, the suspect FATHER may seek custody of Victims Daughter

In domestic law on July 20, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Samara Khan made it to England to attend her slain mother’s funeral last week. Meanwhile the family of her father, who is accused of killing Shazmina Khan, is maintaining his innocence and apparently plans to seek custody of the motherless child.

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Khalid Khan, a 42-year-old Bloomfield resident, is in jail after pleading not guilty to the slaying of his estranged wife Shazmina, 31, on July 4 in her apartment on Wheeler Street in Montclair. Samara, an 8-year-old, is their daughter.

Samara Khan

Shazmina had three siblings, and her brother in London, Nadir Esmail, had desperately requested that his niece, who is in the custody of the state Department of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), be allowed to come to the United Kingdom, where Shazmina’s remains were sent for burial. And in fact the girl, accompanied by a male and female social worker, arrived in London Friday morning for the funeral and went back to the States Saturday, according to Esmail, 33.

“It was a big relief because she was there and we did all the ceremonies we were supposed to do,” he said, referring to Muslim burial rites. “It really meant a lot, we’re really grateful to the social workers there that at least they could bring her down to pay her final respects to her mom.”

Shazmina and Nadir’s sister in Tanzania, 35-year-old Nasmina “Kate” Esmail, is still trying to get the necessary approvals to travel to New Jersey to begin proceedings to get custody her niece Samara. She said the family is determined to come to Samara’s aid because the four siblings, including Shazmina, lost both their parents when they were children in their homeland of Kenya.

“There are three siblings left, and none of the three of us really mind which one of us gets Samara as long as she is with our family,” Nasmina said during a phone call to The Times from Tanzania. “Remember that we were all orphaned at a very tender age, so we know what it means to be orphaned,” she said. “all of us share the same heart … We had at such a tender age so much suffering, that we embrace the ones that suffer.”

Khalid Khan

Members of Khalid Khan’s family have telephoned the Esmail family in the United Kingdom, “denying that Khalid murdered my sister,” according to Nasmina. Shazmina had a final restraining order against her estranged husband when she died, according to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, and there was a history of domestic disputes between them.

In addition to proclaiming Khalid Khan’s innocence, his family members “have indicated they will seek custody” of Samara, a student at the Charles H. Bullock Elementary School in Montclair, Nasmina said.

She added that the man who is married to Khalid’s sister has contacted her family. Khalid Khan, who worked as a DeCamp bus driver, has a sister and brother who could seek custody. Nasmina Esmail added that Khalid’s sister “is the one that went to visit Samara recently.”

Nasmina also alleged that the accused killer’s family only expressed an interest in adopting Samara after it learned that the Montclair community was raising money to create a trust fund for Samara.

Khan’s family in Bloomfield couldn’t be reached for comment Monday. But authorities said last week that Khalid Khan’s parental rights had not been severed. DYFS is not commenting on the case.

The Esmail family is concerned about their niece’s well-being. She was in the apartment when her mother was killed, left in a bath tub with her throat slashed.

“Our niece is the only living witness to this case,” said Nasmina, who could permission to leave Tanzania to attend the funeral.

“And up to now I believe she hasn’t spoken,” she said. “Even at the funeral, she was cold. I have watched my sister raise this child. Samara has hardly ever eaten food on her own. Her mother would hand feed her. Samara was the only child my sister ever had. My sister loved her dearly and every meal was fed to Samara. And now suddenly there’s no one there feeding her. There’s no one there doing anything for her. She didn’t shed a tear. I’m sure she’s very badly, emotionally and mentally damaged with this experience, and she needs her family. She needs us to be there with her.”

Nadir Esmail, Samara’s uncle, said, “Yes, she did not cry, not a single tear [at the funeral].”

He added, “We took her close to her mother, but she was upset. I think somewhere deep down she knew what had happened. We didn’t want to talk about it or question her. Just let it be … but the family support was there, and it’s not easy.”

Samara did get openly emotional when she had to leave England and return to the Unites States.

“Obviously, it wasn’t easy to talk to her,” Nadir Esmail said. “When she was leaving us, she really didn’t want to leave. She was really, really upset and crying … She just didn’t want to leave us. And we just had to convince her you’ve got to be strong and we’re going to get be together soon enough.”

Nasmina, who last saw her sister in 2006, said that Shazmina and Khalid Khan first met in Kenya, where both their families are from.

Nasmina, who has worked as a freelance war zone photographer for the Associated Press and Reuters, said she was extremely grateful for the support that Samara and Shazmina have received from their friends in Montclair and community members. Any funds raised should be used to pay for Samara’s education, she said.



Family petitions for custody of slain woman’s kids

In domestic law on July 20, 2011 at 12:38 pm


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The family of a slain Gwinnett County mother is asking that custody of the woman’s young daughters be granted to a grandparent, rather than the children remaining with a murder suspect.

Matt Leili, 43, has been named a suspect in the death of his wife, Nique Leili, whose body was found under a pile of leaves in the couple’s Lawrenceville neighborhood over the weekend. But there have been no arrests in the death.

On Monday, the medical examiner’s office confirmed the remains belonged to the 44-year-old woman, who also has a 19-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. The cause of death has not yet been released.

The couple’s two daughters, ages 12 and 9, have remained with their father since Nique Leili was reported missing a week ago.

Tuesday afternoon, attorney Noel Benedict told the AJC he would be filing a petition in Gwinnett County Superior Court to allow Nique Leili’s father to have custody of the Leili girls.

“I have prepared a petition for the grandfather to get at least visitation, if not custody, of the two minor children,” Benedict said. “The first priority is to make sure they’re safe.”

Benedict said he also plans to file a petition in probate court to allow Nique Leili’s remains be released to her adult daughter, rather than to Matt Leili.

Matt Leili filed for divorce from his wife on July 13, seeking sole custody, alimony and child support, according to Gwinnett County court records. The divorce petition was filed two days after Matt Leili told his wife’s family she was missing. Matt Leili told police he and his wife had argued July 8 and he woke up the following morning to find her gone.

A recording of a 911 call late last month, released Tuesday by Gwinnett police, indicates the couple may have been having marital problems prior to Nique Leili’s death.

“My husband refuses to let me leave the house,” Nique Leili told the 911 operator about 6:50 a.m. June 28.

Matt Leili then told the operator his wife was just throwing a tantrum and had awakened the kids.

“Do you really want the cops here?” Matt Leili asked his wife.

Second later, Nique Leili returns to the line, saying, “You don’t need to come. I’ll stay in the house all day.”

Gwinnett County police were dispatched to the Sidneys Cove home, where neither Matt nor Nique wanted to leave the home. Investigators found no evidence of physical contact during the incident.



Millionaire CEO Jonah Shaknai, ex-wife had several domestic disputes while married, cops say

In domestic law on July 20, 2011 at 12:34 pm
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Jonah Shacknai (left) and Rebecca Zahau, the millionaire's now-deceased girlfriend.
Jonah Shacknai (left) and Rebecca Zahau, the millionaire’s now-deceased girlfriend.

There was trouble in paradise even before a 6-year-old boy and his dad’s girlfriend died mysteriously just two days apart inside a historic California mansion.

The divorced parents of the dead child twice called police during domestic disputes that turned physical when their marriage collapsed in 2008 and 2009, according to police reports.

The details were made public after little Max Shacknai died Sunday night from injuries suffered in a July 11 fall while Rebecca Zahau was babysitting the boy.

Two days after his accident, Zahau’s naked body was found hanging from the balcony of the $12.75 million Spreckels mansion, her wrists and ankles bound. The 32-year-old was seeing the dead boy’s father, multimillionaire Jonah Shacknai.

Investigators say they have not linked the two deaths, and believe Max’s fatal tumble down the stairs was an accident. Zahau’s possible suicide was under investigation.

But police reports from the Arizona home once shared by phamaceuticals tycoon Shacknai and ex-wife Dina showed they had swapped claims of physical and verbal abuse with police.

In the 2009 confrontation, Dina Shacknai claimed her husband elbowed her in the chest and swore at her. He denied the charge, asserting that she was screaming at him, “You cannot leave me!”

Max Shacknai, 6, tragically died this week. (Family Photo/AP)

The year before, Jonah Shacknai claimed that Dina tried to strangle him – and the family dog bit her as the conflict escalated.

The couple released a statement saying the release of the police reports came at a devastating time.

“While our marriage did not work out as either of us had hoped, it did produce a wonderful son, Max … His loss is unimaginable,” said the statement released to KSAZ-TV.

“These police reports are not reflective of the totality or the precise details of the events during a difficult time in our marriage that we worked through together … We request that the privacy of our family be respected.”



HHS Inspector General to State of KS: "Kansas Advocacy and Protective Services’ (KAPS) has charged Federal grants $491,936

In domestic law on July 20, 2011 at 12:13 pm

(hat tip to a ‘friend’ for this)

HHS Inspector General to State of KS: “Kansas Advocacy and Protective Services’ (KAPS) has charged Federal grants $491,936 (APPENDIX B) for payments made to, or on behalf of members of KAPS board of directors for consulting and legal fees and health insurance premiums. Governing Federal cost principles (OMB Circular A-122) do not allow these types of payments to officers or employees of grantee organizations.”​/region7/70302008.pdf

We recommended the amount be refunded to the applicable Federal programs. The law firm that responded to the draft report for KAPS indicated it could not respond to the validity of the facts and reasonableness of the recommendations because of the lack of records. They further indicated that “KAPS will cooperate fully with the Federal agencies involved in order to bring resolution to this matter.”

My favorite part of the report is that when prosecuted by the feds for fraud, the nonprofit which receives $$$ to represent [RIG] indigent litigants in cases, and who filled out the grant applications and agreed to the terms, hired a law firm to represent the nonprofit who was entirely ignorant of the laws governing the case. The board of directors should be in jail, which is what would happen to us if we committed fraud and embezzlement against the federal govt. Instead, these people will reorganize under a new name and keep the scam going…I bet if we looked them up this would be the case.

Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life

In domestic law on July 18, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Coercive Control: Review by Diane Post, Attorney, Human Rights Activist, Author of 2007 Mothers Day Petition to the Inter American Commission Human Rights (IACHR) on behalf of Battered Mothers and their Children. (Dombrowski et el v United States)

Coercive ControlDespite its great achievements, the domestic violence revolution is stalled, Evan Stark argues, a provocative conclusion he documents by showing that interventions have failed to improve womens long-term safety in relationships or to hold perpetrators accountable.

Coercive Control

Stark traces this failure to a startling paradox, that the singular focus on violence against women masks an even more devastating reality. In millions of abusive relationships, men use a largely unidentified form of subjugation that more closely resembles kidnapping or indentured servitude than assault. He calls this pattern coercive control. Drawing on sources that range from FBI statistics and film to dozens of actual cases from his thirty years of experience as an award-winning researcher, advocate, and forensic expert, Stark shows in terrifying detail how men can use coercive control to extend their dominance over time and through social space in ways that subvert womens autonomy, isolate them, and infiltrate the most intimate corners of their lives.

Against this backdrop, Stark analyzes the cases of three women tried for crimes committed in the context of abuse, showing that their reactions are only intelligible when they are reframed as victims of coercive control rather than as battered wives. The story of physical and sexual violence against women has been told often.

But this is the first book to show that most abused women who seek help do so because their rights and liberties have been jeopardized, not because they have been injured. The coercive control model Stark develops resolves three of the most perplexing challenges posed by abuse: why these relationships endure, why abused women develop a profile of problems seen among no other group of assault victims, and why the legal system has failed to win them justice.

Elevating coercive control from a second-class misdemeanor to a human rights violation, Stark explains why law, policy, and advocacy must shift its focus to emphasize how coercive control jeopardizes womens freedom in everyday life. Fiercely argued and eminently readable, Starks work is certain to breathe new life into the domestic violence revolution.

More comments by the author, Dr. Stark.

Coercive control is a model of abuse that attempts to encompass the range of strategies employed to dominate individual women in personal life. Alternately referred to as coerced persuasion; conjugal, patriarchal or intimate terrorism; emotional or psychological abuse; indirect abuse; or emotional torture, it describes an ongoing pattern of sexual mastery by which abusive partners, almost exclusively males, interweave repeated physical abuse with three equally important tactics: intimidation, isolation, and control.

The easiest way to understand coercive control is to contrast it to the widespread equation of partner abuse with “domestic violence.” Domestic violence laws and most research in the field take an incident-specific focus and weigh the severity of abuse by the level of force used or injury inflicted what I call a “calculus of harms.” In marked contrast, the coercive control model relies on evidence that most battered women who seek help experience coercion as “ongoing” rather than as merely “repeated” and that the main marker of these assaults is their frequency or even their “routine” nature rather than their severity, a fact that gives abuse a “cumulative” effect found in no other assault crime. Physical harm and psychological trauma remain important in the coercive control model. But its theory of harms replaces the violation of physical integrity with an emphasis on violations of “liberty” that entail the deprivation of rights and resources essential to personhood and citizenship. In this view, the psychological language of victimization and dependence is replaced by the political language of domination, resistance, and subordination. . In the coercive control model, 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 do this

The domestic violence model emphasizes the familial, cultural, interpersonal and psychological roots of abusive behavior. The coercive control model views the dynamics in abusive relationships from the vantage of the historical struggle for women’s liberation and men’s efforts to preserve their traditional privileges in personal life in the face of this struggle. The incredible strides women have made towards full equality, particularly since the l960’s, have been widely documented. These gains make it increasingly difficult for men to ensure women’s obedience and dependence through violence alone. In the face of this reality, millions of men have expanded their oppressive repertoire to include a range of constraints on women’s autonomy formerly imposed by law, religion, and women’s exclusion from the economic, cultural and political mainstream, in essence trying to construct a “patriarchy in miniature” in each individual relationship, the course of malevolent conduct known as coercive control. Although the aim of this conspicuous form of subjugation is to quash, offset or coopt women’s social gains (taking the money they earn, for instance), this strategy relies for success on the persistent inequalities based on sex that remain, including the huge gap in job opportunities and earnings that continues to advantage men.

Coercive control shares general elements with other capture or course-of-conduct crimes such as kidnapping, stalking, and harassment, including the facts that it is ongoing and its perpetrators use various means to hurt, humiliate, intimidate, exploit, isolate, and dominate their victims. Like hostages, victims of coercive control are frequently deprived of money, food, access to communication or transportation, and other survival resources even as they are cut off from family, friends, and other supports through the process of “isolation.” 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. Another difference is its aim. Men deploy coercive control to secure privileges that involve the use of time, control over material resources, access to sex, and personal service. A main means men use to establish control is the microregulation of everyday behaviors associated with stereotypic female roles, such as how women dress, cook, clean, socialize, care for their children, or perform sexually. These dynamics give coercive control a role in sexual politics that distinguishes it from all other crimes.

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. Numerous studies in the United States indicate that women of all ages assault male and female partners in large numbers and for many of the same reasons and with much the same consequences as men. However, there is no counterpart in men’s lives to women’s entrapment by men in personal life due to coercive control.

The Origins of the Coercive Control Model

The coercive control model reflects two concurrent realities, that the domestic violence is stalled and that our current predicament can be traced to the gap that separates how abuse is understood and the actual experiences of battered women with abusive men.

Nothing in the coercive control model is meant to discount the enormous gains achieved by the domestic violence revolution since we opened the first battered women’s shelters in the l970’s. Nor, as some critics of our movement have argued, do I want to turn back the clock by retreating from the important protections we have won for women in the legal, criminal justice, health or mental health arenas. Hundreds of thousands of women and children owe the fact that they are alive to the availability of shelters and to criminal justice and legal reforms. What is less clear is whether women as a group are safer today or are less likely to be beaten, controlled, or killed by their partners than they were before the domestic violence revolution began.

Partner violence against women is no longer just life. But anyone with reasonable sympathies and a passing acquaintance with interventions to stem men’s abuse of woman 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:

• Partner homicides have dropped precipitously. But this change has benefited men far more than women. The number of men killed by female partners has dropped dramatically since we opened the first shelters, particularly among blacks. But the number of women killed by male partners has changed very little. While severe violence by men against women has dropped, the so-called “minor” violence that makes up the infrastructure of coercive control has increased sharply. Women as a group are not appreciably safer today than when the domestic violence revolution began.

• Though domestic violence is an ongoing crime and is almost always complemented by acts of intimidation, humiliation, isolation and control, in most communities abuse is treated as a second-class misdemeanor. While victims repeatedly insist that “violence isn’t the worst part” and mounting evidence points to structural constraints on independence and personhood as the most devastating aspects of abuse, these dimensions remain officially invisible. Millions of men may be arrested each year for domestic violence. But the chance that a perpetrator will go to jail in any given incident is just slightly better than the chance of winning a lottery.

ut these programs are little more effective than doing nothing at all. Regardless of intervention, the vast majority of perpe

• Batterer intervention programs (BIPs) are widely offered as an alternative to incarceration. But these programs are little more effective than doing nothing at all. Regardless of intervention, the vast majority of perpetrators continue their abuse.

• Shelters are the core response to abused women and so they should remain. But in hundreds of communities, shelters today are indistinguishable from the traditional, paternalistic service system they arose to challenge.

. Perhaps the key fact is that the domestic violence revolution appears to have had little or no effect on coercive control, the pattern evidence shows characterizes between 60-80% of the relationships for which women seek outside assistance. Refocusing on coercive control would be a giant step toward changing this situation. The domestic violence movement began with a vision, to provide women worldwide with a safety net that protected them against harm in personal life. Such a net is in place in most countries. But long-term protection still eludes us.

The limits of current interventions can be directly traced to a failure of vision, not of nerve. Conservatives attack the advocacy movement for exaggerating the nature and extent of abuse. In fact, because of its singular emphasis on physical violence, the prevailing model minimizes both the extent of women’s entrapment by male partners in personal life and its consequences.

Viewing woman abuse through the prism of the incident-specific and injury-based definition of violence has concealed its major components, dynamics, and effects, including the fact that it is neither “domestic” nor primarily about “violence.” Failure to appreciate the multidimensionality of oppression in personal life has been disastrous for abuse victims. Regardless of its chronic nature, courts treat each abuse incident they see as a first offense. Because well over 95% of these incidents are minor, in that the physical assault involved is not injurious, almost no one goes to jail. In custody or divorce cases, because abuse is framed as incident specific or as only involving injurious violence, when women or children present with claims based on the ongoing, multidimensional and cumulative nature of abuse, these are often treated as fabricated. Worse, a protective mother may be blamed when her expressed level of concern or fear is at odds with evidence of assault: in the dependency court, her children may be placed in foster care; in family court, she is alleged to be engaged in alienating her children from the “good enough father.” As calls to the police or visits to the emergency room are repeated over time, the helping response becomes more perfunctory and may actually contribute to making abuse routine, a process called normalization.

Coercive Control

The coercive control model is built on earlier work that has remained marginal to mainstream intervention, a mountain of data that contradicts every major tenet of the domestic violence model; and a growing body of literature documenting the prevalence of tactics to isolate, intimidate and control women in abusive relationships. But its major source is the real-life experiences of perpetrators and victims of abuse

As I’ve suggested, the most important anomalous evidence indicates that violence in abusive relationships is ongoing rather than episodic, that its effects are cumulative rather than incident-specific, and that the harms it causes are more readily explained by these factors than by its severity. Among these harms, the dominant approach identifies two for which it fails to adequately account, the entrapment of victims in relationships where ongoing abuse is virtually inevitable, and the development of a problem profile that distinguishes abused women from every other class of assault victim. The prevailing view is that women stay and develop a range of mental health and behavioral problems because exposure to severe violence induces trauma-related syndromes, such as PTSD or BWS that can disable a woman’s capacity to cope or escape. In fact, however, only a small proportion of abuse victims evidence these syndromes. Most victims of abuse do not develop significant psychological or behavioral problems. Abused women exhibit a range of problems that are unrelated to trauma, the vast majority of assault incidents are too minor to induce trauma, and abuse victims can be entrapped even in the absence of assault. The duration of abusive relationships is made even more problematic when we appreciate that abuse victims are aggressive help seekers and are as likely to be assaulted and even entrapped when they are physically separated as when married or living together. Thus, whatever harms are involved can cross social space as well as extend over time and appear to persist regardless of how women respond. If violence doesn’t account for the entrapment of millions of women in personal life, what does?

The answer is coercive control, a strategy that remains officially invisible despite the fact that it has been in plain sight at least since the earliest shelter residents told us in no uncertain terms that “violence wasn’t the worst part.” Cognitive psychologists in the late 1970s and 1980s tried to capture what these women were experiencing by comparing it to “coercive persuasion,” brainwashing, and other tactics used with hostages, prisoners of war, kidnap victims, and by pimps with prostitutes. Largely ignored by researchers, the understanding of abuse as coercive control was developed in popular literature and incorporated at least implicitly into how various practitioners approached the problem. Working on men’s control skills has provided one template for batterers programs since the founding of Emerge in Boston. Prosecutors are increasingly charging batterers with stalking, or harassment as well as domestic violence, crimes that typically involve a course of intimidating and controlling conduct as well of violence. Scotland and Canada are examples of countries that now define violence against women or abuse from a human rights perspective that includes a range of coercive and controlling behaviors in addition to assault. The most widely used graphic representation of abuse is the Power and Control Wheel introduced by the Domestic Violence Intervention Project (DAIP) in Duluth, Minnesota. Although violence is the hub of the original wheel, its spokes depict isolation, economic control, emotional and sexual abuse, and other facets of coercive control. This attention is merited. The several dozen studies that attempt to measure control and psychological abuse suggest that victims have been subjected to multiple control tactics, among which the denial of money, the monitoring of time, and restricted mobility and communication are prominent.

Despite these inroads, coercive control remains marginal to mainstream thinking. It is rarely acknowledged in policy circles, has had almost no impact on domestic violence policing or criminal law, and commands no special funding. Although providers and advocates may ask about elements of coercive control, I know of no programs or interventions that address it. Everyone acknowledges that domestic violence is about power and control. But we have yet to incorporate this truism into our understanding of abuse or our response.

The major source for the model of coercive control are the victims and perpetrators of abuse with whom I and others have worked. The women in my practice have repeatedly made clear that the most serious harms they have suffered involve how their partners have kept them from fulfilling their life projects by appropriating their resources; undermining their social support; subverting their rights to privacy, self-respect, and autonomy; and depriving them of substantive equality. This is the evidence on which I base my claim that coercive control is a liberty crime. Preventing a substantial group of women from freely applying their agency in economic and political life obstructs overall social development .

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 the early shelters, the interrelatedness of these tenets was grounded in the practice of empowerment, whereby the suffering of individual victims was mollified by mobilizing their collective power to help one another and change the institutional structures that caused and perpetuated women’s second-class status, an example of women doing for themselves. Our challenge is to resurrect this collective practice and broaden its political focus to the sources of coercive control.

Control: Invisible in Plain Sight

The victims and perpetrators of coercive control are easily identified. Many of the rights violated in battering are so fundamental to the conduct of everyday life that is hard to conceive of meaningful human existence without them. How is it possible then that it has attracted so little attention?

I have already pointed to the prominence of the domestic violence model. Another explanation is the compelling nature of violence. Once injury became the major medium for presenting abuse, its sights and sounds were so dramatic that other experiences seemed muted by comparison. The radical feminists who led the fight against rape and pornography also inadvertently contributed to the invisibility of coercive control. Placing so much political currency on violence against women as the ultimate weapon in men’s arsenal made it a surrogate for male domination rather than merely one of its means. It was a short step to replacing the political discussions of women’s liberation with the talks of “victims” and “perpetrators.” Another explanation for why coercive control has had such little impact is that no one knows what to do about it.

The entrapment of women in personal life is also hard to discern because many of the rights it violates are so basic—so much a part of the taken-for-granted 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. What status should we accord to a woman’s right to have toilet paper in the downstairs bathroom or to the right of a woman I will call Laura who had to beep in periodically so her boyfriend would know her whereabouts or who could not go to the gym without being beeped home? Given the prominence of physical bruising, how can we 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? Most people take it for granted that normal, healthy adults determine their own sleep patterns or how they drive or laugh or make love. The first women who used our home as her safe house described her partner a tyrant. We thought she was speaking metaphorically.

Violence is easy to understand. But the deprivations that come packaged in coercive control are no more a part of my personal life than they are of most men’s. This is true both literally, because many of the regulations involved in coercive control target behaviors that are identified with the female role, and figuratively, because it is hard for me to conceive of a situation outside of prison, a mental hospital, or a POW camp where another adult would control or even care to control my everyday routines.

What is taken from the women whose stories I hear almost daily—and what some victims use violence to restore—is the capacity for independent decision making in the areas by which we distinguish adults from children and free citizens from indentured servants. Coercive control entails a malevolent course of conduct that subordinates women to an alien will by violating their physical integrity (domestic violence), denying them respect and autonomy (intimidation), depriving them of social connectedness (isolation), and appropriating or denying them access to the resources required for personhood and citizenship (control). Nothing men experience in the normal course of their everyday lives resembles this conspicuous form of subjugation.

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.

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.

Evan Stark



Man arrested for trying to marry woman with a restraining order against him Continue reading on Man arrested for trying to marry woman with a restraining order against him – National Str

In domestic law on July 18, 2011 at 12:37 pm

This happened to me. My daughter was 10 months old before we were married. Hal Richardson was on probation for 95 DV conviction 8 mos prior (part of which entailed NO CONTACT w Victim).
When all other coercion did not work–He took my infant daughter from her from daycare, to the Indian reservation.

The Toepka, Kansas local authorities (and FBI) would not go get my daughter, said it was treaties or such. No one, even w restraining order, and probation requirements and conviction in hand– would get my daughter back to me.

Our captor (ex) HAL RICHARDSON said if I ever wanted to see my child again, I would marry him (in another state MO. as he was on probation in KS for crimes against myself).

Eventually after no ‘authority’ would help me, I did marry him, got my daughter back 3 days later, I left him two days after that and never went back. That was in 1995.
In 2005 I found the State and county were we were married, and had it annulled as a ‘shot gun’ marriage. (although I was by this time divorced and still in custody litigation w abuser in Kansas) it was a self principled matter by this time.

I am glad they arrested this bully. There is always some coercive control going on when women ‘go back’ or ‘marry’ the perp they have restraining order on.

Amplify’d from

A Decatur, Illinois couple found out on Wednesday that the legal system doesn’t play well with couples who have filed domestic violence charges with the court system.

Billy J. Rutherford was arrested Wednesday for allegedly violating the terms of his bail while waiting outside a Macon County courtroom, moments before getting married by Associate Judge Thomas Griffith, reports Decatur Herald & Review. He was planning on marrying the same woman who had him arrested a few months back for domestic violence.

Rutherford was charged with one count of aggravated domestic battery and three counts of domestic battery back in March after he had “been beating on her (his girlfriend) all day.” On March 9th, the victim was granted an order of protection from Rutherford, which he violated two weeks later. He was arrested for violating the court order and bailed out of jail on March 27th.

According to, Rutherford wanted to be a married man when he went to court for the domestic violence charges on Monday. It also states that the couple wanted Judge Griffith because he represented them both separately when he was a private attorney

Rutherford may face charges of violation of bail bond and could face up to 364 days in jail for violating the court order. This is in addition to the other charges that are currently stacked against him.



HHS taggs: Search “Access” and you will see fatherhood money

In domestic law on July 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Access visitation programs- a Fatherhood Initiative under HHS in order to get ‘bad dads’ back into the lives of their victims. Are a ‘custody switch’ program funded by the federal government.

Amplify’d from

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