It was with surprise and appreciation that I recently discovered and read Stalking Through the Courts. Although it has been many years since my divorce from Eric Bleicken, the pain of the intense lies that were told (that I wasn’t feeding my children, that I was suicidal, that I was a negligent mother, etc.), and the 200 plus harassment motions that Eric Bleicken filed over a five year period were still under the surface. I found it amazing that Janet Normalvanbreucher, someone I’ve never met, cared enough to research and reveal the truth about our case and the Fathers Rights political agenda. With sincerity and humility, I give her my thanks. Lorraine Bleicken G.
The "Father’s Right’s" Movement: How to Legally Stalk, Harass,
and Intimidate Victims of Domestic Violence after a Restraining Order has been Issued
STALKING THROUGH THE COURTS
by Janet Normalvanbreucher © 1999
Table of Contents:
— Ten Tips for Single Dads
— Father’s Manifesto Signatories
— Victoria D.’s story
— if Psychologists Discredit this Theory, Why Is it So Widely Accepted by the Courts?
— Screening of Pro-Se Lawsuits, Criminal Charges, Motions for Reconsideration
— Criminal Sanctions for Filing Frivolous Charges with State Administrative Agencies
— Tighter Enforcement of Stalking Laws
— Rule 11-type Pro-Se Sanctions for Abuse of Process
— Prosecuting Groups who are Practicing Law Without A License
— Law School Programs – Helping the Victims Fight Back
— Lawsuits against FR Groups under the VAWA as Unincorporated Associations.
— Legislative Action
Many years ago, I encountered what appeared at the time to be a group of reputable men.As a struggling single motherin a fast-paced society, I found their call for a return to simpler times and enduring relationships refreshing. I formed lasting friendships with several of them, and some of those friendships have endured in spite of the topic of which I write in this article.
When my child’s father found a new wife and family, he faded from her life and became little more than a weekly paycheck in spite of pleas for him to remain more than a passive observer. Ideas which had initially sounded quaint and old-fashioned began to hold appeal as my child became sullen and withdrawn.
Grandfatherly in nature, one member in particular took my little girl under his wing and helped fill the void left by her father’s inattention. She was the same age as his custodial son, and their escapades were always full of fun and laughter. He taught her to fish, build a campfire to roast marshmallows, kayak, canoe, sail, and dig quahogs from the salt marshes of Cape Cod. He would pick up scraps of wood left over from construction sites and help the kids build forts in the bushes or carve model ships. He let her help paint the bottom of his sailboat with barnacle paint, an experience that left her looking more like "Blue the Dog" than a little girl, and cheerfully brushed off her waste of the prohibitively expensive marine paint with the gentle admonition "well, young lady, you’ll never grow barnacles." He was the person who encouraged me to leave the economically undervalued human services field and become a lawyer. There was never anything inappropriate about their relationship, nor was his interest in me ever more than that of a kindly neighbor, mentor and friend. He was, in every way that mattered, the definition of the proverbial father.
Non-custodial single fathers would often bring their children to our Mentor’s home. The children would play while the men would disappear into the living room to discuss what was happening in their divorce actions. Although not privy to the conversations which occurred within the inner circle until the very end, to a non-lawyer their erudite-sounding conversations about "due process" and "equal protection" bore the imprimatur of legitimacy to a layperson who had little experience with the legal system other than a brief, uncontested divorce.
They were eager to show anyone who would listen reams of documentation to back up their horror stories about injustice they had suffered at the hands of the courts. Even the most callous listener could not help but express moral indignation at ex-wives who used children as pawns to gain an edge in a property settlement, greedy lawyers who milked until they were broke then dropped them like hot potatoes, and mental health professionals who would slant their testimony to trick the courts into depriving fathers of the right to see their children. While telling their tales, many fathers would break down and cry, unable to continue or answer questions about their dilemma through their grief.
I was given ream after ream of depositions; court transcripts; audiocassettes of sessions with therapists which conflicted with the testimony the practitioner had given under oath in court; letters from expert witnesses testifying to the bias in the court; books and treatises written by researchers lambasting the "domestic violence industry;" and psychological tests administered by sympathetic therapists which proved the fathers were good, stable, law-abiding citizens. Because of my mental health background working with emotionally disturbed adolescents, I gradually became a sought-after commodity at meetings where they would discuss the importance of having a father in a child’s life.
Fathers often asked innocuous sounding questions about how the MMPI and MCMI were structured. As they realized my clinical training, which included extensive knowledge about these psychological tests which often swayed judges, could help them gain an edge in their litigation, fathers began to flock to me and ask questions about psychology. I would recommend obscure books and scientific journals, which they would immediately read, then enjoy discussing their emerging knowledge of psychology.
In retrospect, the extreme gratitude these men expressed over such trivial recommendations should have been a warning sign that something was amiss. However, at the time, I was flattered.
The second wife, new girlfriend, or female sympathizer of the Father’s Rights movement is a queen amongst a retinue of attentive servants. No mountain is too great to move for these men hungry for female approval. If you mention your car needs work, you’ll awaken to find a man in your driveway cheerfully changing your oil. If your palace has a chip of paint peeling, you’ll come home from work to find a crew of vassals gleefully grinding the paint down to the bare wood while a master of ceremonies presents you with palette of colors to make your shabby adobe befitting for your royal presence. If you mention you need to go home and vacuum, a butler will appear at your door with a steam cleaner to shampoo your carpets while his servants delicately move your furniture out of harms way. If you express admiration of a neighbors flowering shrub, a handful of serfs will appear at your door to landscape your entire yard with flowers, whistling while they work with dwarfish good humor. If you accompany them anywhere public, you will be introduced as aristocracy and hear a symphony of voices lauding your every accomplishment with Herculean praise.
At least initially, the female advocate is rarely sought after for purient reasons. Rather, she is placed upon a pedestal and worshipped by the masses in an overwhelming display of gratitude for her ability to sympathize with what would appear to be common sense to most people. SHE doesn’t hate men. SHE values fatherhood. SHE believes in us. Every wish, every whim, every desire of the female advocate is granted almost before it is given voice.
It seems inconceivable that these wonderful men who can anticipate every desire end up divorced, deprived of the right to see their children. It seems beyond belief that these thoughtful creatures had ample evidence of wrongdoing by their ex-spouse, but an evil judiciary refused to consider their evidence. You’re not asked to work against women, only those selfish creatures too evil to put their children’s best interests ahead of their greed. Under those circumstances, even the most hardened cynic can become seduced by the siren’s call of the Father’s Rights movement.
It was these early, positive experiences with the Father’s Right’s movement which colored all of my experiences to come and makes the realization of the dark side behind the Father’s Right’s movement difficult to reconcile. A mother will always gravitate towards what is best for her child, and what was best for my child was the positive male attention that caused her to gradually come out of her shell and become a happy, well-adjusted young lady.
A former mental health professional, I became firmly convinced of the worth of having a father figure in a child’s life. These experiences occurred over a period of many years before I had reason to question the motives of the periphery of men who eternally buzzed in and out of our Mentor’s life. The bizarre, Kafkaesque events which occurred and brought their true motives to light offend traditional sensibilities about right, wrong, good, evil, and what is real. Even now, knowing what I know about them and knowing I am inviting criticism by feminists, my belief that children need positive male role models (although not necessarily the biological father) remains unchanged.
During the height of the women’s movement, a laudable movement began by men sympathetic to the plight of feminism to educate their peers about how women weren’t the only victims of archaic social roles. Men, they argued, were robbed of precious time with their families, their health, and the very ability to feel by social conditioning which told him a man’s role in society was that of a breadwinner. Medical practitioners acknowledged the link between stress and heart disease.
The rise of pop "self-help" psychology furthered the men’s movement, educating its’ constituency through myth and legend in stories such as "Iron John" and "Gods in Every Man." Sweat Lodges (the male version of an encounter group) grew in popularity as men learned to network amongst themselves, bond, and discuss the formerly forbidden realm of the emotions. Men started entering the delivery room with their wives when their children were born and cradled their newborn progeny with pride as the physician severed the umbilical cord from the mother’s womb. As women began to work outside of the home, however, some men responded to their newfound role as nurturer with ambiguity.
Not all men were thrilled with the women’s movement. Traditional man-as-breadwinner roles afforded less enlightened males a dominant position in their families. Feminism, with all of its trappings, seriously undermined a man’s ability to dominate his family and control his spouse as women demanded equal opportunities in education, the workforce, and in the home. Women, no longer trapped in their dependent, subservient roles as housewives and mothers, began to infiltrate the upper echelons of power in politics and corporate America. Many women chose to postpone marriage and child rearing until after completing their education and gaining a certain amount of success in their careers. Successful, educated women avoided men who desired to place them in a subservient role. Others chose slower-paced "mommy-track" jobs until their children were older, but demanded equality in the home.
"Men are very confused, angry, and frustrated as they try to figure out what it means today to be a man," says Dr. William Pollack, director of the Center for Men at McLean Hospital in Belmont (Massachusetts).
"There aren’t a lot of structures in society that help men get a hold of it." (Men with Promises to Keep, Mary Leonard, the Boston Globe, September 21, 1997).
Men who failed to respond to a woman’s changing role as equals found themselves out in the street as frustrated women gave up on unfulfilling marriages and filed for divorce. Most men learned from their failures and went on to form successful relationships with new partners, but others were too entrenched in their archaic social roles to adapt to the needs of modern society.
The groups which call themselves "Father’s Right’s" groups are not members of the legitimate men’s movement. These groups have nothing to do with associations (ranging from little league to anti-child exploitation) consisting of fathers who have banded together to protect children or encourage others to take an active part in their lives. Rather, "Father’s Right’s" groups are a dangerous movement which arose as a backlash against women’s demands to be free from domestic violence and unreasonable male domination in their daily lives. The key word in discerning which groups are pursuing illegitimate objectives is the use of the word "rights." They are an extremely vocal minority which claims to represent the interests of fathers, but in reality they are attempting to turn back the clock on women’s rights and regain their dominant role in society and the family.
Overwhelmingly, men join these groups after a former intimate or spouse leaves them to escape physical abuse or files for divorce. These groups, in reality "batterer’s right’s groups", very quickly learned that an educated public had no tolerance for their archaic views of a man’s right to dominate his spouse through domestic violence. Like a cancerous organism, these groups networked through the internet and adapted by publicly identifying themselves with conservative Republicans and latching onto the coattails of the legitimate men’s movement. Already accustomed to networking through the "ol’ boy" network in business, they began lobbying the statehouse and pulling elaborate publicity stunts to get media attention.
Concealing the truth about their extensive history of violent behavior towards their intimate partners and children, numerous restraining order violations, and pending criminal charges for beating, stalking, and harassing their victims, these men found the best way to both control their ex-spouses and dupe the public into helping their cause was to use their children as pawns and promote a false image of concerned fatherhood. Using men who had, in reality, experienced unfairness during the judicial process as "poster children" and pawns to arouse sympathy for their own illegitimate cause with the populace and by aligning themselves with conservative political factions, these men have attempted to stamp their extremist activities with the imprimatur of legitimacy, nor are they the average, good fathers which have built society.
"Abusive men typically have deeply entrenched notions about "traditional" male roles, with concomitant support for male dominance."
— Lee H. Bowker, Beating the Wife Beating, p. 7-9 (1983)
"Victims [of domestic violence] are more likely… to have less traditional attitudes regarding women’s roles in the family."
— Lenore Walker, The Battered Woman Syndrome, p. 8, (1984)
The batterer’s quest for control of the woman lies at the heart of an abusive relationship. "The men want to direct and determine how their partner behaves, and the way to do this is through violence… the men use violence to dominate, control, and force the woman to do what they want." (Jan E. Stets, Domestic Violence and Control, p. 110, (1988). Battering is about domination. Violence is a way of "doing power" in a relationship, an effort by the batterer to control the woman who is the recipient of the violence. "At the moment of separation or attempted separation — for many women the first encounter with the authority of law — the batterer’s quest for control often becomes most acutely violent and potentially lethal." (Desmond Ellis, Post-Separation Woman Abuse: The Contribution of Lawyers as "Barracudas," "Advocates," and "Counsellors," 10 Intl. J.L. & Psychiatry 403, 408 (1987). Lenore Walker, a leading forensic psychologist in the field of battered women, has emphasized the batterer’s control of the woman. "A battered woman is a woman who is repeatedly subjected to any forceful physical or psychological behavior by a man in order to coerce her to do something he wants her to do without any concern for her rights." (Lenore Walker, The Battered Woman Syndrome (1984)). Walker found that as her clients in psychotherapy became more assertive, they encountered more physical and psychological abuse.
The misperception that men cannot control their anger still permeates society. Abusive men will often use the threat of violence, whether actual or implied, to control his victim. "Men are violent and abusive towards women because this behavior allows them to establish and to maintain control within the relationship … and because no one has ever required them to stop." (Lisa G. Lerman, The Decontextualization of Domestic Violence, 83 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 217, 236 (1992)). Abusive behavior can range from implied threats ("any other man would have beaten you to a pulp") to overt acts against property (breaking apart the furniture, punching a hole in the wall) to direct physical assault (shoving, grabbing, battery). The abuser constantly finds fault with the victim, forcing the victim to remain constantly on the defensive, walking on eggshells lest she "cause" her abuser to lose control and incur another incident of violent behavior.
Studies indicate that, contrary to the assertions of the abuser that he just "lost it," batterers are quite aware of what they are doing. "Loss of control is substantially contradicted by the batterers’ own testimony. While the men claim that their violence is beyond rational control, they simultaneously acknowledge that the violence is deliberate and warranted." (James Ptacek, Why do Men Batter Their Wives, p. 153 (1985). Strongly indicative of this pattern of premeditation are the facts that abusers often limit their beatings to places that will not show (like the stomach), violent episodes occur almost exclusively in the home where they can get away with it, and despite the abusers justifications of "I just lost control," most batterers have limits beyond which they will not go (most stop short of killing their partners). (Lenore E. Walker, The Battered Woman Syndrome, (1984)). Abusers are extremely manipulative and are often described as having a Jekyll and Hyde Personality. Ellen Pence and Michael Paymar’s training manual for batterer’s, Power and Control: Tactics of Men Who Batter, treat violence as a form of control and explicitly reject theories that focus on some flaw in the abuser, the victim, or the relationship. (Ellen Pence & Michael Paymar, Power and Control: Tactics of Men Who Batter, p. 64, (1986). Abusers view their right to dominate and control every aspect of their partner’s and children’s lives, their rightto resort to physical violence, as a constitutionally protected right sanctioned by the founding fathers and the bible, not aberrant behavior.
When the intimate partner of a domineering male demands an end to controlling or abusive behavior or attempts to sever the relationship, his abnormal behavior will often escalate into violence. Separation assault is the attack on the woman’s body and volition in which her partner seeks to prevent her from leaving, retaliate for the separation, or force her to return. It aims at overbearing her will as to where and with whom she will live, and coercing her in order to enforce connection in a relationship. It is an attempt to gain, retain, or regain power in a relationship, or to punish the woman for ending the relationship. It often takes place over time.(Martha R. Mahoney, Legal Images of Battered Women: Redifining the Issue of Separation, 90 Mich. L. Rev. 1, p. 65-66, (1991)).
Despite the obvious physical and psychological harm caused by battering, the abuser is able to continue battering his partner because he does not fear legal or social consequences. A batterer often believes he has the right to control his partner through the use of force. Reinforcement of learned behavior may encourage this obsessive, dependent personality. Impulsive and easily frustrated, a batterer resorts to physical violence. The batterer will deny his violence to himself and others. A batterer is not violent in other relationships. In fact, with people outside the family, he can be seen as the pillar of the community. (Lisa N. Birmingham, Closing the Loophole: Vermont’s Legislative Response to Stalking, 18 Vt. L. Rev. 477, 484-485 (1994)). This hinders the victim’s attempts to seek help or emotional support from friends and even her own family because batterers tend to wear a false persona to the outside world. The victim’s claims that her partner is out of control tend to be met with disbelief and outright hostility from the outside world.
"There’s a sucker born every minute…"
— W.C. Fields
Our society was built upon the foundation of the family. It is the backbone of our culture and the root of our identity. Our founding fathers granted extensive fundamental rights to protect family integrity, and it is a right our courts rigorously protect. It is these noble characteristics which the Father’s Rights movement has learned to manipulate in their elaborate scheme to regain control of their victims and turn the clock back on women’s rights.
If you look at literature for the Father’s Rights movement, you will often see a picture of a father and child doing something together. This image tugs at the heartstrings of all of us.
Emotional agitation is a favorite technique of the propagandist because "any emotion may be ‘drained off’ into any activity by skillful manipulation." (Aaron Delwiche, Propaganda Analysis, (1995)). If we were lucky enough to grow up with good fathers in our lives, it brings back fond memories of our own fathers. If we had absent, dysfunctional, or emotionally unavailable fathers, it inspires powerful emotions about what we wish our own fathers had been like. "Transfer is a device by which the propagandist carries over the authority, sanction, and prestige of something we respect and revere to something he would have us accept. Thus, we may accept something we otherwise might reject." (Institute for Propaganda Analysis, 1938). The reality of the Father’s Rights advocates criminal history of spousal abuse or child abuse is never mentioned, nor is the fact that he may have voluntarily terminated visitation with his own children in a ploy to evade paying child support.
The pairing of the Father’s Rights movements distasteful agenda with positive images of fatherhood causes us to transfer paternalistic associations into whatever the Father’s Rights group is saying and stamps it with the imprimatur of credibility. As Americans, we believe in fatherhood. Whether it is an image of our own fathers, the founding fathers of our country, or God the Father, the Father’s Rights movement seeks to create a false connection between traditional notions of fatherhood and legitimizing spousal abuse or failure to pay child support. Fatherhood is good. Father knows what is best for his children. Father’s shouldn’t be questioned. Fatherhood is America — God, Country, and Apple Pie.
"We believe in, fight for, live by virtue words about which we have deep-set ideas. Such words include civilization, Christianity, good, proper, right, democracy, patriotism, motherhood, fatherhood, science, medicine, health and love." (Aaron Delwiche, Propaganda Analysis (1995)).One of the most deeply ingrained instincts all human beings possess is the instinct to protect the young. Although all species possesses the instinct to ensure the survival of the next generation, humans are one of the few mammals (including wolves and dolphins) which will protect of the young of others, not just their own. This instinct has ensured our survival and enabled us to evolve into the complex social creatures we are today. Few of us would blindly drive past an infant playing precariously close to the street. Our perception of the child’s danger will leave us greatly distressed if we do not indulge the urge to stop and find the child’s mother.
Only the most callous human being would deny the plea of a frantic parent to help their child. As Americans, we pride ourselves for protecting the weak and taking a stand against oppression, especially when we think the recipient of the unfair treatment is a child. Americans root for the underdog. The Father’s Rights movement preys upon the honor and fears of the American public by publishing horror stories about evil government agencies, man-hating battered women’s advocacy groups, and vindictive ex-spouses snatching away their children in the middle of the night.
Concealing the truth about physical abuse, child abuse, controlling behavior and stalking they may have committed from the public, Father’s Rights advocates convince the public "it could happen to you." Government agencies, domestic violence shelters, and court-ordered visitation centers become part of "the domestic violence industry" (conjuring up images of a callous, profit driven corporation). A woman’s documentation of abuse becomes a "cry wolf" restraining order (creating and image of the little boy who cried wolf when there really wasn’t any). Enforcement of abuse prevention orders by law enforcement personnel and courts becomes the "domestic violence witchhunt" (conjuring up images of innocent people being burned at the stake due to unfounded paranoia of the supernatural).
"By portraying themselves as god-fearing, hard-working Americans like the rest of us, they convince the public that they, and their ideas, are ‘of the people.’ " (Aaron Delwiche, Propaganda Analysis, (1995)). What makes the Father’s Rights advocate’s plea so compelling is their claim that it is their children who are being hurt by these phantasms. By playing on the audience’s deep-seated fears, Father’s Rights advocates hope to redirect attention away from the merits of the particular proposal they are advocating for and towards steps that can be taken to reduce the fear. (Aaron Delwiche, Propaganda Analysis, (1995)). Steps they may ask the audience to take might include asking a member of the voting public to sign a petition seeking concessions from Congress in child support laws, enticing an innocent bystander into delivering a message to a stalking victim which she will find frightening, conning an employee of a state agency into investigating false allegations against the victim for the purposes of harassing her, or luring civic-minded individuals into funding their campaign to harass victims by providing funding or political support for their activities.
The person lured into the Father’s Rights advocates machinations has no idea that his true agenda is to punish his victim for leaving him, not to see his child. As far as the citizen knows, he is "helping" a child.
There are over a quarter of a billion people in this country. The overwhelming majority of these men, women and children are honest, law-abiding citizens. Even amongst divorced couples, the likelihood of a man engaging in the type of pathological, prolonged vendetta against an ex-spouse or ex-girlfriend promoted by the Father’s Rights movement is quite rare. Although most Americans are aware of abuse prevention laws, the percentage of the population who has needed protection to escape an abuser is relatively small. Even amongst women who have previously gotten a restraining order, many may have only needed the order in the initial stages of a divorce when the jilted spouses’ behavior crossed the line into combativeness. Most men are evolved enough to recognize their behavior is becoming unmanageable and seek therapy or the counsel of friends to help them deal with feelings of grief and anger. We are a benevolent society. Few people have personally come into contact with an abuser intent upon harassing his former intimate. Even fewer have experienced the rare pleasure of being the object of obsession. The type of vendetta a typical Father’s Rights advocate is engaged in is beyond the comprehension of the average American. For this reason, Father’s Rights advocates prove true W.C. Fields famous quotation, "there’s a sucker born every minute." With few exceptions, the batterer is capable of locating a steady supply of "suckers" to carry out each element of his vendetta without question.
It is unfortunate that the actions of irresponsible males have damaged the positive image of fatherhood in our society. Negative stereotypes permeate the media and society. The pairing of the term "father" with negative terminology such as "deadbeat dad," "couch potato," or "sports widow" belittles the important role fathers could play in the family and the function they have in contributing to the emotional and moral development of their children. "Bad names… are applied to other people… to link a person to a negative symbol. The propagandist who uses this technique hopes the audience will reject the person or the idea on the basis of the negative symbol, instead of looking at the available evidence" (Aaron Delwiche, Propaganda Analysis, 1995).
Negative stereotyping of fathers is every bit as degrading to men as the pre-feminist virgin/whore dichotomy which stereotyped women as either sex objects or mothers. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Father’s Rights groups often solicit funds and gain media support by pretending to support the concerns of the majority of nurturing fathers. They harness the righteous indignation of fathers chafing at the same types of demeaning stereotypes which drove feminists to stand their ground in the early 1970s and use it to their own, illegitimate purpose.
Father’s rights groups have learned to shift tactics, from incendiary rhetoric to more modest proposals. They have honed a more tender image, supplying bumper stickers that avow, "Kids need Fathers, Not Visitors." They have also forged strategic alliances. Twenty three groups (many of them headed by signatories of the Father’s Manifesto) recently came together under the agreeable name of "The Children’s Rights Council," recruiting to the board Abigail Van Buren, noted child psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and Republican Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee. (Divorced Dads Emerge as a Political Force, Kate Zernike, the Boston Globe, May 19, 1998). What has gained them the most mileage, however, has been their use of scientific studies of children from intact, functional families on the role healthy, normal fathers have on their children to tout their own agenda.
How important are fathers to the development of their children? [Ed: See research notes athttp://www.thelizlibrary.org/] "Children who come from families with psychologically involved fathers are cognitively more competent, have higher degrees of compassion for others, manifest fewer sex-stereotyped beliefs and have a more solid internal locus of control." (S. Robert Moradi, M.D., Psychiatric Times, January 1997, Vol. XIV, Issue 1). Although it was traditionally believed that fathers played a more important role in the development of their sons than their daughters, a positive relationship with a father figure is especially important to the development of females. "Girls with active and hardworking dads are more ambitious, more successful in school, attend college more often, and are more likely to attain careers of their own. They are less dependent, more self-protective, and less likely to date or marry abusive men." (Joe Kelley, Executive Director of Dads and Daughters, website www.dadsanddaughters.org/tenfacts.htm).
At first glance, illegitimate Father’s Rights groups often purport to promote the common sense research of legitimate fatherhood interests to mask their true agenda, regaining control of or punishing their ex-partner for leaving them by controlling the children. "These groups exert an inordinate amount of energy minimizing domestic violence and the very real detrimental effects it has on children and very little energy addressing issues that help children." (Patricia A. Levesh, Greater Boston Legal Services Battered Women’s Legal Assistance Project, Letter to the Editor, the Boston Globe, January 6, 1999). Inadvertently helping an illegitimate group hurtsthe interests of children, not helps them. The ability to deconstruct the propaganda and differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate issues is critical when assessing any group purporting to represent the interests of children.
Perhaps the easiest way to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate fatherhood groups is to compare their agendas and mission statements. Although both types of groups appeal to the public to help further the cause of children, it doesn’t take long for most Father’s Rights advocates to get to their true agenda ‘ abolishing abuse prevention legislation and child support laws. For example, the Alliance for Non-Custodial Parents Rights (ANCPR) announces that their mission is to "promote Equal Parenting (shared parenting) for children and believes that child support enforcement and sole custody violate the constitutional rights of children and their non-custodial mothers and fathers" (www.pacificnet.net/~ljaks/). Another group, "Roe v. Wade for Men", advocates for an absolute right of a man to force a woman to abort a fetus or forfeit future child support and provides boilerplate pro-se lawsuit forms at http://members.aol.com/dnaand14ca/ for fathers attempting to enforce his Constitutional right to "sow his wild oats."
Although much of this propaganda may initially sound innocuous, the reader must deconstruct the propaganda to get to the core message of "we don’t feel we should be punished for failing to support our children." Child support laws were enacted by the legislature after much fact-finding about factors such as cost-of-living, day-care, and the restrictions placed upon the career of the custodial parent when juggling children with work. Any parent who has balked at the day care provider’s bill knows how expensive it is to provide quality care for your children while working. To truly comprehend the issue, the reader needs to recognize that failure to pay child support often results in great hardship for the custodial parent and dependent child and can often mean loss of housing, inadequate nourishment, and inability to procure adequate medical care for the child. It is to alleviate the suffering of innocent little human beings these so-called "fathers" have helped create that has prompted most states to utilize the contempt power to disgorge court-ordered child support. Recalcitrant parents are not permitted to "literally sit on their hands and defend any contempt allegation by relying on the prosecution’s burden of proof." (Hicks on Behalf of Feiock v. Feiock,479 U.S. 1305 (1986); 180 Cal.App.3d, at 654). However, most judges will grant generous repayment plans for a man who has fallen behind on their child support for legitimate reasons. Draconian penalties for failure to pay child support are only enforced after the non-custodial parent has demonstrated an extreme pattern of refusal to pay (or work) in spite of a current ability to do so. Any group that advocates for non-support of minor children should be immediately suspect.
Another red flag is any site that refers to "throwaway fathers" or "the divorce industry" (i.e., Coalition for the Preservation of Fatherhood (CPF) http://fatherhoodcoalition.org) or encourages changing divorce laws to penalize a woman for leaving a dissatisfying marriage (i.e., New Jersey Council for Children’s Rightshttp://www.vix.com/crc/CRCnj/home.htm). These groups seek to regain control over spouses who are divorcing them, usually through forced marriage counseling or enacting extreme economic penalties for filing for divorce, including loss of custody, loss of marital assets, and forced joint physical custody arrangements where the child is shuffled between incongruent households so that the father can avoid paying child support."When domestic violence is or has been present in the relationship, shared parenting arrangements, couples counseling, or mediation arrangements may increase the danger to children and to the nonviolent partner"(Congressional findings, VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 201 (20)). Once again, by deconstructing the message these groups are sending the public, the agenda becomes clear.
Most child psychologists agree that divorced families are less desirable than intact families from a child-rearing standpoint when the family is not dysfunctional. However, reducing children to chattels owned by the parent who is least dissatisfied with the status quo, shuffling them between two households, or returning to the days when women were the legal property of their husbands, is even more repugnant. Father’s Rights advocates "real agenda is to make sure that men maintain control over custodial parents and have access to their children regardless of the father’s behavior and regardless of whether it’s in the best interest of the children themselves" (Patricia A. Levesh, Greater Boston Legal Services Battered Women’s Legal Assistance Project, Letter to the Editor, the Boston Globe, January 6, 1999).
Although most people would agree that courts are not well equipped to handle the emotional battlefield of a divorce, effectively returning to an era when women, children, and property were all chattels owned by the husband is not the answer. Judges (who are often male) are generally quite sensitive to the needs of non-custodial fathers and will bend over backwards to award liberal visitation agreements affording ample opportunity to remain an active part of children’s lives (sometimes to the detriment of children who have witnessed spousal abuse). It is only when a non-custodial parent has demonstrated an extreme pattern of using the child to control the custodial parent or there are serious questions about the child’s wellbeing that visitation will be restricted or supervised.
"For purposes of determining child custody, it is not in the best interest of children to (a) force parents to share custody over the objection of one or both parents when there is a history of domestic violence; (b) punish abused or protective parents who protect themselves or their children; (c) presume allegations of domestic violence or child sexual assault are likely to be made falsely or for tactical advantage during custody and divorce proceedings; and (d) make ‘friendly parent’ provisions a factor when there is abuse by one parent against the other or a child…"(Congressional findings, VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 241).
Despite claims to the contrary by Father’s rights advocates, visitation is only cut off in extreme circumstances. To reduce the divorce rate, society must address the issues which cause marriages to break down, not force unhappy couples to remain married.
The most extreme groups are the ones openly advocating for abolishing or seriously restricting the issuance or enforcement of restraining orders (i.e., Victims of False Allegations (VOFA) http://www.hky.com/frn/frlinks.html; Dads Against Divorce Discrimination (DADS) http://www.peak.org/~jedwards/DADS.html).
Once you get past the front-page media propaganda, you will find irrational hatred of restraining order laws typical of the hard-core batterer. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Gender Bias Study did not find that the rights of men had been trampled by the abuse prevention act. To the contrary, the high court found a disparity between the protection promised to women by the law and the actual manner in which it was applied. A similar task force in New York found that, far from exaggerating the extent of the abuse they suffered, women minimized the severity of the violence. Although obtaining a civil restraining order is a simple process in most states with a 51% preponderance of the evidence standard, it is much more difficult to have visitation denied or be successfully prosecuted for violating these orders than the Father’s Rights movement would have the public believe.
The issuance alone of a restraining order is rarely justification in divorce court for restricting parental rights, since courts must document with clear and convincing evidence (a much higher standard) that the child witnessed the abuse and was harmed by it. Even if the perpetrator is arrested, the defendant is awarded every possible protection during the prosecution process to protect his constitutional rights. The rules of evidence dictate that very little of the evidence a victim may have to support her claim of abuse actually makes it into the courtroom, and that even less will be believed due to the batterer’s absolute Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The victim, under the guise of "cross-examination", must often withstand hours, even days of humiliating cross-examination regarding every questionable incident which may have occurred since kindergarten, while the batterer laughs at her from his position of absolute privilege. It is rare that a victim, on such an uneven playing field, is able to demonstrate that she was batteredbeyond a reasonable doubt.
Patricia A. Levesh of the Greater Boston Legal Services Battered Women’s Legal Assistance Project recently wrote, "In our experience as advocates for thousands of victims of domestic violence in custody and visitation disputes, very few abusers are arrested, prosecuted, and/or sentenced" (Letter to the Editor, the Boston Globe, January 6, 1999). The angry men leading the charge against the abuse prevention laws are so blinded by personal grievance that they cannot see the broader picture. A batterer must work very, very hard to be convicted of violating a restraining order, and work even harder to actually serve time for his behavior since most sentencing guidelines allow leniency for the first few offenses.
Perhaps the largest tip off that a group may be illegitimate; however, is a singular focus on father’s rights. By deconstructing the propaganda, once again the reader of Father’s Rights literature is left wondering how the entire judicial and legal system, which still consists overwhelmingly of men who also happen to be fathers, could be so biased against their own gender. Most of the judges on the bench, the legislatures who are creating the laws, even many of the support personnel (such as police) who oversee the enforcement of the law are also fathers. Although there are situations where men are fighting archaic social roles, the reader should be skeptical of any group which attempts to convince the public that there is an elaborate conspiracy to deprive fathers of their rights.
"The typical abuser’s reaction to the legal system is that the system is unfair to be publicly embarrassed and put out of his home. Abusers tend to minimize their abusive behavior’ consider their actions as not abusive, and think that private actions are not properly the subject of scrutiny." (Gender Bias Study of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, 1989, p. 83).
Abusers view their domination of their female partner and children as a constitutionally protected right. Nowhere in their propaganda is it acknowledged that the female partner has a right to not be physically or emotionally abused, or that a child has a right to be raised in an atmosphere that doesn’t include emotional abuse or violence. Once the propaganda is deconstructed you realize that the only rights the Father’s Rights movement is fighting for is the right of a man to control a woman, which is not the agenda of the majority of evolved males in our American culture.
So what is a legitimate fatherhood "group?" The answer to that question is really quite simple. Look around you. Every time you see a group of fathers out couching their children’s sports, or encounter the father’s branch of the local PTA, or a group of father’s at a local church or synagogue working together to make life better for their children, you are encountering the legitimate fatherhood movement. Every time you see a man pick up a book, such as Fathering by Will Glennon, which encourages fathers to be more involved with their children, you are seeing the legitimate fatherhood movement. Every time you see a divorced father stifle the urge to fight with his ex-wife when picking up his children, visit consistently, and focus on the best interests of his child, you are seeing the legitimate fatherhood movement. Each time a man decides to spend time throwing a softball around the back yard with his child instead of turning on the television, or you see a man equally sharing child rearing responsibilities (such as bath time) with his spouse, you are seeing the legitimate fatherhood movement in action. It is all around us. It is the backbone of our society. It is the behavior of the overwhelming majority of men in our society. The good fathers of the world don’t have much time to devote to promoting elaborate conspiracy theories to the public. They’re far too busy being good fathers.
Ten Tips For Single Dads
Dr. Lois Nightingale, Ph.D.
1. Find ways to stay in contact even when distant or unable to see your kids regularly. Such as: sending cards, jokes, silly stories or riddles, e-mail, phone calls, audio tapes, photos, or putting a scrapbook together to share next time you are together.
2. Never let kids overhear you saying anything negative about the kids’ mother, her friends or her family.
3. Be predictable. Follow through on your commitments. Kids need to able to count on your promises.
4. Remember holidays and birthdays. You are creating memories that will last a lifetime.
5. Help kids express their feelings. Listen to what they say and then model for them how to state feelings directly and appropriately (boundaries on how kids act out feelings are ok.), but try to let your children know you always accept them regardless of how they are feeling at the moment. For instance, "I can see that you are angry. It is ok to be upset, but it is not all right to hit. Use your words." For more ideas you can read "How to Talk so Kids Will Listen" and "Listen so your Kids will Talk" by Adele Farber and Elaine Mazlish.
6. Spend time with each child individually without any other adults or kids doing a child-centered activity together. Bonding and special moments happen one on one.
7. Surround yourself with support, and take care of yourself so you can have the physical and emotional energy to deal with kid issues. If you are and overwhelmed it is harder to deal with kids with a sense of humor.
8. Give 5 compliments to every directive (a directive is a request or criticism). This will create a sense of lightness and positiveness in your home. Your kids will listen to you because they will learn that they can expect to hear something positive.
9. Spend quiet time together. Walking in nature, bicycling, fishing, reading to your child (t.v. off) etc.
10. Read together during a quiet time before they go to bed or in-between activities during the day. Reading children’s books about feelings or how other children have coped with the upheaval of divorce will help them find words to ask you the questions they need to have answered. " My Parents Still Love Me Even Though They’re Getting Divorced, is a story/workbook that helps children better understand divorce and what they can do to feel better. This book can be obtained by calling Nightingale Rose Publications at: (800) 898-8426 or visiting our web site at http://www.nightingalerose.com.
Nightingale Counseling Center 714-993-5343
There are many types of legitimate fathers support groups. For example, At Home Dads (Massachusetts) is a support group for fathers who have chosen to work part time or stay home with the children while the wife is the primary breadwinner. Often, couples will choose this option when the wife is presented with a lucrative career opportunity which compromises the well-being of the children and the husband is in a better position to place his career on hold. Fathers who are primary caregivers often feel uneasy with the reversal of traditional roles and may feel isolated from the rest of society.
An "at home dad" is not a husband who happens to be home due to chronic unemployment or underemployment while his wife is forced to work to support the family and then come home at night to be the primary caretaker. Rather, "At Home Dads" helps support families who deliberately choose to have the father assume the role of primary caregivers.
Another example of a legitimate fatherhood group is called Dads and Daughters (DADS) based out of Deluth, Minnesota (not to be confused with Dads Against Divorce Discrimination, an illegitimate group). Nowhere in their web site, literature, or views is the agenda of the illegitimate Father’s Rights movement mentioned. Instead, the focus is purely on encouraging fathers to become active participants in their daughters physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual development. Their list of "Ten Things a Dad of Daughters Can Do" promotes listening, making the world better, encouragement, discouraging eating disorders, respect, play, involvement with school and sports, and teaching young women to manage money responsibly (http://www.dadsanddaughters.org/tentips.htm). The group’s current project, "2000 for 2000," is aimed at rallying fathers to become involved in their children’s school to promote education about the unrealistic body images the media is sending to young women and men and discourage eating disorders. Joe Kelley, Executive Director of DADS, is former co-publisher of New Moon magazine, an entirely girl-written magazine for independent young women and girls, and also has former experience working at a battered women’s shelter. He poignantly sums up his viewpoint of the dilemma fatherhood creates as follows:
"We have all heard some version of the ‘shotgun’ parable. We all laugh at the thought of Dad greeting his little girls first boyfriend on the front porch polishing the shotgun, but we need to look at the message such parables are telling men. Fathers are afraid for their daughters. And they should be. Our daughters are vulnerable. Society encourages the objectification and propertification of women. The media sends a message to boys that girls are little more than body parts to be exploited for their own gratification. But, we can’t send a message to our daughter that she can’t take care of herself, or that boys are bad. Avoid pushing your own agenda or your fears onto her. We need to listen to her needs, encourage her strength, her savvy, her dreams and her sense of self worth. Instill your values in her. As fathers, we need to get off our butts and change media images and things in society that hurt our daughters’ the responsibility of a father is to make the norm respect for all people, boys and girls, men and women, black and white. Treat her the way you want her to be treated [by men] and she won’t be interested in boys who only are only interested in her boobs instead of her mind."
— Interview with Joe Kelley, Executive Director of DADS, June 23, 1999
"The… judge made derogatory remarks about the battered women’s assistance group whose representative was present in court in support of the victim, including the comment that they were ‘a one-sided man-hating bunch of females… and a pack of she-dogs.’ After the trial, the judge approached the victim in the hall and told her in the presence of the Interact representative that once his wife had slapped him and that he had "laid her on the floor and did not have any more problems from her."
— In re Greene, 328 N.C. 639, 403 S.E.2d 457, 258-263 (1991)
"Unless the child has burn marks on him, we don’t care what you can prove your ex-wife does to the kid. We’re not going to go against the express wishes of the child."
— Comment of Law Guardian to father seeking custody in New York Family Court (1999)
Father’s Rights advocates frequently garner sympathy from the populace by making outrageous claims about bias in the courts against fathers. Recent Congressional fact finding has proved that not only are these claims false, but also that discrimination tends to be against the mothers, not the fathers as claimed. Although there are isolated cases of fathers who were good candidates for custody who lost a custody dispute, most of the men who are active in the Father’s Rights movement have lost custody or visitation due to persistent physical abuse or extremely emotionally abusive behavior, not due to judicial bias.
The mask of slanted facts presented to the public can enrage the populace and stimulate legislation which is harmful to women seeking to escape abuse. Although the majority of the "discrimination" reported by men in custody disputes is the (usually male) judge simply acknowledging that it was the mother who did 70 or 80% of the caretaking in the family while the father was busy with other interests, I will address the human tendency to form preconceived notions (bias) so the reader may more fully detect true bias and differentiate it from the simple, realistic analysis of facts that occurs in most courts today. In a few isolated cases, bias against men in the courts has occurred and should be addressed. Bias is intolerable in any court. If the feminist movement allows one single man to be discriminated against because of gender, we are handing the Father’s Rights movement fuel to feed the fire of the demise of our hard-fought rights. For justice to work, it must be fair to all.
A psychologist is trained to recognize that behavior, however irrational, does not operate in a vacuum. Even the most dysfunctional behavior becomes completely rational once the observer understands the underlying "programming" of history, perception and emotion which meld together to create the individual personality. Although it is difficult to precisely pinpoint any single individual act, social psychology teaches us that groups of people with similar "programming" will often be drawn together and engage in orderly, predictable patterns of behavior.
For example, social workers are often drawn to a profession where they are required to step into a situation and protect an abused child because no one stepped in to protect them from abuse as a child. The best rape intervention counselors have often been violated themselves. Battered women’s advocates often witnessed abuse as children, or were forced to escape battering as adults. An attorney’s childhood experience with law enforcement, whether positive or negative, may lead him to prefer criminal defense advocacy, or prosecution. Through catharsis, the "wounded" individual learns to heal himself by helping others. Even a judge, who is prized for his impartiality, may possess unconscious motivations originating from situations which have little to do with the people before his bench.
When a person has come to grip with his "demons" and comprehends how a past experience shapes his perceptions of an event which is occurring in the present, he gains compassion and insight which can be a powerful tool for creative problem solving. However; a person who has not worked through his or her own "baggage" can be an incredibly destructive force when unleashed, under the guise of justice, into a group of individuals struggling to cope with changes in their lives over which they have little control. Whether male or female, the unenlightened advocate relentlessly pursues his agenda to strike back at the people he perceives as having done him harm by striking back at all who remind him of the person who hurt him, whether the attack is deserved or not.
When you deal with any person, you are dealing with every event that person has ever encountered in their lifetime filtered through the judgement, bias, and coping mechanisms that person was socialized to use in any given situation. Have you ever eaten something that you thought was benign and gotten food poisoning? What was your reaction the next time somebody presented you with food that looked like the food that made you ill? Even though you rationally knew it would not harm you, did the mere sight, thought, or smell of that food make you too nauseous to eat? Have you ever heard a voice similar to the neighborhood bully, cringed, then discovered it was in reality someone else? Have you ever encountered what you thought was a snake, jumped back in fear, then discovered it was only a stick or piece of rope? Although you may have laughed and been embarrassed, in each of these situations your heart raced nonetheless as the hypothalmus (lizard-brain) signaled your body into flight or fight mode before the more evolved cerebral cortex could process the information.
Cranial nerve 5, which runs directly from the medulla to the nerves controlling your stomach, literally gives you a "gut" reaction to any situation which bears even slight resemblance to a traumatic situation we may have experienced in the past. Evolution "fills in the gaps," causing us to react in ways which may have helped us survive in the past but may no longer be optimal behavior. It is only through systematic desensitization that an individual unlearns ineffective instinctual behavior and is able to formulate a new response to a given set of stimuli. Even then, old ineffective coping mechanisms vie for control of the adrenal system should the higher cerebral functions be too stressed to moderate the response. (Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, 1985). Our amazing limbic system does not differentiate between a poisonous snake and a situation which vaguely reminds of someone who hurt us — it only signals us to attack or flee until we are taught a better way to cope with a situation. Without this instinct, the human race could not have survived.
In an ideal situation, the attorney, social worker, guardian ad litem, judge, woman’s or mans advocate will have worked through their own "baggage" and are aware when a person or situation may be tripping off their own past experience. Awareness of how a bias may cause you to treat another unfairly will allow an individual to withhold judgement and consciously use impartial analysis of the facts to formulate a response.
However, many people are completely unaware of how drastically past experience may color their perception of the situation at hand. For example, a friend once asked me what my "gut" reaction was to the young woman she had just hired. I honestly told her that I could not make a fair assessment of the young woman because a negative childhood experience of being mercilessly picked on by a group of the young woman’s race clouded my judgement and rendered informal evaluation worthless. Instead, I recommended researching the young woman’s past job performance and doing a background check. I shudder to think of how my friend might have lost out on a valuable employee were I to allow one unfortunate childhood experience to color my life with prejudice.
Although the legislature explicitly found that the overwhelming majority of discrimination existing in the judicial system is aimed at women, cases where some discrimination sometimes exists against some fathers should not be ignored. Attorneys, court personnel, and women’s advocates must diligently police their own ranks to ensure that advocates with unresolved issues do not, in their desire to protect women, inadvertently trample the rights of men. Although exceedingly rare, cases do exist of legitimate fatherhood discrimination.
In Dedham Probate court I was able to find a case of blatant, well-documented discrimination against a father. Kevin C. is aware of the father’s rights movement, but wishes to remain anonymous to avoid having his children used as pawns. The detailed guardian-ad-litem report opens with the sentence "everyone agrees the father is the better parent." The report and depositions in the case detail how the wife had abused the older daughter by threatening to break her arm, repeatedly locked her out of the house (once until 12:30 am when she was 9), engaged in numerous blatant extramarital affairs (some of which the children had witnessed), threw knives, told the 8 year old son that one of her boyfriends (instead of his father) was really his father, and eventually abandoned the husband and two children to pursue a lover who lived over 600 miles away in upstate New York for an entire year.
The ex-wife’s deposition also contains the clear admission that the father was the primary caretaker of the children more than 50% of the time. School records, utility records, and the ex-wife’s own deposition supports the fathers contentions. Domestic violence was not an issue in the case. One year, a cocaine arrest, and two failed relationships later, the wife kidnapped the two children and brought them out of state after the husband declined reconciling the marriage in an attempt to force the husband into reconciliation. Understandably, the husband had no desire to reconcile with a woman who repeatedly cheated on him and was abusive to the children and filed for divorce and full custody. When asked why he didn’t file for divorce as soon as the ex-wife had left him for another man, Kevin states that his only concern was not losing his children.
The guardian-ad-litem’s report, after describing the father as being a responsible, loving, and nurturing parent who had been the primary caretaker for many years (not just the year the mother abandoned the children) recommended to the court that custody remain with the kidnapper mother despite ample evidence of parental unfitness, including photographs of the 13-year-old daughter drinking a beer with her mother, kinky photographs of the mother engaging in intercourse with various men while others watched, the report of the daughter that the mother often dressed her up in adult clothing and brought her out to nightclubs, a newspaper article describing the children accompanying their mother to Howard Stern’s "Most Outrageous" contest where she undressed in front of the crowd and painted her nude body, and a report from the daughter that the mother had just given her a VCR and new contact lenses to bribe her into saying she wanted to stay with her mother. The justification? The 8 year old son who hadn’t seen his mother during the year she had abandoned him for her lover was "clingy" and stated he didn’t want to lose his mother again.
After receiving the guardian-ad-litem’s report and being advised by his lawyer he was going to lose, Kevin decided it was not in the best interests of his children to subject them to further litigation and ended his request for custody without bringing the matter before the judge. The story does not end in Massachusetts. The daughter graduated high school and moved to a college in Massachusetts near her father. Although the ex-wife was collecting over $15,000 per year in child support for the two children under an agreement that stated that he would support the children until they graduated college, the ex-wife stopped supporting the daughter and Kevin C. has paid her tuition, board, and set up a bank account where he directly deposited $50 per week into her expense account. The now 19-year-old daughter stated to me "I think my mom is bipolar" and submitted a paper to her college psychology class outlining how her mother had physically and emotionally abused her and tricked her into telling the guardian-ad-litem she wanted to stay with her.
To this day, 6 years later, the wife is still sending the husband e-mails querying "I didn’t want the divorce. I still love you. Why can’t we get back together?" and using the children as pawns, demanding that the father cannot visit with his children unless the new wife stays overnight at her house, refusing to allow the father to visit the children after he makes his monthly 1200 round-trip drive to visit the children, and stalking the father, once dragging the son 700 miles to spend the weekend following the father and new wife around Mount Desert Island during a vacation, another time going 650 miles to "vacation" the same week the father was taking vacation in a campground two miles up the road from the beach cottage the new wife owns on Cape Cod. The ex-wife, who is currently living with a man whose own son mysteriously drowned and has been institutionalized for drug rehabilitation, went so far as to be artificially inseminated (even though she is not married), then repeatedly told the son the father was a baby killer after she miscarried. Although the child is withdrawn, emotionally unstable, and has few friends, attempts by Kevin C. to resolve his concerns in New York Family Court by requesting a family evaluation were no more successful than his initial attempt in the Massachusetts courts.
It is important for the women’s movement to pay attention to cases such as Kevin C’s, since he is the "poster child" class representative who will bring about the downfall of many hard-earned rights should the father’s rights movement convince him (or another like him) to join their ranks. A well documented case of discrimination such as Kevin’s would go a long way towards legitimizing the unlawful, harassing actions of batterers.
Kevin C. was the primary breadwinner, but he began to take over the role of primary caretaker early in the marriage when his now ex-wife’s mental stability began to deteriorate. In this respect, men such as Kevin C. more closely represent the challenges faced by working mothers who juggle career and child-rearing responsibilities on a daily basis. Men such as Kevin C. are a minority, but it should not be forgotten that as the women’s movement educates men and encourages them to share childrearing responsibilities, father’s who are equal caretakers will increase.
Despite this one case which spans two states, and contrary to the Father’s Rights cries of blatant discrimination, my own research into other cases mirrored the findings of the legislature. In the only other legitimate case I could find of father-discrimination, a besotted father joined one of the "father’s rights" groups and began utilizing inappropriate litigation tactics as a pro se litigant based on inadequate legal advice provided by the group. We will explore the story of a former Fathers’ Rights advocate, William E., in another subheading.
"We Signatories to the Fathers’ Manifesto, responding to natural and Biblical laws, in defense of our nation and our families, hereby declare and assert our patriarchal role in society. America is an experiment in freedom, and the feminist experiment in freedom, under the guise of ‘equality,’ unleashed a panapoly of social ills which have become a cancer on our land, led to the moral and economic destruction of our nation, made America a house divided unto itself, created a vast underclass with a bleak and bankrupt future, and is the greatest national disaster we have ever faced.
"Recognizing patriarchy to be the greatest creator of wealth, prosperity, and stability civilization has ever known, we hereby demand that our children, homes, lives, liberty, and property be unconditionally restored to us. We hereby demand replacement of the doctrine of Parens Patria with the Biblical doctrines upon which this nation was founded. We hereby recognize and reaffirm that patriarchy is the order established under God and His Natural Law.
"We, the posterity of this nation, hereby reclaim our ancestral liberties and God-given rights."
— 1997 Reaffirmation of the Father’s Manifesto
The most frightening of the Father’s Rights groups are not content with returning to an era when it was believed that "father knows best." Rather, they seek to turn the clock back on women’s rights, including their reproductive freedom, rescind the Nineteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which grants women the right to vote, and force women to return to a subservient role in the family.
Such archaic views appear so absurd to modern society that they are comical. It is highly unlikely that the entire population of women would vote to deprive themselves of their right to vote. However, as absurd as such ideas are in our own culture, we must remember that blatant misogyny is still the norm in much of the non-Western world. In China, families selectively abort female fetuses to ensure that their one allotted child is a son. In many Middle Eastern countries, women can be executed for committing adultery or imprisoned for appearing in public without a male chaperone. Our American servicewomen experienced this phenomenon during the Gulf War when they were issued licenses identifying them as "men with feminine features." Saudi Arabia was unable to overcome its misogynist views that women were incapable of driving a motor vehicle even though American women made up a substantial percentage of the military forces protecting them from Quadafi’s aggression. The novel "The Handmaids Tale" hypothesizes a future where women are forced into a subservient role of childbearing and home making; literacy is outlawed, and women are forced to be chaperoned and wear shapeless robes in public. Fundamentalist Muslims have committed this very crime in nations such as Afghanistan, where women (including former doctors and businesswomen) are confined to their homes, denied medical care, forced to wear shapeless garments in public and be chaperoned, and can be executed for teaching their female children to read.
Although absurd, it is necessary to recognize that these viewpoints exist in our society. What is most disturbing is not the fact that a few disturbed individuals have these viewpoints, it is the revelation of who has these views. Far from being the inarticulate, uneducated men one would expect to perpetuate such garbage, these men are the frontrunners of the Father’s Rights movement. To truly comprehend the agenda the Father’s Rights movement is advocating, one must look to the views of its leaders. An interesting compilation has been published by Feminista writer Trish Wilson and Father’s Rights watchdog "liz" athttp://www.thelizlibrary.org/fathers/fathers.htm.
"It is time to update our database regarding the state of the 19th Amendment… the last survey… on women’s suffrage resulted in 80% of us advocating (in confidentiality) the repeal of this amendment." (Daniel Amneus, Ph.D. a.k.a. John Knight a.k.a. Mark Hall a.k.a. Art Books, author of The Garbage Generation and The Father’s Manifesto, as quoted in http://fathers.zq.com/home3.htm).
"We have forgotten that before we began calling this date rape … we called it exciting." (Warren Farrell, Ph.D., author of The Liberated Man and The Myth of Male Power, advisor to Fathers Rights for Equality Exchange, board of directors of the National Congress for Fathers and Children, and board of directors of the Children’s Rights Council).
"Feminist women have almost completely destroyed the family and all associated with it that is holy. The bible clearly states that the fathers are to be the head of the household. This is not to mention the Magna Carte, upon which all of our constitutions and institutions are founded. But the government, with its judicial henchmen, have propagated upon society a system that is diametrically opposed to the Word of God…" (Stuart Miller, American Fatherhood Coalition lobbyist, advocate for the repeal of the Violence Against Women Act, signatory of the Father’s Manifesto).
"We need them to kill people who want to move our money into the pockets of the criminals (likeher) who want to take our money to foster her immoral ideas of how a society should be … let’s make no mistake about why assholes like her want to see our guns taken away." (Gary Clark,Words that Work Publications, Inc., as quoted in http://fathers.zq.com/home3.htm).
"Every child support order weakens the marriage market…" (David Usher, American Coalition of Fathers and Children, National Congress for Fathers and Children). "Feminists should be charged with nothing less than Crimes Against Humanity, sentenced, and summarily executed in public squares." (Nick Szabo, author of video Father Figure, as quoted in http://fathers.zq.com/home3.htm). This is the true mindset of the Father’s Rights movement.
Part of the original Father’s Manifesto, which states that "marriage is a social contract… with a woman to share her reproductive life with a man" (http://ww.emf.net/~estephen/manifesto/aum00066.html) is the more radical "Petition to Repeal the Nineteenth Amendment." This petition blames the "panoply of social ills" referred to in the Father’s Manifesto upon the women’s movement, including "divorce, foreign debt to Japan, drug use by men, increased crime (including murder) and prison populations, devaluation of the dollar, the decline in the Consumer Price index, the increase in foreign autos produced outside of the United States sold to other nations, increased poverty" (including that among black Americans), "implementing affirmative action, failure of the military, decrease in SAT scores, decline in the savings rate, increased public debt, cocaine use, the trade deficit, government spending, drunk driving arrests, motor vehicle fatalities, health services increases, illegitimate births, single-parent households, television viewing, the number of lawyers," and, to top it all off, "the increase in weight" of the American public.
The solution for this problem?
"We the undersigned, hereby demand that the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution … be repealed." ("Petition to Repeal the Nineteenth Amendment",http://members.easyspace.com/fathers/19threpeal.htm)
If the Father’s Rights movement expressed these opinions publicly, they would be ridiculed and be unable to garner funding and public support for their cause. Publicly, they appear to be quite congenial.
"Often, men who abuse are well-liked and highly regarded in their communities… and peers. They appear to be rational, well-adjusted, and even sensitive, and to have positive social relationships."(Gender Bias Study of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, 1989, p. 83).
In the privacy of the forums of their Father’s Rights web sites; however, it is disturbing to realize how extremely misogynist these men are and how much time and energy these men expend to undermine the rights of women.
Whenever assessing the purpose of a group purporting to represent the rights of men or children, it is necessary to look beneath the surface to the marital history, criminal record, and true agenda of its leaders. Below is a list of signatories who also happen to be leaders of various Father’s Rights organizations from the 1997 re-declaration of the Father’s Manifesto printed out in January of 1999. Of the 278 signatories, 142 (51%) list themselves as leaders (not merely members) of 55 different father’s rights organizations. 93 (33%) list which organization they are leaders of, 49 don’t list what organization they are with, but of those 38 indicate they are from southern California, indicating that the movement began there and is working it’s way across the nation. Eleven signatories claim to be authors or publishers (4%), 5 are attorneys (2%), one runs a television station, and one is an Indiana State Representative.
Mysteriously, after father’s rights watchdog "liz" published the list at http://www.gate.net/~liz/fathers/fathers.htm and forwarded copies to the N.O.W. and members of Congress, the Manifesto disappeared and an innocuous list of computer files appeared in its place. Not, however, before I was able to print out my own copy of the signatories. The list was moved to http://www.emf.net/~estephen/manifesto/aum00066.html, and will doubtless be moved again by the time this article comes to print. [skip down to next section]
Group/Affiliation – Member Name – Profession – Title/Position – Signatory Number
American Father’s Alliance – Stuart Miller – Lobbyist – Director, Lobbyist – 471
American Father’s Coalition (AFC, ACFC) – Gary & Jessie Cohen – Leader – 21
American Father’s Coalition (AFC, ACFC) – Scott Forest – Chair, Welfare Committee – 18
American Father’s Coalition (AFC, ACFC) – Keith Fagen – Leader – 22
American Institute for Men – John Knight – President – 1
Attorney – Dorsett (Seth) Bennett, J.D. – Attorney – 2798
Attorney – Robert A. Hirschfeld, J.D. – Attorney – 3061
Book – Divorce & Father’s Issues – Art Klein – Author – 73
Book – Divorce Without Court – Roger Saul – Author – 105
Book – How to Dump Your Wife – Lori Mack – Author – 511
Book – NZMRA Manifesto – Peter Zohrab – Author – 48
Book – The Case For Father Custody – Dr. Daniel Amneus – Professor – Author – 39
Book – The Garbage Generation – Dr. Daniel Amneus – Professor – Author – 39
California Civil Rights Initiative – Bob Hahn – Leader – 49
Children’s Rights Council of California – Lou Ann Bassan – Co-Founder – 490
Christian Coalition – Roger Saul – President – 105
Christian Leadership – Dennis Eskrow – Leader – 75
Coalition for the Preservation of Fatherhood (CPF) – Ken Pilon – Facilitator – 2018
Coalition for the Preservation of Fatherhood (CPF) – Mark Charalambous – Media Team – 101
Coalition of Concerned Parents – Earl Wellwood – Leader – 145
Coalition of Parent Support (COPS) – Martha Baumgarten – Leader – 3035
Coalition of Parent Support (COPS) – Daniel Kottke – Leader – 3036
Coalition of Parent Support (COPS) – Monica Hoeft-Ross – Moderator – 9
Coalition of Parent Support (COPS) – Lou Ann Bassan – Vice President – 490
Coalition to Protect Family – Le Roy Marshall – President – 19
Dads Against Discrimination – WA – Bob Karls – TV production – Leader – 3078
Expert Witnesses – M. Chris Wolf, Ph.D. – Clinical Psychologist – 2893
Expert Witnesses – Mike Fried – Professor of Math UCA-Irbine – 2999
Family BBS, The – George McLams – Leader – 146
Family Guardian Network – Lou Ann Bassan – Board Member – 490
Family Guardian Network – Michael L. Menke – Leader – 150
Family Guardian Network – Jay Bowden – Leader – 430
Family Guardian Network – Jamie DePriero – Leader – 3034
Family Guardian Network – Martha Baumgarten – Leader – 3035
Family Guardian Network – Daniel Kottke – Leader – 3036
Family of Men Support Society – Calgary/Alberta – Wayne O – Leader – 3047
Father Placement Council – Randy Laron – Leader – 23
Father Placement Council – Greg Miller – Member – 24
Fatherhood Coalition/Boston, The (CPF) – Mark Charalambous – Media Team – 101
Fathers & Mothers for Equal Rights – David Grier – Leader – 2793
Fathers for Equal Rights – Dave Cohen – President – 450
Fathers Foundation – Ronald Isaacs – Leader – 148
Fathers Manifesto, The – John Knight – Director – 1
Fathers of America – Vert Vergon – President – 14
Fathers Rights and Equality Exchange (FREE) – Kerry C. Hilldrup – Leader – 89
Fathers Rights and Equality Exchange (FREE) Ohio – Pat Hayes – Leader – 485
Fathers Rights Consulting & Research – Bob Karls – Leader – 3078
Law Student – Andrew Carlan – Attorney – 489
Libertarian – Bob Hutchins – Member – 57
Magazine – Family Guardian Journal – Sharad Sharif – Author – President – 92
Magazine – The Liberator – Richard F. Doyle – Publisher – Publisher – 37
Men’s Defense Association – Richard F. Doyle – President – 37
Mens Institute, The – Robert Sides – President – 47
Mens Internetworks, The – Brian O’Higgins – Moderator – 2028
Men’s Internetworks, The – Monica Hoeft-Ross – Moderator – 9
Men’s Outreach for Justice Organization – David S. Kenly – Leader – 3033
My Child Says Daddy – Reginald Brass – President – 15
National Association for Fathers (California) – Donald King – President – 112
National Association of Dads & Kids – Ron Roberson – Leader – 72
National Coalition of Free Men – Ed Devine – Associate Coordinator – 2049
National Coalition of Free Men – Patrick Graham – State Rep. – Indiana State Rep. – 52
National Coalition of Free Men – Rick Tilimon – Leader – 2
National Coalition of Men – Tom Williamson – President – 76
National Congress for Fathers and Children (NCFC) – Joseph McMillen, J.D. – Attorney – 481
National Congress for Fathers and Children (NCFC) – David Usher – Board of Advisors – 3082
National Congress for Fathers and Children (NCFC) – Robert A. Hirschfeld, J.D. – Director – 3061
New Zealand Men’s Rights Association – Peter Zohrab – Secretary – 48
Norwegian Men’s Movement – Jarle Johansen – Leader – 2800
Parents for Family Justice – Bob Hedrick – Leader – yes
Physician – Newport Beach, California – Robert Rose, M.D. – Physician – 495
Primary Nurturing Fathers of Texas – Robert L. Green, Jr. – Leader – 519
Purple Heart House – Christopher Robin – Leader – yes
Real Men of Texas – Dave Burgess – Leader – 2890
Seeking Justice for All – Michael Hizme – Founder – 83
Separated Families – Canada – Jim Chamney – Leader – 3030
Sovereign Patriot Group – Robert L. Cheney, Jr. – President – 35
State Citizen – Willy Yndgaard – Leader – 63
State Citizen – Joe Kremser – Leader – 65
State Citizen – Paul Oneill – Leader – 69
Texas Children’s Rights Coalition – Robert L. Green, Jr. – Leader – 519
Texas Fathers Alliance – Joe Milling – Founder – 2039
Texas Fathers Alliance – Robert L. Green, Jr. – Leader – 519
Texas Fathers for Equal Rights – David McDonald – Leader – 488
Texas Fathers for Equal Rights – Robert L. Green, Jr. – Leader – 519
Texas Fathers for Equal Rights – Mel Stanley – Leader – 2040
United Fathers – Rod Bivings – President – 16
United Fathers of Washington State – Gary Flanzer – Leader – 54
Valley Compassion Center – Jay Samuels – Director – yes
Video – Father Figure – Nick Szabo – producer – Leader – 36
Wisconsin Fathers for Equal Justice – Kip Schwanke – Leader – 127
Words That Work Publications – Gary Clark – publisher – Publisher – 111
"Two attorneys, David Grossack (Boston) and Greg Hession (Northampton) are in the process of putting together The Suit, to be filed in federal court. Grossack has self-published a manual: ‘Introduction to Constitutional Warfare — a legal insurrection manual for pro se litigants’… The class action suit — taking the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to federal court — is a cornerstone of our struggle. At some point, we will make it so costly to ‘them’ that they will no longer be able to rampantly trample our Constitutional rights…"
— Newsletter, The Fatherhood Coalition/Boston
The most effective weapon the father’s rights movement has to harass estranged ex-wives is the legal system itself. Thanks to legislative action at both the state and federal level, most states have done a commendable job of enacting abuse prevention statutes, training police personnel to recognize abuse and encouraging them to enforce restraining orders against violations, funding child protective services and battered women’s shelters to help victims escape abuse, and educating court personnel about the dangers of domestic violence. At least initially, many women are free from the patriarchal attitudes of the past which fluffed off domestic violence as a "family matter."
Due to the civil nature of most restraining order proceedings, a woman may be lulled into a false sense of security by the compassion she may experience upon reporting abuse to the authorities, obtaining a restraining order, and receiving counseling services and a safe place to stay for herself and her children upon leaving an abusive relationship. In many cases, the threat of criminal sanctions for violating the restraining order operates as a reality check on the abusive male and no further intervention is needed. In other situations, the male will initially violate the restraining order, be prosecuted, and sentenced to a batterer’s program where he will learn to control the worst of his behavior. However, the situation the legislature has yet to correct is where batterers learn to use the judicial process itself as a weapon to continue the battering relationship once a restraining order has been issued.
In recent years the number of people representing themselves in court has skyrocketed. Unfamiliar with legal procedures, they must be guided through the process by court personnel, greatly taxing limited court resources and causing case logjams. A substantial number of pro se litigants are highly educated, upper-income individuals. Family and Probate Court Chief Justice Sean M. Dunphy said pro se litigants are usually
"unprepared, take more of judges’ time, have unrealistic expectations and slow things down. They’re one of our greatest challenges today. They have a tremendous impact on our courts and how we’re managing our cases" (First In-Depth Study of Pro Se Crush Scheduled, Mass Bar Association Attorney Resources, (May 1998)).
Divorce court was never meant to be "the people’s court." Unlike small claims court, where a magistrate/judge who is accustomed to hearing laypeople attempt to resolve disputes of less than $2000, the value of the marital estate can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Worse, the future of innocent parties is usually at stake. Few laypeople are familiar with the intricacies of the law, and even fewer understand how the law interacts with federal laws, the Constitution, and public policy. An unrepresented parent can irrevocably prejudice their rights if they receive inadequate legal advice. To the layperson, court can be as pleasant and comprehensible as being run over by a train.
Although, at first glance, it may appear that parties are being forced to go pro-se because they are too poor to afford lawyers, a look at the statistics belies this fact. Many of the pro-se litigants clogging the probate and family court system are highly educated, upper income males. One of the reason for this skyrocketing pro-se litigation rate in probate and family court is the encouragement Father’s Rights groups give men unhappy with how their divorce is proceeding to fire their attorneys and proceed pro se. When compared to the fact that at least 70% of all divorces are filed by women, or that the majority of divorcing men don’t want the divorce but would rather maintain the status quo, the frustration these men must feel upon being told there is nothing they can do to stop the divorce, the distribution of marital assets, or the allocation of custody of the children.
Father’s Rights groups give men hope — hope that even if they can’t stop the wife from leaving, then at least they can get the house, the kids, the bank account, and "make her sorry" for leaving. Especially in situations where domestic violence has been an issue, the batterer discovers the subpoena power of the court is the method of control par excellence. When ethical attorneys refuse to carry the game to it’s extremes, pro se litigation is a way to continue the vendetta. Most Father’s Rights groups publish pro se legal forms on their websites, sell "how to" books and packets of motions a man can file in court, encourage them to engage in extensive, irrelevant discovery aimed at stalling and delaying the divorce, and even teach a man how to put his wife on the stand and badger her under the guise of "cross-examination" in an attempt to get her to lose her composure.
Father’s Rights groups also refer members to sympathetic "expert witnesses" who are willing to promote illegitimate or discredited "theories" (such as Gardner’s "Parental Alienation Syndrome" which the American Psychological Association publicly discredited) or to testify that, in their "expert" opinion, the mother suffers from XYZ illness and is therefore unfit and should lose everything.
For example, The Fatherhood Coalition (Boston) Southwest Chapter board member John Daniels has a Master of Social Work (MSW) and serves the dual function of providing court-ordered "counseling" for members of the group as well making frequent appearances in court to give expert testimony for group members. This wouldn’t be disturbing if it weren’t for the fact that his parental rights were restricted to supervised visitation by Dedham Probate and Family Court (Mass) Judge Christina Harms three years ago due to allegations of abuse and possible sexual misconduct. Worse, these groups encourage their members to file numerous false allegations against the victims, her support network (such as the children’s daycare providers), and even her attorney and the judge with state administrative agencies and in small claims or even criminal court.
In Texas, the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee (a committee appointed by the Supreme Court of Texas) was forced to file a complaint against Texas Father’s for Equal Rights (a Father’s Manifesto signatory) for repeatedly giving legal advice without a license and request an injunction restraining the group from practicing law without a license. (DV98-8495, District Court of Dallas County, Texas, November 3, 1998). The complaint lists the following conduct:
contracting with persons to represent them with regard to legal causes of action; advising persons as to their rights and the advisability of making claims and instituting lawsuits to pursue such claims; preparing legal pleadings and other legal documents for persons which necessitate the making of legal decisions on behalf of those persons; interpreting Texas Statutes and Codes and counseling persons as to the meaning and implications of those documents.
Under Texas Government Code Ann. s. 81.101-81.102 (1987), the legislature deemed that the public interest and protection of the public demanded that legal advice and legal services be rendered to the public only by persons duly qualified, schooled, and educated in the law who are attorneys duly admitted to practice under the laws of the State of Texas. Most states have similar statutes. Public interest demands that persons receiving legal services will receive the same directly from qualified persons who are at all times subject to the ethical considerations and disciplinary rules of the State Bar.
One of the most critical functions the State Bar performs is to aid in maintaining high standards of professional conduct and professional services and to protect the public against unqualified and unlicensed persons rendering legal services. As discussed in the case of William E., the consequence to the person receiving inadequate legal advice from one of these groups, as well as to the other side, can be severe.
How do Father’s Rights advocates view the services they provide? The Domestic Rights Coalition advertises that they "specialize in court room advocacy. We offer 10 years of experience helping men and fathers protect their rights in the court system. We can show you how to protect your rights without the use of expensive attorneys." [emphasis theirs]. (http://earthlink.net/~proadvocate). Executive Director George T. Gilliland, Sr. describes his "services" in his solicitation for services at as follows:
"I… share my expertise, experiences, knowledge and resources with you, giving you, as a DRC member, help with sorting out the many problems per family you are dealing with per the "pros and cons" of such problems, and generally, from the specific and general information you give me, along with following the paper trail of legal documents you provide to me as a DRC member, will help you decide for yourself, what is the best, the cheapest, and most appropriate course of action for you to take. You, if you become a DRC member, make all the decisions, you are the boss. We offer and provide, ‘in the courtroom’ advocacy services for men and fathers primarily in Minnesota, Iowa & Wisconsin, but do travel the entire United States as asked by you. Normally this includes sitting at the counsel table with you … preparing a man or dad for courtroom experience, having every legal paper necessary done for you the right way, explaining to you the reasons for certain actions, the paperwork necessary, and what you can do with our help to get the job done effectively, cheaply and the right way WITHOUT an expensive attorney who too often screws things up while screwing you!… We show men how to… fight for your rights to your children in custody battles, how to do what you need to do to protect your rights legally, [and] the tools available to you that can actually strengthen your position."
— The Domestic Rights Coalition, http://home.earthlink.net/~proadvocate/html/services.html
"It is my obligation to reveal the truth about the… Pentony Family of [personal home addresses listed]… Send greetings to your favorite Pentony… Rest assured that this website is completely legal and valid. It is an expression of free speech, totally protected by the First Amendment … you will see your name plastered over every internet site imaginable… Claudia, have you seen the new letters which have been received at [home address listed]?"
— John [last name] web site, http://www.pentony.com
The Internet is a wonderful medium. Thanks to the wonders of the world wide web, like-minded people can meet from all over the world without regard to geographical constraints. A gardener from Florida can correspond with a gardener in China about optimal methods for propagating hibiscus, a knitter from Deluth can discuss color patterning with a weaver from the Hebrites Isles in northern Scotland, singles can meet each other over the net and assess whether they’d like to meet in person for a date, and businesses can utilize any number of powerful search engines to find everything from widgets to service providers. Through the Internet, we can find like-minded people, encourage each other, provide emotional support through life’s ups and downs, disseminate knowledge we find helpful to others so they can also achieve their goals, grow and become successful in life.
However, positive growth-oriented web sites aren’t the only media flourishing on the Internet. The First Amendment protects even the most opprobrious sites from government censorship. With the exception of the Oregon anti-abortion group who posted the personal home addresses of physicians who performed abortions and encouraged abortion rights activists to kill them, the courts have been reluctant to permit any type of censorship. The recent rash of school shootings share one common factor — all of the killers were adolescents who shared a fascination for violent video games and frequented hate web sites.
Through the Internet, dysfunctional, violent people can find one another and perpetuate their delusional schemes to retaliate against the society they feel has oppressed them. Prior to widespread use of the Internet, batterers had a difficult time finding one another. Communities looked with scorn upon the violent behavior of the batterer and, more importantly, told him so. Unable to find emotional support or reinforcement for his abusive and controlling ways, the batterer was forced to change his behavior or sulk silently in his home while society cast a baleful eye upon him. Today, however, this is not the case. With one click of the mouse, the batterer has the world at his fingertips.
If you type the words "Fathers Rights" into any search engine, you will reap a harvest of thousands of links to groups all over the country. One web site, http://www.hky.com/frn/frlinks.html, has links to 124 well organized Fathers Rights organizations. Although the majority of these web sites appear to appeal to responsible men who want to be good fathers to their children, the purpose of some are more obvious. Five openly state their primary agenda as eliminating child support. Five claim to provide pro se legal services for men. Two advocate for fighting restraining orders. Ten are openly misogynist.
However, to truly get inside the mind of most of the Father’s Rights movement, you need to enter these web sights past the initial pro-family propaganda and read their newsletters, message boards, and the information they are teaching their constituents. A look at the true motives of the Father’s Rights movement is truly frightening. Through the medium of the Internet, misogynists and batterers find each other, fuel each others rage, obtain emotional support and information for their vendettas, learn how to harass their victims without violating restraining orders by using the courts and state administrative agencies, disseminate information about dilatory pro-se litigation tactics aimed at allowing the batterer to subpoena his victim into court, put her on the stand, and publicly demean her under the guise of "cross-examination," and learn to legitimize their behavior to the judiciary and public as the actions of "a concerned father."
To get an idea of the extremes some Father’s Rights advocates will pursue their vendetta, it is useful to go to the particularly egregious web site (http://www.pentony.com) belonging to a very disturbed individual named John [last name]. The vendetta began when his wife, Jane Pentony [last name], filed for divorce. John [last name] failed to pay $6,900 in child support before his ex-wife’s untimely death. Jane’s sister, Claudia, an attorney, was appointed guardian by her sister and attempted to collect the back child support on her nephews behalf. In response, John [last name] founded the Pentony web site alleging that the entire Pentony family, a family consisting of established professionals and businesspeople, "lie under oath… have committed felonies… are addicted to a wide range of costly substances, including uppers, downers, diet pills, pot, and especially alcohol… are racists… cheat on their taxes… [and] abuse their children" (John [last name],http://www.pentony.com/homecnt.stm). Like most Father’s Rights advocates, [last name] has ample "evidence" against the Pentony family — digital copies of court documents which, divorced from all context, he claims support his case. The "evidence" doesn’t appear to have any connection to his claims. Some of the documents have suspicious squiggle marks through them, indicative that they may have been digitally altered.
One piece of "evidence" is a scanned copy of a business sized white window envelope with the word "Jane" written on it (http://www.pentony.com/scans.htm). [last name] claims this is "proof" that Jane was converting his paychecks worth thousands of dollars each after the divorce and therefore he doesn’t owe child support. Although most people would notice if a paycheck worth a thousand dollars was missing, no mention of legal action for the missing paychecks is made. A scanned photograph of an attractive but modest split-level home in Pennsylvania alludes that his ex-wife’s father’s home is worth more than the $153,000 tax assessment and brags "It’s a good thing that I am a good citizen… I feel it my duty to advise the tax collectors that [home address] needs to be reappraised" (http://www.pentony.com/scans.htm). He threatens "we have obtained information that really shows what you monsters are all about … so far you have cost us $80,000 but we willnever stop our quest for honesty and justice… hundreds of letters that include the false allegations are currently being mailed out so everyone can know the facts … we have been in contact with many neighbors .. who will testify against you" (http://www.pentony.com/main5.htm). A blatantly digitally altered lewd photo purporting to be Claudia [last name] tops a special page ranting about her "cold distant father and drugged mother" and"several tries… to pass the bar exam." He lists her home address, encourages other Father’s Rights advocates to send hate mail, and alludes "it is unfortunate that Claudia was so abused as a child. She is continuing the family tradition of beating her children and should be stopped. Authorities are investigating complaints of abuse" (http://www.pentony.com/slide17.htm). Not content to contain his vendetta against the sister appointed guardian by his deceased ex-wife, [last name] expands his vendetta to his deceased ex-wife’s entire family. Bizarre diatribes lambast the extended Pentony family. Readers are encouraged to send hate mail to her elderly parents home address in Florida along with other family members. The web site promises more of this harassment with the message "you will see your name plastered over every internet site imaginable" (http://www.pentony.com/main5.htm).
"If the front door of the newspaper is closed, find a way in through the back window or the side door … all we have to do is change the minds of a hundred key editors in this state, and we will have changed the whole public atmosphere about fathers…"
— John Maguire, Media Team Leader, CPF
The Father’s Rights movement has gotten a lot of media coverage lately. Originally they were portrayed as angry men, freaks holding fist-shaking rally’s on statehouse steps, hunger strikes in jail, or bizarre publicity stunts in front of the offices of public officials. Unable to control their anger, the press saw through their complaints and portrayed them as the batterers they are, bizarre items to spice up the doldrums on a slow press day.
Lately, however, the media has portrayed fatherhood (and fatherhood groups) in a kinder, gentler light. Much of this is good. In these days of geographically scattered families and the overwhelming influence of television, it is good that television fathers have episodes where they attend little Johnny’s school play, or books impress upon fathers how important the role model they are provide for their children is to proper development, or newspaper articles run series lauding fathers who have made a difference to their own children, or to the children of others. It is a good thing that there is now a cookbook for fathers aimed at teaching them how to cook meals with their children so they can both spend quality, fun time with them and simultaneously provide them with nutritious meals. It is great that fathers are speaking up and impressing upon other fathers the importance of taking enough time from a busy work schedule to witness a child’s first steps or their first home run. Through the media, the many fathers who are baffled by what is expected of them in today’s nontraditional family atmosphere can mimic and learn from the fathers portrayed in the mass media.
During the 1960s-1970s, the media began to write stories about the "new" woman. This new woman, who we now take for granted, was shedding her unilateral role as homemaker and mother and instead taking on a dual role of career woman and mother. As women cast off their old roles and tried new ones, television shows such as the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" portrayed, not the domestic mother Mary played in "the Dick Van Dyke Show", but rather a divorced, college educated Mary who had a lucrative career at a major metropolitan television news station. Along with Mary, women learned how to assert themselves as valuable human beings in the workplace and handle the often difficult situations which often arose as women hit the glass ceiling of the corporate world. Some barriers still exist, but more and more women take for granted the rights their mothers fought so hard for during the last several decades.
Now there is a new role that needs to be assumed. Dual career families have left a void in child rearing and homemaking responsibilities. Frazzled mothers juggling long work hours still assume the lions share of the care giving and housework. A great deal of the stress that can eventually lead to the breakdown of a marriage is caused by fathers who simply aren’t aware that, unlike their own fathers, there is simply is no stay-at-home wife to wait on him hand and foot. If you ask many women why they left the marriage, they will throw their hands up in the air and say "I decided that if I was going to be the one working, taking care of the kids, and doing the housework, I might as well do it alone!"
The role of fatherhood in the media has changed somewhat. The competent physician Bill Crosby plays in "The Crosby Show" is a loving father, but sometimes at a loss of what to do with his five kids. It is his equally successful wife who often appears to steer the ship. Crosby is typical of where many enlightened stand in the family today — important, but a little frightened with their new role. Contrast this to the television character, Al Bundy, in the sitcom "Married with Children." Al Bundy portrays the type of husband women are often fleeing from when the file for divorce citing "irreconcilable differences." Nobody wants to be married to Al Bundy, yet this is the role of fatherhood many of the men in Father’s Rights groups are fighting to preserve.
The First Amendment protects the right of the press because our founding fathers believed that only an uncensored press could combat government corruption by educating the masses. However, with that power comes responsibility. It is a responsibility that many newspapers, television shows, magazines, and radio broadcasts do not take seriously enough. Most newspapers have the "two source" rule, which cites that a reporter should quote two sources in every story to avoid defamation suits. However, many reporters will run anecdotal incidents quoted by subjects without actually digging up any of the supporting documentation. Such failure to research facts will get an attorney disbarred, yet thousands of newspapers fail to do a simple background check every single day. They have become lax, depending on the shield of the First Amendment to protect them from lawsuits and deflecting responsibility for any harm which may be created onto the source of the article. The difference between a reporter who independently checks his or her facts and a reporter who just quotes the source is the difference between what is legal and what is ethical.
Because of this failing of the media, many news sources have begun to quote Father’s Rights advocates without doing a background check. If they had, for example, Boston Globe reporter Jannell Lawrence would have discovered that Fatherhood Coalition board member Paul Corey was not a poor, persecuted father whisked underground to escape a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation because he left milk for his children on the sidewalk outside his home and then asserted his due process rights when arrested for violating a restraining order. Rather, had she simply pulled the court docket, which is public information accessible by all, she would have discovered he’d stalked and harassed his terrified ex-wife so badly that the doctors at Medfield State Hospital considered him bipolar and dangerous. Her December 1997 story typifies the difference between the truth, and what is printed by the media today. Many other stories printed by the media are similarly flawed. Some reporters have checked their facts, but most don’t. It is the reason newspaper articles are inadmissible hearsay in court — the courts are only too aware of their shortcomings and they’re not considered credible.
Father’s rights groups have made it their top national priority to woo the media into printing their stories. The stories that are being printed are not the positive roles of fatherhood which men desperately need to move away from the Al Bundy stereotype into the role of a happy, enlightened male with a strong, secure marriage and healthy, well-adjusted children. Rather, they are stories about the "rights" of angry, abusive men to control, dominate, and abuse their wives.
Media-savvy batterers, such as The Fatherhood Coalition’s John Maguire (quoted above) and Patrick Henry Flynn (who fought all the way to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to enforce his First Amendment "right" to give his son a toy gun and tell him to go home and kill his mother, (Flynn v. Warner, 654 N.E.2d 926, 421 Mass. 1002 (1995)), are beating down editors doors and building relationships with newspapers to promote their illegitimate legislative bills.
Initially, a reader might be skeptical of a story about a "poor" father who is being jailed simply because he helped his child who had stumbled while getting out of the car when being dropped off after visitation or of a bill that obviously eliminates the rights of women or children. The reader may scoff at the story. However, there is a little known fact about human memory and cognition… you very quickly forget the source of a story, and even the specific facts, but you remember the general gist of the story as true. It is why hypnosis and positive affirmations work. The subconscious mind doesn’t recognize a negative. If the public hears a story enough times, no matter how incredible or unbelievable the story sounded when they first heard it, in their mind it will eventually become true simply because it has been reinforced enough times.
"Looking at it this way, we sure did a lot without a NICKEL’s worth of media attention, eh? The media still doesn’t know that affirmative action is dead. The media still supports the cold, dead corpse of feminism. The media will still be at the train station long after the train to repeal the 19th [Amendment] passed them by." (The Father’s Manifesto, http://www2.crosswinds.net/san-diego/~manifesto/19thcon.htm).
"Fathers are the ‘civilizers’ of their children… there is… an element of wrath and fearfulness and father love is willing to punish… in this sense father love is closer to God love than other loves…"
— Father’s Day Homily, candidate for U.S. Representative Eric Bleicken, 10th Congressional District (1998)
In my own dealings with the Father’s Rights movement, perhaps I suffered the most disillusionment from a man who I considered a pillar of the community. In my eyes, this man was beyond questioning, beyond reproach. My relationship with the man who ran first against Massachusetts State Representative Enri Raushenbach, then later U.S. Representative William Delahunt, was one of mentor, friend, and quasi-father figure.
A former Navy Seal, former Reagan administration appointee of the Special Research Division of the Defense Advanced Research Project (DARPA) and member of the Conservative Republican party, Eric Bleicken lives the simple life of a carpenter in his humble fisherman’s cottage on the Bass River in Yarmouth.
Eccentric and reclusive, no television adorns the modest living room consisting of worn antiques and cast-off treasures rescued from yard sales and the local treasure chest. Instead, he lives the simple life of Thoreau in the Walden Woods. After a hard days work of intense physical labor lovingly restoring the centuries old woodwork of the houses of Cape Cod’s historic district, he retreats "tired… and weary… to the ancient halls of ancient men, where being lovingly received" (Machiavelli) he contemplates the knowledge of the ages from books like "M’orte de Arthur" or the tactical military maneuvers of the Roman Ceasars. Trips to Eric’s bathroom are an adventure, and a peek in the ancient wooden shower will reveal a flower and some grass merrily growing through a crack in the wall of the former outdoor shower stall.
Eric takes great pleasure in giving people hope. They seek out his advice on legal matters, and the combination of his past political experience in Washington and the semester he spent at Southern New England School of Law give them hope of resolving their difficulties. There is a gentility about Eric that could convince even the most skeptical opponent to adopt his viewpoints. As pillar of the community and devout member of the church, it is difficult to believe that Eric’s tale of how his ex-wife, Lorraine, divorced him and stole everything from him, driving him into the poverty he lives today, is anything but true.
The Fatherhood Coalition (CPF) of Massachusetts supported Eric Bleicken in the 1998 election against U.S. Representative William Delahunt as "a staunch father’s rights advocate and a social conservative." He was touted as "having survived five years in divorce court" and an antidote to "the feminazi domestic violence industry." Mark Charalambous, director of CPF and signatory number 101 of the "Father’s Manifesto", states in his support of Bleicken that he is "no shrinking violet" and that change will only come when "father’s rights individuals become elected and gain power. Then, a nucleus can be built around them. The feminists are too strong." (CPF newsletter, 1998, http://fatherhoodcoalition.org/cpf/)
A look at the docket in Gorham, New Hampshire, tells a drastically different story about the "five years in divorce court" than the one Eric tells his constituents. Lorraine Bleicken seems not to have profited from her supposed legal machinations. Rather, the divorce left the family nearly bankrupt with no assets. Eric’s choice to live the modest lifestyle of a carpenter (cash-under-the-table work) is explained by the revelation that he has failed to pay his child support for years and his ex-wife finally gave up trying to collect from him. The "$450,000" house which was "stolen" from Eric’s mother turns out to be a modest but tasteful home built by Eric with money largely earned by Lorraine on land sold to the couple during the marriage by Eric’s mother.
The docket is replete with motion after motion filed by Eric, then a member of Father’s United in Concord, New Hampshire, to repeatedly drag Lorraine back into court for frivolous matters, such as complaints that she dated this boyfriend or that after the separation (including allegations she was sleeping with her lawyer) or that she was negligent in her parenting skills (all disproven).
He repeatedly dragged his children against their will to counselors during visitation to "prove" his ex-wife’s parenting style was unfit, then began to file numerous civil suits against the judges who finally tired of his harassment and stopped hearing his motions.
His claim that he was supporting one child, 16-year-old Malaika, and shouldn’t have had to pay child support for the younger two begins to make sense once reading psychologists reports that he antagonized the relationship between Malaika and her mother so badly that Malaika beat up her mother and was sent to live with her father so Lorraine could avoid future physical abuse by her angry young daughter. Even his claim that he repeatedly tried to prevent the pregnancy of his then 12-year-old daughter, Lisle, is less than accurate. No mention of the fact that Lisle was sexually active was made in the numerous, frivolous motions designed to force Lorraine to lose days out of work and undermine her financial stability. Rather, it is only after the little girl discovered she was pregnant and had been convinced by her pro-life father to become a mother at 13 that the matter first hits the docket. Eric Bleicken, after five years of harassing his ex-wife through the courts, was finally sanctioned for abuse of process and forbidden to file any more pro-se lawsuits in the state of New Hampshire.
Too remote in the past? How about this, then. On Father’s Day, 1997, Eric Bleicken delivered a sermon to his parish at Saint David’s Episcopal Church in Yarmouth lambasting the feminists for destroying the family. In that sermon, he presented to the congregation several men who he painted as victims.
"Paul Bowes had a restraining order against him. His mother was dying of cancer and asked to see her two grandchildren before she died… Paul spent 193 days in jail." (Father’s Day Sermon 1997, by Eric Bleicken, Saint David’s Episcopal Church, printed at http://www.bleicken.com/homily2.htm).
What he failed to mention was that Paul Bowes’s mother was afraid of him, had called the police on him and told them that (he claimed she was crazy), and had disinherited him in her will. Nine police reports show that Paul Bowes had not only repeatedly beaten his wife, prompting one officer to write "something needs to be done before a tragedy occurs," but also that he attacked police on one occasion. Bowe’s ex-wife’s entire family, including her parents and her sister, were all forced to change their names and move away. No mention of this fact was made in his homily.
Eric Bleicken later used his status as a U.S.Representative candidate and lied under oath in court to protect Bowes when he embezzled (and later plead guilty) two $50 utility payment checks from an 84-year-old woman. He also preached,
"Paul Corey is facing trial in August for three counts of violating a restraining order… his alleged crimes are that he spoke with his children’s doctor, a child’s teacher and he left two gallons of milk and a warm coat in the road for the children."
Paul Corey is the man who was committed to a state mental hospital for stalking and harassing his ex-wife for two years. The sermon goes on to mention other "innocent victims."
Far from being a remote incident, the practice of Father’s Rights advocates to seek elected office in an attempt to is becoming all too commonplace.
Nationwide, the pattern is replicating itself as Father’s Rights groups, websites, and books urge aggrieved fathers to gain credentials, align themselves politically with conservative political factions, and run for public office themselves so that they may re-write legislation which seeks to protect women from domestic violence.
"The Domestic Rights Coalition – Specializes in court room advocacy. We offer 10 years experience helping men and fathers protect their rights in the court system. We can show you how to protect your rights, without the use of expensive attorneys."
— Website, The Domestic Rights Coalition
Although Congress recently investigated and disproved the Father’s Rights movements claims of bias in the courts against men, to declare that bias against fathers is completely nonexistent is counterproductive to the woman’s movement. Although we have formally abandoned the Tender Years Doctrine in favor of the Best Interests of the Child standard, blanket assumptions that men, by virtue of being male, are less involved with their children than the mother still persist in some courts. Although the lingering effects of the Tender Years doctrine is largely due to the fact that, in most situations, the man truly is less involved with his children, happily this is not true in all situations. The legitimate men’s movement has slowly encouraged some men to enjoy more involvement with their children.
When evaluating a claim that a court is acting in a biased way against men, one should not forget that the overwhelming majority of judges in the United States are men. In some cases, the father is the more nurturing parent. However, in spite of concerted efforts by the legitimate men’s movement to educate men about the importance of involvement with their wives and children, the rate of divorces initiated by women reflects the fact that many men still have a long way to go.
One of the most common reasons women file for divorce is "lack of emotional involvement" on the part of the husband. No matter how much a man may protest that he wants to be the primary caretaker of his children during a custody dispute, an emotionally uninvolved, distant, self-absorbed parent is going to remain a dissatisfactory caretaker no matter how much he claims otherwise. There’s a word for couples who coordinate child rearing, housekeeping, and financial duties equally — "married." It takes years to change deeply ingrained behavioral patterns and learn to be a nurturing parent. If a man was unable to comprehend the consequences of his behavior and heed the warning signs while married, it is unlikely he is going to become a model parent simply by virtue of the fact that his wife has followed through on her promise of divorce.
The tendency of courts to grant initial custody to the mother reflects this reality. The overwhelming majority of divorced fathers, including fathers who have a high level of involvement with their children, prefer an arrangement where the mother continues caring for the children during the week and the father sees his children weekends or after school. These men are quite aware that one of the costs of being a primary caretaker is fewer job promotions and diminished earning capacity. It is much more economically feasible to write a check every week than to jeopardize his career. In the end, however, it is not property settlements, freedom, or child support which women desire, it is a caring, emotionally involved husband and father who shares his weight of the housework, child-rearing, and financial responsibilities.
Women tend to stay married to emotionally supportive husbands and are more willing to work out difficulties in marriage counseling instead of seeking a divorce. The Father’s Rights movement actively seeks out rare cases of legitimately involved fathers who experienced complications during their divorces to fuel their war against women. As long as all personnel connected to the legal profession are not required to undergo impartiality training, the courts will produce "poster children" for the Father’s Rights movement to use in their propaganda war. It only takes one or two legitimate cases of unfair treatment to convince an uneducated public unfamiliar with the inner workings of the judicial process that all fathers are being discriminated against.
"Her world is her husband, her family, her children, and home. We do not find it right when a woman presses into the world of men. Rather, we find it natural when these two worlds remain separate."
–– Mein Kampf, Adolph Hitler
Most Father’s Rights groups consist of a core membership of radical extremists hostile to the feminist movement. These men often have deeply rooted psychological issues and live, breathe, and exist solely to strike back at the women whom they perceive have robbed them of their God-given right to dominate society as men have done historically. Like the sociopathic husband portrayed in the movie "Sleeping with the Enemy," their self-esteem depends upon having complete and utter control over their environment, especially the home. When the woman, who these men view as an appendage like an arm or a leg, breaks away, their rage fuels a vendetta which the average person finds incomprehensible.
History repeatedly has demonstrated how groups consisting of one charismatic leader and a core group of extremist followers can manipulate large groups of people into furthering their purpose. Why, you might ask, did the German people follow Hitler? Once again, a history lesson clarifies, but does not explain, the charismatic hold Adolph Hitler held over his people.
Germany had been conquered by the allies during World War I. Instead of rebuilding the German economy and encouraging moderate German citizens to seek positions of power, the allies destroyed Germany and left the people to wallow in the ashes of the Second Reich. Hitler rose to power during the late 1920’s, the largest worldwide depression the world has ever seen. Poverty and hunger were commonplace, jobs were scarce, escapist behaviors such as substance abuse and alcoholism were rampant, and the German society had deteriorated into hedonism similar to that experienced during the decline of the Roman Empire. Like any conquered people, Germany hated those who they perceived as having taken away the jobs, culture, and prestige they felt were rightfully theirs. Rather than accepting responsibility for their own aggressive behavior and making reparations for waging war upon her neighbors, the German people chose to project the blame outside of themselves. Hitler preached a message of hope — a return to simpler times when Germany reigned supreme. The angelic choir of children’s voices singing Hitler’s ethereally beautiful theme song, "Tomorrow Belongs to Me", demonstrates what the people thought they were supporting better than any elaborate dissertation:
Oh Fatherland, Fatherland, show me a sign
Your children have waited, you see
The morning will come when the world is mine
Tomorrow belongs to me…
In the Bible, Lucifer was the brightest and most beautiful of all the angels until his hunger for domination of the heavens caused him to be cast down into the earth. When he comes to seduce mankind, it is not a visage of bat-winged horror that mankind sees, rather, evil often comes disguised as salvation. It is not until the last angelic refrain of Hitler’s theme song that our knowledge of history reveals the song for what it truly is — an eerie premonition of the Holocaust to come.
Like Hitler, the Father’s Rights movement preaches a message of hope to men going through a divorce. They preach the same message of God-given entitlement that the Nazis did. Like Hitler, they seek out the vulnerable, the wounded, the naive, and the self-righteous to fuel their movement. Hitler never openly promoted genocide. Instead, the Nazi’s harnessed natural feelings of resentment towards a people whose culture had equipped them to economically survive post-war Europe and used logic to insinuate these innocent people had somehow robbed the average citizen of something to which they were entitled. To inspire national pride, Hitler held frequent rallies with elaborate props so his people could take pride in their militaristic power and listen to diatribes against their "oppressors" the same way that Father’s Rights advocates stage protests in front of courthouses and candlelight vigils on the statehouse steps. Like Hitler, the Father’s Rights movement preaches a message that one segment of the population (men) are favored by God to look over their less worthy inferiors (women).
Through propaganda, fear tactics and ridicule, the Nazi’s convinced moderate Germans to look the other way while their neighbors disappeared into the concentration camps and brainwashed more extreme Germans into believing their actions were honorable. Using these same tactics, Father’s Rights advocates minimize their abusive histories and use unethical litigation tactics to drive their ex-wives into hiding. Hitler indoctrinated children into his youth groups to fuel his movement and create future Nazi extremists the same way Father’s Rights advocates preach a message of providing for the best interests of the children they are using as pawns to harass their ex-wife.
Father’s Right’s groups have organized, scanning newspaper stories to recruit their aggrieved dads, sending out newsletters, lobbying legislators, and hiring interns from local colleges. (Divorced Dads Emerge as a Political Force, Kate Zernike, the Boston Globe, May 19, 1998).
Shortly after William E. was accused of being a pedophile, he was introduced to P.A.C.T. (Parents & Children Together). PACT advertises heavily in courthouses across southeastern New England by posting flyers on the public bulletin boards in the law libraries, rest rooms, and common areas of courthouses. One ad recently posted in the law library in the basement of Barnstable District Court reads "Have you been the victim of a restraining order?" The advertisement lambasts the judicial system for bias against men and encourages them to "fight back" by attending a bi-monthly meeting at the local community college to "prevent" their former intimate from leaving.
Although he was not the recipient of a restraining order, the advertisement lured William E. into the Father’s Rights movement because if articulated the unfairness he was feeling in his child custody action and promoted a child’s need to have a father.
To analyze the message the Father’s Rights group is giving batterers, it is necessary to deconstruct the message using propaganda analysis. The first thing the advertisement does is equate battering with being a victim "are you the victim of a restraining order?"
Because the batterer has been ordered to stop abusing his intimate partner, he is now a victim. It creates an US-THEM mentality by distinguishing between the oppressor (the victim, the police, social services, the court) and the oppressed (the batterer). It then promises the batterer he can "fight back" and stop the victim from leaving if he will only take action — attend a free meeting.
"Propagandists love short cuts — particularly those which short-circuit rational thought. They encourage this by agitating emotions, by exploiting insecurities, by capitalizing on the ambiguity of language, and by bending the rules of logic." (Aaron Delwiche, Propaganda Analysis, (1995)).
The breakup of any relationship, especially marriage, is most painful to the partner who doesn’t want the relationship to end. A restraining order ends all chances to coerce the female into staying in the relationship. Desperate for a second chance to make the relationship work, some men will do anything to reduce their anxiety. Father’s Rights groups teach men how to immediately delay the impending divorce and drive up the cost of litigation to the "wayward" ex-wife by filing their own motions and engaging in frivolous litigation tactics.
"How to Stop A Divorce" by attorney Norma Beedle is written "for those who DO NOT WANT their spouse divorcing them" and "includes tactics proven in Court which result in saved marriages after a divorce was filed … contains sample pleadings and case law to defeat or delay a divorce." This book is one of many which can be ordered from the internet at http://www.fathers-rights.com for the cost of $25.
Delay nurses the jilted spouse’s wounded ego, giving him a grandiose feeling of power and deluding him into thinking he can prevent his spouse from leaving. Especially where there is a restraining order involved, the man is motivated to file frivolous motions to get a chance to see his estranged partner. If an abuser mails a letter that says "you lying bitch, you can’t leave me, I’m going to spend the rest of my life making you miserable," he will be arrested for violating the restraining order. However, Father’s Rights groups teach men that if he writes essentially the same message, "she perjured herself, she isn’t credible, I’m going to spend the rest of my life ensuring justice is done," on a piece of paper that says "trial court of New Hampshire or Massachusetts" and brings the letter to the courthouse instead of the post office, a clerk will look up the sealed address of the place where the victim is hiding, put the "letter" into an envelope, and mail it along with a summons ordering the victim to come to court to defend her right to keep her restraining order or risk losing her protection.
It is the ultimate irony that the Hillsborough County Superior Courthouse in Nashua, NH is next to the post office. If the batterer can gain jurisdiction over the victim in more than one area, he can get several "free" hearings at each courthouse before the judiciary will catch on to the batterers motive and foreclose further review. For $19, the batterer can gain even more hearings in small claims court by filing numerous claims against the victim. If you add the number of state and federal administrative agencies which are empowered to subpoena a victim accused of violating some obscure ordinance in to face their accuser/batterer, the batterer can get 2-3 opportunities per week to maintain contact legally with his victim and harass her without fearing reprisal for violating the restraining order.
Rather than helping men by encouraging them to acknowledge responsibility for undesirable behavior and urging them to seek professional help (which could salvage the relationship), the battering fraternity hurts men by feeding the jilted spouses feelings of hostility towards his former partner, convinces the man there is a feminist conspiracy to eradicate fathers from society, and encourages to him to place blame on others outside of the relationship (the mother-in-law, the best friend, the battered women’s advocacy group, the "divorce culture") instead of accepting responsibility for his part of the breakdown of the marriage. The group twists the Constitution beyond recognition, giving the inductee a slanted view of the Bill of Rights divorced from all social policy or case history and teach him that it is "his right" to redress his grievances through the courts in any manner he sees fit.
Like a third grade schoolchild repeating the multiplication tables until they are memorized, each time the batterer argues his case in front of a state board or judge, he reinforces his delusions of entitlement to abuse his wife and convinces himself of the righteousness of his actions. Months or years later, when the courts and administrative agencies finally begin to catch on to the batterers’ game and slam the door shut on future abusive litigation, the Father’s Rights advocates convince the man that his ex-wife, the courts, police, the guardian-ad-litem, battered women’s groups, social services, the media, society, and the legislature are all "in bed" with the feminists in an elaborate conspiracy to deprive men of their civil rights.
Although few sane people would fall prey to the Father’s Rights movements paranoid delusions of elaborate conspiracies to deprive men of their property right to control a woman, anyone who has gone through a divorce or witnessed one realizes that it is not a time when even normally rational people are at their best emotionally or seeing reality with 20/20 vision. A bit of insanity manifests itself in all of us under the extreme duress of a divorce. The story of William E.:
"PACT is the sister group of the larger CPF (Coalition for the Preservation of Fatherhood) out of Boston. We would often join forces with them and DADDs (Dads Against Divorce Discrimination) out of Worcester for rally’s at courthouses and in front of the legislature. I was always asked to be a guest speaker because I’m more articulate than most of the guys and my case was pretty horrible. The press was always invited, although a lot of the papers shied away from us. We would hold candlelight vigils where we would hold up pictures of our children and cry for the cameras.
"Looking back, I now realize that standing on the steps of the courthouse screaming into a bullhorn about how unreasonable Judge Terry was didn’t help my case any, but at the time I was caught up in the movement. The more rally’s I attended, the more sympathy I got from other fathers and the more I became convinced about their claims of a feminist conspiracy. I still have a hard time discerning what was bias and what part of the treatment I received was due to my own inept attempts at being my own lawyer. I met a wonderful woman, Taryn (now my wife), who was very supportive. They catered to her and always wanted her to come along and speak as well. Taryn didn’t like most of the guys, but she went along with it because she thought she was helping me.
"CPF is pretty radical. A lot of the men would get pretty aggressive towards the police at these rally’s and there would always be talk about picketing the homes of different judges. A couple of the guys had tracked down the home addresses of most of the probate judges and were circulating the lists encouraging the guys to send copies of every motion they filed in court to their home addresses so the judges would know we knew where they lived.
"Paul Corey, CPF’s legislative director bragged about sending an ‘affidavit’ to the home of Judge Christina Harms out of Dedham. They would picket in front of Quincy courthouse and confront the Assistant District Attorney’s as they came in whenever one of their cases was being heard for violating a restraining order. They especially targeted Courtney Cahill, a tough female ADA who is less than 5 feet tall and probably weighs 90 pounds, badgering her about their cases.
"At the time, I justified their behavior as the behavior of men who were hurting and stayed with the group. I stood out in 90 degree heat one entire summer collecting signatures to get US Taxpayers Party presidential candidate Howard Phillips onto the ballot because he said he believed in the traditional male role in the family. I supported Eric Bleicken, a staunch conservative and former member of Father’s United out of New Hampshire, in both his Massachusetts Senate run against Enri Rauschenbach and later against US Representative Robert Delahunt. Earl Henry Sholley, who ran the Southwest Chapter, ran for local political office, as did a few other guys. When they told me to speak, I spoke, and I didn’t ask questions. We were always being hit up for campaign donations.
"A couple of the guys, Mark Charalambous and Patrick Henry Flynn, had ties to the media and always managed to get sympathetic stories published in the newspapers. Paul Corey gathered enough signatures to have Senator Hedlund sponsor a bill into the state legislature to eliminate no-fault divorces and force women with children to stay married, but it died on the statehouse floor.
"One of the guys, Harry Stewart, got a ‘mail order’ ordainment out of a ministry somewhere out in the Midwest and started telling everyone he was a priest. Another member, John Daniels, had his Master of Social Work and started doing independent psychological evaluations of everyone and would attest that he’d found them all perfectly rational.
"They organized grandparent support groups where they would encourage the grandmothers of children of these guys to file ‘grandparents rights’ suits against their ex-wives. Nev Moore, who runs an anti-DSS group out of Barnstable, would bring women who had lost custody of their children to Social Services to also speak out against the courts. One time, she showed up with a woman who was so drunk she could barely stand, but it didn’t matter. The more women we were seen with, the better.
"Around this time, Taryn started balking at the aggressive tactics of these guys and learned a little bit about the law herself. She told me the Father’s Rights movement was using me, but I didn’t want to believe it. She refused to come to any more rallies or even allow these guys into our home for a social visit. She finally helped me scrape together enough money to hire a lawyer, a member of PACT who was suffering from clinical depression left over from his own divorce and several restraining orders. We had to work Billy’s case around his depression and were forever calling him to remind him to take his medication. His own life was a mess, but he was very compassionate and pretty good at dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s. He focused the case on the reports DSS was refusing to supply and managed to arouse suspicion at DSS’s irrational refusal to provide copies of the reports in camera to the judge. He said that if I hadn’t messed up so badly handling my own custody case myself, I could have straightened things out a long time ago.
"As we started to make headway into the case, I started seeing the Father’s Rights movement for what it really was and tried to disassociate from them. The last straw was when this guy named Avi Kostner down in Washington, DC murdered his two children because he was orthodox Jewish and his ex-wife was raising the children Catholic. Avi Kostner poisoned his children, then strangled them, then smashed in their skulls with a baseball bat when he discovered they still weren’t dead. Eric Bleicken had a rally for his political campaign where he gave T-Shirts to all the guys with different political slogans on them. Mine said ‘free Avi Kostner.’ I refused to wear it. We argued over how CPF could support such a heinous crime, and I got a lecture about how the mother deserved to have her children killed because she had violated the ‘implied marriage contract’ that the children would be raised in the religion of their father.
"They truly believe Avi Kostner had every right to murder his children because they were his property. That woke me up, let me tell you. Since then, I’ve had nothing to do with them.." (Interview with William E. May 6, 1999)
The Father’s Rights inductee is unable to see how his own abusive litigation tactics lead to his eventual downfall. It is always "the system", not him who is at fault.
Domestic violence has existed throughout recorded history. However, brutality has no place in a civilized culture. The evolution of our laws culminated into legislation clarifying that battery against one’s household members would no longer be tolerated. One method of extending protection to women seeking to escape abusive relationships is the restraining order, which grants a civil remedy (no abuse) ordering the batterer to stay away from his victim. The initial "temporary" restraining order is liberally granted for probable cause for a period of up to 10 days until a hearing can be held to determine it’s validity. The "permanent" hearing determines, by preponderance of the evidence, if the defendant has committed behavior such as assault, battery, or other disturbing behavior which now goes under the title of "stalking".
Violation of the restraining order is punishable by criminal sanctions if the abuser continues his confrontational behavior. By ordering a batterer to vacate the premises and avoid contact with the victim, an intermediary step is provided for women seeking to escape abusive relationships who don’t desire to pursue criminal charges or put their former intimate partner in jail. Mindful of the tragedies which frequently accompanied domestic violence, our civilized culture has decided that preventing potentially deadly confrontations between former intimates outweighs the inconvenience to the batterer seeking to force a former partner to remain in a relationship with him.
As abuse prevention laws were vigorously enforced by law enforcement officials, the traditional avenues open to batterers to maintain control of their victims began to slam shut. Some batterers successfully completed treatment in court-ordered batterer’s intervention programs. However, not all treatment was successful. The recidivism rate of batterer’s who don’t acknowledge their battering behavior is particularly high. As observed by David Adams, Clinical Director of EMERGE (the first counseling program in the nation for battering men):
"Often, men who abuse are well-liked and highly regarded in their communities … and peers. They appear to be rational, well-adjusted, and even sensitive, and to have positive social relationships. In fact, these men use physical and psychological abuse as a means of privately controlling relationships with their partners, on whom they actually often have a pathological dependence.
"The typical abuser’s reaction to the legal system is that the system is unfair to be publicly embarrassed and put out of his home. Abusers tend to minimize their abusive behavior, tend to consider their actions as not abusive, and think that private actions are not properly the subject of scrutiny. Alternatively, abusers may concede violence, but divert attention to a partner’s problems as a way of justifying the violence. In the narcissism characteristic of abusers, these men are rarely able to see the partner’s perspective on the relationship, often shifting responsibility for the abuse to the victim."(Gender Bias Study of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, 1989, p. 83)
Traditionally, family violence was not taken seriously by the courts. Prior to the late seventies, most states did not have statutes providing civil relief for women seeking protection from abuse, and domestic violence cases did not receive serious attention from the criminal justice community. Instead, domestic violence was considered a "family" matter to be "worked out" by the parties involved. Women who were victims of family violence were often blamed for their predicament and denied the protection of the courts. (Gender Bias Study of the Supreme Judicial Court, Mass. 1989, p. 79).
Beginning in the late seventies, advocates for battered women were successful in convincing lawmakers that victims of domestic violence were entitled to government protection. In 1978, Massachusetts passed an abuse prevention act that allowed victims of domestic violence to obtain a civil order protecting them from their abusers. However, society was slow to change it’s image of the battered women. Police personnel, judges, and even the victims own support network tended to view domestic violence as a trivial offense. Judges and juries expect more corroboration of physical injuries in domestic violence than in other serious crimes. Sentences in domestic violence cases were generally lower than in cases of other serious crimes. Orders were often not enforced, giving the batterer the impression that the law didn’t take his criminal acts seriously.
"The tendency to doubt the testimony of domestic violence victims and to "blame" them for their predicament no only hampers the court’s ability to provide victims with the protection they deserve, it also has a chilling effect on victims’ willingness to seek relief." (Gender Bias Study of the Supreme Judicial Court, Mass. 1989, p. 80).
As public awareness increased, the legislature passed stricter laws enforcing violations of restraining orders which eventually culminated in the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) which created extensive anti-abuse legislation, defined stalking laws, encouraged police and court personnel training for those states which did not already have programs in place, and gave women a federal cause of action for crimes motivated by gender. In spite of these improvements, even today "many women who flee violence are forced to return to their abusers because of inadequate shelter or lack of money. Even if they leave their abusers to go to a shelter, they often return home because the isolation from familiar surroundings, friends, and neighborhood resources makes them feel even more vulnerable." (Congressional findings, VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 402 (5)).
Currently, the Violence Against Women Act of 1999 is working its way through Congress. It defines broader classifications of abuse to be applied by the states, increases the penalties for interstate stalking, mandates greater protection for children of battered women who witness abuse, prohibits employers from discriminating against battered women who lose time from work to seek a restraining orders against an abuser, and extend VAWA’s protection to traditionally under served communities such as immigrant battered women and elderly battered women. One way which the proposed legislation will increase protection to battered women is it’s broad sweeping definition of abuse.
" ‘Abuse’ means the occurrence of one or more of the following acts by a current or former household or family member, intimate partner, or caretaker: (a) Attempting to cause or causing another person bodily injury, physical harm, substantial emotional distress, psychological trauma, rape, sexual assault, or involuntary sexual intercourse; (b) Engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person without proper authority and under circumstances that place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or physical harm; (c) subjecting another person to false imprisonment or kidnapping; (d) attempting to cause or causing damage to property so as to intimidate or attempt to control the behavior of another person." [italics mine](Congressional findings, VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 422 (1)).
This refinement of the definition of abuse includes behavior such as "following" or "controlling" which courts have traditionally been reluctant to grant protection. These refinements will hopefully allow the courts greater leeway in affording protection to the victims of domestic violence.
What the proposed revisions don’t describe is the disturbing trend amongst Father’s Rights groups and the battering community at large to teach men how to violate restraining orders legally by skirting existing definitions of assault and battery. Instead of sending the victim a threatening letter, the batterer is taught to disguise his message as a "complaint" to a court or state administrative agency where the victim will be forced to lose a day out of work to confront her batterer. The "message" is not considered a violation of a restraining order, and judges or agency administrators will shrug apathetically when the victim tells them this is the 10th or 12th such hearing she has been forced to defend in 6 months and vacuously tell her "he has a right to redress his grievances."
Nor do police take it seriously when the batterer encourages third parties to telephone the victims friends, or contact them directly, to "discuss" how "unreasonable" the victim is being by attempting to escape the batterer.
Since the batterer relays the message through an intermediary to a friend and carefully avoids asking the friend to pass a message along to the victim, third-party contact provisions are not violated and the victim is without recourse even though the batterer may have coverts repeatedly telephone her family and friends, thereby diminishing her support network. In those "comparatively rare" cases where the violating conduct involves that of a third party, some proof of the defendant’s intent is required. In such instances, where the issue is raised whether the defendant directed or acquiesced in the conduct of the third party, the Commonwealth must prove that the defendant intended the act that resulted in the violation. In this case, the Court ruled that the evidence was sufficient to warrant such a finding, based on the evidence that the defendant knew of the order, was in a car driven by his son, other routes were available, and that the victim had direct eye contact with the defendant while the car was purposefully driven to within three feet of her in a threatening manner. (Commonwealth v. Delaney, 425 Mass. 587 (1997)).
Stalking is essentially psychological warfare in the battle for control. (Specialists Say Stalkers are Driven by a Need to Control, Terry Wilson, Chicago Tribune, Feb. 23, 1992). It is a pattern of multifaceted conduct intentionally targeted at a specific person that terrorizes the victim. Minimal contact with a former abusive partner may trigger substantial emotional distress. Batterer-stalkers who know their victims often use familiar gestures to provoke a particular response or fear. (Lenore E. Walker, Battered Women Syndrome and Self-Defense, 6 Notre Dame J.L. Ethics & Public Policy, 324).
This harm was acknowledged in the case of Commonwealth v. Thompson where the defendant attempted to argue to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals that the "no contact" provision in his estranged girlfriends abuse prevention order violated his constitutional right to free speech. "When an expressive activity produces "special harms distinct from their communicative impact, such [activity is] entitled to no constitutional protection." (Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, 628, 104 S.Ct. 3244 (1984)). Speech that places the victim in reasonable apprehension of imminent serious physical harm is conduct equivalent to the crime of assault and accordingly is unprotected by the First Amendment. (Commonwealth v. Robicheau, 654 N.E.2d 1196, 421 Mass 176, 182-183 (1995)). The harm created by contact from an abuser — the inability of the victim to escape the abusive relationship fully and the fear created by the abuser’s continuing presence — is distinct from and unrelated to any message the abuser might be seeking to send. While an abuser has a right to speak his mind freely in any number of forums, he has no right to seek out and contact the victim of his abuse, forcing that victim to endure his unwanted and destructive presence in her life — no matter how harmless or important the message he seeks to deliver. When offensive, or even harmful speech takes place in a public forum and is directed to no single person, anyone who wishes not to listen may walk away … [however] when an abuser singles out the victim of his abuse (as judicially determined) and directs unwanted communications to that person, the victim cannot walk away. " (Commonwealth v. Thompson (699 N.E. 2d 847, 1998, 45 Mass.App.Ct. 523, 525 (1998)).
Father’s Rights groups have been trying to gut out or eliminate abuse prevention orders since their inception in the early 90’s. Members quote "horror stories" to the media, many of whom lack knowledge about the civil nature of the initial restraining order, which are recounted in newspapers about how their ex-wife perjured herself to gain an upper hand in a divorce and have him thrown out of the house. Prior to the current restraining order laws, women had the choice of either leaving the household with her children to escape abuse, or take her chances by filing for divorce then requesting a motion to vacate once the hearing rolled around (often months later). Leaving the household to escape physical abuse, with or without her children, often jeopardized her rights to the marital property or could result in loss of custody. Remaining in the house was even more risky, since the batterer usually escalates his behavior when his victim attempts to sever the relationship.
Father’s Rights advocates point to drop in traditional vacate orders as "proof" of abuse in restraining order laws (Kate Zernike, Divorced Dads Emerge as a Political Force, Boston Globe, May 19, 1998). They allude that "most judges" feel restraining orders are being abused; however, very few judges publicly make such a statements and usually make statements to the contrary. Like a child that whines "all my friends have purple velvet knickers" to try to convince a parent to buy a pair for him, the Father’s Rights movement is unable to name who "most judges" are.
"It is true that most restraining orders are issued against men. So are most murder statistics. What does either statistic have to do with discrimination?" (An Attack on Restraint, Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe, May 20, 1998).
Despite claims that victims usually perjure themselves to obtain a restraining order, Wendy Murphy, a former Middlesex County prosecutor who still represents domestic violence victims points out that "the punishment for filing a false restraining order is substantial. You’d have to believe that women are not only vindictive, but are willing to lie under oath for some advantage they may never get because they’ll be punished for lying."(Divorced Dads Emerge as a Political Force, Kate Zernike, the Boston Globe, May 19, 1998). A Massachusetts state court study conducted in 1994 found that 70 percent of men with 209A restraining orders issued against them had been arraigned, though not necessarily convicted, for crimes in the past. About half had been arraigned for violence against another person. (Divorced Dads Emerge as a Political Force, Kate Zernike, the Boston Globe, May 19, 1999).
Amongst those police personnel and judges who are skeptical of a woman’s story of being in fear, it must be remembered that most judges come from a sheltered upper middle class upbringing devoid of victimization and most police officers have had combat or martial arts training and carry guns.It is difficult for these normally compassionate people to relate to the fear of a trembling victim while sitting behind a wooden bench surrounded by armed guards or inside a police cruiser armed with a .457 magnum and help only a radio call away. They forget that fear is an essential instinct for self-preservation. It is hard wired into the oldest portion of our brains, the medulla. Once you have been victimized, your marvelously adaptable brain will become acutely sensitive to the pattern of behavior of an irrational person and initiate the flight-or-fight response each time the batterer starts to lose control. (David Goldman, Emotional Intelligence, (1985). The victim becomes acutely sensitive to her batterers moods and is hypervigilant about any action that might set the batterer off into another tirade. Nobody can predict when a batterer is going to strike more accurately than the victim he has repeatedly victimized. (Adult Children of Alcoholics, (19__).
Few people from privileged backgrounds have ever been the victim of a violent crime and have a difficult time grasping the concept of what "in fear" means. To them, their schema of "in fear" may relate to a childhood incident where a bully pushed them up against a locker in school and made them drop their books. This schema does not help the lawyer, politician, or judge empathize with the image a victim may possess of a batterer with veins popping out of his neck picking up a screwdriver and standing inches from her face threatening to kill her.
While researching anger management, former director of Independence House (Massachusetts) Ahenesqa Collins (now deceased) once described to me the process of teaching a batterer how his actions appeared to his smaller, less muscular victim in an anger management class.
"The [batterer intervention] counselor will really get in the guy’s face. He’ll tell the batterer to sit down while he paces or stands over him, screaming, face red, veins popping out of his neck. Often, they’ll have a particularly big counselor act like he’s going to ‘lose it’ and start pounding on the table or chair to make him think he’s going to pick it up or break it. If the batterer refuses to acknowledge his behavior is abusive, sometimes they’ll keep at it until the batterer breaks down and cries in front of the group. It helps the batterer see how his actions appear to his wife and children." (conversation with Ahenesqa Collins, Independence House, December 1995).
We could all use a little reality training to understand the fear a woman or child feels when her larger, more muscular abuser loses control. Unfortunately, research has suggested that a substantial portion of batterers do not respond to treatment. Instead, they found less overt means of maintaining control. (Richard M. Tolman & Gauri Bhosley, The Outcome of Participation in a Shelter-Sponsored Program for Men Who Batter, in Abused and Battered: Social and Legal Responses to Family Violence, p. 121 (1989)).
Battering men routinely make cross-accusations of violence against battered women. While many battered women do fight back against their husbands, their violence is largely defensive and less severe than the men’s violence — yet since it is also described as "violence," these allegations can prove troubling and confusing to judges. (Daniel G. Saunders, Wife Abuse, Husband Abuse, or Mutual Combat, p. 103-108).
For example, in Commonwealth v. Burdick, the defendant was convicted for assault and battery of his former wife with a dangerous weapon, namely a steel-toed boot, causing neurological injury. Due to the severity of the attack, defendant was sentenced to a total of four and one-half years of incarceration, with probation for an additional ten and one-half. Defendant’s appeal claiming that the trial judge’s consideration of the defendant’s past history, including the assessment that the victim’s repeated returns to the defendant, despite ongoing physical abuse, was an indication of the extent of the damage inflicted on her by the defendant failed when the appeals court ruled the information was properly utilized by the judge for limited purposes.
Like most batterers, during the trial the defendant claimed he was a victim of harassment and aggression by his former wife. His appeal contained a claim that his harsh sentence was "punishment" for telling his side of the story. The trial judge found his version suspect and ruled, and the appellate court upheld, that this claim confirmed the probation assessment that he was a poor candidate for counseling, treatment and rehabilitation and did not indicate defendant was being punished for giving "his side" of the story.(Commonwealth v. Burdick, 45 Mass.App.Ct 904 (1998)).
Father’s Rights advocates encourage members to respond to the issuance of a restraining order by filing their own restraining order or request a motion for reconsideration claiming the victim perjured herself to get the order or was the initial aggressor. This not only forces the victim to be on the defensive, but also causes her to lose numerous days out of work to go through many painful and humiliating re-hearings of the same issue. No longer are the courts the refuge of the abused, rather, the judge and his court become the instrument of abuse itself. The 1999 proposed refinements to VAWA would discourage courts from granting mutual, reciprocal restraining orders in abuse cases without specific, detailed findings of fact that there as mutual fault and no predominant aggressor.
" ‘Predominant aggressor’ means the individual who has been determined to be the principal perpetrator of violence, by factors including (a) history of domestic violence; (b) relative severity of the injuries inflicted on each person; (c) the likelihood of future injury to each person; (d) whether one of the persons acted in self-defense; and (e) the degree to which one of the persons has acted with more deliberate intent to control, intimidate, emotionally demean, or cause severe pain or injury, or fear of harm to the other or a third person…" (Congressional findings, VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 234 (11)).
However, the loophole for numerous reconsiderations of an issue which should be res judicata has not been closed.
One of the most effective guerrilla tactics utilized by Father’s Right’s advocates is the practice of attacking the credibility of their victim. "Hardball," which is already widely utilized by unethical criminal defense attorneys to distract jurors from focusing on the guilt of the accused, achieves new depths in the hands of a pro-se batterer or the unethical attorney’s who draw business from the batterer’s rights movement.
"The state has the prosecutor, the defendant his criminal defense attorney, and the judge his court personnel to protect their rights. The only person who doesn’t have a lawyer in a criminal trial is the victim…" (conversation with Jan D., battered women’s advocate, Independence House (MA), June 1999).
Already victimized once by the batterer, the woman seeking to escape from an abusive relationship becomes victimized a second time when her abuser places her "on trial" in the eyes of the community and the jury. Whether it is on a public web-site, in the numerous underground publications which are being circulated by unethical attorneys, or seminars taught on guerrilla litigation tactics by other batterer’s during weekly meetings, the Father’s Rights movement actively encourages it’s members to smear the credibility of the victim both on the stand and in the community.
Few victims have the energy or financial resources to fend off the numerous false allegations the batterer files against her. It takes every ounce of energy the victim has to get away. Fewer still have the emotional fortitude to withstand hours, even days of dilatory "cross-examination" on the witness stand during a criminal trial against their batterer.
A prime example of this is the case of Commonwealth v. Delaney, where defense counsel began his opening arguments with the comment: "[The victim] has a motive in this trial, and you will hear it. She has a credibility problem, you will find out." Although the trial judge gave instruction that the credibility and believability of witnesses is the sole province of the jurors, defense counsel kept referring back to his opening statement and attempting to diminish the victim in the eyes of the jury by repeatedly referring to her welfare status. (Commonwealth v. Delaney, 425 Mass. 587 (1997), cert.den. 1118 S.Ct. 714 (1998)).
Aware that most judges are oblivious to badgering of witnesses, many battered women’s shelters and law enforcement officials discourage women from inciting the batterer’s rage by testifying and instead counsel them to go into hiding to escape a stalker who persists despite obtaining a restraining order. A stalking victim who believes she is in grave danger is often forced to go underground, abandoning her home, her job, and her friends. (Lisa N. Birmingham, Closing the Loophole: Vermont’s Legislative Response to Stalking, 18 Vt. L. Rev. 477, p. 504, (1994)).
Rarest of all are victims who have the financial resources and emotional fortitude to fight back by filing a civil suit for malicious abuse of legal process, defamation of character, or intentional infliction of emotional distress. It takes every ounce of strength the victim has simply to break away.
Sometimes this inability to accept responsibility for how one’s actions have contributed to the demise of the relationship becomes pathological. The victim, who has literally become the batterer’s source of self esteem, deprives the batterer of what he perceives to be his only reason for living by the act of leaving the relationship. Exercising power over another gives them some sense of power in a world where they otherwise feel powerless. (National Victim Center, No. 43, 1995).
Unable to control his victim in the context of an intimate relationship, the batterer seeks to maintain contact with her in any manner possible. In less extreme cases, this behavior manifests itself as annoying, adolescent-type behavior such as frequently driving by the victims house, telephoning and hanging up when the victim answers the telephone, and hanging out in places the batterer knows the victim frequents in the hopes he will see her. Such stalking behavior is usually harmless and subsides within several months. However, when the batterer becomes obsessed with punishing the victim for leaving him, he institutes a pattern of behavior designed to place her in fear of imminent death or serious bodily injury.
"Perpetrators… often have a traceable history of problems, conflicts, disputes, and failures. Violent behavior can be premeditated by these individuals perception that it provides a means to rectify or avenge an injustice or wrongdoing. Targeted violence can be premeditated or opportunistic when a situations arises that facilitates or permits the violence or does not prevent it from occurring… They consider, plan, and prepare long before engaging in violent actions… The threat of sanctions, such as a long prison sentence, may not deter a person who desperately desires revenge or is prepared to die to achieve his objective." (Threat Assessment: An Approach to Preventing Targeted Violence, Fein, et al., 1995)
Society enacted stalking laws designed to discourage batterers from skirting restraining orders by sitting 101 yards from the victim’s house sharpening a knife. Law enforcement of stalking laws has been sporadic, depending upon jurisdiction, because much of the behavior is perceived to be a harmless annoyance. In some jurisdictions, untrained law enforcement officials still fail to take the pattern of alarming behavior seriously and may minimize the victim’s concerns for her safety.
One of the biggest problems with enforcement of stalking laws is the tendency of perpetrators to engage in their frightening behavior in multiple jurisdictions, ensuring that no one police department becomes familiar with the victim and her situation. However, as public awareness of what stalking entails (typified in movies such as Fatal Attraction, Cape Fear, and Sleeping with the Enemy) and the likelihood of violence arising from the perpetrator’s acts, more and more jurisdictions began vigorously prosecuting stalkers for their criminal acts.
Traditionally, stalking fell outside of existing legal remedies, leaving victim’s unable to defend themselves. Most people would consider typical stalking behavior, such as waiting in a car or following from a distance, innocuous. Even substantial threats are traditionally not considered grounds for criminal sanction. Consequently, stalking victims who look to law enforcement for protection are frustrated and do not receive protection. Since stalking is a specific intent crime, stalking victims must show a nexus between the pattern of offensive behavior and the ability to inflict serious physical harm. Absent either evidence of prior physical abuse or a specific threat to make physical contact, a stalking victim may be unable to persuade a judge to grant her a restraining order. (Lisa N. Birmingham, Closing the Loophole: Vermont’s Legislative Response to Stalking, 18 Vt. L. Rev. 477, 478-504 (1994)).
The stalker’s objective is often to control the victim through cultivating fear rather than making direct or specific threats of physical harm. At least half of women who try to terminate abusive relationships are harassed or stalked. A woman is often at the greatest risk of physical danger when she attempts to leave an abusive relatiohsip because the abuser’s quest for control escalates with the victim’s efforts to separate. An estimated ninety percent of women killed by their intimate partners have been stalked first. (Lisa N. Birmingham, Closing the Loophole: Vermont’s Legislative Response to Stalking, 18 Vt. L. Rev. 477, p. 478, (1994)).
Stalkers, like abusers, usually find ways around the orders. Although some defendants are deterred by a court order, others are keenly aware of the legal and practical limits of a restraining order. Many stalkers choose simply to ignore the orders. (Lisa N. Birmingham, Closing the Loophole: Vermont’s Legislative Response to Stalking, 18 Vt. L. Rev. 477, p. 478, (1994)). For example, there must be evidence of three or more calls to satisfy the "repeatedly" portion of the statute and the complaint must list the repeated calls. (Commonwealth v. Wotan, 422 Mass. 740 (1996).
Other problems arise out of enforcement of the orders. Often, the stalker will trace his victim to her new address and resumed his felonious behavior in the new jurisdiction. Although proposed 1999 amendments to the Violence Against Women Act would enlarge the statute to create a felony offense for stalkers who pursue their victims into hiding over state lines,
"whoever: (2) with the intent to injure, harass, or intimidate another person, travels in interstate or foreign commerce… and in the course of or as a result of such travel engages in conduct that places that person in reasonable fear of the death or, or serious bodily injury to, that person or a member of that person’s immediate family… shall be punished as provided in section 2261." (VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 461).
One of the most valid criticisms social commentators make about the judiciary is how traditional, paternalistic notions of justice work to discriminate against women seeking to leave an emotionally dissatisfying or physically abusive relationship.
The rules of evidence favor a man’s experience by focusing on factual incidents totally divorced from any context of cognition, perception, emotion or humanity, while they tend to discriminate against women by reducing powerful emotional forces such as fear, concern for her children, and feelings of helplessness to mere irrelevancies or mental weaknesses. Courts are quick to recognize pecuniary motivation, such as a desire to reap an easily defined financial objective or acquire a certain chattel; however, they are reluctant to allow parties to give evidence of equally powerful emotional motivations, such as love, hate, fear, envy, anger, or revenge. In the criminal context, the jury acts as a buffer between the individual and the judiciary by interposing their own collective experience of human emotions, feelings, and motivations onto the claims of the opposing parties.
It was to protect the individual against a judiciary hardened by countless legal decisions and divorced from the realities of everyday life which prompted our founding fathers to guarantee the right to trial by a jury of one’s peers in both the criminal and later the civil contexts. This common-sense protection does not extend to probate and family court proceedings involving spousal abuse, divorce and the rearing of children.
Perhaps one of the most serious problems victims of domestic violence face is the unavailability of affordable legal services for women living just above poverty level or women who may otherwise be unable to afford adequate representation due to complications surrounding their divorce. Although many jurisdictions fund battered women’s advocates to counsel women about the restraining order process, and some jurisdictions (such as Barnstable County, Massachusetts) even fund battered women’s advocates to remain in court and stand between the victim and the batterer during the restraining order hearing to minimize intimidation tactics and provide emotional support, once the restraining order has been obtained, the victims legal resources often come to an end. Although the role of the battered women’s advocate is invaluable for the victim attempting to escape abuse or experiencing court for the first time, these advocates rarely have legal training and often have only a rudimentary knowledge of the law.
If the batterer violates the restraining order, most states provide victim/witness advocates to act as a buffer between the victim and the district attorney’s office, keep the victim informed as to the status of the trial, and counsel the victim about remaining "safe" during the trial process. Victim/witness advocates often have more extensive exposure to the judicial process and may have some legal training; however, they are not lawyers and cannot counsel the victim as to how to coordinate the various legal battles she may be fighting against the batterer, or even counsel her as to trial strategy in the very case which the advocate is providing services for. Although legal services agencies offer free or reduced cost legal advice to low income women, the range of services they offer (such as suits to prevent harassment) is limited and the availability of attorneys willing to assist is limited. The majority of women who require legal services, who often earn just over the guidelines or are experiencing complications such as an ex-spouse refusing to pay child support, are unable to obtain adequate representation.
The dilemma a victim of domestic violence faces when attempting to escape a batterer can become a nightmarish Catch-22. If the woman stays with the batterer, she is putting her children at risk and could lose custody of them to DSS. However, if she leaves her batterer and goes to a shelter, the batterer will often be granted custody because a home is a more stable environment than a shelter.
Since the In Re Matter of Vaughn case was decided and reiterated by the Massachusetts legislature, this is not the problem it used to be in Massachusetts. However, in many other states, it is still a real concern. Even if the victim manages to find a place to stay, custody gets jeapordized if she is forced to go on welfare so she can support the children. However; as the nation saw of Marcia Clark during the O.J.Simpson trial, a mother is just as likely to lose custody for working too hard as for not working at all. If she has a good lawyer, she stands a better chance of winning a custody dispute. However, lawyers cost a lot of money, which must be earned through working, and court dates necessitate days lost from work, which jeapordizes job stability and career advancement.
Add to the mix the legal advice Father’s Rights groups give their members on avoiding paying child support, fighting for custody, undermining the victims support network through harassment, and filing numerous bogus charges against a victim, and you have a situation where no matter where a mother turns, she is being judged unfit. Add to that a criminal prosecution against the batterer, where the victim may not be allowed to drop charges even if she wants to, and the situation becomes critical. "Jan" (last names are never used), a battered woman’s advocate with Independence House in Hyannis, Massachusetts, described the dilemma as follows:
"The state has their prosecutor to represent the interests of society. The defendant has his court-appointed lawyer to protect his rights for free. The victim, however, has no one. Victim/witness advocates can’t give legal advice, nor can they advise a victim how her testimony on the stand can jeapordize a custody action which may be winding its way through the family courts. The victim is the only person in the courtroom without a lawyer." (interview with "Jan", advocate, Independence House, May 1999)
Although Lady Justice must, to rule equitably, be blind, the trend of the courts to also be deaf to the experience of 51% of the population must change if justice is truly to be served. The study of law is more than a collection of abstract legal principles, it is the story of peoples attempts to navigate changes in their lives which may be beyond their control.
In this paper, I have described many times how Father’s Rights groups teach their members to gain control of a victim by abusing the legal system and using it as a tool to maintain contact with the ex-wife or ex-girlfriend. However, it is merely an abstract concept, difficult for the reader to grasp in human terms. Therefore, I will describe the story through the eyes of a stalking victim, Victoria D., who was unfortunate enough to date a Father’s Rights advocate. Her story is well-documented (both in court and out), but she requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation by the group.
"I met Ralph at church shortly after Thanksgiving. A friend of mine who belonged to some group called me up on the eve of an audition for a choir I desperately wanted to get into and told me he had a piano player who was the choir director of another parish who was willing to help me memorize my Mozart audition piece. He was very nice and helped me pass the audition, so I invited the both of them over to dinner that weekend. We hit it off very well.
"Ralph was just finishing up a Master’s Degree in Library Information Science and said he was visiting the Cape on winter break for a sabbatical to write some music. I found that very believable because I was in school myself and living on Cape while finishing up a research thesis. Write music he did! Twenty-two songs in six weeks. Let’s just say I was bowled over, head over heels, and not asking too many questions. When my friend’s two daughters, his son, the daughters two children, and one’s husband all visited him for Christmas vacation, we put some of them up at my house, including Ralph. It was some of the happiest moments of my life.
"It wasn’t until nearly two months later, after the kids had left, that something seemed ‘off’ about Ralph. We had begun to become romantically involved by then and he told me he was divorced, but his ex-wife was blowing off his visitations with his kids. It bothered me that in the few weeks he had been at my house he had never called or gone home to visit his kids. He showed me reams of court documents which he claimed proved his ex-wife was in contempt of court, including an order forbidding her to sell some land that was in dispute. One day, he went to show me an unfinished cottage he owned in Falmouth and was outraged when he saw a ‘for sale’ sign in front of the house. He ripped the sign off the front lawn, put it in the back of the car, then asked me to help him write a letter to the real estate agent enclosing a copy of the court order not to sell. We sent it certified mail. My aunt Rita, who is pretty sharp, told me there was something wrong with his story, but I was in love and pretty stupid.
"Ralph wasn’t working, but he owned five pieces of property and three houses. He said his assets had been frozen when he filed for custody because his ex-wife claimed he wasn’t paying child support. He showed me a bunch of receipts that he said proved he’d paid the children’s day care expenses and stuff. Ralph didn’t appear to be hurting for money, so I believed him. He also had a Mass Real Estate license and also a Contractor’s license, so I wasn’t concerned when Ralph kept borrowing money from me and promising to pay it back as soon as his student loans came in. By that point, we were completely involved and I loaned it to him without question. He ran up a tally of nearly $1800 for musical equipment and a recording session of the twenty two songs he had written. The songs were really good. If you had heard them, you would have loaned him money, too.
"Finally, it became apparent that Ralph wasn’t going back to school like he was supposed to. It was nearly the end of January. He told me he didn’t want to go back because the judge in the custody case he had filed had ordered him to have a family evaluation and he felt the therapist was biased.
"I felt sorry for him, so our mutual friend introduced us to a psychologist from New Hampshire (where I am originally from) who he said would give a fair evaluation. After meeting with the psychologist, the psychologist came out and told me we would have to bring Ralph to the hospital for an evaluation. He asked me to accompany them because I work with the disabled and was certified as a human rights officer.
"At first I was very upset because I felt Ralph had lied to me, but my friend and the psychologist assured me Ralph hadn’t been lying, that he really was being discriminated against by the courts. I was also very upset about all the money I had loaned him. Ralph insisted he was good for it and signed over his truck to me to repay me. That placated me a lot, I guess, because I felt he’d meant it when he’d told me he’d make good on the money he’d borrowed. I may have been blinded by love, but I knew Ralph wasn’t acting crazy, so I went along with them when they asked me to safeguard Ralph’s human rights.
"The hospital was awful. Dirty. Noisy. They treated the patients like animals. I saw the guards steal a poem a woman had written, then beat her up and slam her face into the concrete floor when she asked for it back and became upset. I worked with the disabled, not the mentally ill, but I was sickened by what I saw in that place. I did just what I think they knew I would do — report the place to the DPPC for 23 human rights violations. Ralph was out of there in less than two days with a clean bill of health and back in school for his final semester. He even took me to his school and introduced me to the dean, who thanked me for helping Ralph.
"It seemed that everyone loved Ralph. He introduced me to his mother, who insisted the Ralph’s ex-wife was a monster, and then to all his friends from this group that claimed to protect children’s rights. He left all his musical equipment at my house as well as his computer and a lot of other things. He insisted I drive the truck he had given me even though I didn’t really want it. Everything seemed fine for a while.
"The first person who began to pick up on Ralph’s controlling behavior was my daughter. She hated him. I usually visited my family in New Hampshire in between breaks from my internship, but Ralph always had an excuse not to go and kept stalling about meeting them. He used to call himself ‘the Ralph’ and always referred to himself in the third person. Whenever I did something he didn’t like, like drink a diet Coke which had caffeine, he would look up in the air, shrug, and say to no one in particular ‘she just doesn’t understand.’
"The songs suddenly stopped. He made me schedule three different weeks of vacation around his school schedule, then blew me off at the last minute and couldn’t come see me because he said he had too much work. He liked to cook and clean my house, which was flattering at first, but it became creepy when he would chastise me like a little girl for lining the dishes up in the dishwasher improperly (my dishwasher), not fold the towels a certain way, or not line the canned goods up in alphabetical order when I went grocery shopping. He embarrassed me, once acting like I was a stupid little child who he had created in a business dinner he accompanied me to in front of a boss I desperately wanted to impress.
‘I found out his ex-wife had gotten a restraining order against him. He wouldn’t let me go visit my best friend. By the end of 5 months, he would just walk in the door and I would get mad. I didn’t understand why, but the minute I looked at him I would be mad. Finally, unable to stand it any more, I broke up with him. He would cry and I would feel bad, so I took him back several times. The last straw was when I found out his divorce wasn’t even final yet. I had had enough and broke up for good.
"That was when the fun really started. He would drive from Boston to Cape Cod to hang out in the library where he knew I went every Thursday. He would wait outside my gym. He followed me to my friends houses and would embarrass me by getting down on his knees and crying. He kept calling, sometimes 5 times in a day, begging me to get back together. He asked me if he could borrow the truck he had given me, then wouldn’t return it unless I went back out with him. He also got into two accidents with it. Seven pairs of my underpanties disappeared off the clothesline. My mail kept disappearing out of my mailbox, including my utility bills.
"After numerous rejections he turned nasty. He grabbed my daughter at a friend’s house, twisted her arm, and threatened to get her ‘out of the way’ if we didn’t get back together because he blamed her for our breakup. He broke into my house and cut the gas line to my stove, filling the house up with gas, and left a note saying he would buy me a new one if I went back out with him. He broke into my house several times and stole a bunch of paperwork, including pictures of us together. He filled my entire living room up with boxes.
"I found out he had been taping every one of our telephone conversations for months. After I finished my thesis and began to pack up the cottage to move back to New Hampshire, he broke into my house twice to fill the living room and my bedroom with boxes. He kept freaking out because he didn’t know where the sister I share a house with in New Hampshire lived and he couldn’t find me anymore except on weekends when I would visit the Cape. A lot of other weird things happened, but I kept minimizing them and hoping he would just go away. I had never dumped anyone before, so I didn’t call the police because I felt bad for hurting him.
"After Ralph had the second accident with the truck, I told him he either had to return the truck or buy it back from me. He said he wanted to buy it back, even gave me $600 towards what he owed me, so I didn’t report it stolen. Then he called me to tell me he had backed into a fire hydrant and broken the tail light. That truck was registered in my name and I was liable if he hurt anyone with it, so I agreed to meet him at his house to settle the issue of the truck. I told him I just wanted the plates, registration, and keys (so he couldn’t drive it anymore) and I would give him a bill of sale as soon as he paid me the $1200 he still owed me. At this point, I didn’t care how much ‘later’ later was. I just wanted to get rid of him and the stupid vehicle he was using to control me. When I refused to go into his house, he attacked me and tried to drag me in. I was terrified at that point, so I bit him in the hand and kicked him to get away, but he stole my car keys so I couldn’t leave.
"Luckily I keep a spare set in the glove box, so I was able to escape and drive to the police station to tell them what happened. While I was gone, he took the plates and registration out of the truck and scraped off the inspection sticker, key code sticker, and oil change stickers off the truck so it couldn’t be identified, put a piece of paper over the VI number, and locked the doors. When the police got there, he said he didn’t know me but had caught me trying to steal his truck and attacked him when he inquired what I was doing. He showed them a copy of his old title. He called his lawyer. The lawyer showed up, looked at my arm and leg where Ralph had kicked me, then threatened me that I knew what Ralph was going to do to me if I pressed charges against him. The police knew that had been his vehicle, but also knew he had done things like this in the past. Turns out he had pulled similar stunts and violated the restraining order against his ex-wife six times. They called a tow truck driver to open the truck, ran the VI number, and impounded it when it came back registered to me.
"I got a restraining order against him in New Hampshire, and another one in Mass. My first hint of trouble was when I went to pick up the truck at the tow yard, the truck driver showed me a letter Ralph had faxed him claiming he was going to sue him for $10 million dollars. The police called me and told me he had written the city council and told them he was suing them for $10 million dollars for helping me steal ‘his’ truck. I don’t know how I was supposed to ‘steal’ his truck from his yard when I had my other vehicle with me. What was I supposed to be doing? Picking it up and carrying it piggy-back on my car? He kept faxing the old title to everyone claiming it was really his and the police were conspiring against him. In New Hampshire, you don’t need a title if it’s more than 10 years old, so all I had was a notarized bill of sale witnessed by two people. My family is from New Hampshire near the Massachusetts border. My mother is buried there. I share a 4 bedroom house with a swimming pool with my sister, who is also divorced. The Cape house is just a cottage. When Ralph gave me the truck, I had registered it in New Hampshire even though I was doing an internship in Mass because that is where I am from, but he claimed that four years before I had ever met him, in an elaborate conspiracy to eventually deprive him of a rusted, dented old truck that turned out to worth less than $1000, I changed my residency back to New Hampshire so I could eventually ‘steal’ his truck by registering it without a title. It blows my mind that he got as much mileage as he did out of that ridiculous claim. It’s so ludicrous’ how could people believe that?
"Ralph called the Department of Safety in New Hampshire and told them to cancel my registration because I had stolen it. He ran my driving record, found out that five years ago I had once gotten a $50 ticket for letting my inspection sticker expire, and made photocopies of the sticker he had peeled off my truck to submit to the Department of Safety claiming I had been falsifying bogus sticker all these years. I had to go to the garage I always went to and prove they were real stickers.
"He filed the exact same criminal charges in Massachusetts against me that the Massachusetts police were pressing against him ‘ three times — then kept filing for motions for reconsideration when they were shot down.
"He was able to get jurisdiction on me in three different jurisdictions in two states, so I was running all over the place. It got so bad I once begged one of the judges to issue criminal charges against me so I would have a Fifth Amendment right to not be forced to take the stand and answer Ralph’s stupid questions.
"Ralph kept getting his friends from the father’s rights group he was a member of to go with him to tell the agencies they had all witnessed me do all these bad things that weren’t true, but some of them had never even met me. One of them (who I had never met) tried testifying that he had seen me bite someone else in the past, but he wasn’t even able to pick me out of the room! I have no criminal record.
"Ralph kept filing motions for reconsideration of the two restraining orders and got a total of 9 hearings where he got to put me on the stand and badger me under the guise of cross examination. The first time he got a rehearing and told the judge I was being investigated by all these state agencies for fraud, first I got mad, then cried. The New Hampshire judge got mad at me and kept calling me "missy," refused to look at the police reports or his criminal record, would only look at the copy of a medical report Ralph had gotten from a doctor at Health Stop saying he had been bitten, and issued a reciprocal restraining order against me.
"Ralph had a lot of other things he waived around (but never submitted or even let the judge read) which he claimed had a sinister connotation, such as the gas bill he had stolen from my mailbox down the Cape. The fact that it was him, not me, who had criminal charges pending against him was irrelevant. Ralph had a criminal record with previous restraining order violations against someone else, but the judge didn’t care. He didn’t care that I have no criminal record, either. He was just mad because I cried on the witness stand and was too scared to testify. He told Ralph he could go to my graduate school and get my admission revoked if he wanted to even though Ralph was foaming at the mouth ranting about how all the judges in Massachusetts had conspired to have him locked up in a mental hospital. Ralph used my outrage and my fear of him against me like weapons. I felt like I had been raped.
"I got a copy of the court transcript, filed my own motion for reconsideration, and got the order vacated against me. The new judge just shook his head and apologized, and the other judge transferred to another court. I kept going to Legal Services, but they said they don’t handle harassment charges. I tried to hire an attorney, but being on the run had drained my financial resources and I didn’t have enough to meet the retainer fee. Several times I filed for protection from the court myself, but the minute they heard Ralph had criminal charges pending against him in Massachusetts, the judge would refuse to hear the case until after the criminal trial had resolved. That wasn’t for two years.
"Ralph went to the college I had written the thesis for and claimed he had really written it and tried to get them to revoke my bachelor’s degree. He went to the school so many times and harassed them so badly that they finally had their lawyer get a no trespass order against him. He tried, with the ‘permission’ the judge had given him, to get me kicked out of the graduate school I had just been admitted to. Two to three times a week for nearly five months I had police showing up at the house (in New Hampshire) wanting to see me because he had called to make a new criminal complaint until I contacted the chief and he put a stop to it.
"Ralph reported to the town manager in my town that I was committing voting fraud because I own a cottage (where I am not registered to vote) in Massachusetts. He reported me to the IRS, claiming I had thousands of dollars in unclaimed income that I don’t. He kept calling friends of mine from Mass and having them call me in New Hampshire to relay threats, but the police wouldn’t do anything because the restraining order violation crossed a state line. New Hampshire kept saying it was Massachusetts’ problem, and Massachusetts kept saying it was New Hampshire’s problem. He told the New Hampshire Department of Safety I was a Mass resident (because I own a cottage on the Cape) and tried to get my license and registration revoked. I guess he was trying to invalidate the sale by claiming it wasn’t properly registered in New Hampshire.
"Each time he got a hearing, I was summoned to either a court or a state agency where he was allowed to question me and tell them what a horrible person I was for breaking up with him. They’d let him wave around a bunch of paperwork he claimed had sinister connotations and drill me with questions, but most of them refused to read the affidavits I had collected from other agencies and witnesses that he was lying.‘Inadmissable hearsay’ they kept telling me and wouldn’t even read them. Still, with the exception of that horrible judge in Hillsborough, the magistrates or judges figured out pretty quick that he was tapped, but I still had to show up and they wouldn’t put a stop to it.
"He started to harass the people who were helping me. He filed a complaint against the notary public who had notarized the bill of sale for the truck and testified on my behalf in one of the hearings. He went to the Massachusetts State Hairdressing Board to file a complaint about my sister’s salon in Chelmsford and made the inspector call our house in New Hampshire to relay the threat that ‘he wanted his wiffle balls back’ (there was a milk crate of wiffle balls in the truck when the police impounded it). Because the call had crossed a state line, the police wouldn’t do anything. My sister was scared, so I decided to take my daughter and go into hiding. I moved her to a private school. He harassed my other friends, too. I ended up moving three times. All the while, he kept frantically trying to find out where I lived by subpoenaing me into court and demanding that I tell him my new address or sending the police to my sister’s house to demand that she tell them. The cops felt pretty stupid once they realized what was going on, but they didn’t press any charges against him for filing false complaints.
"The clincher was when he appealed his divorce decision on his ex-wife seeking to re-open the custody dispute, claiming as justification for not winning that he was unable to effectively fight his case (i.e., harass her) because he had been too busy harassing me about the truck, which he claimed I had stolen. I got subpoenaed into court to show the judge the bill of sale and testify for his ex-wife. I never met her, but her lawyer gave me a certified copy of the divorce decision which outlined him doing the exact same things to her as he was doing to me. At last I had something to show everyone! After I got that, he would file a complaint, and instead of getting upset I would just hand the magistrate or judge the court paperwork and tell him everything he needed to know was there, and walk out. One by one, the agencies read the document and prevented him from harassing me any more. However, there was still the criminal trial.
"He hired a $15,000 Boston attorney to defend him. He hammered me on the stand for two days straight, claiming I wasn’t credible because I have ties in both states, and got off on three of the four charges. None of the stuff he had done to his ex-wife, nor the fact that there were now stalking charges pending against him, was admissible in the trial for the assault and battery and theft of the truck. One of his friends threatened me right in front of the D.A., and he even had the audacity to slash my tires in the courthouse parking lot. The judge very nicely allowed me to park my car in the judicial parking garage, but said he couldn’t include the slashed tires in the testimony because nobody saw him do it. It was a slap in the face when the judge only gave him a 6-month suspended sentence. Two years of my life gone, and all he got was a $35 fine, a year in a batterers program, and two years probation on top of the 6 months suspended sentence. In all, I had to go to court 17 times to defend bogus charges, went to 6 administrative hearings, and one hearing at my undergraduate college to fight to keep my bachelor’s degree.
"The irony of this whole thing is that, when Ralph attacked me, I was trying to give him back ownership of the truck. I should have reported it stolen, but was trying to be ‘nice.’ I feel so stupid. Even now I don’t think he’s crazy. Evil, but not crazy. Crazy people are sick. Medicine will fix them. Medicine isn’t going to fix Ralph, only jail will fix Ralph. The system is broken. It doesn’t work. I dropped the stalking charges because I don’t want to go through that again. It’s easier. I still keep looking over my shoulder. (Interview with Victoria D., May, 1999)
As you can see, the victim is violated twice. Once by her abuser, then a second time by the system which refuses to accept responsibility for the misuse of it’s playing field. Ralph learned how to misuse the legal system from the Boston-based Father’s Rights group who actually came into court with him on several occasions and acted as his advocate. If a football team allows a non-football player who fights dirty onto it’s playing field and someone gets hurt, the team owners are held liable. However, the judges, magistrates, and administrative agencies often don’t police the use of their forum.
Who can forget when Marcia Clark, prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson case, was forced to cut her work hours because her opportunistic husband, computer engineer Gorden Clark, tried to use his successful wife’s career as evidence as her unfitness as a parent?
Ellen Zucker, a Cambridge (Massachusetts) lawyer and national board member of the National Organization for Women stated
"When women do the same kind of work we expect men to do, people say she’s an unfit mother. Courts are condemning women for looking out for their own economic survival." (Clark Case Sparks Debate on Work and Gender Roles, Peter S. Canellos, the Boston Globe, March 4, 1995).
A custody battle is the quintessential power struggle between men and women. It’s about who controls a woman’s mind and body. It’s also about who gets to control the future. Children are the future. Men think of children as the necessary chains to keep wives from flying away. If they fly away anyway, they transfer their needs to their children. (Phyllis Chesler, Mother’s on Trial: The Battle for Children and Custody, p. 449 (1986).
It’s a new way of roping women to the home: threaten to take the children away if the woman works as hard as a man (Clark Case Sparks Debate on Work and Gender Roles, Peter S. Canellos, the Boston Globe, March 4, 1995).
Today’s mother’s usually take the bigger economic hit in a divorce — an average 30 percent decline in their standard of living. Yet mothers may lose custody because they have to work to support the kids. (What Every Woman Should Know About Divorce and Custody, Sally Abrahms and Gayle Rosenwald Smith, Perigree Books, 199__).
Violent men will likely seek new means of control when old ones fail. Batterers use the legal system as a new arena of combat when they seek to keep their lives from leaving. (Lenore E.A. Walker & Glenace E. Edwall,Domestic Violence and Determination of Visitation and Custody in Divorce, p. 130 (1987)).
The custody action is part of an ongoing attempt, through physical violence, intimidation, and legal manipulation, to force the woman to make concessions or return to the abusive partner.
The judges know these men as "court regulars". Perpetually angry, perpetually persecuted, years after the divorce their lives still revolve around the ex-wife’s latest transgression. For example, Paul Clements, founder of Dads Against Divorce Discrimination (Massachusetts) estimated that in three years he had been in court 24 times, six of those times on visitation and vacation issues alone. (After Divorce, A Father’s Fury, Barbara Canton, the Boston Globe, August 12, 1993).
Another frivolous custody case is that of Beth McDonough of South Boston, whose four-year divorce was an endless litany hundreds of motions, hearings, orders, contempts, and attempted pre-trial hearings. Justice Anthony R. Nesi of Suffolk Probate and Family Court noted in his findings that "the papers, excluding over sixty trial exhibits, fill over one large court filing tin" and that her "husbands huge attorney fees are due, in part, to his inability to accept any thing less than victory." Ms. McDonough stated "the court process… made me emotionally bankrupt." (The Militant Divorcee, Linda Matchan, the Boston Globe, December 15, 1998).
In Lenore Weitzman’s study of divorce, one third of women interviewed reported their husbands threatened to seek custody as a ploy in post-separation negotions. "Men see custody as a part of a total package of divorce issues; women are more likely to consider custody on an altogether different level — it is something they simply cannot negotiate about because it is too important — it is worth any price." (Lenore Weitzman, The Divorce Revolution, p. 311 (1985).
David Cherney, president of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, describes litigation as a symbolic gesture to regain control of the ex-wife. "You see custody battles launched not for the child’s best interests, but to exploit weakness in the spouse. I’ve seen fathers who travel three days a week and clearly have no ability to care for their kids on a daily basis, yet they’ll file for full custody, either to get leverage or put the fear of God in the mother, or to get her to accede to his demands on the financial end."(The Militant Divorcee, Linda Matchan, the Boston Globe, December 15, 1998).
Cases are often endlessly delayed by a spouses stalling tactics and by pro-se spouse’s (or their attorney) riling them in court in an attempt to prove they are hot-tempered and thus unfit as parents. "Despite the perception that mothers always win custody cases, studies show that fathers who contest custody win sole or joint custody in 40 to 70 percent of cases." (Congressional findings, VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 201 (16).
To understand why a woman may remain with an abusive male long after it becomes apparent the relationship is unhealthy, one must first understand the psychological impact being responsible for helpless human beings has upon a woman. The wearing, repetitious labor of motherhood becomes part of the cycle of survival in ways we have trouble recognizing. The constant work and need create a wearing down of the self, an erosion of borders that represents not confusion but exhaustion — a thirst for solace and protection as well as individuation. The constant demands of children, especially in an unstable situation, may prove exhausting. Women experience this blurring of borders, this need to subject their own needs to others, even when violence is not present. The sense of physical responsibility to the children — inevitably, economic responsibility — is a major constraint. Women and children suffer severe economic consequences upon divorce. Mothers must be very desperate to walk out without knowing how they will all survive. (Martha R. Mahoney, Legal Images of Battered Women: Redefining the Issue of Separation, 90 Mich. L. Rev. 1, p. 21, 23 (1991)).
"According to a 1996 report by the American Psychological Association, which Congress views as authoritative on matters of domestic violence and child custody and visitation determinations, custody and visitation disputes are more frequent when there is a history of domestic violence. Further, fathers who batter mothers are twice as likely to seek sole custody of their children and they may misuse the legal system as a forum for continuing abuse through harassing and retaliatory legal actions." (Congressional findings, VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 201 (9)).
"The plaintiff in this action moves this Honorable Court’ to allow Mr. Corey sufficient time to cross-examine Ms. Fantucchio [the wife]. A years wroth [sic] of communication has been prevented by a 209A restraining order and one day is not enough time to provide information to the court."
— Fantucchio v. Corey, Norfolk Probate & Family Court (Mass), 95D1230 (motion, August 12, 1996).
Besides the visible, physical impact of wounds created by battering tactics endorsed by the Father’s Right’s movement, there are serious psychological repercussions as well. Reactions of shock, denial, withdrawel, confusion, psychological numbing, and fear are common. The long term effects of abuse include fear, anxiety, fatigue, sleeping and eating disturbances, intense startle reactions, and physical complaints. (Council on Scientific Affairs, American Medical Association, Violence Against Women: Relevance for Medical Practitioners, 267 JAMA 3184, 3184 (1992)). Perceptions of vulnerability, loss, betrayal and hopelessness are more severe for intimate violence victims than for victims of stranger assaults because of their relationship with the abuser. Victims of intimate violence and stalking can exhibit symptoms consistent with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. (Kathleen McAnaney et al., From Imprudence to Crime: Anti-Stalking Laws, 68 Notre Dame L. Rev. 819, 832-38 (1993)).
Behavior, such as that described by Victoria D, is extreme, outrageous conduct beyond the bounds a decent society can tolerate specifically intending to cause harm to the target. The intolerable behavior is psychological warfare which is specifically taught to members of Father’s Rights group to maintain contact beyond a restraining order and batter the victim legally. It is extremely frustrating for a victim to be told to hire a lawyer and sue the batterer for intentional inflection of emotional distress. She doesn’t need protection 7 or 9 years down the line when a civil court gets around to looking at the batterer’s behavior, nor does she have the money to hire an attorney, nor will money damages make her whole. She just wants the batterer to go away and leave her alone.
Unfortunately, the courts don’t take a victim’s pleas to stop the harassment of a continuous barrage of frivolous litigation by a batterer. In the case of Larkin v. Ayer, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declined to decide whether physical manifestations of emotional harm resulting in the aggravation of a preexisting medical condition can constitute "abuse."
The Court found that the complainant’s testimony at a 209A hearing that petitioner’s conduct in sending the complainant notices of future lawsuits and court proceedings aggravated her ulcers, was insufficient to warrant an extension of a 209A order since the conduct did not rise to the level of "imminent serious physical harm." (Larkin v. Ayer Division of One District Court Department, 425 Mass. 1020 (1997)). What is disturbing about this case is the fact that the batterer engaged in other behavior similar to that described by the victim Victoria D.earlier in this paper. Very few victims sue their batterers. In fact, in most states, they can’t since most of the victims are former spouses and spouses are unable to sue a batterer for intentional inflection of emotional distress. Only two states, Florida and another, have recently changed their laws to allow civil recovery of deliberate misconduct during a divorce.
To dispel the notion that the story of Victoria D. is an isolated case, and also to help the reader see the connection between this behavior and the information available through the internet and group meetings of the Father’s Rights movement, we will look at the divorce case of former Weymouth School Committee member and Fatherhood Coalition legislative director Paul Corey. (Fantucchio v. Corey, Norfolk Probate & Family Court (Mass), 95D1230-D1). The 54-page finding of fact and memorandum of law written by Judge Koppleman reads like a Steven King novel (Findings of Fact, July 16, 1997). We will discuss the case ad naseum because it typifies the batterers the Father’s Rights movement is trying to portray sympathetically in the media.
On July 20, 1995, after 10 years of marriage, 16 years total living together, four children and several failed attempts at marriage, Katherine Fantucchio Corey filed for divorce. On July 25th, the husband attempted to obstruct Catherine from leaving the home first by physical force, then by removing her keys and all identifying registrations from her car, then by taking her wallet and credit cards. Catherine was forced to obtain rides to work from her sister. On July 27th, she emerged from work to find the husband waiting for her with the three younger children. Instead of taking her home, he ignored her pleas and forced her to go to Wareham (about a 40 minute drive away), screaming at her in front of the four children until, in desperation, Catherine tried to make her escape by jumping out of the car (presumably as it slowed). He dragged her back in, and she crawled into the back seat to escape him and comfort the children while he proceeded to scream at her for the entire 40 minute drive that all of their problems were her fault.
On August 2, 1995, Catherine obtained a 209A restraining order, which she voluntarily allowed to expire on August 9th hoping the husband would stop his controlling conduct and because he was caring for the children while she was working during the day. This arrangement, however, became problematic because the husband, on several occasions, failed to arrive to care for the children and failed to notify Catherine he wasn’t coming.
Corey fired several lawyers early in the divorce process when they refused to file some of his motions, then chose to proceed as a pro se litigant utilizing advice garnered from the group The Fatherhood Coalition (Boston) and various Father’s Rights web sites.
On September 13, 1995, the husband once again prevented Catherine for leaving for work and blocked her egress from the house, cornering her in the bathroom in front of the middle son. When she tried to escape to her car, the husband pulled her keys out of the ignition, breaking the key ring, forcing his way into the car, badgering her for 40 minutes and spewing the contents of her purse about the car. The next day the Catherine obtained another restraining order, which was continued. That same day, the husband filed his own restraining order, submitting a three-page affidavit claiming:
— that he was in fear for his life;
— that he was in fear for the children’s lives;
— that his wife was capable of harming the children;
— that the wife attempted suicide in front of the two minor children;
— that the wife was not feeding the wife nutritious meals;
— that in her care all four of the children have sustained serious injuries;
— that the stress level in her work was intolerable, and
— that she was only capable of working 32 hours per week instead of the usual 40 hours;
— that the wife refused to seek medical help for severe PMS problems,
— which were chronic since the birth of their youngest child;
— that the wife’s mother had "female" troubles leading to a hysterectomy;
— that the wife needs help, and
— that he requests that the court help the children "by getting them away from her" and
— that the wife is not in control of her faculties.
The husband’s request for entry of a restraining order against the wife was denied. The Children and the Law program at Mass General Hospital was appointed guardian ad litem to evaluate the current parenting capacity of each parent and make recommendations to the court.
In March of 1996, Dr. Julia Reade concluded, and the trial judge found, that Catherine was an adequate and loving mother, was not suicidal and did not suffer from post-partum depression, and did not suffer from "perimenopause" syndrome. The trial judge also found that "although the husband showed no evidence of major mental illness or cognitive deficit, he did demonstrate substantial difficulty in the following areas of functioning:
— he demonstrated little capacity to appreciate the perspective of another person;
— he had a tendency to see himself as a blameless victim, and
— to deny his own provocative behavior;
— he was self-preoccupied, and demonstrated a passive-aggressive interpersonal style;
— he had trouble accepting his wife as a separate individual who is sincere in her request for a divorce.
In the Findings of Fact, item 28, Judge Koppleman wrote that "after his eviction from the marital home, the husband embarked upon an unremitting campaign to harass and intimidate the wife as set forth below:"
— The husband refused to turn over household bills to the wife, the result of which she was threatened with loss of services.
— Every Monday during the fall of 1995 and through most of the winter, the husband sorted through the wife’s trash which she had left on the sidewalk in front of the house (presumably looking for documents which would either hurt her case, or bolster his own).
— The husband repeatedly entered the house unannounced in violation of an existing 209A restraining order.
— On Thanksgiving Day 1995, the husband again entered the wife’s residence unannounced and uninvited, which finally prompted her to telephone the police. When the police arrived, the husband began to cry. The wife declined to press charges against the husband for violating the restraining order because she was reluctant to have the four minor children observe him being arrested in their home.
— The husband refused to comply with a visitation schedule, and typically appeared at the home unannounced with no advance notice to the wife.
— In April of 1996, the husband filed a small claim action against the wife in the Quincy District Court seeking treble damages in regard to a dispute regarding their telephone.
— On June 14, 1996, the husband filed a second small claim action against the wife in the Quincy District Court alleging that she had breached a contract by refusing to appear in a two-person band with him during a wedding scheduled for April, notwithstanding the fact that a 209A restraining order was in effect;
— At the time of the divorce hearing, the husband announced that he was planning to file three additional small claims actions against the wife, thereby increasing his lawsuits filed against her to five.
— In December of 1995, the wife left her house to bring the children to the daycare provider’s house. On that occasion she observed the husband parked directly across the street taking photographs. This incident took place, notwithstanding that a 209A restraining order had been entered against the husband.
— During the marriage, the husband took it upon himself to monitor the wife’s telephone conversations with her girlfriends, following which he made unsolicited remarks concerning said conversations.
Not only did Paul Corey harass and intimidate his wife, he also harassed and intimidate the children’s daycare providers.
— In the fall of 1995, Catherine received a sobbing telephone call at work from the youngest daughter’s preschool teacher. Apparently the husband had requested that the Braintree police investigate his allegations of abuse. Following this incident, the daycare provider told the wife she felt too harassed to continue caring for the children and Catherine had to find another daycare provider.
— The second daycare provider also resigned because she was receiving daily telephone calls from the husband inquiring about her care of the children and because the husband had requested the Weymouth Police and the Office for Children investigate her home because she was not a licensed daycare provider.
— The third daycare provider, Jackie, had bogus allegations lodged against her for welfare fraud (for a period in the past when she had collected welfare) and with the Office for Children alleging that she was abusing the children and over the legal limit.
Corey’s motion of April 3, 1996 where he once again filed for custody alleges that "a steady stream of men arrive’ all hours of the day or night, stay for a few minutes, then leave" (she was having her house renovated) and numerous other false allegations.
On February 12, 1996, the wife filed a motion for contempt because the husband had refused to pay his $83 per week (for four children under the age of 10) child support; had liquidated joint certificates of deposits, had made derogatory comments in front of the children, and had failed to exercise visitation on various weekends. She had also filed an earlier motion requesting that the four of the five properties acquired during the marriage be liquidated and divided between the parties because she was unable to meet her mortgage payments and living expenses due to the husband’s refusal to pay his child support. Over the next several months, Catherine had to file more motions for contempt as the husband still refused to pay the child support and the mortgage on the marital home kept falling into arrears.
On June 20, 1996, the husband liquidated the joint marital account containing $25,000. The court ordered that all of the husband’s tools and equipment remaining in the marital home be sold to pay the arrearage on the mortgage, as well as two of the properties.
In March of 1997 It was discovered that the husband had filed "mechanics liens" against those properties in an attempt to block the sale by the Special Master appointed by the court. Those liens were discharged as nonmeritorious.
On May 12, 1997, the husband filed his own complaint for contempt alleging that the sale of the personal property authorized by the court was improper, that the wife had been irresponsibly handling her day-to-day expenses, and that she has been living a lifestyle "far in excess of the lifestyle the couple maintained while living together. He also alleged that Catherine and her attorney had "conspired to deliberately refuse to pay the mortgage on the marital residence" in order to create the appearance that they had to liquidate more of the husbands personal property. He demanded that the wife be ordered to produce an accounting describing the items sold, that she account for how she determined pricing for the items, and that the court hold her in contempt and sanction her.
Perhaps the crème-de-la-crème of motions, however, was the "Complaint for Affirmation of the Marriage" (a boilerplate form which can be found at several of the Father’s Rights websites) Corey filed on June 19, 1996 where he alleged that:
— the children had suffered numerous physical injuries in the wife’s care;
— the wife had irresponsibly left the children in the care of incompetent care providers, when the husband was available to care for their needs;
— "there are no irreconcilable differences, nor is there an irretrievable breakdown of any kind."
— The wife had destroyed the husbands business, forcing him to make a career change in order to be able to support wife and family;
— "The husband refuses to assent to an action for divorce due to the wording of the religious/civil Contract Covenant, including, but not limited to, the husband’s religious beliefs forbidding divorce when children are involved with Covenant-Contract valid until death of the parties." [note: this was Paul Corey’s second marriage]
— The lack of curtains on the windows in the brand new home that the husband designed and had built for her, doing much of the work himself, does not constitute a sufficient reason for abandoning said husband,
— "The wife’s unilateral no-fault divorce action is contested on First Amendment and breach of contract grounds."
— "The civil court cannot compel the husband to accept the wife’s no-fault action, filed without his knowledge and consent, as this would constitute coercion, violation of a First Amendment freedom of exercise of religion clause, violation of benevolent neutrality of the civil court in a religious matter, and a Federal Court issue."
— "The wife’s on-going medical and mental health conditions do not constitute a valid reason for the husband to abandon the marriage commitment which was entered into in sickness or in health."
It is an interesting side note that, while he was drafting his complaint for marriage, the husband (who claimed he was unable to work or pay child support) found time to draft legislation prohibiting no-fault divorces where the husband refused to give the wife permission unless the court made a decision that the marriage could not be saved. He found the time to gather the signatures necessary to force Senator Hedlund (Weymouth) to introduce the bill into the Massachusetts legislature, where it died. In connection with his complaint for affirmation of the marriage, the husband requested that the court:
— Affirm the marriage "with the husband stating’ that there is no irretrievable breakdown, because he says ther is not, and that he is still true to his marital vow and contract."
— "Recognize the husband’s rights duly and solemnly granted to him by the Unites States Constitution, which rights have been removed in the proceedings ‘ including, but not limited to, rights granted under Amendments Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, and Fourteen."
— "Recognize the children’s and the husband’s rights individually and severally under the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."
— "Recognize the rights of the children to live in a peaceful, intact family, and the inalienable rights of those children supercede the whimsical desires, frivolous plans and heinous schemes of their mother."
— Order the wife to pay the husband sufficient monies for his support, including $4250 immediately to pay his graduate school tuition for the summer session of 1996.
After the court refused to afford him the relief he requested, the husband appealed to a single justice of the Appeals Court, which was denied.
The actual divorce trial, which lasted 13 days, was conducted by Corey pro-se. Most of the trial consisted of Catherine being forced to take the stand for cross-examination while Corey badgered her. Corey produced an "expert" witness, Dr. Charlotte Richards, to testify on his behalf to shore up his claim that Catherine from "perimenopause" (a questionable "syndrome" which supposedly occurs in the decade before the onset of menopause which Corey claims made Catherine mentally unstable) even though Dr. Richards had never met Catherine, never had access to her medical records, and had never obtained the necessary blood work to make the diagnosis of the wife. There are also numerous questionable motions that were filed during the 13 day trial, including one that demands the court refer the parties for forced marital counseling (motion, August 5, 1996) and another ordering a new GAL report alleging Dr. Kenneth Herman had lied about him (also August 5, 1996).
At last, after Paul Corey got caught attempting to steal paperwork from the courthouse docket, the court ordered that he couldn’t have access to his file and also sanctioned him for abuse of process, finding that his numerous frivolous motions were aimed solely at forcing the wife to lose numerous days out of work, presumably so she would be economically dependent on him, and to harass her.
This tendency to attack the woman’s livelihood has recently been recognized by Congress:
"The Department of Justice estimates that intimate partners commit more than 1,000,000 violent crimes against women every year. American workers who have been victims of crime too often suffer adverse consequences in the workplace as a result of their experiences as crime victims. Crime victims are particularly vulnerable to changes in employment, pay, and benefits as a result of their victimizations, and are, therefore, in need of legal protection. Three quarters of battered women who work were harassed by telephone by their abuser at work. Nearly 50 percent of rape victims lose their employment or are forced to quit their jobs following the crime, and one quarter of bettered women surveyed have lost a job due in part to the effects of domestic violence.
The availability of economic support is a critical factor in battered women’s ability to leave abusive situations that threaten them and their children, and over half of battered women surveyed stayed with their batterers because they lacked resources to support themselves with their children. Employers pay between $3,000,000,000 and $5,000,000,000 annually to cover the cost of crimes against employees and their families. Surveys of business executives and corporate security directors also underscore the heavy toll that workplace violence takes on American women, businesses, and interstate commerce. 94 percent of corporate security and safety directors at companies nationwide rank domestic violence as a high-risk security problem. 49 percent of senior executives recently surveyed said domestic violence has a harmful effect on their company’s productivity, 47 percent said domestic violence negatively affects attendance, and 44 percent said domestic violence increases health care costs.
Only 12 states have enacted statutes forbidding employers from taking adverse action against employees who have been victims of crime and must participate in the criminal justice process during working hours, and no State explicitly protects crime victims from other adverse action which may result from their status as crime victims. Existing federal law neither expressly authorizes battered women to take leave form work to seek legal assistance and redress, counseling, or assistance with safety planning activities, nor does it protect crime victims from retaliation, discharge, or other workplace penalties that may result from their status as crime victims."(Congressional findings, VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 701.)
Even after that date, the pleas disguised as motions to the court continued, demanding that he be allowed to confront Catherine in the courtroom. Despite his later arrest for numerous violations of the restraining order, civil commitment, spat being whisked "underground" by the Fatherhood Coalition, extensive media hype painting him as a "victim" of the "domestic violence witch hunt" (including a front-page article in the Boston Globe on December 12, 1997), criminal charges arising for assaulting and harassing a subsequent female intimate, and his eventual plea-bargain of "no contest" in exchange for getting counseling,Paul Corey’s pleas to the court to force Catherine to stay with him or punish her for leaving continued 3 years after the divorce. It is sad that Mr. Corey’s and the Father’s Rights movements true motive, that of utilizing the court to maintain contact with an estranged wife or former girlfriend, is spelled out by his own hand in his motion of August 12, 1996,
"The plaintiff in this action moves this Honorable Court’ to allow Mr. Corey sufficient time to cross-examine Ms. Fantucchio [the wife]. A years wroth of communication has been prevented by a 209A restraining order and one day is not enough time to provide information to the court." (Motion, August 12, 1996).
"…there is a bit of pedophilia in every one of us."
— Richard A. Gardner, M.D., Sex Abuse Hysteria, p. 118 (1991).
Richard Gardner is an outspoken critic of certain aspects of the child protection syndrome. Gardner is sharply critical of mental health professionals, investigators, and prosecutors who try to protect children from pedophiles. He believes these professionals are engaging in a conspiracy with the mother and gratifying their own sexual urges. He pathologizes women who attempt to protect their children from sexual abuse as "manipulative" as well as the mental health professionals who attempt to help the child deal with his or her violation. His "syndrome" is often used against women who report sexual abuse to the authorities in their subsequent divorce and custody proceedings. In his book Parental Alienation Syndrome (1987), Gardner writes:
"One outgrowth of this warfare [over custody] was the development in children of what I refer to as Parental Alienation Syndrome. Typically, the child viciously vilifies one of the parents and idealizes the other. This is not caused simply by parental brainwashing of the child. Rather, the children themselves contribute their own scenarios in support of the favored parent. My experience has been that in about 80 to 90 percent of cases the mother is the favored parent and the father the vilified one."
Gardner advocates that in many cases, the only treatment is for the court to refuse any attempts at counseling by the mother, remove the child from the mother’s care and place permanent custody with the father. He compares a child’s cries for help regarding sexual abuse to getting a polio shot ‘ the therapist must be thick-skinned and ignore the child’s pleas to remain with the mother who is protecting him.
"According to the American Psychological Association, there is no reliable empirical data to support the so-called phenomenon of ‘parental alienation syndrome,’ although courts and custody evaluators frequently use such terms to discount children’s reasonable fear and anger toward a violent parent. This ‘syndrome’ and similar ones are used almost exclusively against women."(Congressional findings, VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 201 (17).
The Father’s Rights movement actively promotes Gardner’s work in their groups and web sites, referring members to "experts" who will help the abuser raise a PAS claim in their custody dispute.
The Father’s Rights movement claims that most allegations of child sexual abuse, like claims of physical abuse are false. However, contrary to what Richard Gardner and the Father’s Rights movement claims, Congress’s recent hearings found that "the documented rate of any child abuse allegations in custody cases is approximately 2 percent, and there is no evidence that false accusations are more common in the context of custody litigation." (Congressional findings, VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 201 (18). In 1988, researcher Jon Conte wrote that Gardner’s Sex Abuse Legitimacy scale is "probably the most unscientific piece of garbage I’ve seen in the field in all my time. To base social policy on something as flimsy as this is exceedingly dangerous." (Moss, 1988, p. 26). [MORE ON PARENTAL ALIENATION SYNDROME at THE LIZ LIBRARY — Ed.]
"I have discovered the home address of the judge. If you would, send a second copy of your letter to his home. I want this man to know that we are paying attention to what he is doing, and that we intend to break through the barrier of anonymity that so many of these bureaucrats operate behind with impunity."
— Lowell Jaks, Alliance For Non-Custodial Parents Rights (quoted at http://www.thelizlibrary.org/fathers/)
In Worcester, Massachusetts, Terence Meehan took out full-page newspaper ads ranting against Judge Arlene Rotman after she granted custody of his son to the boy’s mother. He picketed outside her courtroom for several weeks, demanded to debate her in public, then began picketing outside the furniture store owned by her husband’s family. Now Meehan is running for the state legislature in Worcester County, Massachusetts.(Divorced Dads Emerge as a Political Force, Kate Zernike, the Boston Globe, May 19, 1998).
"When we first came out with this… we had taken out an ad condemning [Rotman]. Off this ad we had numerous radio shows and TV programs and newspaper write-ups in the papers. Judge Rotman claimed I was a threat to her, so the state police called me up and asked me to back off. It told them I wasn’t going to, and I came out twice as strong. The state police … told me that if I didn’t back off I could go to jail. I said no I’m not backing off." (What Makes Terry Run, interview with Terence Meehan, CPF newsletter, June 1997). A federation of nationwide father’s rights groups later awarded Judge Rotman a "kangaroo court" award, along with Judge Edward Ginsberg of Middlesex County, Massachusetts and Judge Crowley of Maine (Rotman "Honored" as Worst Judge in Nation, CPF Newsletter, September 1997.)
Another Fatherhood Coalition member, legislative director Paul Corey, sent a threatening "affidavit" to the non-published home address of Judge Christina Harms of Dedham during his divorce trial. In the four-page "affidavit," Corey rants about how the judicial system is biased against men and devotes several paragraphs to lambasting Judge Harms with statements such as "she has an agenda to pursue, she makes herself feel good by ruling against me… she makes gender-biased rulings in order to promote her own career at the expense and misery of children… she has consistently behaved as if she’s above the law." (docket 95D1230, June 25th, 1996). In that same affidavit, he describes how he picked through his ex-wife’s trash every week for three months and makes a detailed list of the "evidence" that his ex-wife is an unfit parent. The "evidence" includes a pizza box, a membership for AAA, a rental movie slip, empty microwave popcorn packets, and empty ice cream containers. Although the state police were notified and questioned Corey, nothing was done about this "exercise of free speech."
American Coalition for Fathers and Children (a.k.a. the American Fathers Coalition) leader Murray Steinberg of Richmond Virginia filed a 75 million dollar lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Virginia, Henrico County, the Honorable Judge L.A. Harris, The Honorable Judge Kulp, and his ex-wives’ attorneys for allegedly violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (Civil RICO) in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division.
In his complaint, he alleged that the judges, the county, and the state all conspired with his ex wife and her attorneys to imprison him three times for supposedly minor infractions such as being 15 minutes late returning his daughter from visitation (10 days in jail, 2 suspended); talking loudly to his ex-wife (10 days in jail, 8 suspended); and letting his daughter sleep one hour late (60 days in jail). To meet the "obtaining illegal income" prong of RICO, Steinberg claimed that the two judges and the state were engaged in an elaborate feminist conspiracy to line the state coffers by discriminating against fathers (no mention is ever made of how these justices profited from this conspiracy). The case was dismissed.
Another way that Father’s Rights advocates manipulate the judicial process is by attempting to reach potential jurors at the courthouse doors by holding rallies and picketing courthouses. For example, The Fatherhood Coalition (Boston) has repeatedly picketed Quincy District Court in an attempt to influence the outcome of the criminal trial of board member Harry Stewart for numerous, repeated restraining order violations. Reverend Harry Stewart, who lives in a housing project collecting Social Security Disability for an old head injury, obtained a "ministers" license through the mail from a correspondence school for evangelical ministers and uses his "reverend" title to gain credibility in the community even though he is connected with no parish.
One picketing event occurred on May 26th of this year, where 20-25 men bearing signs with messages such as "Equal Rights for Fathers," "End Court Discrimination of Fathers," and "Stop the Witchhunt." Another occurred on behalf of Fatherhood co-director Ray Saulnier’s restraining order violation trial in front of Fall River District Court, forcing Chief Justice Aguiar to dismiss the entire jury pool and set a continuance date a month later. Saulnier was later convicted of one of the two violations. At the Quincy protest, a female juror, who was waiting for a sandwich to be prepared by the courthouse delicatessen, asked me "why are they discriminating against fathers in this courthouse?"
Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that judges may place time, place, and manner restrictions on the picketing of courthouses, courthouses in Massachusetts and numerous other states do not enforce the rule and tolerate picketing in front of the main entrance of the courts through which jurors must pass.
The last way in which Father’s Rights groups pervert the law is by cramming legislative hearings with supporters. Although their is nothing inherently evil about exercising one’s First Amendment right to petition the government in an attempt to reddress one’s grievances, it is the manner in which it is done which indicates the true agenda of the father’s rights movement. For example, I was at the unveiling of the findings of a U-Mass/Better Homes study on women, welfare, and domestic violence. The study cited that often women who have been forced to relocate their families to domestic violence shelters often fall below poverty level and become dependent on welfare.
An advocate from The Fatherhood Coalition, director Earl Henry Sholley, repeatedly interrupted the senators and witnesses testifying about the study to protest "cry wolf restraining orders." The study was not about restraining orders. The topic of restraining orders was only marginally mentioned, and even then only in the context of mentioning that some of the welfare recipients who were facing termination of their benefits under Weld administration cutbacks had been victims of domestic violence. After the presentation was finished, the public was invited to discourse with the speakers. One female senator grabbed my hand, swung me around so I was standing between her and Earl Henry Sholley, and begged me to pretend I was conversing with her so he wouldn’t approach her and begin to harass her. "They call them ‘the batterer’s coalition’ " she told me as she thanked me for shielding her and disappeared out into the hall before he could corner. It struck me as odd that a state senator would be so unnerved by someone in the inner chambers of the statehouse.
Another example of session-cramming is described by Fatherhood Coalition Media Director John G. Maguire in his http://www.backlash.com newsletter entitled It’s Concord Bridge 1776! He joyously describes a May 18, 1999 hearing in front of the Massachusetts Judiciary Committee where "110 supporters … crammed a hearing… with two women-are-helpless mouthpieces [who were] truly confused when they found themselves in a room with 110 opponents… we creamed them so well, they were not even aware of what happened until it was over." (It’s Concord Bridge 1776!, John G. Maguire, http://www..backlash.com/content/gender/1999/6-jun99/mfn0699.html)
Another disturbing aspect of the Father’s Rights movement is their success in luring professionals, expert witnesses, attorneys, and even judicial officers into their elaborate schemes. Lawyers, who normally pride themselves on careful analysis of the facts, often fall victim to the batterer’s plea for help. The typical Father’s Rights advocate will go through several lawyers before settling on one naive or callous enough to assist him in his vendetta to punish his ex-spouse for leaving him.
By the time the abuser is on his second or third attorney, he will have usually manufactured a substantial pile of "evidence" against his victim in the form of affidavits signed by other Father’s Rights advocates, false complaints filed with state administrative agencies, and innocuous photographs or other documentation which the abuser claims has a sinister connotation. Although there are gender-biased attorneys who willingly assist or even actively recruit business from the Father’s Rights movement, the majority of attorneys who file an unwarranted custody action or help the batterer file a frivolous civil suit against their victims are duped by the same tactics that entice members of the public to assist.
Attorneys like to work with facts, and the stack of "documentation" which the batterer willingly presents to his lawyer upon initial consultation often lulls the attorney into a false sense of security and discourages him from conducting a thorough investigation of his own before taking the case. Once the attorney finds out the Father’s Rights advocate has an unlawful intent, he usually withdraws or is fired once he refuses to cooperate with the more outrageous segments of the abusers plans. However, the damage is done. The victim and child pawns are emotionally traumatized by the frivolous court action and the Father’s Rights advocate will simply find another attorney to carry out the next stage of his vendetta.
More disturbing than attorneys who skirt the fence of ethical behavior, however inadvertently, are the lawyers who knowingly take on illegitimate custody disputes or knowingly teach pro-se Father’s Rights advocates to assist other pro-se litigants to file their own harassing lawsuits. Once such attorney, Robert Hirschfeld, was disbarred by the Arizona Supreme Court in July of 1998 for his numerous acts of unethical conduct, including abandoning clients and his pit-bull approach in fighting illegitimate fathers rights suits. Another outspoken attorney, Jeffrey M. Leving of Chicago, has published the book "Father’s Rights: Hard-Hitting and Fair Advice for Every Father Involved in a Custody Dispute (Harper/Collins, NYNY) and has operated as a spearpoint for getting anti-female legislation passed in Illinois. Most Father’s Rights groups and web sites refer members to attorneys who are willing to "fight dirty" to "win" a divorce action.
Ethical legal professionals and scholars may be reluctant to acknowledge their own experience with Father’s Right’s advocates because they fear ridicule, intellectual marginalization or familial repercussions. The lawyer, therapist, judge, guardian-ad-litem, expert witness or lay person who has been enticed into the odious machinations of the Father’s Right’s movement tends to feel shame upon realizing they have been used as a pawn in the abuser’s elaborate game to control his victim. The attorney, who is bound by attorney-client privilege, is ethics-bound to remain silent about the batterer’s true intent. Worse of all, the attorney, guardian-ad-litem, or expert witness may fear reprisals in the form of a civil suit initiated by the victim he helped the abuser harass, or sanctioning by the ethical oversight committee. The fear of a civil suit is negligible, however. Few victims have the financial or emotional resources to seek civil remedies for their abusers outrageous conduct. They simply want to be left alone.
The Father’s Rights movement receives both tax-free federal funding and money from member dues. Women under siege need to do the same. Additionally, feminist women’s groups need to start working with state women’s commissions and the pro-feminist men’s movement in order to counteract propaganda and keep therapists, court personnel, and attorney’s accountable for their actions when handing children over to abusive fathers. If elected judges are found awarding children to abusive fathers, they should be voted out of office. Ignorance is deadly; continued monitoring of internet men’s/father’s websites, newsgroups, chat rooms, mailing lists, and harassment of women-friendly forums is important. Databases of individuals, specific groups, and potentially illegal actions should be maintained. Some of these suggestions are in the works. National NOWs new Clearinghouse Against Father’s Rights, for instance, alerts members to protest proposed father’s rights legislation, but more organization is needed. Above all, we must not be silenced by hate speech. Women do have the power and resources to stand up and fight back. (Will Paternal Paranoia Triumph? Trish Wilson, Feminista, http://www.echonyc.com/~onissues/w97paranoia.html.)
Some possible solutions are as follows:
Screening of Pro-Se Lawsuits, Self-filed Criminal Charges, or Motions for Reconsideration. The federal courts already do this as a result of the numerous frivolous habeas corpus petitions they were receiving from incarcerated prisoners. State courts should adopt a similar screening process to weed non-meritorious cases from the docket and save judicial resources.
Stricter enforcement of stalking laws. The proposed 1999 revisions to the Violence Against Women Act are a start. However, much of the more persistent, obsessive behavior a stalker engages in is not considered stalking and, hence, not prosecuted no matter how harmful it is to the victim. Legislatures need to research, and law enforcement prosecute, cases with numerous cases of borderline behavior so that courts may have the opportunity to refine the revisions with case law.
Rule 11-type Sanctions for Abuse of Process. The courts already have the power to punish those who misuse legal process. The power lies not in the hands of the frightened victims too emotionally and financially bankrupt to engage in lengthy civil litigation with a batterer which might escalate into more violence, but in the hands of the judges, prosecutors, and court personnel to sanction batterers for abusing legal process. Like good football coaches, judges need to accept the responsibility of refereeing the use of their own playing field. Massachusetts has it’s Anti-SLAPP (anti strategic litigation) statute which, upon motion by the defendant or the initiative of the trial judge, will dismiss non-meritorious pleadings and fine the abuser.
Sanctions for Practicing Law Without A License. Texas has initiated suit against one of its Father’s Rights groups for crossing the line from advocacy into the unlawful practice of law. State Supreme Courts need to appoint committees to research these groups and empower them to take action against those groups that are encouraging men to misuse the sanctity of the courtroom.
Law School Programs. An intriguing solution Congress is contemplating in its proposed 1999 amendments to the Violence Against Women Act is funding of legal services provided by law schools.
"The term ‘law school program’ means an internship, externship, clinic, or other legal representation program or initiative located at an accredited school of law which has as its primary purpose the provision of legal representation, information, or assistance to victims of domestic violence directed at stopping the violence, enhancing the victim safety, assuring economic protection and well-being, or protecting child victims of domestic violence." (Congressional findings, VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 458 (3).
These programs would enable law students, under the tutorage of professors well-versed in various aspects of the law, to gain hands-on experience assisting actual clients while providing a desperately needed service to the community.
"The term ‘legal assistance’ includes: (a) direct representation of and assistance to victims of domestic violence from intake through adjudication, enforcement, and appeal, in any civil action, administrative proceeding, criminal cases where the defendant advances a claim of duress or a defense of self or other or in the clemency proceedings, to include representation from intake through adjudication, enforcement and appeal directed at stopping the violence, enhancing victim safety, assuring economic protection and well-being, or protecting child victims of domestic violence; and (b) legal advocacy, including issue identification, safety planning, evaluating options, policy analysis, representation enhancement, outreach services, accompaniment, information, directories and referral, monitoring the civil and criminal justice process, and coordination among legal, social, and health care systems, offered by personnel of domestic violence programs, which is directed at stopping the violence, enhancing victim safety, assuring economic protection and well-being or protecting child victims of domestic violence." (Congressional findings, VAWA proposed 1999 amendments, H.R. 357, Title II, s. 458 (4).
Because the revisions include protecting the economic well-being of the victim and also protecting the child victims who may have witnessed abusive behavior, law school programs would be able to receive funding for coordinating proceedings in the family courts, criminal courts, civil courts, and state administrative proceedings frequently abused by the Father’s rights movement to harass his victim.
Lawsuits against Father’s Rights Groups under the Violence Against Women’s Act as Unincorporated Associations. VAWA creates a civil cause of action against gender motivated violence. If the Violence Against Women Act survives supreme court challenge, it may be possible for battered women’s advocacy groups to assist women in holding Father’s Rights Groups accountable for the litigation tactics they are teaching their members by suing them as unincorporated associations. Under the agency laws of most states, all of the members of a nonprofit or unincorporated association may be held jointly and severally liable for torts committed by it’s members.
VAWA gives the victim of gender-motivated crime a federal cause of action to sue the tortfeasor for civil rights violations. By researching the websites, newsletters, and visiting the sessions, rallies, and protests of many of the Father’s Rights groups, it should be possible to prove that the tactics of these groups are motivated by hatred of a single gender.
A good example of a hypothetical VAWA test case would be the Weymouth School Committee/Coalition for the Preservation of Fatherhood legislative director Paul Corey, who was the center of much media hype by the group. If the individual members of illegitimate groups are held personally liable for torts instigated, committed and supported by members of the association who they have given legal advice, much of the problem will disappear as legitimate groups begin to police the actions of their own members and distance themselves from hard-core batterers.
Legislative Action. The proposed 1999 amendments to the Violence Against Women Act contain sweeping protections aimed at clarifying the existing 1994 act and closing some of the loopholes abusers have traditionally used to continue harassing their victims. These range from stricter stalking laws, discredidation of gender biased "syndromes" used by father’s rights advocates to gain leverage in a court proceeding, block grants for assistance programs including legal aid programs for victims, and statutory relief in the form of victims employment rights prohibiting employers from discriminating against victims who must lose time from work to participate in the criminal justice process. The act would grant a workplace safety credit of 40 percent of violence against women safety and education costs. However, much more needs to be done. The legislature needs to reach out to victims and discover their needs to put an end to the violence.
"Victims of violent crimes have at minimum the same Constitutional protections as the accused…"
One hopeful example was a bill introduced in Congress by Senator Kyle and 19 other Senators at the same time as the 1999 revisions to the Violence Against Women Act which proposes an Amendment to the Constitution to the United States to protect the rights of crime victims, not just the accused:
Section 1: A victim of a crime of violence, as these terms may be defined by law, shall have the rights:
To reasonable notice of, and not to be excluded from, any public proceedings relating to the crime;
To be heard, if present, and to submit a statement at all such proceedings to determine a conditional release from custody, an acceptance of a negotiated plea, or a sentence;
To the foregoing rights at a parole hearing that is not public, to the extent that those rights are afforded to the convicted offender;
To reasonable notice of a release or escape from custody relating to the crime;
To consideration of the interest of the victim that any trial be free from unreasonable delay [italics mine]
To an order of restitution from the convicted offender;
To consideration for the safety of the victim in determining any conditional release from custody relating to the crime[italics mine]
To reasonable notice of the rights established by this article.
The bill is a start and would encourage states that have not already adopted a crime victim’s bill of rights to do so.
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