The Genocide of Battered Mothers and their Children

Posts Tagged ‘men’

To Prevent Violence, Insist Men Stop the Abuse

In domestic law on August 23, 2011 at 12:31 pm
Amplify’d from www.womensenews.org

A recent editorial about a domestic violence murder case in Massachusetts placed the onus on stopping this violence on women. Rob Okun says the responsibility lies with men too, and that it’s time for men to speak up.

A recent editorial about a domestic violence murder case in Massachusetts placed the onus on stopping this violence on women. Rob Okun says the responsibility lies with men too, and that it’s time for men to speak up.

(WOMENSENEWS)–In the drive to end violence against women, even well-meaning allies can take a wrong turn.

Such was the case with a recent editorial in a small city newspaper in the progressive city of Northampton, Mass., two towns over from where I live. The community has a long history of working to prevent domestic violence, including longstanding collaborations among a variety of stakeholders, such as battered women’s shelters and the police, the district attorney’s office and, at 22 years, one of the oldest batterer intervention programs in the country.

“Seeking safety for women” was the headline of the Aug. 1 editorial published in response to the life sentence domestic violence murderer David W. Vincent III received. The brutal 2009 beating Vincent inflicted on his girlfriend Rebecca Moulton in Pittsfield, Mass.–plus not calling for medical assistance for the nearly eight hours following his assault–undoubtedly left many hearts aching and minds enraged. Unequivocally, the responsibility for what happened rests with Vincent.

But what missed the mark, by a wide margin, was the editorial’s final sentence, which placed an onus on women that rightly belongs with men. “Unless we all help women understand the danger they face from violent partners and insist they seek safety, these tragedies will continue unchecked,” the editorial concluded.

“When their partners turn violent,” the editorial reminded readers “women are at tremendous risk.” Fair enough.

Burdening the Woman

Huh? It makes little sense to place the burden of preventing violence on the woman. Why “insist” she seek safety instead of emphatically and unambiguously demanding violent men stop abusing?

Becky Moulton, a “funny, creative, smart and sweet” woman, as the editorial described her, is more than a symbol of the domestic violence epidemic that continues to plague society. Her senseless murder presents us with an opportunity to commit (or recommit) ourselves to preventing such acts. That opportunity will be compromised, though, if nonviolent men are not part of the effort.

It’s time to shift the paradigm from women seeking shelter from men’s violence to insisting angry men stop abusing their partners. And, we need that shift everywhere–our educational system, media, sports culture, government, the courts, faith communities–so we can collectively lay to rest a damaging, outmoded view of men and masculinity.

That shift also means teaching boys and girls (and men and women) to look at relationships through the lens of equality. The old-school belief of men dominating women, which sanctions misogynistic music videos, produces television shows that objectify women and denigrate fathers and fails to confront privileged men (most often, white) flouting their entitlement, all must be loudly and relentlessly challenged.

Begin With Education

We’ve come a long way from the days of police turning a blind eye to family violence perpetrated behind closed doors. But we have to do more than just arrest and jail perpetrators, or order them into batterer intervention programs. We have to begin educating elementary school boys and girls about respect in relationships before their ideas about gender solidify.

Imagine clergy, policymakers, coaches, parents and teachers articulating a vision of a better world, a healed society and a cooperative community. And imagine that the final sentence of a newspaper’s domestic violence editorial read: “Unless we educate boys and men about healthy relationships–including teaching nonviolent, conscious communication–some men will continue to believe dominating and abusing women is acceptable behavior and domestic violence tragedies will continue unchecked.”

Women have a right to expect that they no longer have to work to prevent domestic violence alone. Since the majority of men are not violent, it is time for them to speak out about the abuse a minority of men perpetrate.

Doing so is one way to honor the memory of Rebecca Moulton and offer a small measure of consolation to her family. To repair a culture of violence, where domestic abuse murders too often still occur, can we do anything less?

Read more at www.womensenews.org

 

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Fathers’ Wrongs

In domestic law on July 24, 2011 at 1:48 pm
Amplify’d from www.xyonline.net

I was thrilled to perform my one-man play, “Voices of Men” for the San Diego Men’s Leadership Forum.  I flew to San Diego and was driven to the auditorium where the event was to take place – my hosts told me there would be over 300 men in attendance, many of them from the nearby military base.  All the men had committed themselves to taking the initiative to stop men’s violence against women.

As my host drove us up to the event, it became clear we were not the only group of men there.  I was greeted by signs saying “Man-Hating Conference Here,” “Domestic Violence Law is a Feminist Scam,” and “Save Our Troops from Feminist Man-Hating.” 

A large group of men (and some women) had gathered along the street and outside our venue.  They had over 20 large, expensive signs and a huge RV with messages airbrushed onto it.  They had brochures they were passing out.  They had brought food.  They were organized. 

I had some time before my performance, so I went to meet them and take some photos.  Some were chatty and friendly – some were downright scary, glowering and silent.  I got a tour of the RV from a proud father who showed me where his son had painted part of the outside.  Many were eager to speak to me about their philosophy – they encouraged me to “keep an open mind” and not be brainwashed by feminists. 

I’ve been working to end men’s violence for almost twenty years.  I have encountered the so-called “Father’s Rights”(1) movement in the past (as well as their sexual assault predecessors, the so-called “False Memory Syndrome” folks).  Usually, my encounter consisted of one or two guys who came to state legislator hearings, wearing suits and ties, to testify on a custody bill.  They would make an impassioned plea to get legislators to “recognize fatherhood to be as important as motherhood.”  But usually they shot themselves in the foot – they were socially awkward, would invade the personal space of legislators (and the rest of us), and ended up spouting rhetoric that made them seem like extremists.  Legislators’ initial sympathies waned once they saw what these guys were really like. 

After these initial encounters, I asked feminist leaders I knew what they thought we should do.  Their advice was to ignore these guys.  Any statement we put out to the public concerning them would only grant them unearned attention.  I gladly complied – we were busy enough with other concerns.

Sadly, the time has come when we can no longer afford to ignore them.  “Father’s Rights” members have stalked and harassed advocates, sent threatening emails and letters, and lobbied Congress to change the name of the Violence Against Women Act.  Certainly, there are communities where these folks are few and disorganized – ignoring them might still be the best option.  But we need to prepare other options – I am certainly no expert, but have some ideas that we might want to consider.

War is Peace – Up is Down

Why are more and more fathers (and their wives/girlfriends/female friends) joining these groups? 

Consider other “backlash” movements: the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis, anti-choice activists and the already-mentioned “False Memory Syndrome” folks.  Each of these movements has been organized on one Orwellian hypothesis – they are the real victims.  Not people of color – white people who have had “their” jobs and “their” women taken away.  Not Jews, GLBT folks, Romani and people with disabilities – the Germans and whites who are “polluted” by these folks even existing.  Not victims of child rape – the poor men who are “falsely accused” of raping their kids.  Not women seeking reproductive freedom – poor defenseless babies and fathers who are shut out of reproductive decisions (see Ohio’s bill mandating the “father’s” consent in any abortion decision, even when the father is completely out of the picture). 

Those of us who give educational presentations on men’s violence against women are familiar with this defense.  Boys and men, confronted with the statistical reality of men’s violence, will do anything to avoid the realization that our gender is predominantly responsible for this violence – argue the statistics, point out anecdotal evidence of women’s violence against men, or “shoot the messenger” by mocking or belittling the (usually female) trainer giving the presentation. 

Honestly, I can relate to this: when my wife Lucinda points out a way in which I’ve unintentionally hurt her, my first response is to usually deny that I’ve done anything wrong, or explain to her why she shouldn’t feel hurt in the first place.  It’s a painful thing to admit I’ve been a party to hurting someone I love – I’d rather the hurt hadn’t taken place in the first place.  But eventually, I get around to admitting that I participated in hurting Lucinda – only then am I a useful partner in terms of changing things so I don’t hurt her again. 

Many men avoid that step.  Like batterers who deny individual responsibility for violence, many men deny the responsibility of our gender’s violence. 

Certainly, most men have been confronted with the painful realization that men’s violence against women is a huge problem, due to the success of the educational campaigns of the feminist movement against men’s violence.  The inevitable conclusion is that we men must take the initiative to stop such violence.  But if these men are offered an easier way out – if they are the actual victims of a hegemonic feminist conspiracy – if the court system is biased against men and fathers, then they can revel in self-righteous victimhood. 

As a gender, men have been offered these “easy outs” in the past.  In the 70’s, confronted with the second wave feminists’ challenging of gender roles, some men responded by creating the profeminist men’s movement.  Many more joined the so-called “Moral Majority” and its antecedents like the “Promise Keepers.”(2)

Men who observe feminists challenging traditional gender roles usually wonder what their response should be, now that these roles have changed.  The feminist and profeminist men’s movements offer a difficult answer, yet one that is more rewarding in the long run: our role as men of conscience is to be as brave as feminist women have been, examining all that we have learned about being male, being in a relationship, being a father.  “Promise Keepers” and other right-wing groups offered an easy answer – Our role is to reclaim our place at the head of the traditional family. 

So-called “Father’s Rights” groups are a continuation of this pattern of turning privilege into victimhood.  More than simply a backlash, these groups are a way to avoid dealing with painful realizations about privilege and entitlement.  Instead, they allow – even encourage – the childish “But she hit me, too!” response.  They use popular, easy to understand phrases to lure men and women into their membership ranks – men and women that I believe we could reach instead. 

The Emperor Has No Clothes

Rallying cries by the “Father’s Rights” groups crumble under an even cursory examination.  By shedding the harsh light of day on their assertions, we will also find ways to combat these groups in our communities. 

Myth #1: Men Are Abused Just As Much As Women (And Feminists Protect Our Huge Salaries by Covering This Up)

Reality #1: Virtually every study published about domestic violence and intimate partner violence shows that men are the predominant aggressors in most cases.  The one study that does not – the Straus and Gelles study from the 1980s – has been assailed by academics as “bad science, with findings and conclusions that are contradictory, inconsistent, and unwarranted (Jack Straton, “The Myth of the ‘Battered Husband’ Syndrome,” http://www.nomas.org/node/107).” 

This doesn’t stop the “Father’s Rights” groups from pulling out this study like an old shoe at every legislative hearing – they use this tactic not to care for men who are abused, but to further their own political goals (see articles below for more info on Straus and the Conflict Tactics Scale).

Indeed, there are male victims of both sexual assault and domestic violence – most Father’s Rights” groups fail to note that

Strategies: Those of us who work with victims of domestic violence know that there are plenty of bona fide male victims – gay, bisexual, transgender and straight.  In fact, there is a greater likelihood of male victimization in gay male relationships than in heterosexual ones (see articles below). 

Ironically, and contrary to what the “Father’s Rights” groups say, the battered women’s movement is still the best place to go for most abused men.  We help men every day with court advocacy, one-on-one counseling, hotline assistance, and even shelter and support groups in some cases.  We can be proud of this as a movement – we can talk publicly about our services to men.  And we can improve those services, to men and to all people, and create targeted outreach campaigns to male victims and other special populations. 

We also know that virtually all men who batter identify as the “victim” at some point.  The general public will understand this due to familiarity with batterers and other criminals – their pleas of innocence and victimhood will ring hollow in most ears if they have been convicted of wife or child abuse.

Finally, we can be ready for the ritual hauling out of the Straus and Gelles studies.  We can be ready with other scientific studies – our state coalitions can provide us with well-researched, documented facts and figures about our communities.  Or print out some of the articles from VAWNet below. 

Myth #2: Our Slogans Are Harmless, and So Are We

Reality #2: “Father’s Rights” groups use slogans that most legislators believe.  The RV I was shown spoke of the “Children’s Rights Initiative – A Non-Profit Organization Dedicated to Ensuring That Children of Divorce or Separation Have Access to Both Parents – Equally.” (see photo, left)  Sounds reasonable, right?  Like much of the right wing, they are good at framing right-wing ideas with a centrist label (remember “pro-life”?).  But if you dig under the mild slogans, you will find harmful and often violent underpinnings – look for these other slogans and bring them to light. 

Strategies: Bring printouts of T-shirts (below right) and quotes from “Father’s Rights” websites to legislative hearings where these folks will be present – they won’t look so mild-mannered once you quote them. 

These groups are also deft at framing our causes as extreme (remember “partial-birth” abortion, “feminazi”?).  If I knew nothing about our movement to end men’s violence and I drove by this demonstration in San Diego, it might have scared me away from feminism and from the domestic violence movement.  We have to be ready with reasoned argument, framed as soundbites as pithy as these signs. 

Finally, many of the leaders (and followers) in these movements will have criminal records.  They will claim that this is because they’ve been wrongly prosecuted by lying women supported by feminists – but they’re still convicted wife-beaters.  Pointing this out might make them seem less sympathetic. 

Myth #3: The Court System is Run by Feminists, and is Biased Against Men

Reality #3: Many of us work with battered women (not to mention rape victims) who are not believed, who are not granted restraining orders, and who are systemically isolated by a criminal justice system and a society that does not believe them.  For child custody, it is true that cases are decided in favor of the mother – that’s because in many cases, the father doesn’t want custody!  When the father wants custody, the decision is in his favor the majority of the time. 

Despite this, sometimes men are denied custody for the wrong reason.  Some are almost certainly convicted using false evidence.  Perhaps some courts are biased against men.  This doesn’t change the fact that in general, men are favored over women.  Victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are subject every day to dual arrest, arrest of the victim only, false prosecution and criminal justice harassment.  Despite the many gains made by enlightened members of the criminal justice system, my voice usually carries more weight there than does a woman’s.  This is the true conspiracy – one that all genders need to work to change. 

Strategy: Our state coalitions and national groups have well-researched data about the criminal justice system, child custody decisions, etc.  Furthermore, ground-breaking films such as Breaking the Silence illustrate the horror and reality that battered moms face in some family courts.  The real bias is against women, and the facts and anecdotes clearly support this. 

Myth #4: “Father’s Rights” Groups Speak for All Fathers and for All Men

Reality #4: Most places I go, men care about girls and women.  They want to become a part of the solution – with minimal education, and some tricks to get past male defensiveness, men literally line up to sign up. 

I end every performance of “Voices of Men” by asking men in the audience to stand and take a pledge.  In San Diego, hundreds of men, many of them military men in uniform, stood when I asked them to.  A booming chorus of male voices pledged to “never commit, condone, or remain silent about men’s violence against women,” and to “respect, listen to, seek equality with and share power with every person I date, and every person I know.”  These men were not fooled by the signs outside.  The signs do not speak to them, nor did they believe them.  

Strategy: We need to continue to organize men to ally themselves with our movement.  These men should be on a “rapid response” email list, ready to come to our State Houses wearing suits and ties.  These men should be ready to echo the sentiments that battered women’s advocates say, and to stand behind them if needed. 

Some groups are already in place – most notably Joe Kelly and “Dads and Daughters,” www.dadsanddaughters.com.  Kelly and other dads encourage fathers to work to end sexism and violence against girls and women, for their daughters’ sake as much as their own.  The White Ribbon Campaign www.whiteribbon.com is an international movement of men to end men’s violence against women.  And the National Organization for Men Against Sexism www.nomas.org organizes annual conferences to end sexism, racism, homophobia – they work to enhance men’s lives by (among other things) encouraging them to take a stand against men’s violence. 

Many, many local and statewide groups exist that organize men to take a stand against men’s violence.  I have been to many such communities – most of them have followed a simple five-step process which I will outline in a subsequent article.  It is possible to organize men in our communities, without taking resources away from victim safety.  And when each of our shelters, state coalitions and national groups has hundreds of men accountable to women’s leadership, the words of the “Father’s Rights” groups will ring hollow. 

Long Term: Potential Allies?

Our primary concern in doing this work is usually the safety of battered women and their advocates.  If the “Father’s Rights” groups have their way, this safety will be threatened – in addition, some of the “Father’s Rights” members can be and are very dangerous.  For this reason, I urge our local programs and state coalitions to plan and strategize for existing and potential “Father’s Rights” activism in our communities and in our states – using this article if you find it useful. 

But we must also remember that underneath every “Father’s Rights” member is a human being.  As we learn more about these movements, their methods and their rhetoric, we can learn about the individual men and women involved.  We can connect with these men and women – they are real people who have mostly been brainwashed.  Some men of conscience I know, including my hosts in San Diego, are attempting to make real connections with these folks. 

In the article referenced below, Alan Berkowitz says, “What men think other men think and do is one of the strongest determinants of how men act – even when these perceptions and beliefs are mistaken.”  “Father’s Rights” members have joined a movement that seemed most inviting to them, the one that seemed to address their concerns.  But our movement addresses concerns of parental equality and partnership much more thoroughly than does theirs. 

Like the Moral Majority and the Promise Keepers, their movement will eventually wane and might sputter out.  When it does, they may find the feminist movement against domestic violence is the place they can go to build a world truly free from violence against women, children – and men. 

Ben Atherton-Zeman is a feminist, actor and husband living in Acton, MA: He can be reached at benazeman@hotmail.com, or www.voicesofmen.org. 

(1)  In this essay, I use the term “so-called ‘Father’s Rights’” because I do not believe these groups’ goal is to promote the rights of fathers.  Their intent is to promote father’s rights, but the effect of their words and actions are to eradicate the goals of the movement to end men’s violence against women. In my opinion, feminism is the real “father’s rights” movement.  Feminists advocate for shared parenting, shared responsibility, economic equality, and an end to all violence and oppression – goals that are certainly liberating and beneficial for any father. 

(2) Again, I use quotes for these groups since the “Promise Keepers” do not, in my opinion, “keep” their “promise” of a better family life since, at the core, they espouse stifling and harmful gender roles with the husband as the undisputed head of the household.  And, as the old bumper sticker says, “The Moral Majority Is Neither.” 

*************************************************************************************

Resources: Conflict Tactics Scale:

Surveys that use the CTS will count the raw number of violent acts committed while ignoring the reasons why people use violence. They ignore the context, motivations, meanings, and consequences of intimate partner violence. In fact, an examination of the data available to date reveals that the
majority of women who use violence against their male partners are battered themselves. While men generally use violence in order to control their female partners, many scholars and victim advocates report that women have different motivations for using force against their current or former
intimate partners. Women’s abusive behaviors towards their heterosexual partners are motivated by several factors including self-defense and retaliation (see “Towards an Understanding of Women’s Use of Non-Lethal Violence in Intimate Heterosexual Relationships”).

Male Victims

“Men living with male intimate partners experience more intimate partner violence than do men who live with female intimate partners. Approximately 23 percent of the men, who had lived with a man as a couple, reported being raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked by a male cohabitant, while 7.4 percent of the men, who had married or lived with a woman as a couple, reported such violence by a wife or female cohabitant. These findings provide evidence indicating that intimate partner violence is perpetrated primarily by men, whether against male or female intimates. Thus, strategies for
preventing intimate partner violence should focus on risks posed by men.” [Tjaden, P. & Thoennes, N. (July 2000).  Extent, nature, and consequences of intimate partner violence – findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey.  (Publication #NCJ181867).  National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Washington, DC: Office of Justice Programs.]

Violence Against Women Act

Funds are available under the Violence Against Women Act for services provided to victims regardless of gender. And while male victims represent a small parcel of the total number of clients, domestic violence programs nationwide provide crisis services to these victims as well. (see the “National Census of Domestic Violence Services” for a snapshot of the services provided by gender to adults.)

(Not all of the resources below are available on VAWnet, but most are.)

Articles:
Measuring the Extent of Woman Abuse in Intimate Heterosexual Relationships: A Critique of the Conflict Tactics Scales by Walter DeKeseredy and Martin Schwartz
http://new.vawnet.org/category/Documents.php?docid=388

Towards an Understanding of Women’s Use of Non-Lethal Violence in Intimate Heterosexual Relationships by Shamita Das Dasgupta
http://new.vawnet.org/category/Documents.php?docid=410

Are Heterosexual Men Also Victims of Intimate Partner Abuse? by Joanne Belknap and Heather Melton
http://new.vawnet.org/category/Documents.php?docid=370

Male Victims of Domestic Violence: A Substantive and Methodological Research Review by Michael S. Kimmel
http://new.vawnet.org/category/Documents.php?docid=595

Husband Abuse: An Overview of Research and Perspectives by Leslie Tutty
http://new.vawnet.org/category/Documents.php?docid=942

Abuse in Gay Male Relationships: A Discussion Paper by Kevin Kirkland
http://new.vawnet.org/category/Documents.php?docid=938

Statistics:
Male Victims of Violence Facts
http://www.ncadv.org/files/malevictimsofviolence.pdf

Intimate Partner Violence: Fact Sheet
http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/factsheets/ipvfacts.htm

Intimate Partner Violence in the United States
http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/intimate/ipv.htm

Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women
http://new.vawnet.org/category/Documents.php?docid=596

Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey
http://new.vawnet.org/category/Documents.php?docid=592

Domestic Violence Counts: The National Census of Domestic Violence Services – Communities and Individuals Served
http://www.nnedv.org/census/DVCounts2006/DVCounts06_App4_CommunitiesIndivServed.pdf

Women’s Experiences of Abuse as a Risk Factor for Incarceration by Mary E Gilfus
http://new.vawnet.org/category/Documents.php?docid=412

Child Custody and Visitation Decisions in Domestic Violence Cases: Legal Trends, Research Findings, and Recommendations by Daniel G. Saunders
http://new.vawnet.org/category/Documents.php?docid=371

The Social Norms Approach to Violence Prevention by Alan D. Berkowitz
http://new.vawnet.org/category/Documents.php?docid=969

Two steps forward, one step back: Community attitudes to violence against women by Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth)
http://new.vawnet.org/category/Documents.php?docid=630

Read more at www.xyonline.net

 

The Heart of Justice

In domestic law on July 24, 2011 at 1:45 pm

This was written for a newsletter published by an organisation* working to make custody decisions in Australia centered on what is in the best interests for children, based on principles of justice and compassion, not in service to abusive husbands and fathers. It is for one woman in particular. May her daughter be returned to her soon, removed from the custody of the man who has abused them both.

*Here is the link to that organisation: www.safety4parentsandkids.org.au

Amplify’d from www.xyonline.net

Men have asked over the centuries a question that, in their hands, ironically becomes abstract: “What is reality?” They have written complicated volumes on this question. The woman who was a battered wife and has escaped knows the answer: reality is when something is happening to you and you know it and can say it and when you say it other people understand what you mean and believe you. That is reality, and the battered wife, imprisoned alone in a nightmare that is happening to her, has lost it and cannot find it anywhere.
— Andrea Dworkin, “A Battered Wife Survives”, in Letters From a War Zone

The issue concerning men’s unearned rights and unjust male ownership of women and children is one which continues to exist not only in Australia, the US, and the UK but also the Scandinavian countries. Increasingly, there is a pernicious patriarchal myth that children must have regular contact with their violent fathers/stepfathers. Family court systems refuse to accept that the male partner who commits violence against the female partner cannot be viewed as an appropriate ‘parent’ when it concerns the welfare of the children. Male supremacist thinking is that issue of violent male partners is separate to the issue of ‘the same violent men being granted contact/guardianship of the child/children.’

The dangerous and sometimes deadly belief is that in a household wherein the man commits violence against his female partner, this domination supposedly does not impact on the child’s/children’s welfare. This is partly due to the unquestioned presumption of public and private male dominance. Even worse, despite efforts to make international legislation concerning the rights of children more just and humane, this harmful impact is commonly ignored; the ‘rights of the violent male partner’ supersede the rights of the child/children not to be subjected to male violence. Contact with violent fathers is seen as vital because of this misogynist myth that children need the abusive ‘male role model in their lives’. We must not question ‘violent man’s suitability’ since mere fact he is male is prioritised over everything other factor. The effects of violence and the rights of children, hand in hand, go ignored. The mother–’the female role model in their lives’–is constantly subjected to the most minute, discriminating sexist male-centered scrutiny concerning their suitability to parent their child/children. Male sex right over children always trumps women’s and children’s right not to be forced to live or have contact with violent, manipulative, self-obsessed men.
— Jennifer Drew, UK Feminist Activist and Researcher Challenging Male Violence Against Women

In countries which have national laws that impact people globally, across class, race, ethnicity, and gender what is the moral and political obligation of such a country’s legislative bodies and criminal justice systems to understand, empathically, the experiences of those most marginalised, most disempowered, and most harmed? If laws center the experiences of the most privileged and powerful, the people with the most financial access to those legal systems, and the people with the least likelihood of being arrested due to social position and political clout, what is the impact on those with the lowest social position and the least political clout?

Cases flash before my eyes. A mother appeals to the court to prevent the man who regularly raped her from having custody of the children he also sexually abuses. The court doesn’t believe her that he repeatedly raped her because she’s his wife and finds inconclusive evidence of him having abused his children. Because the court determines her to be a liar they award sole custody to the man who then goes on to sexually assault his children until they leave home. A woman fights for her children’s rights to be free of the man who has terrorised all of them, sometimes with fists, sometimes throwing objects, sometimes with verbal assaults that cut as swiftly as a sharp knife. Or, on the gentler side of things, a man seeks psychological control and power over his family and his spouse decides she wants more out of life for herself and her children than to be dominated in this way. She leaves, with her children. He sues her for custody because he wants her back. The children are less important to him. I knew this father who pretended to want custody to care for his children when all he really sought was to have more abusive access and control over the children’s mother. The mother told me that was his sole motivation. I wanted to believe he was more complex than that, more humane. He wasn’t. He lost his custody case and has done very little to keep in contact with his children, now grown, although he was not legally or otherwise restricted in his ability to contact or visit with them. He lost control of his first wife so he married another woman and had two more children. So much for his court-pleaded desire to raise the first two.

There are so many cases of men using the unjust while socially real power they have to oppressively regulate the lives of women they love, hate, or regard merely as a pawn in their sadistic mental chess game called life. (He may tout that she is The Queen who holds all the power. Sometimes he actually believes his own grand delusions of political impotence.) When seen collectively and compassionately the cases, sorted and stacked, cease being anecdotal and instead reveal patriarchal patterns of men terrorising women and children, using any and all means available to them to attempt to regain the forms of control and dominance that usually escalates with little to no intervention. Misogynist violence is minimised by society generally–or normalised, or naturalised. It is blamed on women; it is seen as a weakness in men, a cause for concern and pity. Perhaps therapy will help (him).

In most cases men’s sexual violence against women can and will be ignored altogether. Most battered women remain silent. Most raped women never speak about it. Most girls violated by their fathers are too afraid to say anything for years, if at all. In my own family of origin, virtually all the female members are survivors of abuse from men in the family. None of them prosecuted. None of them ever accused the perpetrator of assault. The lie is that women make false allegations against men about battery, rape, and incest. The truth is that most women are silent, sometimes due to being killed, sometimes due to taking their own lives to escape the present or past horror and pain. Those that survive and build up the courage to speak out, to confront, to challenge the wrongs of his rights and the legitimacy of his entitlements are seen as scornful and uppity. A woman who publicly challenges a man’s ability to do what he wants and not be accountable to anyone–which is usually how it goes–is presented socially as someone who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Confused. Irrational. She may speak; but being believed is another matter altogether. Remember: he defines and authors reality; she cannot. That’s how he wants it and that is, too often, how the courtroom sees it.

The reality presented before a judge or a jury is tightly bound to male supremacist beliefs and attitudes, values and practices that do to women what men do to women: make them seem incapable of telling the truth about their own experiences. He’ll do just fine with a misogynist attorney appealing to the court’s patriarchal sympathies. She will need extensive outside verification: corroboration, reports, findings. Compounding the problem is the reality that child welfare and social service agencies are often so underfunded and understaffed that they must pick and choose which cases they can investigate.

My hearts breaks when I learn of yet another case where men are allowed to abuse their children and torture their ex-wives. What I feel vacillates between despair and outrage. Girls and boys are being ordered by court into the homes of their abusive fathers rather than their caring mothers because the fathers have social status and political power, not because they are the best parents. Custody may be determined based on the father having economic stability when a mother is poor for having spent years raising children and finally leaving him without his blessing or access to the financial portfolio he filled because she took care of the family from home, out of love, not for money.

What is horrifying is learning what happens when a woman leaves an abusive man. A woman who worked in the medical field as a technician, assisting a male doctor I’d seen for years, suddenly wasn’t around. I inquired about her absence. Co-workers looked down. I felt dread. They quietly told me she’d been killed by her ex-boyfriend. I felt sick. Only a month or two ago she was with him and alive. Now she was away from him and dead. That’s quite a high price to pay for deciding to be single. The newspapers reported him saying “I realised she wouldn’t come back and I couldn’t bear the thought of her being with another man.” His lethally jealous, irrational rage betrays his truth claim; it’s not like she had the chance. Let’s be thankful they didn’t have children because they likely would have been raised by the man who murdered their mother.

This is more than wrong. It is immoral and unacceptable because it is preventable destruction of human life presented as acceptable and fair by men’s lawyers and patriarchal judiciaries allegedly empowered to protect the vulnerable and the harmed from such abuses. Instead laws and courtrooms conspire to do just the opposite–adding promise to a husband’s threats and force to his fist.

The fact that men dominate, control, and regulate every institution in society is somehow missed when the legal lens focuses in on particular cases argued with spurious logic by attorneys well-paid by selfish and sadistic men. With increasing vigor and determination, Father’s Rights groups are attempting to misuse questionable facts to make it appear that women have all the control and only want more and with that presumed power they only want one thing: to punish the men who hurt them. If that’s how the world really worked the medical technician would be alive today and her ex-boyfriend would be dead. Men’s capacity to project onto women what they themselves feel and do is astoundingly, acidly hallucinogenic and horrifyingly effective in accomplishing their goals of continued dominance.

Centuries of documented despicable patriarchal violence by men against women and children is conveniently kept out of view when the hostile fathers’ attorneys build bogus cases against the women who loved them and were compelled to leave them when unable to endure their hatred and hostility. Wicked is a word applied to step-mothers and women generally. Not to men who have demonstrated a willingness to be wicked in ways women have never been, not necessarily because they lacked the cause. But women’s rage is institutionally impotent while simultaneously demonised. Men’s rage, however, is systemically existent and institutionally enforced. His rage cannot be demonic because he’s always entitled to it as a human quality. Law tries to curb its uglier expressions, but for him to be enraged, in and of itself, is no crime at all. When women rage, they are portrayed as many things–none of them especially human.

Misogynistic Men’s Rights Groups are organising to do what they do best: spread woman- and child-hating, utterly self-serving and self-centered portraits of themselves as the Fathers Who Always Know Best. Online and off, they distribute distortions about their own children’s testimony against them and about the caricatured characters of their ex-wives, who are, after all, the mothers of their children. The pain she allegedly caused him, actually generated by his own commitment to control and conquest, is played up to epic proportions. He suffers; therefore he is victimised by her, not by inflicting his own inhumanity against her. Meanwhile, her pain, from his outbursts and his beatings, is downplayed, denied completely, or blamed on her decision to stay with him. When are men not socially responsible for their own violent behavior? When the recipient of them is a woman.

His abuses may be emotional, psychological, physical, or sexual. Some may be public but most are expressed privately against the wife and kids, intentionally hidden from public scrutiny so as to maintain his social standing as “a good man”. Because of a socially ingrained sexist assumption that men speak both with greater authority and more accuracy in society-at-large, fictional tales can be promulgated by these male supremacist men and their adoring attorneys who are never paid to be truthful, only convincing.

Consider the following assessments made by a loving father and husband I know who has been studying the contours and conceits of sexist men’s stories. What follows are excerpts on myths about domestic violence, researched and compiled by the sociological specialising on gender violence, Dr. Michael Flood, from Fact Sheet #2: The Myth of Women’s False Accusations of Domestic Violence and Rape and Misuse of Protection Orders.

Myth:
Women routinely make up allegations of domestic violence and rape, including to gain advantage in family law cases. And women use protection orders to remove men from their homes or deny contact with children.

Reality:
● The risk of domestic violence increases at the time of separation.
● Most allegations of domestic violence in the context of family law proceedings are made in good faith and with support and evidence for their claims.
● Rates of false accusations of rape are very low.
● Women living with domestic violence often do not take out protection orders and do so only as a last resort.
● Protection orders provide an effective means of reducing women’s vulnerability to violence.

Reality:
Separated women are at elevated risk of violence by men, whether physical, sexual, or lethal, relative to women in intact unions (Brownridge, 2006), and women are at risk of increasingly severe violence when separating from violent partners (Riggs et al., 2000). The risk of post-separation violence decreases with the passage of time since separation, and is greatest in the first two or three months after the commencement of the separation, at least from homicide data. […]

Reality:
Further situational variables influence post-separation violence. Leaving a marital or cohabiting relationship or trying to leave it increases women’s changes of being physically or sexually assaulted especially if they are connected to men with patriarchal and/or sexually proprietary attitudes (DeKeseredy et al., 2004). Women are at greater risk of post-separation violence if they are more ‘available’ for victimisation: if they live in the same city as their former partner, and at riskier times such as court appearances and exchanges of or visits to children (Brownridge, 2006). The presence of a new partner can be either a risk or a protective factor, as can children. For example, joint custody may become an opportunity for conflict and violence, may increase opportunities for violence at visitation and the exchange of children, and children may be used as tools for violence by abusive men (Brownridge, 2006). […]

The Australian evidence is that protection orders provide an effective means of reducing women’s vulnerability to violence. An early study in New South Wales found that the vast majority of complainants experienced a reduction in violence and abuse from the defendant in the six months after the order was served on the defendant, and over 90 per cent reported that the order had produced benefits such as reduced contact with the defendant and increased personal safety and comfort (Trimboli & Bonney, 1997). Finally, research among young women aged 18 to 23 and subjected to violence by intimate partners found that “preventive strategies for young women at the early stage of a relationship can eliminate, or at least reduce, physical violence by a partner” (Young et al., 2000, p. 5). The severity of violence was reduced after legal protection, but the benefit was not as marked unless women sought help from the courts as well as the police.

Mothers are desperately awaiting the feel of their sons and daughters arms around them, finally out of the psychological and physical grip of their patriarchal parent. So let’s get to the heart of the matter. Women are socially and legally disadvantaged in life and in law due to men’s jurisdiction over each. The sexist beliefs and attitudes that are foundational to men’s violence against women and children are supported, not exposed, not challenged, not remedied, when judges and juries carry those same beliefs and attitudes into the courtroom. This effectively ensures that at the end of the day, male supremacists win, patriarchal power is bolstered, and abusive fathers and husband regain control and custody. Women lose credibility, if not courage. They lose faith that justice is fair and unbiased. Mothers and children lose trust and hope in systems that are supposed to protect and defend their human rights to not be dominated and violated. More heart-breaking still is the loss of mothers and children’s irreplaceable relationships to each other. They are legally and forcibly separated for months, years, and sometimes forever. This is not justice. This is the tyranny of unearned patriarchal privilege ruling justice systems.

Some of these fathers have controlled, dominated, manipulated, violated, subordinated, raped, and battered the children’s mothers secretly, others have done so in front of the children, also to them, but none of this is appreciably and appropriately factored into who gets custody when parents separate and divorce due to domestic violence. Why are men being given visitation rights to children they abuse? Why is a man who batters his children’s mother being given full custody when the children need to be safely with her, and they all need reliable protection from him? With official rulings such as these, one wonders: where is the heart in justice?

If our choices rest between a woman who has been harmed significantly by a husband’s abuse but who is still standing and speaking out, naming him as the perpetrator of that harm, the best parent available to the children ought never be the abuser. Even if he is rich and she is poor.

The fact of him being male ought not be reason to grant him access to family members he has terrified. Being male doesn’t preclude being a good parent but being an abusive husband and father always does–definitionally–if reality is allowed to be defined by the harmed, that is. Being an abusive husband in a home where there are children means you are unequivocally an abusive father also. To believe otherwise is to deny children have human feelings. To believe otherwise is to deny that everyone in a home with domestic violence is impacted negatively by that violence. We know this is the case with alcoholic homes. We know this about families where there is rampant drug abuse. The same is true in any home with children where misogyny is expressed by domineering men who psychologically control and terrorise women. Whether he appears kind or callous to his children, the fact of him systematically subordinating their mother to his will, regardless of how he directly treats the children, ought to be sufficiently substantiating evidence he ought not parent them.

Overwhelmingly, by all accounts, it is males, not females, who use brutal force, bone-breaking force causing bodies to bleed and faces to bruise beyond recognition. These male supremacist traumas are not only physical. Men humiliate and degrade women with sarcastic ridicule and caustic contempt. Men’s attitudes and entitlements, both interpersonal and institutional, reveal their behavior, their actions, are aimed at women because they are female.

No child is safe when home is a war zone. Ought the safety and care of children and the humanitarian well-being of women be more centrally valued in society and in law than preserving a detrimental father-child relationship when determining where and with whom children will best be raised? If a husband and father has demonstrated his ability to terrorise and dominate other human beings “in his care”, why doesn’t the courtroom see this as just cause to award sole custody of children to the mother, without visitation by the predator?

This would be an absurdly unnecessary thing to say except that it is not routinely believed: criminal terrorists ought not be made legal guardians of those they terrify. Findings of post-traumatic stress due to threats and violence, and symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome due to degradation and domination exacted against the wills and beings of mothers and children ought not be ignored, understated, or deemed irrelevant when custody rulings are rendered in any court of law that calls itself just and humane.

Sources for some of the content above:
http://ncmbts.blogspot.com/2010/06/fact-sheet-2-myth-of-womens-false.html
<a rel="nofollow" href="http://factscourtwatch.org/Emotional-Psychological%20Abuse%20Fact%20Sheet.htm
“>http://factscourtwatch.org/Emotional-Psychological%20Abuse%20Fact%20Sheet.htm

Julian Real is a U.S. writer working to illuminate and eliminate men’s social and sexual domination of women. He has also been an activist in support of feminist campaigns for justice for thirty years, largely working out of public view due to death threats made against him by Men’s Rights Activists. He worked collaboratively with Nikki Craft to create feminist websites including the Andrea Dworkin Memorial, Hustling The Left, and The Nikki Wiki. He is the author of dozens of essays published many places online, including xyonline.net and nostatusquo.com. Since the summer of 2008 he has hosted the blog, A Radical Profeminist, which spotlights and challenges white men’s violence against women of color.

Read more at www.xyonline.net

 

What is Fair for Children of Abusive Men?

In domestic law on June 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm

A presentation by Jack Straton at What About the Kids? Custody and Visitation Decisions in Families with a History of Violence, a National Training Project of the Duluth Domestic Abuse Project

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