Abused Women in Maryland Aren’t Lying

This spring, the Maryland legislature killed a bill that would have brought Maryland’s restraining order policies into line with every other state in the union. Remarkably, in Maryland, a stalking victim seeking help is required to prove her case with “clear and convincing” evidence, a higher standard than “preponderance of the evidence,” which is the universal standard for civil dispute.

There can be only one reason for this absurd requirement: that the Maryland legislators who voted for the bill, listed here, believe that women who testify that they’ve been abused are less credible than men who deny being abusers. That’s not a level playing field, and it’s an absolutely unacceptable attitude for a legislator to hold.

But it’s no mystery where they’re getting this idea. Father’s and men’s rights activists have long promoted the myth that false allegations of domestic violence are rampant, especially in custody cases, and that women frequently file for protective orders in order to gain an upper hand in court. The group Fathers and Families in particular has promoted fathers’ rights propaganda around the country, and has directly targeted legislators. When Maryland Rep. Luis Simmons stated in an interview that he believed it only fair to expunge records of those who had been given a Temporary Restraining Order that didn’t lead to a final order (because a judge dismissed or denied it), Fathers and Families encouraged its supporters to contact Simmons to applaud his statement.

In fact, bona fide false allegations of domestic violence are rare. Dr. Michael Flood wrote in his paper “Fact Sheet #2: The Myth Of Women False Accusation Of Domestic Violence And Misuse Of Protective Orders” that most abused women are reluctant to take out restraining orders:

The risk of domestic violence increases at the time of separation … 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.

It is only when women experience more severe forms of violence, such as choking, beating, or being shot at, that they are more likely to take out a protective order.

As experts Rita Smith and Pamela Coukos of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence wrote in an article for the peer-reviewed Judges Journal:

Although both common sense and the prevailing legal standard dictate careful consideration of evidence in domestic or family violence when determining custody, allegations of domestic violence and/or child sexual abuse made during a divorce or custody proceeding are not always taken seriously. These allegations often are wrongly perceived as false because they are asserted in a contentious environment and because of the widespread myth that parents fabricate domestic violence and child abuse allegations in order to gain an advantage in court. When combined with the misuse of psychological syndrome evidence, the perception that a parent has fabricated the allegations often results in unfair retribution against the reporting protective parent.

Furthermore, obtaining a restraining order does not guarantee that an abused woman will be able to gain custody of her children or see her abuse taken seriously. According to Attorney Elizabeth Kates, citing Zorza, Dore, and Rosen:

Research does not substantiate this popular myth [that women frequently lie about domestic violence]. However, research does substantiate that there is no tactical advantage to making domestic violence claims. Fathers are more likely to get visitation when domestic violence is alleged, even in states with custody presumptions enacted to protect battered women. Abusive fathers are more likely to obtain primary custody when domestic violence is present, alleged or not.

More evidence that women don’t lie comes from a 1994 study of a Massachusetts database tracking restraining orders (RO’s):

[T]he high frequency with which RO’s are issued might lead some 
skeptics to assume that these orders are granted too easily for minor
 offenses and almost any man is at risk of being a defendant. The data
 from the new RO database in Massachusetts reflect otherwise. Men 
against whom RO’s have been used are clearly not a random draw
 from the population. They are likely to have a criminal history, often 
reflective of violent behavior toward others.

Thus, it simply isn’t true that women are likely to lodge false charges of child abuse or battering against their spouses in an effort to manipulate or retaliate–the rate of false reports in these circumstances is no greater than for other crimes.

This research and testimony needs to get out there to combat men’s and father’s rights group propaganda, so legislators are not influenced by untruths. To do anything less places an unfair burden of proof on abused women.

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/sashawolff/ / CC BY 2.0

Comments

  1. Excellent piece by Elizabeth Black. It really sums up the issues in Maryland very well. What she doesn’t mention is that some of these guys on the Maryland Judiciary Committee actually have histories of domestic violence themselves. So until they get booted out by the voters, there’s not much hope for change.

  2. Thank you for a really important article that exposes the crisis in the courts’ mishandling of domestic violence cases. I thought it was particularly revealing that the delegates continued to try to justify their past mistakes and actually attack the mother whose children were murdered because of access granted by the judge AFTER they knew the grisly outcome. It is certainly normal for someone to be defensive when they are criticized or when their decisions cause so much harm, but if the delegates want to serve the public, they have to find a way to take a fresh look at the problem based upon new research that is now available and a review of how present policy is working.
    I particularly appreciate this writer citing some of the research that explodes the myth that women frequently make false allegations of abuse. It is not that it doesn’t happen because if it never happened you couldn’t have a myth, but it is very rare–about 1-2% of the time. Interestingly there is research from Nicholas Bala and his colleagues that demonstrates in contested custody cases fathers are 16 times more likely to make false allegations. I want to be clear that they are not saying mothers are that much more honest than fathers. Most custody cases are resolved more or less amicably and fathers who love their children are willing to sacrifice their desires for what is best for the children. Where mothers have performed most of the child care during the relationship, good fathers appreciate that the children should live with the mother and he gets a reasonable amount to time with his children. The problem is the 3.8% of cases that cannot be settled. Courts usually think of these cases as “high conflict” and literally they are, but in reality 90% of these cases involve abusive fathers. They are using the custody tactic taught by male supremacist groups as a way to maintain power and control over his victim, pressure her to return or punish her for leaving. The cases can’t be settled because his goal is not helping the children but using his children to gain access to his victim. In this context abusive fathers believe making false allegations is an acceptable tactic. Unfortunately, the court system has been slow to recognize and respond to these tactics. This is why thousands of children are being forced to live with abusers and in the nine months ending in April, 75 children were murdered by fathers involved in contested custody cases.

  3. Please see my Op Ed in the Washington Post about the Maryland House Judiciary Committee and the way Dr. Amy Castillo was treated when she testified in support of HB 700: Maryland’s roadblock to helping victims of abuse
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/13/AR2010031301846.html

    I now have the recording of the Jan 10, 2007 hearing before Judge Dugan in which it is absolutely clear that the judge decided Dr. Castillo lacked credibility because she submitted to Mark Castillo’s demands for sex after he threatened to kill their children.

    As Lynn Hecht Schafran wrote in a Arpil 2010 letter to the Members of the Maryland House Judiciary and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committees:

    <>

    Delegate Luiz Simmons gave a clear dog-whistle to his supporters when the Kojo Namdi show’s title included this lede:

    http://thekojonnamdishow.org/shows/2010-03-11/domestic-violence-and-protective-orders-maryland
    “Maryland lawmakers recently killed a bill that would make it easier for victims of domestic violence to receive a final protective order against their abusers. Supporters say the measure would bring Maryland in line with the rest of the country, but critics warn it could lead to a flood of false accusations.”

    And when Delegate Simmons introduced and passed a bill that allows respondents in a protective order case in which the PO was dismissed to request that the records be shielded from the public, we know who he values. In effect, he says that “tens of thousands” of protective order filings are “false allegations”. See the Baltimore Sun article:

    “Bill would shield those falsely accused of domestic violence”
    http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2010-04-07/news/bal-md.protective07apr07_1_protective-orders-domestic-violence-victims-rights-groups

    “People who have these are losing jobs, are being denied housing, are having security clearances jeopardized,” said Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat. “Each year, the current law has been casting a lengthening shadow over the reputations of tens of thousands of Marylanders.”

    So Del. Simmons believes women make “tens of thousands” of false allegations each year yet but denies that his positions are gender-biased.

    As Regional Director of Justice For Children’s Washington, D.C. office, I do a lot of court-watching on our cases in Maryland. I have recently court-watched several final Protective Order hearings where child sexual abuse was alleged with very compelling evidence, yet the final PO order was denied. In every case (and as Judge Dugan did in Amy Castillo’s case) the judge said that they had concerns about the children’s safety and protection, but the evidence did not meet the standard of “clear and convincing”.

    Children are being sexually abused, hurt or killed because some Maryland legislators are more interested in defending the accused than protecting children or women who are victims of death threats, sexual assault or violence.

    Eileen King
    Regional Director
    Justice For Children-DC

  4. Genia S. says:

    This is a great Article!
    Thank you for writing this.
    Genia S.

  5. I was very disturbed to see one of my three representatives on the list of people who voted against the bill- Frank M. Conaway. Rest assured he will be hearing from me and my friends.

  6. This is the author of the article here. Thanks for all your comments. I used to live in Maryland over a decade ago, and I would not want to live there now considering how divorcing and abused women are treated in Maryland courts. Maryland used to be very progressive when it came to helping abused women and treating divorcing women with respect, but things have changed a great deal in the negative for women over time. I blame the influence of those horrid father’s rights groups for the change. I now live in New England and I feel much safer here. Sad to say how bad things have gotten in Maryland.

  7. vawnews says:

    You wouldn’t want to live in New Jersey either.

  8. Dara Carlin, M.A. says:

    As a Domestic Violence Survivor Advocate, I’m constantly baffled by the assertions that:

    “TROs are given out like candy” or that
    “Women’ll file TROs to get ‘a leg up’ in custody matters” or that
    “Women make up these allegations when they want a divorce”.

    Due to the myth that TROs are “given out like candy” many jurisdictions are actually more careful, cautious and scrutinizing when issuing TROs. Rather I’ve seen far too many women “flake out” during the process and be DENIED TROs because:

    - they’re too scared/terrified to gather their thoughts cohesively and self-advocate effectively,
    - they “water down” how bad things actually are (because when told that their abuser will receive a copy of what she writes, she needs to think twice about all of it and whether it’s worth the risk or not). This minimizing leads to a failure to prove imminent harm or prove sufficient cause/danger.
    - they get to the Order To Show Cause Hearing, have “made up” with their abuser and then beg the court for the TRO’s dismissal. Some of these urgings are genuine “I don’t want the TRO anymore”, which costs them their credibility if they need to request another TRO and then there’s the “I don’t want the TRO anymore” (with the unspoken “because he said if I love my daughter, then you’d BETTER get rid of this NOW!”)

    Due to the myth that “women frequently file for protective orders in order to gain an upper hand in court”, the reality is that:

    - due to that very myth, judges and court-related appointees view the woman with a TRO as suspect for having one and treat her NOT as a battered woman attempting to escape an abusive relationship trying to protect herself and her children, but as a woman whose trying to gain an upper hand in court proceedings – and they treat her that way as well!
    - TROs frustrate, aggravate and complicate the smooth path the judges and court appointees want to see for case resolution and settlement. Having the judge upset with you the minute you walk into the courtroom doesn’t seem like a “leg up” or any kind of benefit to me.
    - the ONLY people who view the TROs as “an award of honor and privilege” are the ABUSERS; informing necessary parties that you have a TRO is a humiliating, shameful and embarrassing process – people recoil, curl up their noses, don’t look you in the eye, avoid you, have their kids avoid you and your kids, etc. The TRO is concrete proof that “there’s something wrong” with you/your life and you become a social pariah.

    The most comical, if it weren’t so absolutely tragic, of these myths is the one about women making up these allegations when they want a divorce.

    I have yet to meet a victim of domestic violence who can loudly, proudly and publicly announce “Yes, I AM a victim of domestic violence!” (Even most DV survivors have a difficult time owning up to their experience YEARS after the end of the abusive relationship.)

    Most states have a variety of options to choose for divorce and some states are “no fault” states, so why out of every other option a woman could choose for divorce would she opt for the most humiliating and highly scrutinized one? Even the minority of men who have been legitimately abused by their partners do not boldly come forward saying “Yes, I was abused!” In tandem with their female counterparts, this confession comes in hushed tones and whispers with darting eyes to see if anyone else has possibly overheard.

    If you ask “Why wouldn’t a woman allege DV then?” please reread my responses to the first 2 myths and consider what Dr. Amy Castillo had to disclose in her own situation: submitting to sex to stave off a THREAT – how many people do you think would WANT to own up to and have a public debate about that? Wouldn’t it be easier to claim “irreconcilable differences” or even adultery then to try to explain your actions in an abusive relationship that no one else has saw?

    GREAT article, Ms. Black, and kudos to you Ms. Magazine for publishing it!

  9. THANK YOU so much for highlighting the hypocrasy of Delegate Michael Smigiel ( Mike Smigiel) R-36th District! I live in this guy’s district and am working against him– and FOR the Democratic announced candidate running against Smigiel. (William (Bill) Manlove of Earleville, in Cecil County, MD)

    You don’t know the HALF of Smigiel’s anti-women views and his hypocrasy. He yelled a lot about sex offenders in Annapolis this year, while working against the victims of domestic violence. BUT SMIGIEL’s DIRTY LITTLE SECRET is that he has represented a horrible sex offender as the bum’s privately paid defense attorney! The local media will not report this even though it is in the public court record!

    THANKS again, and there will be more postings on Smigiel’s anti-domestic violence victim activity in the future! (A victim myself)

  10. Thank you for exposing how victims of domestic violence are treated by their government. We need the public to know how much protection a victim receives when they leave their abuser. Recently in California, Judge Lemkau refused an order of protection for Katie Tagle and even calls her a liar. Ten days later her 9 month old son Wyatt was killed by his father, just as Katie had foretold. There is considerable outrage from this crime and rightly so. The judge should always rule in favor of a restraining order as a life is too precious to chance. What does an abuser have to lose by having a restraining order against him? Access to his victm(s). What does a victim have to to lose if denied? Her life. The scales of JUSTICE is unbalanced!!!

  11. I don’t want to be labeled a zealot here, but I think this article ignores the balance between a victim’s important right to these judicial mechanisms and the consequences of being wrongfully accused of domestic violence.
    Even under the newly passed law, these allegations remain publicly accessible online for three years (I think), and as you can imagine, these allegations are extremely stigmatizing. Also, being wrongfully or unfairly accused is an extraordinarily traumatic event, particularly in cases of child abuse, where you’ve been accused of physically or sexually abusing a child you love, and feel powerless.
    The idea that only 1-2% of allegations are false (noted by a commenter), even if correct (I think you’d struggle to find such a low estimate), ignores that fact that TRO’s can be opportunistic even if founded upon some level of evidence. Abuse is an unfortunate fact of many relationships, and occurs in both directions.
    Also, whether or the evidence reveals that such allegations actually help in custody decisions is irrelevant – those making these allegations believe it will. It happens. Often good intentioned parents see it as a necessity in messy custody decisions if there is any evidence whatsoever to support it. They may be very honest about it: (1) we got in a fight and the fight got physical, and (2) I think I’m the better parent for my child, (3) I plan to seek a TRO.

  12. I also should add that the quote that fathers who have been accused of domestic abuse are more likely to get visitatoin is absurd. I don’t really blame the article for this, because the author she cites does say that, but that other author offers two sources for that fact, neither of which (at least that I could find) make that contention. Those sources merely discuss the friendly parent consideration, where the parent that seems more amenable to working with the other parent will get some credit for their kindness in the custody decision. Where a parent makes apparently false accusations of child abuse, the court may think that that parent will not work with the other parent for visitation.
    But its simply untrue that such accusations helps fathers as an empirical matter. Even if this were supported by the evidence, it would probably only follow from the fact that TRO’s correlate with messy custody disagreements, where the alleged abuser is fighting for custody rather than relinquishing their rights.
    To conclude, I hope that you all will sympathize with father’s rights advocates. They may sometimes be misguided, but it often flows from a feeling of powerlessness, real or perceived.

  13. Abusers never lie, yeah, right says:

    What I want to know is why are cases of fathers abusing children or women being dealt with in family court?

    If a friend, neighbor, teacher, coach, grandfather, etc… abused or molested a child it would be handled in criminal court. Why is a father any different?

    This is a criminal act, right? We have a victim, right? So….lets put these cases where they belong. Criminal court.

    If I were violated, sexually or physically, no one would ever force me to be in the same room with the monster who hurt me let alone force me to live with him, talk about how it made me feel, etc… so why does the child welfare system throw these cases into family court and force these young victims to have contact with the person they say hurt them?

    Thank you for this article Ms. Magazine!

  14. Someone else posted that they hope everyone will sympathize with father’s rights advocates, and that they believe it’s absurd to think that fathers who have been accused of domestic abuse are more likely to get visitation. Both of those statements illustrate just how effective the father’s rights movement has been at creating a specific public mindset to suit their own agenda. They have successfully conditioned the general public to believe that things are still as they were long, long ago and that mothers always automatically are favored in custody decisions, and that fathers have to fight for time with their kids. In fact, the opposite is true today. The Internet is littered with hundreds of websites created by father’s rights advocates giving specific, step-by-step instructions to fathers on how to take full custody of children away from ex wives whom they know are actually good mothers. There are tips and tricks explained as to how to go about turning the court against her and taking all custody away so as to not only avoid having to pay any child support, but how to make it so that she actually has to pay him child support. Many read like Nazi propaganda. That may sound like an extreme statement, but indeed it is a fact. On the other hand, if you are a mother trying to protect herself or her children and continue providing their primary care as you have since they were born, you will be hard-pressed to find a single instructional website of the caliber that exist for fathers whose sudden decision to be involved in caring for their own children coincides precisely with the mother filing divorce papers.

    Thank you so much for writing this article. There is a giant need for a massive mother’s rights movement immediately. Children’s lives and well-being are at stake.

  15. Jon: “I also should add that the quote that fathers who have been accused of domestic abuse are more likely to get visitatoin is absurd.”

    Domestic Violence And The Courtroom
    Understanding The Problem … Knowing The Victim
    American Judges Association
    http://aja.ncsc.dni.us/domviol/page5.html

    Threats to Harm or Take Away Children: One of the most common reasons given for resuming an abusive relationship is the fear that the abuser will act on the threats of taking the children from the victim. Studies show that batterers have been able to convince authorities that the victim is unfit or undeserving of sole custody in approximately 70% of challenged cases.

    Goelman, D. M., Lehrman, F. L., & Valente, R. L. (Eds.). ((1996) . The impact of domestic violence on your legal practice: A lawyer’s handbook. Washington, D.C.: ABA Commission on Domestic Violence.

    This book published by the American Bar Association includes guidelines on legal practices in the best interest of the child, stating:

    “Custody litigation frequently becomes a vehicle whereby batterers attempt to extend or maintain their control and authority over the abused parents after separation.. Be aware that many perpetrators of domestic violence are facile manipulators, presenting themselves as caring, cooperative parents and casting the abused parent as a diminished, conflict-inciting, impulsive or over-protective parent.”

    “Abusive fathers are far more likely than nonabusive parents to fight for child custody, not pay child support, and kidnap children.”

    White, Ann C., The Florida Bar Journal, Vol LXVIII, No. 9, citing Hansen, Marsali, and Michele Harway, Battering and Family Therapy 175 (1993); Grieg, Geoffrey L. and Rebecca Hegar, “Parents Whose Children Are Abducted by the Other Parent: Implications for Treatment,” 19 American Journal of Family Therapy 215, 221 (1991); Zorza Joan, “Protection for Battered Women and Children,” 27 Clearing House Rev. 1437 (1994).

    Fact: “Since batterers know that nothing will devastate the victim more than seeing her children endangered, they frequently use the threat of obtaining custody to exact agreements to their liking. Custody litigation becomes yet another weapon for the abuser, heightening his power and control tactics to further terrify the victim.”

    See Hart, “Family Violence and Custody Orders,” 43(4) Juv. & Fam. Ct. J. 29, 33-34 (1992); Saunders, “Child Custody Decisions in Families Experiencing Woman Abuse,” 39 Social Work 51, 53 (1994), as cited in Hart and Hofford, “Child Custody,” in A Lawyer’s Handbook, supra, note 12 at 5-1; Cahn, “Civil Images of Battered Women: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Child Custody Decisions,” 44 Vanderbilt L.Rev. 1041 (1991). http://www.cobar.org/tcl/1999/october/obstacles.htm

    Fact: “[C]ontrary to popular belief, fathers who gain custody were not necessarily interested or involved in taking care of children prior to marriage… no evidence was found to suggest that fathers with custody were very involved with their children during the early stages of the child’s life. For the group of single fathers interviewed, the level of involvement during their children’s early years was not extraordinary. Some support or mixed support was found for the myth that single fathers were very involved with their children near the end of the marriage, which is why they gain custody, and for the myth that these marriages end on more unusual notes than most marriages. Finally, the idea that the father gained custody because the mother was emotionally incompetent is simply not true.”

    Greif, G. L. (1990). Ten myths about the fathers’ childhoods, marriages, and custody arrangements. In The daddy track and the single father (pp. 23-43). Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

  16. Jon: “Where a parent makes apparently false accusations of child abuse, the court may think that that parent will not work with the other parent for visitation. But its simply untrue that such accusations helps fathers as an empirical matter.”

    Neustein, A., & Goetting, A. (1999). Judicial Responses to Protective Parents, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 4, 103-122.
    http://www.haworthpressinc.com/store/SampleText/J070.pdf (go to page 109 of pdf)

    This study examined judicial responses to protective parents’ complaints of child sexual abuse in 300 custody cases with extensive family court records. The investigators found that only in 10% of cases was primary custody was given to the protective parent and supervised contact with alleged abuser. Conversely, 20% of the cases resulted in a predominantly negative outcome where the child was placed in the primary legal and physical custody of the allegedly sexually abusive parent. (see p. 108). In the rest of the cases, the judges awarded joint custody with no provisions for supervised visitation with the alleged abuser.

    American Judges’ Foundation. Domestic Violence and the Court House: Understanding the Problem.Knowing the Victim . Williamsburg, VA: Author. (see, Forms of Emotional Battering Section, Threats to Harm or Take Away Children Subsection: http://aja.ncsc.dni.us/domviol/page5.html )

    Fathers are often awarded sole custody even when their sexual and physical abuse of the children is alleged and substantiated. According to the American Judges Association, 70% of the time the abuser convinces the court to give him custody.

    Stahly, G. B., Krajewski, L., Loya, B. Uppal, K., German, G., Farris, W., Hilson, N., & Valentine, J. (2004). Protective Mothers in Child Custody Disputes: A Study of Judicial Abuse. In Disorder in the Courts: Mothers and Their Allies Take on the Family Law System (a collection of essays), electronic download available at http://store.canow.org/products.php?prod_id=3
    To better understand the problems that protective parents face in the legal system, researchers at California State University, San Bernardino, are performing an on-going national survey. To date, over 100 self-identified protective parents have completed the 101-item questionnaire. The study found that prior to divorce, 94% of the protective mothers surveyed were the primary caretaker and 87% had custody at the time of separation. However, as a result of reporting child abuse, only 27% were left with custody after court proceedings. 97% of the mothers reported that court personnel ignored or minimized reports of abuse and that they were punished for trying to protect their children. 45% of the mothers say they were labeled as having Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). Most protective parents lost custody in emergency ex parte proceedings (where they were not notified or present) and where no court reporter was present. 65% reported that they were threatened with sanctions if the “talked publicly” about the case.

    The average cost of the court proceedings was over $80,000 and over a quarter of the protective parents reported being forced to file bankruptcy as a result of filing for custody of their children. 87% of the protective parents believe that their children are still being abused; however, 63% have stopped reporting the abuse for fear that contact with their children will be terminated. Eleven percent of the children were reported to have attempted suicide.

  17. Jon: Even if this were supported by the evidence, it would probably only follow from the fact that TRO’s correlate with messy custody disagreements, where the alleged abuser is fighting for custody rather than relinquishing their rights.
    Please don’t minimize wife abuse by calling it “messy custody disagreements”. Wife abuse is serious business.

    Here’s research that puts to rest that lie:

    Suchanek, J., & Stahly, G. B. (1991, April). The relationship between domestic violence and paternal custody in divorce. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association, San Francisco.
    Suchanek and Stahly examined 150 randomly selected files of marital dissolution from a Southern California district courthouse between 1980 and 1989. They found that dissolution cases in which violence toward the woman had been asserted (usually in support of a restraining order) were significantly more likely to include custody disputes. In fact, when there were allegations of violence perpetrated by the father, he was twice as likely to seek sole physical and legal custody of the children and just as likely to win. Thus, violence did not appear to make a difference in how courts determined custody. Fathers who were alleged to be violent were no less likely to win custody than fathers with no allegations of violence.

    Pagelow, M. D. (1993). Justice for victims of spouse abuse in divorce and child custody cases. Violence and Victims, 8(1), 69-83.
    Noting that batterers’ often use of custody disputes as a power tactic and the likelihood of batterers to abuse the children.

    Abstract: Unequal power positions and domination-subordination roles of battering husbands and battered wives during marriage contaminate the process of separation and divorce. These dynamics may continue long after the marriages cease. Risks of extreme violence, rape, and homicide are highest when victims seek freedom. Because both victims and abusers construct a veil of secrecy while married, even if abused wives disclose the violence during the separation process, there may be nothing to substantiate their claims. Restraining orders often fail to restrain obsessed husbands; other husbands may get revenge by using their children as pawns. Attitudes favoring fathers’ rights and joint custody may help win unfair financial advantages, and/or continued control over victims after divorce. Mandatory mediation in some states may give abusers additional advantages. Although some of these problems are being addressed with mechanisms to ameliorate them, the need to recognize problems facing battered wives in divorce and custody contexts has not received adequate attention. The purpose of this article is to provide a review and commentary on these issues.

    Goelman, D. M., Lehrman, F. L., & Valente, R. L. (Eds.). (1996). The impact of domestic violence on your legal practice: A lawyer’s handbook. Washington D.C.: ABA Commission on Domestic Violence.

    “Custody litigation frequently becomes a vehicle whereby batterers attempt to extend or maintain their control and authority over the abused parents after separation… Be aware that many perpetrators of domestic violence are facile manipulators, presenting themselves as caring, cooperative parents and casting the abused parent as a diminished, conflict-inciting, impulsive or over-protective parent.”

  18. Jon: “To conclude, I hope that you all will sympathize with father’s rights advocates. They may sometimes be misguided, but it often flows from a feeling of powerlessness, real or perceived.”

    Please read these two pages of major father’s rights activists speaking in their own words. The misogny is very apparent.

    The Fathers Rights Movement: In Their Own Words
    http://www.thelizlibrary.org/fathers/fathers.htm

    The Father’s Rights Movement: In Their Own Words – Part 2
    http://www.thelizlibrary.org/fathers/new/html

  19. Jon: “The idea that only 1-2% of allegations are false (noted by a commenter), even if correct (I think you’d struggle to find such a low estimate), ignores that fact that TRO’s can be opportunistic even if founded upon some level of evidence. Abuse is an unfortunate fact of many relationships, and occurs in both directions.”

    You ignore or miss the point of the article. Whether or not TROs “can be opportunistic” isn’t the issue. The fact is that most women don’t file for TROs – even if they are being abused. When they do file for them, the vast majority are not lying about the abuse. Whether or not they “can” lie about abuse isn’t the issue. The point is that bona fide false allegations of abuse made by women in the context of a custody dispute are rare, and it’s about time the country – and the Maryland legislature in particular – accept that fact and protect those abused women.

  20. Here’s another case that documents that Maryland’s overly tough standards for protection orders are leading to deaths. This case is from dastardlydads.blogspot.com.

    http://dastardlydads.blogspot.com/2010/04/update-dad-accused-of-murdering-2-year.html

    Update: Dad accused of murdering 2-year-old daughter had history of violence, judge had dismissed attempt at restraining order (Baltimore, Maryland)

    It seems that dad TYRONE HAMBER 3rd had a few brushes with the law before this latest incident, where he is accused of beating his 2-year-old daughter to death.

    But all Hamber got was the kid-glove treatment, so he was left free to commit more violent acts. And this time an innocent child paid for the court’s leniency with her life.

    Carefully note the last paragraph or so, where the former girlfriend of this “alleged” child killer filed for a restraining order against Hamber last year, but was denied for “lack of evidence.” It’s not clear whether this was the child’s mother, but the fact that an order was filed for would certainly tell us something about the possible risks involved in leaving a child in Hamber’s care. Had an order been granted, this might have been an even larger red flag.

    But there’s a slight problem. Maryland has the highest burden of proof for obtaining an order of protection in the entire country. So the girlfriend in question faced a monumental challenge in getting one.

    What an an amazing coincidence that back in February, the Maryland Judiciary Committee rejected a bill that would have re-set the State’s burden of proof for obtaining a protection order from “clear and convincing evidence” to “preponderance of evidence”–the same standard in place for the vast majority of other civil actions in Maryland. Note that Maryland is the only state in the Country that clings to this high standard of proof.

    If Maryland had had a “normal” burden of proof, is it possible that this girlfriend might have obtained an order of protection? Is it possible that with this order on the books, Humber might have been denied access to this child, and that she might still be alive? I guess we’ll never know.

    Those who follow events in Maryland may recall that one witness that was at that Committee hearing was Dr. Amy Castillo, a mother who did everything she could to protect her three children, including getting a temporary protective order on Christmas 2006 after her husband, Mark, told her that “the worst thing he could do to me would be to kill the children and not me.” But the mother was denied a final order of protection for “lack of evidence.” So on March 29, 2008, Mark Castillo followed through on his threats and and drowned their three young children in a hotel bathtub.

    Despite the clear and compelling evidence that victims of violence are not getting orders of protection–and that women and children were dying as a result–Committee members basically treated Dr. Castillo like dirt. And besides, her case was the exception–or so the public was told. We were assured that “serious” orders of protection were being granted anyway, and that only the “frivolous” ones filed by vengeful females were being denied. Even though the actual evidence didn’t back up that bland and patronizing assertion at all. There were cases of obvious and proven danger where orders had been refused, but that didn’t concern the Committee members much. Besides, it was quite clear that the committee was more concerned about some criminal being “falsely accused” than the lives of innocent people.

    So here we have yet another case where someone was denied an order of protection, and later events basically prove that this person’s concerns were correct. We have a Maryland judge who ruled that that there was “lack of evidence” for a restraining order, and once again a child dies.

    How many more children will die, even as Maryland judges tell us there is “lack of evidence” for a restraining order?

    http://investigativevoice.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3725:news-breif-police-charge-father-in-connection-with-death-of-2-year-old-girl&catid=25:the-project&Itemid=44NEWS BRIEF — Baltimore police charge father in connection with death of 2-year-old girl

    Sunday, 18 April 2010 07:39

    Baltimore police are investigating the death of a two-year-old girl after arresting her father and charging him with child abuse late Saturday evening.

    According to online court records Tyrone Hamber 3rd has been charged with first- and second-degree child abuse and first- and second-degree assault in connection with the death of his 2-year-old daughter, who police have yet to identify.

    Hamber called police to his East Baltimore home after his daughter was found unconscious in the bathtub Saturday evening. She was later pronounced dead at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Police discovered severe wounds on several parts of her body, possibly inflicted with a belt that Hamber told police he used to discipline her. Police are now investigating her death as a possible homicide.

    An autopsy is scheduled for Sunday.

    According to online court records, in 2009 Hamber’s girlfriend filed a restraining order against him. However, a city judge dismissed the case citing lack of evidence. Hamber was charged with second-degree assault and violation of probation in 2008. He was sentenced to 16 months’ supervised probation.

    Hamber is currently being held without bail at Central Booking. He is scheduled for an arraignment hearing May 15.

  21. As a survivor still trying to just survive- THANK YOU Ms. Black for finally putting a face on the incredible human rights violations being committed against battered women and their children on a regular basis through out our so called ‘land of the free’.

    It is hell, torture and inhumane what we must go through- and to have any one make comments other than in support of this very accurate article is sickening. They treat animals better than they treat Battered women and their children.
    Thank you again for your on target article.

  22. Many thanks to Elizabeth Black for her excellent article, something I neglected to say in my haste to write up a comment. It is high time that the public understands how easily abusers and batterers can gain access to children, sometimes with fatal results.

    Part of my original comment was missing:

    As Lynn Hecht Schafran wrote in a Arpil 2010 letter to the Members of the Maryland House Judiciary and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committees:

    NJEP cites Dr. Castillo’s case in a section of the course titled “What is Consensual?” http://www.njep-ipsacourse.org/Victims-Offenders/WhatIsConsensual.php. Her case demonstrates that acquiescence out of fear is not consensual sex. When a victim of domestic violence engages in sexual relations with the abuser, too often judges misconstrue this as
    “consensual sex,” inconsistent with a claim of domestic violence. In fact, the victim is acquiescing in order to placate the abuser and prevent further violence. Failure to recognize the coercive dynamics that typify intimate partner sexual abuse can have devastating consequences – as it did in this case. When a woman who is being threatened with the murder of her children acquiesces to her abuser’s sexual demands, it is neither consent nor a romantic moment of
    reconciliation. She is doing anything she can to calm a very dangerous man.

    The judge who denied Dr. Castillo’s final order of protection did not understand that Dr. Castillo believed she had to acquiesce to her abusive husband’s demands to protect her children from his violence. As Ms. King told me after the hearing, “I wish I had said [when challenged at the House Judiciary Hearing] that [Dr. Castillo] was too scared not to have sex.” Acquiescence out of fear is not consent.

  23. cwicfcr says:

    The “clear and convincing” evidence standard is not applied allegations of “alienation” in custody cases, so why it should it be applied to domestic violence or child abuse allegations within custody cases?

    Some state laws put protective mothers in a Catch 22 situation: damned if you tell; damned if you don’t. So called “friendly parent” provisions that have been put in place in many states by fathers’ rights activists, allegedly to discourage “parental alienation”, result in mothers being forced to deny or minimize domestic violence so as not to offend the court and lose custody of their child(ren) to the man that abused them. The “best interest of the child” laws favor the parent who is most encouraging of the other parent enjoying liberal access to the children.

    My ex was physically, sexually, verbally, emotionally, and financial abusive to me. Domestic violence was documented (with photographs), and the financial abuse was well documented in the court record. I naively expected the family courts to protect me and my children. I was mistaken in that trust.

    Protective orders are not given out like candy as some fatherhood supremacists claim. A victim’s testimony is taken under oath with penalty of perjury. A victim knows, before she enters the court room, that her testimony of the verbal, emotional, and physical abuse, and the threats against her life and the lives of her children, are difficult to prove. She also knows, that if she doesn’t do something, she and/or her children could end up seriously harmed or dead.

    She could lose her children no matter what she does. If she doesn’t seek protection under the law, she could be accused of failure to protect, and lose her children anyway. If she seeks protection, she could be accused of being an “unfriendly” parent and lose her children on the basis of bogus “alienation” claims.

    I was told by more than one attorney, “DO NOT MENTION ABUSE.” One threatened to not represent me if I even uttered the word in court. Why? “Because it’s not a winning argument” he said.

    Victims of domestic violence and protective mothers (of children who have been abused, sexually or otherwise) face this conundrum every day in America, Australia, and around the world.

    There is no official investigation or court audit that demonstrates that women routinely lie about domestic violence or child abuse to gain an advantage in custody battles, by even a moderate proportion. In most cases, the custody challenge is brought about by the father, seeking sole custody, and generally only after the woman has attempted to leave an abusive relationship. These men weild a mighty legal ax in the form of a vague an unproven legal theory, called “alienation” and they tend to win their cases the majority of time based on such vague and unproven claims. It would appear that a child’s very testimony (whether allowed in court of observed through so called “experts” outside of court) that they do not want to go to overnight visits with their father is claimed to be proof positive, not that the father did something horrible that caused the child to fear him (either violence to the mother, or violence or sexual abuse to the child), but that the mother had some sort of magical power of persuasion to cause that little child to lie and throw fits and disparage the father.

    You know, if mothers were that powerful, we should be able to convince our children to flush the toilet, pick up their shoes, eat their vegetables, and brush their teeth with fanatical compliance. I’m a good mom, but I still haven’t won those battles. Have you? So, for a mother to brainwash a child into throwing tantrums and getting physically ill before visitation with the father, refusing to see a perfectly loving and wonderful father… wow… the majority of women alleging abuse must be really powerful sorceresses!

    Maybe we should hire them in the public schools so they can work their conniving magic on children to convince them to do their homework, attend classes, study hard, and graduate from high school. Because, really, these women clearly have power and can make children believe anything — even believing that their own father is cruel and hurtful and scary!

    The court sponsored backlash against women is a travesty of justice, and we need to rid ourselves of the populist notion that all men (through an act of semen implantation) are justified to equal access (or in most of these contested custody cases, SOLE access) to the offspring that were nurtured and cared for from day 1 by a loving and protective mother. Tens of thousands of children are stripped from their mothers every year in America alone, because a wiley attorney, without any “clear and convincing” evidence can plant a seed of doubt in a courtroom that perhaps this mother doesn’t really want the father to have equal access to the children, perhaps she might just deny him access …. because she’s a liar…because she’s a woman.

  24. Elizabeth,

    I greatly appreciate your responses. I’m very aware that my perspective is limited, and I admit that I did not consider the potential that an abuser would use a custody dispute as ammunition. I recognize that as a real possibility.
    I’ll still try to address a few points in response to your very insightful comments. The first point is that my intention was only to say that there is a balance to be struck here. The Maryland Legislature has made a judgment about where the balance of proof should lie. There are real consequences to false allegations, and everyone seems to agree these false allegations exist ( I’m sure they’re made by both fathers and mothers). I don’t feel as though any of your responses addresses that general point. You told me that I missed the point of the article, but I think I addressed it head-on. Domestic abuse is a horrible thing, and you explore that very well, but its only half of the story as far as the legislature’s task of making policy decisions.

    More specifically, I’ll try to briefly address the substance of your comments. As a threshold matter, I’d like to say that the research you cite is revealing and helpful. My responses above were based only on the resources you cited initially, and many of your follow up citations and quotes were valuable.
    As to the Neustien study (which I unfortunately didn’t read – the link takes me to a gambling website for some reason, and all other copies are gated), I’d just note that there’s apparently no control group here. It just doesn’t seem to address whether parents who make these allegations are more or less likely to get custody. I cant really interpret the results for that reason. It could mean something, but the numbers you cite aren’t that surprising, especially if the states surveyed have a presumption of joint custody.

    As for the 70% statistic, again the link to your source doesn’t work, but the statistic doesn’t state whether the custody received is sole custody. I worry that it is not, in which case I think that quote is misleading. 70% may be high, but again, joint custody is frequently the court’s presumed result (by the way, joint custody, incidentally, tells you nothing about visitation. Its only decision making authority between the parents – joint custody can accompany any sort of physical custody arrangement).
    If the statistic is to say that 70% of alleged abusive parents receive legal custody of some kind, joint or sole, and joint custody is close to presumed in those jurisdictions, I’m not suprised.
    As for the statistic that “as result of reporting child abuse”, only 27% of protective mothers were left with custody, I’m not sure how to respond. If that is to say that, if you’re an average mother in a custody dispute, and you’re the primary caretaker before separation, only 27% of mothers will be left with even joint custody if they allege domestic abuse, I literally can’t believe it. Again, I’ll take a look at the study if a fresh link is provided, but I can’t imagine that being accurate at all.
    Its at least not consistent with the one circumstance I’ve seen (though I’m not basing anything on that single experience). In that matter, the protective mother was awarded sole custody, and very little consideration was given to the father’s wishes.
    Next, I’ll cite my only disappointment with your response: “Please don’t minimize wife abuse by calling it “messy custody disagreements”. Wife abuse is serious business.” At no point in my comment did I call wife abuse “messy custody disagreements.” There is no way that my statement could be reasonably interpreted this way, so I have to view that as a rhetorical device, rather than a real concern for the severity of the issue. The severity of domestic abuse is unquestioned. Instead, I stated that I expect alleged wife abuse might correlate with messy custody decisions, i.e. situations where both parents were fighting for custody. In fact, your response and cited research don’t contradict my point, but seem to support it. The research you cite found that custody disputes correlate with allegations of violence. That’s what I suggested, and it doesn’t surprise me at all. Its certainly not a lie. Even still, I’ll say again, I appreciate the concern that a batterer would use custody litigation as a threat. I hadn’t considered this potential and its a horrifying thought.

    I’ll try and re-conclude: domestic abuse is an extremely difficult issue. Its like allegations of murder – no one disputes the fact that its a terrible problem for society (maybe more terrible than murder, if such a scale exists). Unfortunately, because everyone agrees its a terrible thing, there is a huge stigma attached to it, and falsely alleged domestic abusers suffer real consequences. Legislatures are tasked with determining what the right balance is for proof. My only point is that the answer here is not obvious.

  25. Excellent article. People forget that domestic violence is the worst kind of bullying and kids learn its lessons early.

  26. I think woman that are being abused do indeed need protection from the courts, however that are case's of abuse with regard the pfa orders. I think it is only right that if a woman is found to be abusing a system, that was built to protect woman from abuse, that person whoever it may be. should suffer some kind of penalty for the damage that is caused to the other party involved, and to the courts for that matter.

    even David Letterman had one ordered on him from a woman he had never meet, there just needs to be some respect of the law to insure that woman that truly need a protection order can revice an order, and people who use the laws to abuse there partner be held liable as well, the current laws do not allow for the protection of a party wrongfully accused of abuse. the goal of the court should be to protect all party's rights.

  27. What do you do when these abusive men get smarter? When they know the system and they use it AGAINST you? How do you get help when no one wants to listen? How do you walk away when your depression from your experience gave him the opportunity to get custody and keep your children from you?

  28. Where is help for the woman who doesnt look abuse? For me, I have lived with and around with an abusive man. I had two children for him. For me, it has not gotten better, it just got worst. He changes the abuse to maintain control. I hear all this chatter about abuse and I think WHAT ABOUT ME? This man has done everything to make me look like the abuser. Yes, I saw signs, even had knowledge of two marriages before me. For me, I feel like I am stuck and he will destroy what pieces of my life I have fought so hard to keep together.

  29. Our society has such a tunnel vision. We stick to a trend and anything or anyone who fails to fit in a trend is automatically crazy and a liar. I am a christian. I pray everyday for God's help. I cry each night for my children. I blame myself often because I should have walked. I had opportunities to walk and I continued to hold on. I did not understand what was going on. And I was often blamed for most of it. My baby girl is a year and a half. We have been separated for a year. To society today, an abused woman looks a woman who deosnt comb her hair, wear makeup or paint her nails. An abused person has bruise on their face and easily tears up. I have picked myself up from depression and attempted suicide. I continue working and now goes I am in graduate school. I go to church every week, sometimes twice, maybe even three times. I dont drink, I dont smoke and I dont abuse drugs. Yet still today, an abused woman is me.

    • You don’t have to keep playing the victim, look how far you have come. It’s not just men who abuse. It could be anyone, even your own family like a sister in my case. Sbe lied to get a restraining order in order to control mom’s estate. Didn’t work, ORDER QUASHED. I’m female, just move on, you bave your whole life ahead of you. What about the children? Will they be exposed to hearing about this all of their life’s?

  30. GMcCasland says:

    This requirement is made of the male victims, so why not the female? http://otherfaceofabuse.org

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