the silence" Mother Jones, July 2005
...a system that routinely penalizes women who are victims of
domestic violence by favoring their abusers in battles over child
A woman separates from her abuser and files for divorce. The father,
who has shown little prior interest in the children, decides he
wants joint or sole custody. The judge, seeing no link between
spousal battering and child abuse, grants the request.
The problem, Lasseur says, is that studies have shown that in
cases where the father chooses to seek some form of custody over
the mother's objections, there is a high probability that he has
either battered the mother, abused the children or both. However,
if the mother accuses the father of child abuse in court, the
judge could suspect she is motivated by revenge and to reject
the accusation as false.
Lasseur attributes this pervasive misperception to what he calls
"an anti-woman bias in court" and to a theory called
parental alienation. First introduced by Connecticut psychologist
Richard Gardner in the mid-1980's, the theory states that women
will concoct stories of physical and sexual child abuse out of
vindictiveness toward their former partners.
Though the theory has been denounced as junk science, it
has caught on among batterer's defense attorneys and father's
rights groups, as well as in the courts. "When they get
to court, what does the judge see? The abuser usually has the
better job, owns the house, has more money, and like all abusers,
has a great talent to be together and likeable," Lasseur
says. "The woman is upset, emotional, she comes undone.
It's like, wow, a crazy woman."