Articles & Essays

Excerpts:"Breaking 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 custody.

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."