At an October 6 pre-screening of the documentary,
"Breaking the Silence, Children's Stories", to be aired
on PBS stations nationwide during October, the editors'
from the August 2005 edition of the journal of
Violence Against Women was distributed as evidence in support of
claims made in the film.
Overall, the information, language and claims
made in the editors introduction reflect the dominant discourse.
Those who are familiar with the decades-old debate over domestic
violence and related issues might recognize some of the standard
tactics used to "avoid, minimize and deny" empirical
evidence as well as common knowledge, e.g. the Wonderland caterpillar
effect: "words mean what I say the mean." Note that
key terms such as "battering" lack definition, artificially
inflating the statistical significance of authentic intimate terrorism.
Custody is also a key word. Note how the term "sole custody"
appears only three times, in instances where it suits the authors'
purpose. In about twenty other instances, the word is unqualified,
leaving the reader to infer an epidemic of children removed from
their mothers' care, e.g.
...provisions that direct courts to give custody to the parent
who encourages a better relationship between the child and the
other parent, provisions that greatly disadvantage mothers and
silence battered women who seek to protect themselves or their
Is there something wrong with courts granting custodial rights
for the parent "who encourages a better relationship"?
In fact, the overwhelming majority of these cases involve "joint"
custody arrangement in which the mother is most often granted
"primary," "residential" or "physical"
custody. Thus, the implication that anything less than a sole
custody "award" to the mother is not merely unacceptable,
but harmful to women and children, clarifies the advocacy agenda
- giving mothers near-absolute "power and control" over
the father-child relationship.
More tactics overdue for retirement
Calling anything one does not agree with a myth. In
this case, the myth that the pressure of divorce makes good
people behave badly is common knowledge - almost everybody
knows somebody who has experienced an acrimonious divorce. Further,
advocates are quick to accuse fathers of "behaving badly"
in these situations, implying their belief in this "myth"
when it applies to males. Not to mention the implication that
fathers who pursue a post-dissolution parental relationship with
their kids are not "good people" in the first place.
The use of de facto scare tactics - targeting the "fathers'
rights movement [which] has pushed many states to adopt joint
or shared parenting presumptions." Unfortunately there is
no shortage of "male rights advocates" willing to provide
examples of the "angry man" in action - there are indeed
individuals and orgs that proffer positions accurately described
as "male backlash." That in no way justifies utilization
of tactics reminiscient of political propaganda "gender-feminists"
do not represent the totality of feminism, any more than "masculinists"
speak for all involved in the struggle for equality.
The tradition of denigrating "Family systems
professionals." For example, labeling Dr. Richard
Gardner, who developed Parental Alienation Syndrome
(PAS), a "surrogate professional" falsely
implies a lack of expertise in the field. When in
fact, from 1963 until his death in 2003, Gardner was a clinical professor of
psychiatry in the Division of Child and Adolescent
Psychiatry at Columbia University. Repeated name-calling and
misrepresenting the views of respectable
professionals reveals both the weakness and political
nature of the ideology. For example, the inference
that "family systems professionals [who] perceive
the violence as a break down in communication and not
as a crime deliberately perpetrated by one
individual are "colluding" in domestic
violence. In fact, overwhelming empirical evidence
demonstrates that the family systems
perspective was correct all along: in the "vast
majority" of cases violence is not deliberate,
not unilateral and communication breakdown is an
important factor as confirmed by over twenty
years of research.
"The studies reported"
"This issue reports the results of four studies-all funded
by the National Institute of Justice-that, for the first time,
present systematically collected empirical evidence on the custody
crisis facing battered women in America."
Due to time constraints it was not possible to locate and carefully
assess all four studies. Of the studies mentioned, one conducted
in San Diego "found that revealing information about domestic
violence could potentially backfire against a victim." This
appears to be the same study cited in a news
article. The reporter was able to provide only one source, published
in National Institute of Justice Journal 251. A discussion of
this study asserts that "women
who informed custody mediators that they were victims of domestic
violence often received less favorable custody awards." The
paper makes no distinctions between allegation and evidence and
suggests that mediators should do likewise. The paper contains
no operational definitions, the reader and perhaps the mediators
are left to infer that "domestic violence" is whatever
the "victims" says it is. The assumption that there
is no relationship between the behavior of "a
crazy woman" and a "less than favorable" custody
award evokes the perception of systemic bias against "pure
victims" who are female. Perhaps it does not occur to the
authors to account for the false allegations variable because,
due to the limitations of the paradigm,
such "phenomena... are often not seen at all."
Repeated references to the American Psychological Association
(APA), in this paper and in several news
articles, give the impression that the APA has officially denounced
PAS as "a junk science that has no scientific basis
(American Psychological Association, 1996)." Such inferences
are at best, misleading. The term "junk science" appeared
in a news article, it was not found in the cited APA paper. It
appears to be based on a premise
that requires specialized knowledge for accurate interpretation
the fact that PAS did not meet the criteria for inclusion
in the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders
(DSM). The actual comments in the APA paper are references to
PAS in the context of misapplication: "Terms such as "parental
alienation" may be used to blame the women for the
children's reasonable fear of or anger toward their violent father
(APA, 1996, p.100)." Thus, while there may indeed
be cases in which PAS was misused by a violent and controlling
father, such terms may also be used properly in accounting
for a child's unreasonable fear and anger toward a parent who
is not violent.
The over-broad assertion that "PAS turned the table on the
victim, making her the aggressor" draws attention to the
fact that in authentic cases of parental alienation, the "victim"
actually is the "aggressor," in the sense that the word
aggression applies to deliberate and unwarranted sabotage of a
child's relationship with the "enemy" parent.
Parental alienation is by no means a gender-specific phenomenon.
But as the dominant discourse flatly denies both female aggression
and the possibility that "women exaggerate or falsely raise
domestic violence allegations for tactical gain," advocates
avoid thinking about these problems by dismissing PAS as a "myth,"
another of the tools "batterers" use to oppress women;
like the "myth" of false allegations:
"Even when PAS is not explicitly used, the belief that
victims fabricate abuse allegations may still underlie decisions
to give custody to the batterer, particularly when incest is
alleged (Myers, 1997; Rosen & Etlin, 1996)."
Mainstream ideology, as uncritically accepted in this paper,
simple refuses to recognize the phenomenon of false allegations
is no myth:
The most strident expression of this is the false accusation
of sexual abuse.(4) It has been well studied that the incident
of false allegations of sexual abuse account for over half of
those reported, when the parents are divorcing or are in conflict
over some post dissolution issue. (5)
For cases in which objective analysis finds no basis for allegations
of incest, it seems prudent to be skeptical of allegations that
dad is also a batterer. Any parent who concocts or
acts as a validator for allegations
of this kind, whether actual or virtual,
poses a danger to the welfare of the child. As well do advocates
who persist in promoting the irrational belief that allegations
brought by women are invariably true, and allegations brought
by men are invariably false.
Out here in the fields it is rather common for accounts
of domestic violence, or worse, to arise suddenly in the context
of a custody dispute. Exaggerations and false allegations are
observed by professionals and are evident in self-reports of women
who admit to making such claims for the expressed purpose of "tactical
gain." Battered womens' advocates have had a considerable
influence on the development of this phenomenon. A significant
number of male and female callers to a domestic abuse helpline
alleged that local agencies which receive VAWA funding function
as validators, educating women on the utility of using exaggerated
or fabricated allegations for tactical advantage. Perhaps the
"...attorneys who...advised their clients not to tell the
mediator about domestic abuse" did so because the volume
of VAWA positioning allegations has finally reached the
tipping point a natural consequence of the "cry wolf
syndrome" that makes it much more difficult to protect women
who really are "pure victims" of intimate terrorism.
© Oct 11, 2005