In this final part of Barry Goldstein’s series, the former attorney, long-time domestic violence advocate and editorial advisor for DomesticShelters.org, talks about the privilege men experience that allows many of them to continue to abuse women and children unchecked. Visit these links to read Part I and Part II.
The United States has tolerated many gender-based scandals. In every case, virtually every offender was a man and almost all the victims were women and children. The scandals include sexual assault on college campuses; sexual assault in the military, Catholic Church, Penn State, Boy Scouts; sexual assault of Olympic athletes; and sexual assault and harassment that launched the #MeToo movement.
The next scandal likely to be more fully exposed is the widespread failure of our custody courts to protect children from dangerous predators. In my view, the worst scandal is one we don’t often speak about. Based on the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) research, we allow one-quarter of all children to be sexually abused by the time they reach 18.
Just like domestic violence, all of these scandals were able to continue for outrageously long periods because we don’t take domestic violence and sexual assault seriously. We do not use best practices to send a message to abusers that they will suffer consequences for this intolerable behavior. The ACE research demonstrates the harm from this tolerance is far greater than previously realized. This also means that the benefits to society will be enormous when we make a high priority of ending domestic violence and sexual abuse.
T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong wrote an important story for The Marshall Project. “An Unbelievable Story of Rape,” deservedly won a Pulitzer Prize. They tell the story of a rapist with a law enforcement background who raped a young woman. The woman courageously reported his attack, but shortly thereafter the police decided she made it up. They brought criminal charges and she eventually pled guilty to making false charges. Years later, the rapist was arrested for another rape and they found pictures on his computer of the first woman that he took during the rape. The rapist was allowed to commit the additional rapes because the police resolved a real crime by disbelieving a vulnerable victim. (It has since been made into a Netflix series called Unbelievable.)
The bias against believing women and children, particularly about sexual assault is an important factor for tolerating domestic violence and sexual assault. One of the victims in the Penn State scandal was asked why he didn’t report the crime sooner. He told the reporter he didn’t think anyone would believe him and he has good reason for his concern.
Saunders is a major research study from the National Institute of Justice in the U.S. Justice Department about the knowledge of judges, lawyers and evaluators regarding domestic violence. The study found that professionals without the specific knowledge needed tended to focus on the myth that mothers frequently make false reports. This mistaken assumption led to decisions that hurt children. Saunders cited the Bala Study that found in the context of custody disputes mothers made deliberate false reports less than 2 percent of the time.
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Context is critically important in understanding domestic violence and sexual assault. We live in a society where men enjoy far more power and privilege than women. Men are treated as if they are more valuable and more credible than women. Parents and grandparents who love their girls routinely praise them mostly for their beauty. As a society, men are taught that the value of girls and women has to do with their beauty, body parts and having sex with them. Girls receive the same false and harmful messages. Not everyone believes or acts on these messages, but this widespread belief is related to domestic violence and sexual assault.
Men are victims of assaults by their female partners. While this is criminal and the men deserve support, at the same time, we must not allow a false equivalency between men and women regarding domestic violence. Domestic violence homicide in heterosexual relationships is more than three times more likely to be committed by men. Many of the murders committed by women are a form of self-defense, but legally we still use a male standard for self-defense.
Almost the entire need for emergency shelter related to domestic violence is for women. Most serious injuries and emergency room visits are by women. It is common for women to be afraid that their partner will kill or seriously injure them. They often do what he wants because of this fear. Men rarely suffer this kind of fear. Based on the Bala Study, men in custody disputes are 16 times more likely to make false reports than women.
For centuries, husbands were allowed and even encouraged to control, discipline and assault their wives. There was never any equivalent right for wives to control their husbands. Although the laws have changed, many people, particularly men, are still influenced by this history. At the same time boys and men are socialized to be more violent and they are usually bigger and stronger than their female intimate partners. This context must be considered both in individual cases and when making policy.
Contrary to the oversized influence of fathers’ rights groups, there is no benefit to tolerating domestic violence. Based on the ACE research, using best practices to prevent domestic violence would change society in the most fundamental and beneficial ways. Although it is unlikely the U.S. could save the full trillion-dollar annual expenditure to tolerate DV, saving hundreds of billions is both realistic and game-changing.
The reduction in healthcare costs means employers could afford to pay higher wages. Savings from reduced crime would both lower taxes and provide resources for important investments. The benefits of allowing women and children to reach their full potential are hard to imagine or calculate. This would be like adding an extra engine to power our economy.
The human benefits are even greater. Our present level of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental illness, substance abuse, suicide, crime and many other health and social problems is based on our long history of tolerating behavior we now would call domestic violence and child abuse. Reducing these scourges of society will increase life expectancy and the quality of life.
We can learn what a Kayden Mancuso could have accomplished with her life. We can save boys and girls from ever playing the “penis game” during their childhoods. (See Part II of this story to learn more.) More generally, children could avoid exposure to ACEs and thereby avoid living with the fear and stress that causes so much harm. Violence and mass shootings would be prevented when children are not exposed to so many ACEs.
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Preventing domestic violence will not be easy, but we know how. We need to follow and update the successful practices from communities that have demonstrated how to prevent domestic violence crime. We need to take domestic violence and other gendered crimes seriously. This requires accountability and monitoring. This means strict enforcement of criminal laws, protective orders and probation rules. Society must promote practices that make it easier for victims to leave. We need to promote and expand coordinated community responses. Custody courts must integrate current scientific research and use a multi-disciplinary approach so that they can recognize and respond effectively to domestic violence. Abusers can no longer be allowed to manipulate family courts to regain control over their victims.
Many years ago, three brave children told their mother that their father was physically and sexually abusing them. The mother did everything right. She sought custody, requested a protective order and made a report to child protective services. Initially, the children were protected.
The children told the judge, their attorney, the evaluator and the caseworker what their father had done. As often happens in these cases, the professionals who were supposed to protect the children assumed the mother had coached them to complain about their father. The judge ordered normal visitation to resume and threatened the mother with loss of her children if there were more complaints.
Before the first visitation could occur, the family babysitter confronted the father in the presence of the law guardian. The father admitted to kissing his daughters on their privates. The law guardian immediately made a motion to stop the visitation and I joined the motion. The judge consulted with the evaluator. The evaluator said the father used bad judgment but there was no reason to stop the visitation. During the first visit, the 4-year-old was penetrated for the first time.
I made a new report to child protective because they were unaware of the father’s admission. When the judge heard he yelled and screamed at me. “How dare you make a complaint when it was already investigated,” he complained. The new caseworker did a more thorough investigation and found the father had acted even worse than we knew. Child protective brought charges against the father and he never again had more than supervised visits.
The mother won custody and invited the caseworker and me to a celebratory dinner. The children had gifts for us but best of all was their name for us. They called us BELIEVERS because we believed them when all the other professionals didn’t. I learned there is no greater honor than to be called a believer. You should too.
Editor's Note: This article is part of #YourVoice, an ongoing column published on this website by individual contributors in their own personal capacity and that involves the opinions, recollections and/or information provided by such contributors, and which does not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this website. Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence author, speaker and advocate. He is the author of five of the leading books about domestic violence and child custody including The Quincy Solution: Stop Domestic Violence and Save $500 Billion. Barry is the research director for the Stop Abuse Campaign and co-chair of the child custody task group for NOMAS. He has served as an instructor in a NY Model Batterer Program since 1999 and serves on the Editorial Advisory Group for DomesticShelters.org.
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