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Thursday, December 14, 2017


By Doreen Ludwig,
Author of "Motherless America: Confronting Welfare's Fatherhood Custody Program"

Does Family Court offer protection to mothers and children who are victims of domestic violence? Many believe that the answer is no because father's rights extremists have been able to establish government programs which keep women and children vulnerable to ongoing abuse from violent men.

One such program is the Fathering After Violence Initiative.

Based upon this Initiative, instead of protecting women and children who have been abused, the Family Court System has a government mandate to foster and encourage the violent father's relationship with the children he has abused, regardless of the damaging consequences. Thus, in cases of domestic violence, the primary Family Court service offered to women and children who have suffered from a father's physical violence is supervised visits with the primary end goal of reuniting the father and children, even when these fathers will very likely continue to be violent and abusive.

In other words, according to an assessment prepared by Dr. Jessica Pearson, the Co-Director of the Center For Policy Research, (a part of the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network - FRPN), and the California Access and Visitation report to legislators, violent dads are given “step” visitation, i.e. supervised visits leading to unsupervised custody in as little as ten visits.

Based upon an article on high-conflict parent education written by Peter Salem, Executive Director of the AFCC, we know that the overarching intent of Family Court Services is to change the behavior of violent fathers and promote shared parenting, not to protect mothers and children from abuse and negative behaviors. While doing so, Family Court Services do not assess the ability abusers have to change, i.e. whether they are indeed capable of it, and furthermore there is no vehicle for assessing whether such change has occurred. This leaves victims vulnerable to ongoing abuse.

Meanwhile, supervised visitation, which was originally intended to protect victims of domestic violence is being turned on its head and directed as a weapon against mothers rather than being used for its intended purpose, which is to protect victims. In 2007, Juan Carlos Arean wrote a pamphlet, “Fathering After Violence: Working With Abusive Fathers in Supervised Visitation” using a OVA Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) grant. Arean provides guidelines to supervised visitation centers on how to heal violent dads. What is interesting about this report is page 6 where it states “in some centers mothers make up almost half of the (supervised) visit caseload, yet this document was designed to target in particular visiting fathers who have been violent with their intimate partners.” 

What can explain this conundrum of supervised visitation centers intended to be used with violent fathers ending up providing services to mothers instead, and then being used as a means to deny them custody?

To informed mothers and advocates, this is not a mystery. The data Arean reports makes sense when you realize that any mothers who have merely attempted to protect their children are being ordered to supervised visits, often under claims of Parental Alienation. This seems like an incredible betrayal, to learn that OVW is funding help for violent dads while ignoring the plight of abused mothers for which they are partially responsible. In this regard, the bolded and blocked statement on that same page gives a clue to the policy all government agencies, including OVW, are being strong armed into endorsing, policies of supporting fathers regardless of the harmful consequences to abused mothers and children.

Thus, it seems safe to conclude that the Family Violence Prevention Fund and OVW are promoting patriarchy. They certainly are not helping battered mothers and children to leave abuse. Instead, they are using their resources to encourage and force victims into long-term shared parenting situations with abusers that ignore their unrelieved potential for violence, and the vast array of non-physical, psychologically coercive assaults of which they are capable. Mothers who resist will eventually find themselves court-ordered to supervised visits where their presence will be ignored by OVW grant funding. Their failure to cooperate with fathers will be documented and they will lose custody, if not all access to their children. 

The majority of battered mothers involved in contested custody cases have reached out to their local and national domestic violence group and been turned away. Why? After examining the literature from the Fathering After Violence programs, it appears that OVW and FVPN collude to get abusive men custody by using supervised visits to create a specious record of healing and changed behavior. Subsequently, when women refuse to go along with such farcical records, they are accused of parental alienation, or parental alienation syndrome, custody is switched to the abusive father, and such mothers are cut off from meaningful contact with their children.

“Fathering After Violence” is a national initiative whose stated aim is to help end violence against women by motivating men to renounce their abuse and become better fathers (or father figures) and more supportive parenting partners using fatherhood (custody) as a leading approach. Typical of the thinking behind such programs is the following statement from Juan Carlos Arean's document: “Men who use violence can be held accountable for their behavior and simultaneously be encouraged to change it; and women and children can benefit from this approach.” Once again, two recurring themes are highlighted. First, the unfounded claim that men will change and, second, that mothers and children benefit from contact with these abusive men. Such programs have been implemented without any adequate research to be sure that such policies will work or that they will be beneficial to mothers and children.

The philosophy behind "Fathering After Violence" programs is an unthinking endorsement of the patriarchy. The message it conveys is that fatherhood is the vehicle for creating behavior change and that women must sacrifice their safety in order to make it possible. According to this reasoning, the goal of having men be fathers is so vitally important, that it is more important than the safety and wellbeing of abused mothers and children. In the entire report, in the rush to endorse violent men as fathers, there is no acknowledgement that abusive men have a higher probability of abusing their children, including sexual abuse. Further, we can only assume these programs do not assess whether or not father uses multiple tactics to control, intimidate, isolate and subjugate because it is not held to be a priority. 

In assessing the history of supervised visit centers, Mr. Juan Carlos Arean notes that the amount of supervised visit centers grew in the 1990’s “due in large part to custody and visitation between separated parents.” On the other hand, the report does not acknowledge early father’s rights connections to creating supervised visit centers. Yet it does acknowledge that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA 2000) funded OVW to establish the Safe Havens grant program.

The report tells centers to treat the violent father in a manner that does not dehumanize him. It does not acknowledge that abusers dehumanize the targets of their abuse. 

The YWCA in Springfield, Massachusetts is listed as one contributing center. This is the center that Kathy Jones, mother of John, was ordered to supervised visits for “alienation” due to her refusal to ignore the father's sexual abuse of their very young son. During each visit, John would disclose dads’ repeated sexual abuse, including anal penetration, in front of center staff who never filed as a mandated reporter. John, now 14, still lives with his sexually abusive father and has no contact with his mother and grandmother. 

Fathering after violence programs and policies endorse the following slogans without any basis in the facts:

“Giving abusive fathers (and all men) more opportunities for change and healing is an essential component of ending violence against women and children.”

“Abuse is a learned behavior and deliberate choice and therefore can be unlearned.”

Policies based upon such flawed and unsubstantiated concepts are bound to cause harm and damage to women and children. For instance, we know that pedophiles do not change. Why are we to believe it is any more likely that batterers will change their engrained behaviors? Even if we grant such unverified ideas, at the very least, change is going a require a little more than ten supervised visits.

Fathering After Violence confirms that for some years FVPN has been exploring the concept of using fatherhood programs as the leading approach to engage abusive men in renouncing their violence. In other words, “Centers show fathers the effects of witnessing and experiencing violence on children, and therefore create an impact that might persuade them to renounce their violence. Fathers are more likely to develop empathy towards their children than their partners (mothers) and this pathway to empathy can help some men reflect upon and change abusive and violent conduct."

Nonetheless, this report lists key characteristics of abusers including intimidation, psychological abuse, an inflated sense of self-entitlement, physical abuse, control, selfishness, superiority, possessiveness, confusion of love and abuse, externalization of responsibility, denial, minimization and victim blaming, and serial battering, visitation staff are advised not to stereotype and over-generalize by assigning these characteristics to batterers under supervision. Typical traits identified by Bancroft and Silverman, experts in working with battering men, such as authoritarianism, under-involvement, neglect and irresponsibility, undermining of the mother’s parenting and authority, self-centeredness, manipulativeness and ability to perform under observation are also discounted in their importance to assessing an abuser’s potential for changed behavior. 

Meanwhile, we are supposed to believe claims such as that despite these damning characteristics, mothers still want such men to participate in the lives of their children. For instance, Fathering After Violence claims women want the abuse to end but not necessarily the relationship, i.e. “Some mothers who have experienced violence still want their ex-partners to change and become better fathers for their children.” Along these lines, Tubbs and Williams conducted a focus group with 43 African American women and concluded their work “indicated shared parenting was perceived as a necessary obligation of parenting even with safety concerns for self and child.” These conclusions appear so unlikely, I can't help but consider them a clear cut example of observer bias in research. It appears that this research team was going to wring out father positive conclusions from those focus groups no matter what the mothers said.

Advocates are well aware of the phenomenon of batterers going to diversionary programs where the staff is predisposed to exonerate them quickly. Such behavior is so widespread that even Mr. Arean's pamphlet mentions the possibility that staff could collude with male batterers, and, that male staff tended to collude more than women staff, both consciously and unconsciously. The thrust of such programs appears to be to reward staff who ignore and discount the wide array of batterer characteristics and traits, and who collude to “cure” the abuser and document him as fit for custody regardless of whether he is or not. In assessing his danger and risk, staff are coached to merely look at levels of violence, incident-specific abuse, and his behavior during supervised visits, not his attitudes, motivations and character traits that would predict potential for continued abuse and future attacks or the potential of his abusing his child(ren) once he graduates from the program.

As with Pearson, Mr. Arean's pamphlet states that poverty corresponds to higher levels of violence, yet it does not explain why poor men appear to have higher levels of violence. This author, Doreen Ludwig, proposes that women in relationships with higher incomes have more to lose: social status and income. Public shame is greater in higher income communities. Wealthy men receive greater amounts of political protection, including local police force; police are less likely to process charges against higher income males. Thus, while there appears to be lip service to the idea that domestic violence cuts across all racial and economic divides, the reality is that policy makers and experts in the field of Domestic Violence continue assume that only the underprivileged are affected or need to be provided with services. This leaves the needs of higher income victims unattended to.

Often, Visitation Centers act as conduits to assisting abusive fathers to obtain custody from their victims. For instance, many Visitation Centers are advised to establish a relationship with fatherhood programs (page 35). Some centers have fatherhood programs on-site. Curiously, the report states “these programs are different from so-called “father’s rights” groups and can offer expertise and materials on positive father engagement.” Yet the report goes on to state “most of these programs could also clearly benefit from receiving training to advance their understanding of domestic violence dynamics.” The Office of Violence Against Women is telling supervised visit centers to refer violent men to fatherhood programs whose chief partnership is with courts to get men custody, all the while acknowledging that fatherhood programs know nothing about abuse and claiming those programs are not agents of male supremacy! 

What the Juan Carlos Arean report highlights is the shameful fact that OVW and VAWA have not protected women and child victims of abuse and instead have bought into unfounded theories that abusers can change their behavior. When discussing conducting orientation sessions, even the report itself acknowledges the reality of these custody switching policies in favor of men stating, “in most centers some (if not many parents ordered to visits) are mothers, some of whom might be in fact victims, rather than perpetrators of domestic violence (page 45).”

Fathering After Violence advises staff to tell dads to show respect to their children’s mother regardless of his feelings about her. Not seeing lack of empathy as a precursor to future episodes of abuse, the report states men are “more empathetic as fathers than as intimate partners or ex-partners.” It is not assessed if Dad's empathy is an “act” meant to gain custody in order to direct his abuse toward his child, an unprotected person, since mother has chosen to end their intimate relationship. We also have no idea how the report measured father's empathy in connection to their children, and would suspect that is is merely a fabricated assessment created for the purpose of justifying a policy that has long caused harm and damage to numerous protective mothers and their children.

Mary Jane King’s son, Thomas was horribly sexually violated by his father. Mary Jane worked diligently to document the abuse and she attempted to get him treatment at the Yale Child Sex Abuse Clinic. All the while family court blocked Thomas from getting treatment, hid the abuse while calling mother an alienator, and eventually cut off her contact with Thomas. 

Mary Jane posted on facebook “In CT all DV funding is "partnered" with fatherhood initiative legislation, so increasing access of abusive males to victims is the controlling law of DV funding.” Thus, the most popular private program funded by the State of Connecticut is David Mandel's Safe & Together Institute which provides lip service to DV mandates while essentially advocating to have violent fathers in the lives of their children. This is done in conferences held in sought after vacation resorts all over the world--Florida, Australia etc. etc.

In CT and across the United States, as a victim of domestic violence, you have a great deal to fear as you approach the Family Court System. The father's rights movement has subverted approaches that were put into place to protect women, and they are now being used against victims. Domestic Violence Centers, from which you expect support, will not assist you in protecting your children from the abuser because they receive government fatherhood funding that motivates them to place the rights and the needs of fathers first. Even worse, the OVA and others in the Domestic Violence industry have abandoned battered mothers and accepted millions of dollars in fatherhood funding to pay their salaries and to increase their profiles which has meant they have had to buy into father friendly, perpetrator blind policies. As a result, the battered, protective mother of today is a mother betrayed.

For more information on this subject, please click on the link below:

1 comment:

  1. This is truly fascinating. Any idea on how to track which institutions have this funding? Also has anyone done analysis on CT statistics with regard to prosecuting batterers? In Stamford court I know some judges don’t even believe in domestic abuse.