Domestic violence and the DV policies of family courts and law enforcement is a multi-faceted issue that has an enormous impact on American families. Fathers & Families is hosting a debate between two of North America’s leading domestic violence authorities, feminist DV expert Professor Evan Stark, Ph.D, MSW, and dissident DV expert Dr. Donald G. Dutton.
Evan Stark, Ph.D, MSW (pictured, right) is a forensic social worker who has served as an expert in more than 100 criminal and civil cases, consulted with numerous federal and state agencies, including the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control, and won a number prestigious awards for his work.
Dr. Donald G. Dutton, Ph.D. (pictured, middle right) has published over one hundred papers and ten books, including Rethinking Domestic Violence, The Abusive Personality, Domestic Assault of Women: Psychological and Criminal Justice Perspectives, and The Batterer: A psychological profile.
The debate is running in several segments and will be posted on both www.fathersandfamilies.org and www.glennsacks.com. Readers are asked to keep comments respectful and on topic. Our rules of moderation can be seen here.
Glenn Sacks, MA
Executive Director, Fathers & Families
Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S.
Founder, Chairman of the Board, Fathers & Families
Fathers & Families’ Question #1: The Obama administration recently appointed Lynn Rosenthal as the first-ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women. Vice President Biden, who wrote the Violence Against Women Act, said that creating the post will help the White House focus on stopping domestic violence. The mainstream domestic violence establishment arguably now has the most sympathetic administration ever. What should the administration do to improve how the United States deals with the problem of domestic violence?
Stark’s Response [Part II]:
III. Building Consensus on Best Practice Approaches
There are a number of major gaps in the provision of services for victims of domestic violence and coercive control. In some of these areas, best practices have been identified, but not disseminated. In others, controversy surrounds the best approach. Examples of these issues are: Routine Hospital/Medical Screening for Domestic Violence; how best to approach children”s exposure to domestic violence; transitional housing/employment opportunities for victims using shelters or other services; how to respond to adolescent victims of partner or dating violence; school-based partner violence prevention; and the best ways to incorporate parenting education in current batterer intervention programs.
The White House Advisor would convene national invitational conferences of researchers and practitioners in these and other areas. Commissioned papers reflecting current controversies and/or best practices in the field would provide the background for these meetings. Results would be published and disseminated through federal and organizational web-sites. If a consensus is reached on best-practice approaches, funding will be provided under VAWA to support the development of local programs.
IV. Sex Discrimination in the Family Courts
In 1997, Republican Congresswoman Connie Morella successfully steered a resolution through the Congress (House Concurrent Resolution 182) recommending that states give the presumption of custody to domestic violence victims. Passage of the Bill followed testimony and a growing body of literature indicating harms to children exposed to partner violence. All but one state has adopted some version of the recommendation and the Council on Juvenile and Family Court Judges has published guidelines to implement these practices, the so-called “Green Book.’ But there is little evidence that family court practice has changed appreciably as a result.
“Studies…suggest that no limitations are placed on father”s access in 80% of the cases where there is evidence of domestic violence.”
To the contrary, studies from New York, Kentucky, California, San Diego and Seattle suggest that no limitations are placed on father”s access in 80% of the cases where there is evidence of domestic violence, that fathers fare no differently in cases where domestic violence is alleged than fathers in cases where it is not, and that victims who raise domestic violence as an issue are actually less likely than those who do not to get primary custody.
“[V]ictims who raise domestic violence as an issue are actually less likely than those who do not to get primary custody.”
This situation leaves thousands of victims and their children at risk. Because custody decisions are made by state courts, the federal government has no direct authority on this issue. However, sex discrimination in state courts violates the U.S. Constitution and so is a matter for federal action.
The Executive branch would ask the National Academy of Sciences or a similar research body, in conjunction with the American Bar Association, to review current practice and outcomes in disputed custody cases involving allegations of domestic violence. A principal question in such a review would be to determine whether there is a systematic pattern of sex discrimination in the family courts in these cases and to propose remedies consistent with the U.S. Constitution.
“[P]erpetrators of domestic violence are rarely arrested or prosecuted for marital rape. When they are, sanctions are relatively weak…”
V. Increasing the Seriousness with which Partner/Marital Rape is Prosecuted
Sexual assault may occur in as many as 40% of domestic violence cases. Moreover, in a significant portion, sexual assault is repeated over a significant time period. Despite this, perpetrators of domestic violence are rarely arrested or prosecuted for marital rape. When they are, sanctions are relatively weak and infrequent compared to stranger rape.
In conjunction with major law enforcement agencies in the U.S., the Justice Department, and prosecutorial organizations such as the American District Attorneys Association, the Executive branch will review the handling of marital/partner rape cases to determine if the current approach violates victim”s rights to equal protection under the l4th Amendment.
VI. Prohibiting a Punitive Response by Child Welfare to Victims of Domestic Violence
For several decades, with New York as a leader in this practice, courts have prosecuted mothers of children exposed to domestic violence for “failure to protect’ or removed their children to foster care simply because the mothers have been victims of partner abuse. This approach re-victimizes women who were already victimized and does nothing to protect the mother or her children.
In a landmark federal case, Nicholson v. Williams, Judge Weinstein ruled that it was unconstitutional for child welfare agencies to remove children and charge a mother with neglect solely because she had been victimized. New York”s highest court upheld the decision. But there is evidence that removal in such cases remains commonplace in the U.S. Although domestic violence remains a leading context within which child abuse occurs, many state identification systems still do not recognize domestic violence exposure as a risk factor.
The Executive Branch will use its influence to include in all funding legislation for state child protection systems a prohibition against removals solely because a mother has been abused and incorporate a requirement that state child welfare agencies develop protocols for screening, identifying and responding to domestic violence in ways that maximize safety for victims and their children.
“While official figures suggest that women earned 8l cents to every dollar a man earned…more exacting research comparing…earnings during their peak years (26-69) shows the gap to be 62%, three times as high as official figures.”
VII. Enhancing Sexual Equality
Domestic violence does not occur in a vacuum. Regardless of which partner perpetrates abuse, there is growing evidence that links the occurrence of abuse to persistent sexual inequalities particularly in income and job opportunities. While official figures suggest that women earned 81 cents to every dollar a man earned in 2005, more exacting research comparing men and women”s earnings during their peak years (26-59) shows the gap to be 62%, three times as high as official figures.
“[I]n addition to paid employment, women continue to assume default responsibilities for housework and child care.”
Moreover, in addition to paid employment, women continue to assume default responsibilities for housework and child care. A similar context influences whether someone who has left an abusive relationship can remain violence free.
The White House Advisor will use her influence to bring battered women”s concerns to key legislative initiatives affecting women, including proposals for comparable pay, social security, early childhood education, and insurance reform. In addition, she will use her office to mobilize support for legislation improving women”s lot in these areas.
[Note: All of the posts relating to this debate are available here.–GS]