Los Angeles, CA–“[A]llegations of sexual abuse of children were made against fathers in 23% of the cases studied but substantiated by a judges” decision in only 6%…Of all the incidence studies cited as evidence on the ABA website, not one used a measure of actual rates of abuse…This substantiation rate, using a judges” decision as the criterion measure, was about ¼ of the allegation rate.”
The American Bar Association (ABA) has set out to help divorcing women who make allegations of domestic violence or child sexual abuse against their husbands during custody battles. The ABA’s publication “10 Myths About Custody and Domestic Violence and How to Counter Them” was produced to counter many of the arguments put forth by shared parenting advocates, fatherhood activists, and dissident domestic violence experts.
According to the ABA, “Lawyers who represent victims of domestic violence in custody matters often encounter these common myths. This one-page tip sheet provides facts and recent statistics for use in litigation.” To read the ABA’s publication, click here.
Three leading domestic violence experts are examining the ABA’s report in an upcoming article in the academic journal Aggression and Violent Behavior. The publication and authors have which given me permission to publish excerpts from it.
“The Gender Paradigm in Domestic Violence Research and Practice Part II: The Information Website of the American Bar Association” is authored by Donald G. Dutton of the University of British Columbia, Kenneth N. Corvo of Syracuse University, and John Hamel, a batterers’ treatment provider in San Rafael, California.
The excerpt below discusses ABA’s “Myth” #1–“Domestic violence is rare among custody litigants.” Dutton/Corvo/Hamel write:
The first “myth’ stated is that domestic violence is rare amongst custody litigants. It is not clear who believed this “myth’ and no reference is provided. Two references are cited to dispel this myth; however, the studies cited (Johnston, 1994; Keilitz, 1997) do not answer the question posed because both studies assess allegations of DV rather than actual DV.
This issue is problematic throughout the ABA “refutations’ because it is not known whether the allegations represent actual abuse rates or a legal ploy by the complainant to gain advantage in a custody case. While the ABA website accepts every allegation as a veridical truth, the data say something very different.
The first ABA citation is to a resource handbook (Keilitz, 1997) that presents no direct empirical evidence except a survey of state courts on DV incidence. Evidence for DV presented by these state courts “included civil protection orders, documents related to criminal charges in the custody case files, self-reports in questionnaires and interviews, allegations in the pleadings, and other evidence in the case record'(p. 5).
Obviously, from this sort of compilation of various evidence sources, it is impossible to differentiate allegations of DV from actual incidence. The reader is not told in what proportions these various sources, of uneven evidentiary weight, contribute to the final conclusion. The reader does not know whether DV incidence is based solely on self-reports or allegations, or what “other evidence in the case’ consists of.
The Keilitz study, however, treats these all sources as “evidence of domestic violence’ (p. 5). Such conflation of allegations with evidence runs through the bulk of the literature cited by the ABA website, transforming what are often merely complaints to police into corroborated incidents of domestic violence.
The study by Johnston (Johnston, 1994) cites earlier studies, one by the same author (Johnston & Campbell, 1993) and one by Depner, Cannata, and Simon (1992) as finding “physical aggression had occurred between 75% and 70% of the (high conflict divorce) parents.’ However, the Depner et al study again reported only allegations of abuse. The Johnston and Campbell (1993) study, while sparse on methodological details, gave out Conflict Tactics Scales (still an uncorroborated self-report measure of DV) to two samples (n = 80 and 60) of divorcing couples in San Francisco.
Any type of domestic violence was presumably counted, including “throwing or smashing objects.’ The authors then developed a typology “based on clinical inference.’ They identified five patterns of IPV in their clinical sample of high conflict custody litigants: ongoing male battering, female initiated violence, male-controlling violence, separation/divorce violence, and psychotic/paranoid reactions (op, cit., pp. 288 -289). The “ongoing male battering’ (which constitutes the stereotype of all IPV in the gender-paradigm) at “moderate or low levels of severity’ was found in 8% of couples in sample one and 11% in sample two.
Little is known about the validity of the CTS in these circumstances of reporting, but the CTS is susceptible to social desirable reporting in court-mandated samples (Dutton & Hemphill, 1992). It is designed to measure incidence from anonymous survey respondents and cannot be interpreted as providing valid incidences in highly emotionally charged conditions. In this light, Johnston and Campbell reported the intra-couple reliability of the CTS scores “ranged from .2 to .62.” It is clear that the couples were not in agreement on the CTS. The authors did not report breakdowns of items by respondent, so the exact nature of the disagreement cannot be assessed.
A later and methodologically superior study, by the same author (Johnston, Lee, Olesen, & Walters, 2005), makes the importance of this distinction between allegation rates and actual incidence rates abundantly clear. In that study…allegations of sexual abuse of children were made against fathers in 23% of the cases studied but substantiated by a judges” decision in only 6% (op. cit., Table 3).
Allegations of physical child abuse were made in 21% of cases and substantiated in only 6%. For the category “any child abuse,’ allegations were made against fathers in 51% of the cases studies but substantiated in only 15%.
Of all the incidence studies cited as evidence on the ABA website, not one used a measure of actual rates of abuse, yet the Johnston et al data underscore the difference between allegations and substantiated abuse. This substantiation rate, using a judges” decision as the criterion measure, was about ¼ of the allegation rate.
I often write about false allegations of domestic violence or sexual abuse, but there is, of course, a significant difference between a “false” claim and an “unsubstantiated” one. However, all things being equal, a high rate of unsubstantiated claims suggests a significant number of false allegations.