POLITICS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

by: Mace H. Greenfield

On October 30, 2002, at the Supreme Court, Nassau County, there was a presentation about Domestic Violence, which featured Chief Justice Judith Kaye as keynote speaker. During opening remarks, the head of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence asked the question: “Why do men batter.” She then answered her own question: “Because they can.” Justice Kaye then read a poem about a battered woman, battered by a man. This is exactly why the domestic violence problem will not be resolved. It is being approached with one eye closed, and from a politically correct and media sexy viewpoint, even though it is wrong in reality. Both men and women batter. Until this is realized and accepted, the problem will never be properly dealt with.

In August of 1994, the New Republic published an article by Katherine Dunn entitled: “Truth abuse: the media’s wife-beating hype. (media and the O.J. Simpson case).” In this article she wrote:

“Let us note that on February 22, Maria Montalvo, a registered nurse in New Jersey, punished her husband for moving out after she had assaulted him. She drove their two preschool children to her husband’s parents’ house, where he was staying, and parked the car out front. She then doused the toddlers with gasoline and set them on fire. The burning car ignited another vehicle nearby and prevented the grandparents from rescuing them. Montalvo, whose husband had previously filed several complaints of assault to the police, is awaiting trial. Yet this case did not trigger a national discussion of how dangerous it is to leave a battering spouse. No domestic violence workers came forward in 1992 to decry the typical pattern of stalking, harassing phone calls and destruction of property that San Diego socialite Betty Broderich inflicted on her ex-husband before she murdered him and his new wife in their bed.”

Why didn’t these cases garner the same media hype as O.J.? Simple, O.J. was male, black and a sports celebrity.

Ms. Dunn also reported that: “Yet two of the most respected researchers in the field of domestic violence, sociologists Murray Straus of the University of New Hampshire and Richard Gelles of the University of Rhode Island found in their 1985 National Family Violence Survey that 84 percent of American families are not violent. Among the 16 percent that are, only 3 to 4 percent include family members who engage in extreme violence (such as punching, kicking, using weapons).” This is a stark contrast to how extensive the media is claiming it is. As Ms. Dunn reported: “Stories published since the Simpson murders claim that 2 million to 4 million women are beaten by their male partners regularly. Terms such as ‘epidemic’ are tossed around, along with estimates that violence plagues 50 percent or more of all relationships.”

Obviously, with all the applications for Orders of Protection in both Family Court and Criminal Court, and such allegations in Supreme Court, it seems to the Court as though the media is right. But what better way to prove to the Department of Welfare the father of your child does not live with you, than to show them a stay away order (this explains both petitioner and respondent driving to and from court together from time to time). What better way to gain exclusive use of the marital residence and custody of the children than with a stay away Order of Protection. Too often when Supreme Court denies the Wife exclusive use and occupancy, she runs to Family Court the next day and obtains a stay away Order of Protection. Judges too often issue such orders out of a what I term, “the Judge Duckman Syndrome.” This is the fear of the media and women’s groups if an order of protection is not issued, even if the allegations are insufficient, or the Judge does not even believe the allegations. I once stood in the courtroom with a custodial father whose ex-wife threatened him that she would burn down his house (the next morning his car was on fire at 5:30 AM, and she drove by while the police were there) and she told their children that she was going to get a shot gun and shoot their father. (During their divorce, she had punched him in the nose, and chased him with a baseball bat.) The Family Court Judge this day looked at my client and said: “You must be 225 pounds, don’t tell me you’re afraid of that little thing, get out of my court.” It was not dismissed that day, but later it was. The police, the Judges and the Courts do not put much credence in a man’s allegations of abuse by his wife or girlfriend, but the minute a woman cries abuse, true or not, the man is out. Luckily, this is just starting to change.

Ms. Dunn, in her article also reported that since 1975, violence against women has consistently dropped, but the rate of violence against men has remained the same. Why is the reported rate of domestic violence against men so low? As reported by Ms. Dunn: “Men who are abused by their wives are fodder for jokes.” Too often, when police arrive, if there are marks on the man and not the woman, it is still the man who is arrested. Too often the man is told to leave the house by the police, even when it is clear the woman was abusing him. Why are the reported rates by women so high? In part, for tactical advantage in a divorce or custody case; in part because people believe women; in part because society does not make fun of a woman for reporting abuse. No one seems to care, so how then do we effectively address the domestic violence issue? It can only be addressed if reality is embraced.

Everyone who wants to be politically correct stresses that women are nonviolent. This must be wishful thinking. As reported by Ms. Dunn: “One group that takes female violence seriously is the lesbian community, in which battery is a profoundly disturbing concern that is rarely discussed publicly. Martin Hiraga, director of the Anti-Violence Project for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, says that although no national studies have yet been done, all the available evidence points to domestic violence in lesbian couples occurring ‘no more and no less often than in heterosexual couples.’”

Now, let’s look at the reality of domestic violence, as reported by Ms. Dunn: “Straus and Gelles are two of the many researchers who have found domestic violence distributed equally between the sexes. In anonymous interviews with families randomly picked from the general population for their surveys, they found that half of all domestic violence involved mutual battery–both spouses brawling. In about half the cases of mutual battering, women were the instigators–the ones who slapped, slugged or swung weapons first. Male violence against passive wives occurred in one-quarter of the incidents; in another quarter of the incidents, women were the violent partners who attacked nonviolent spouses. When only the women’s version of events was reported, the results were the same. And men were still equally victimized when only the most severe forms of violence were analyzed. ‘The main conclusion to be drawn from these findings,’ wrote the researchers, ‘is that women not only engage in physical violence as often as men, but they also initiate violence as often as men.’” Granted, an abused woman is about seven times more likely than an abused man to need medical attention, but this does not justify abuse against a man. Abuse is abuse, violence is violence and it should never be tolerated.

More amazing, Ms. Dunn reported the following:

“To complicate matters, radical women’s groups actively oppose the spreading of more accurate information about gender equity in family violence. Take the case of Dr. Suzanne Steinmetz, director of the Family Research Institute at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. When her article, ‘The Battered Husband Syndrome,’ appeared in the journal Victimology in 1978, she was harassed by phone, there were threats to harm her children, her colleagues were lobbied to prevent her getting tenure and bomb threats were sent to a branch of the American Civil Liberties Union that had invited her to give a talk. Other researchers in the field report similar experiences, and male researchers are commonly accused of being batterers themselves.” So, there are those who actively and radically oppose the truth becoming known.

As the father of a daughter, I am offended and appalled at the attitude that to be a woman is to be a helpless victim. As a man, I am appalled at the attitude that only men batter. As an officer of the Court sworn to seek the truth, I am offended and appalled at the truth being ignored in favor of the media sexy political correctness. It only erodes the integrity of our justice system.

I was granted custody of my daughter by the State of Virginia, and awarded support, after a trial. When returning to the State of New York, as did my ex-wife, it was assumed she was found to be unfit, had a drug problem or an alcohol problem. None of this was true. When I needed the Court’s assistance in this State, I was treated lousy being a man, as though I was a deadbeat. After many complaints, I was finally treated with respect and dignity. Then the Courts here went after my ex-wife for child support arrears she did not owe. I called the Court about this, and I was told to sit back and laugh at her. I was told I was petty wanting the support order corrected to reflect me as a man and her as a woman. The support collection unit had collected my support for months, without forwarding a penny of it to me. Any given day their records said they had all of it, none of it, or anywhere in-between. Mistake after mistake, and being treated poorly, I thus became a bitter and disgruntled litigant. I then became an attorney to fight such injustice from within. Gender bias is alive and well in this State, as much or more against men than against women. I lived it, and now I see it day after day.