A record of domestic violence
I believe there are many obvious and non-controversial rules that would make our children safer. At least eight children were murdered in the recent Texas church massacre and many others were grievously injured by the abusive murderer. As with so many mass murderers with a record of domestic violence, Devin Kelley was repeatedly given leniency when he needed strict accountability and monitoring.
Too often it seems like another day another mass shooting. Maybe this is because after each senseless tragedy, we get an outpouring of compassion and we get political posturing, but those in a position to prevent the tragedies never seem to look to the research available to take actions that would actually help.
Rule 1: Parents who deliberately fracture a child’s skull require more than a year in jail.
The abuser assaulted his infant son so badly as to give him a fractured skull. He also assaulted his wife but was allowed to limit his consequences to a year in prison. Clearly, someone who fractures a baby’s skull is capable of murder since he came so close.
This fits with the tendency of officials to treat assaults on close relatives as if it is somehow less serious and certainly not something that should be allowed to interfere with the child’s relationship with his father.
We might want to criticize the military for excessive leniency, but it is worth remembering the response in a notorious case in Minnesota. Not only did they fail to even bring criminal charges against the father in the Holly Collins case, but the judge gave custody to the father who fractured his son’s skull. Holly was the one they sought to prosecute when she tried to protect her children. So a corollary to this rule is a parent who fractures a child’s skull is not qualified for custody.
Rule 2: A Domestic Violence Abuser cannot safely be permitted to possess guns.
Each mass shooting seems to lead to recriminations about how to stop these unspeakable tragedies but an important factor that is greatly underreported is that half of these mass shootings are committed by domestic violence abusers.
This ought to make it a huge priority to keep guns out of such dangerous hands. The Air Force admitted they mishandled Kelley’s case, but it illustrates a wider and more common problem that we as a society fail to take domestic violence as seriously as it warrants. This has little to do with any second amendment right because when you perpetrate domestic violence you are waiving that right. The desperate need for children and adults to be safe from abusers with guns must take precedence.
Rule 3: Stop Domestic Violence to Prevent Mass Shootings:
The big picture is with so many DV abusers committing mass shootings, preventing DV, and ending our longstanding tolerance of men’s abuse of women will provide many beneficial effects including a significant reduction of mass shootings. Fortunately, we know how to prevent most domestic violence crimes. The Quincy Solution is based on successful practices in communities like Quincy, San Diego, and Nashville together with current scientific research. In other words, it is the smart way to prevent DV and should be one of the responses to prevent mass shootings.
Rule 4: Children should be seen, heard, and believed:
Abusers, rapists, and pedophiles promote the myth that women and children frequently make false reports of abuse. Bogus alienation theories are based on this false assumption. The reality is that victims frequently refuse to report these horrific violations out of fear of reprisals; concerns they won’t be believed and a process that maximizes their pain and embarrassment. Children do lie about other issues but rarely about abuse. Research in the context of child custody establishes that mothers and children make deliberate false reports less than 2% of the time, but the widespread belief in the myths promoted by abusers severely undermines our ability to protect children.
Rule 5: Children are severely harmed by sexual abuse regardless of their relationship with the abuser.
In the United States, one-quarter of our children are sexually abused before they reach the age of 18. These violations have devastating effects that last a lifetime. In many cases, children do not receive the therapy and assistance they need because of faulty practices that discourage reporting and lead adults to disbelieve true reports.
One of the most outrageous responses is our practice of treating child sexual abuse differently based on the relationship between the child and their rapist or abuser. In the relatively rare instances where a stranger assaults the child, the investigation is led by the police; the purpose is to find evidence to bring criminal charges; they try to quickly interview the alleged offender and pressure him to take a lie detector test. In other words, they take the crime seriously.
But when the assault is committed by someone the child knows, particularly a close relative, the process is very different. The investigation is led by a social worker; the parents are given advance notice so they have time to destroy evidence and silence the child; the purpose is reunification so there is little effort to preserve evidence and if the case goes to family court the lack of evidence is treated as proof the safe parent is coaching the child to lie. These standard flawed practices force the victims to live their childhoods in survival mode and deny them the opportunity for healing. The consequences to society are enormous.
Rule 6: Rapists are never fit for custody of a child:
In some states, men who raped a woman or even a girl are eligible to win custody of the child conceived from his rape. Just saying the practice is enough to demonstrate it is egregiously wrong and yet legislators and court professionals who focus on treating parents with very different qualifications the same fail to use their common sense.
Even when the rapist does not ultimately win custody the litigation allowed by bad laws can retraumatize the mother; waste limited financial assets on litigation, and traumatize the child. Research about risk assessment tells us that men who rape or coerce sex from their partners pose an increased risk of lethality and yet many court professionals treat concerns raised by the mother as an impediment to the shared parenting they seek to promote. This leads to mothers being penalized for trying to protect children from fathers who are dangerous.
Rule 7: Practices that accommodate abusers fail society and fail children:
Research confirms that domestic violence and child abuse are far more harmful than previously understood. Nevertheless, most judicial and other responses rely on the ineffective and overly lenient responses used in the case of Devin Kelley.
“First offenses” are rarely the first time the defendant used criminal DV tactics or engaged in legal DV tactics hundreds of times. Standard practices see a first offense as an excuse for leniency. Police and prosecutors fail to realize that the abuser has been telling his victim that no one will believe her and he has the influence or ability to avoid any consequences. When society provides no meaningful consequences for the abusers’ threats and boasts they are confirmed.
Meanwhile, she suffers in silence after watching the court failures and the criminal justice system believes they were successful because there are no more arrests. Even after the NFL claimed to take domestic violence and child abuse more seriously, they continue to focus on therapeutic approaches that have no chance of success. This is because his abuse was not caused by mental illness. The research demonstrates that only accountability and monitoring have been shown to change abusers’ behavior.
Sarah Buel was a prosecutor during the Quincy Model and used to meet with defense attorneys to explain she was doing their clients a favor by taking their offenses seriously. Devin Kelley was probably glad that he received such a light sentence for his crimes, but now he is dead and so are 25 other people.
Rule 8: Stop treating the biased cottage industry as if they were neutral professionals:
Most domestic violence custody cases, like most other litigation, are settled more or less amicably. The problem is 3.8% of cases that go to trial and often far beyond. A large majority of these cases involve domestic violence by the most dangerous abusers, men who believe she has no right to leave. They have developed unspeakably cruel tactics to use custody to regain control over their victim.
Domestic violence is about control and that includes economic control. This means that in most contested custody cases the abuser controls most of the family resources. Unscrupulous psychologists and lawyers have figured out that the best way to make large incomes is to promote approaches that favor abusers. These professionals are both biased and ignorant, but that has not stopped courts from appointing them to neutral positions like evaluators and GALs. Not only do they favor abusers in these cases but spread misinformation that poisons other cases. It is hard for the public to believe that custody courts routinely fail to protect children from dangerous abusers but this is one of the causes of widespread failure.
Rule 9: Unfair Statutes of Limitation benefit child rapists and abusers:
Many areas of our law include statutes of limitation for both civil and criminal cases. It has a legitimate purpose because, after a period of time, memories are less reliable, evidence may no longer be available and potential defendants need to get on with their lives. These laws are particularly inappropriate for child sexual abuse cases in which the abusers often seek to silence the victims, a common defense mechanism is to forget his abuse in order to survive and it often takes survivors many decades before they remember or can come forward.
These are the most horrendous crimes that cause unspeakable harm. Sexual abusers deliberately prey on the most vulnerable children and the expectation that most of these crimes will not be reported encourages the offenders to commit their crimes. Unnecessarily short statutes of limitation encourage some of the most heinous crimes society needs to prevent.
Rule 10: Colleges should not make it easier for rapists:
Rape is an especially reprehensible crime and one of the many impediments to prevention is that the norms of society and our practices discourage victims from reporting rapes. Sexual assaults on campus represent particularly widespread harm. There has been a history of educational institutions minimizing and denying sexual assaults out of concerns it would make their institution less attractive.
During the Obama administration, attention was finally focused on this problem, and rules were created to discourage rape and encourage reports. Rapes, like other gender assaults, are rarely falsely reported, but now the Trump Administration is seeking to modify the rules to better protect alleged rapists. This foolish approach focuses on protecting the rare student who faces false charges instead of the far more common problem of sexual assault and the reluctance to report these crimes. Even when the potential consequences are civil and limited there is no tolerance that someone might face a false report.
This concern is not present in any non-gender-based violations. And the consequences for women now be more likely to be assaulted by men are life-changing.
Rule 11: Stop Tolerating Sexual Assaults and Harassment:
Men’s mistreatment of women is not new. Nor is the widespread pattern of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace and elsewhere. Some high-profile cases have brought more attention to a longstanding problem. It ought to go without saying that this offensive behavior is wrong and must stop.
Men and women are different and are treated even more differently. We must recognize this when responding to gendered crimes and behavior. The long history of denying and minimizing men’s mistreatment of women also serves to understate the enormous harm these crimes cause. These offenses require responses not only from the criminal justice system but also on a personal level such as shunning the offenders.
Politics should not get in the way. Judge Moore, the Senate candidate in Alabama is credibly accused of engaging in sexual activities with young teens when he was in his thirties. It is shocking that some of his supporters who claim to be inspired by moral values seek to excuse this behavior by saying if she was two years older it would have been legal. Pedophilia is enormously harmful to society and is not to be tolerated.
Rule 12: Bad Custody Practices Promote Human Trafficking:
Family courts do a poor job of recognizing and responding to domestic violence, but their response to child sexual abuse is abominable. Although deliberate false reports occur less than 2% of the time, the courts are disbelieving 94% of child sexual abuse reports. In these cases, it means children are sentenced to live with their rapist or abuser and cannot get the treatment they need because the case proceeds on the false assumption that no abuse was committed. In some cases, the abusive father is part of a child pornography or pedophile ring, and the children are immediately used for these illicit purposes. In other cases where the courts disbelieve abuse reports the children eventually run away and many get caught up in human trafficking. This is what happens when courts use practices that tilt decisions towards risking children.
A reason for hope
The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Research from the CDC demonstrates that exposure to domestic violence and child abuse is far more harmful than previously understood. This is because living with the fear and stress caused by abusers creates long-term health and other risks that were not previously considered. The present level of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental illness, suicide, substance abuse, and other health and social problems is based on the present level of domestic violence and child abuse. If society adopts the rules discussed above we can dramatically reduce these scourges of society.
Our life expectancy would increase significantly. We would save hundreds of billions of dollars every year. The quality of children’s lives would be far better. And children could be safe in their homes, in their schools, and in their places of worship.
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Domestic Violence Writer, Speaker, and Advocate
Barry Goldstein is one of the leading domestic violence authors, speakers, advocates, and a frequent expert witness.