“Peoples (SIC) lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?” Donald J. Trump
This was the Twitter feed from President Trump in response to the resignations of two of his top aides after credible domestic violence reports. Perhaps he forgot that one of the worst days in his administration was November 5, 2017 when domestic violence abuser, Devin Kelley walked into a Texas church and murdered 26 people. Authorities treated him with enormous leniency so that he might have an opportunity for a good career and life. They gave him a minimum sentence for a serious and potentially deadly assault and failed to remove his weapons.
In Connecticut, Adrianne Oyola pleaded with a judge for a restraining order to protect her son, 7-month-old Aaden Moreno from a father threatening to kill him. The judge made sure the father’s rights were protected and so Tony Moreno had the access he needed to throw the baby off a bridge to his death.
In New York, newspaper heiress, Anne Scripps Douglas asked the court to modify her protective order to keep her estranged husband out of her home. The judge made sure Scott Douglas was not prevented from going to his wife’s home. He used this freedom to go to her house and bludgeon her to death. He later jumped off the Tappan Zee Bridge to his death. Her adult daughter never got over this tragedy and many years later jumped off the bridge at the same spot as her stepfather.
A court in Utah was able to recognize Ronald Lee Haskell as a dangerous domestic abuser. He was so dangerous that the court took the unusual step of limiting him to supervised visitation with his children. But his rights had to be protected so he was given shared custody with his wife whom he abused. His wife went into hiding so Haskell went to her sister’s home in Spring, Texas. When the family refused to reveal her whereabouts, Haskell executed the mother, father and four children. A fifth child, Cassidy Stay survived a gunshot to the head and alerted the police before Haskell could kill other family members.
Trump believes that a society and a court system that is strongly tilted to favor the worst abusers and place women and children in jeopardy is actually unfair to men reported to have abused their partners. Ironically each of the men in these stories was harmed rather than benefited by the leniency and rights they were provided. Only accountability and monitoring have been shown to change abusers’ behavior and these men as well as the Trump aides were given the opposite. This continued when they were allowed to continue in sensitive positions despite the likelihood they committed serious domestic violence crimes.
Domestic Violence in Context
There is a long history of tolerance for husband’s control and assaults on their wives. What we now call domestic violence only became a public issue in the 1970s. Little research was available at the time and initial responses tended to be the most favorable to male abusers.
In the batterer classes I teach, we often give a lesson on the history of domestic violence based on who society treated as responsible for men’s abuse of women. The initial response was to look at a group of women abused by their partners and another group that as far as known was not assaulted. The initial response was to try to determine what these women said or did that caused his abuse so that it could be prevented. The women would be sent for therapy, communication skills or other counseling. We know this approach did not work because there was no reduction in DV homicides, emergency room admissions or serious injuries. Later research confirmed why by showing there was no difference between women abused or not abused by their partners. The next approach was based on the assumption the cause was both parties and the relationship. This failed based on the same lack of progress. Only when more communities started focusing on accountability and monitoring did domestic violence assaults and especially homicides come down. Communities that were strict and took domestic violence seriously had a more substantial reduction in domestic violence crimes.
One of the reasons I like this lesson for the class is because the men often favor approaches based on blame the victim or blame both parties and this explains why that is not an appropriate subject for the class. It also is not an appropriate subject for the President. He does not understand why the failed blame-the victim approach should not continue to be used.
The director of our program reminds us not to feel superior to people who believe the same misinformation that we believed not that long ago. If I am honest, I must admit there was a time when I had many of the same beliefs about women that Trump does because we live in the same sexist society. When I joined the domestic violence movement, I spent a lot of time remaining quiet, listening and learning from women. This was one of the best choices I ever made. It is difficult for men to understand this subject because we have never been afraid our partner would hurt or kill us. Challenging beliefs you have had your entire life is difficult work. Many times I felt attacked, but I stayed with the process and came to understand why I was wrong. I wish the President could understand that greatness requires humility, an ability to listen and to accept you can be wrong.
The Big Picture
The stories I discussed earlier include some of the most horrific outcomes, but they are not exceptions. We have a lot of work to do in order to protect people from abusers. More than half the mass shootings are committed by domestic violence abusers like Devin Kelley. In the past ten years, over 600 children involved in custody disputes, like Aaden Moreno have been murdered mostly by abusive fathers. In many of the cases the courts gave the abusers access because protecting their career and future was given greater importance than the health and safety of children. Every year 58,000 children are sent for custody or unprotected visitation and many of their lives are ruined. One-quarter of the children in the United States will be sexually abused before they reach 18. Our family courts do exactly what the President promotes so that 94% of child sexual abuse reports are disbelieved.
The victims of Trump’s aides clearly suffered not only from the initial assaults, but in the continued aftermath. The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Research from the CDC tells us that the greatest harm is not the physical injuries but living with the fear and stress that leads to a lifetime of health and other problems. The United States spends over one trillion dollars every year to make sure the lives and careers of abusers are protected despite the risk to women and children. In other words the President is spending almost as much to protect abusers as to give corporations and wealthy donors his big tax cut.
During the campaign, Trump offered a lot of misinformation about why our economy did not expand quicker. One factor that was overlooked is how our tolerance for domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment undermines the economy. Many women and children who are impacted by these crimes never reach their full economic potential and this drains our economy. As do the enormous health care costs resulting from our tolerance for abuse. The United States spends $750 billion in health care costs related to domestic violence. Money spent for health insurance cannot be used for higher wages, investments, dividends, or pleasure.
Some communities like Quincy, Massachusetts, Nashville Tennessee and San Diego, California implemented a group of best practices based on holding abusers accountable. The result was a dramatic reduction in domestic violence crime and especially murder. In Quincy, a county that averaged 5-6 domestic violence homicides enjoyed several years in a row with no murders. We know how to prevent domestic violence and it is with an approach that is the opposite of what the President tweeted.
The President is not unusual in having a fundamental misunderstanding about due process. Abusers and their defenders often reference the phrase innocent until proven guilty. In this context the President is arguing that since they were never convicted it is unfair for them to face any consequences. But innocent until proven guilty references protections against conviction and prison. In a civil setting such as a lawsuit or maintaining employment there is no right to proof beyond a reasonable doubt. We need to weigh competing interests like the rights of their victims and the need to be sure a high ranking official is not subject to extortion. The evidence that includes multiple witnesses, contemporaneous reports to friends and family and one picture is strong evidence that has not been challenged by any credible evidence.
In our batterer classes, the men often concoct reasons why they believe their partners reported their abuse. I always tell them what ought to be obvious that the reason is the women just want his abuse to stop. The brave women have no other reason or motive to make their reports. Every cursed day I hear horrific stories about women and children suffering needlessly because authorities are taking the President’s sexist approach. I am offended because no consideration is given to the right to be free from abuse and the horrific impact his approach has on too many people. My re-education has taught me to believe the women.
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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.