Why are Kavanaugh supporters using non-probative information. Isn’t this a discredited tactic?

There are women who commit sexual abuse and domestic violence, but overwhelmingly, these crimes are committed by men and boys against women and children. A specialized body of knowledge is available to help us recognize and respond to these offenses, but the knowledge is rarely applied, even by professionals who mistakenly believe they understand the issue.

Substantial credible research confirms custody courts get a high percentage of DV custody cases wrong. Ignoring the specialized knowledge and allowing non probative information, information that provides no evidence for the case being tried, distracts attention from more important issues and contributes to the court’s failure to protect children.

The Senate allowed the same mistakes during the hearing involving Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Experts could have helped the senators recognize the non-probative focus that dominated the discussion.

 

Non-Probative Arguments

  1. Claims Delay in Reporting Abuse Discredits the Reports:

    We kept hearing that Kavanaugh’s alleged assault occurred 36 years ago as if that fact somehow undermines the credibility of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s report.  Every expert interviewed has been clear that sexual abuse is the most underreported crime and it is extremely common for survivors to delay reporting.

    The beliefs and attitudes in our society conspire to discourage reports.  Victims are often blamed for the offender’s assault. We have made it painful and embarrassing to report sexual assault or domestic violence. Victims are routinely disbelieved. Dr. Ford did not want to come forward publicly because she feared the attacks and danger she and her family would face.  Sadly, her concerns were proven realistic.

    Family courts routinely make the same mistakes. DV victims have the added risk of threats from the abuser to kill the victim if she reports his abuse. Women have good reason to take these threats seriously because three-quarters of the women murdered by their intimate partners are killed after they leave.

    Domestic murder is not a stereotypical crime of passion in the moment, but a long-plotted revenge based on the belief she had no right to leave. Nevertheless courts routinely discredit delayed reports and rarely obtain assistance from domestic violence (DV) experts before disbelieving reports that are rarely false.

  2. Successful Men Don’t Commit Sexual Abuse or Domestic Violence:

    We continue to hear that Kavanaugh has a long and successful career as if that makes any sexual abuse less likely. Experts know that DV and sexual abuse are not limited to any economic or professional class. It is hard to imagine anyone who had a better reputation than Bill Cosby based on a distinguished career, philanthropy and public advocacy. And yet two days before the Senate Hearings he was sent to jail for his sexual crimes. Many of the offenders in “Me Too” cases were successful and prominent men.  The reality is that Kavanaugh’s career tells us nothing about the validity of the reports by Dr. Ford and the other women who have come forward. The charges should be judged based on the information available.

    The Family Courts make the same mistake when they assume a father who is successful in his career could not have committed the domestic violence assaults he is charged with. Senator Hatch, perhaps best known for his verbal attacks on Anita Hill and Dr. Ford repeatedly vouched for his aide, Rob Porter despite evidence of domestic violence assaults. Porter’s crimes were not taken seriously until pictures of the victim’s injuries were made public.

    The financial success of alleged abusers gives them resources to gain a huge advantage in custody disputes. Courts rarely use their authority to level the playing field.  The abusers’ prominence leads courts to assume he is safe prior to any evidentiary hearing so that preliminary orders allow access to the children that can be used to silence them.

  3. Many People Say Kavanaugh is Wonderful:

    If Kavanaugh had a large group of friends and colleagues who revealed a history of sexually inappropriate behavior and statements this would support the sexual abuse allegation, but the opposite is not true.

    Most abusers are fully capable of controlling their behavior, and do so in public. Stories about the most horrific domestic violence murders and other crimes usually a section where friends, family and coworkers talk about what a wonderful man he is. They saw him contribute to the community by, for example, coaching girls’ basketball.  These witnesses are usually telling the truth, but they saw only one side of the man. The victims are talking about a very different side of him. They can both be and often are true.

    This is a standard tactic in family courts.  Abusers will call friends and family as witnesses to tell what a nice guy he is. They call their new partner to testify he never abused her. Abusers are especially careful to treat her well at the start of the relationship so she can help him in court. He will abuse her later. Abusers also bring pictures of fun times with the children. Of course abusers don’t mistreat their family 24/7. Abusers use these tactics because untrained professionals don’t realize this is non-probative, and the courts rarely hear from DV experts.

  4. Gender Bias:

    Gender Bias is often difficult to recognize because people engage in it without realizing or intending to do so. One of the biggest obstacles to preventing DV and sexual abuse is the myth that women and children frequently make false reports of abuse. This is based on the stereotype of the woman scorned.

    The research establishes that deliberate false reports by women and children occur less than 2% of the time. False denials are highly common.  A United States Justice Department Study found that court professionals without the necessary knowledge and training about domestic violence tend to focus on this myth. Focusing on a woman lying, particularly when there is no factual basis, says more about the disbeliever than the woman. Senator Hatch assumed Dr. Ford must be confused before he even knew her name or heard her testimony.

    Forty states and many judicial districts have created court-sponsored gender bias committees. They have found widespread gender bias particularly against women.  Common examples include holding women to a higher level of proof, giving women less credibility and blaming women for the actions of their abusers.

    The courts have done almost nothing to prevent this gender bias. A new study found courts are influenced more by a sexist theory based on no research that falsely assumes most abuse reports are false than peer reviewed research from the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that could be used to safeguard children.

 

Recognizing Abuse is Easier Without Distractions

A common mistake in family courts is to frame the dispute as “he-said-she-said.”  

“He-said-she-said” allows courts to minimize abuse issues because the victim has the burden of proof. Framing disputes this way creates the illusion that there is no way to determine who to believe. The Republicans on the Senate Committee repeated this mistake.

In domestic violence cases courts often make the mistake of focusing only on physical assaults.  These assaults typically occurs in private so no other witnesses are available. In reality, most domestic violence is neither physical nor illegal. Experts know to look for a pattern of coercive and controlling behavior. Other tactics are easier to prove and the abuser often admits some of the behavior because he doesn’t believe there is anything wrong with what he did. This type of evidence would help courts recognize the abuser’s motive and the risk he poses; but they would need to consider all the evidence available.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford gave testimony that was highly credible. Experts, the general public, and even some Kavanaugh supporters found her credible and believable. Interestingly, she answered all the questions directly while Kavanaugh sought to avoid questions and change the subject.

Kavanaugh sought to blame Democrats for the charges against him, but the testimony demonstrated that Dr. Ford decided independently to try to help the President avoid selecting a man who assaulted her. Dr. Ford has no motive to lie and every reason to stay quiet. Kavanaugh in contrast has every reason to lie and seems to have been caught in many.

Kavanaugh’s supporters have claimed there is no corroborating evidence. Perhaps they would only be satisfied with the kind of pictures that forced Rob Porter’s removal. Experts have found substantial corroboration. Most of the corroboration in the “Me Too” cases involved witnesses the victim informed of the attack either at the time of the assault or at least significantly before the issue became public.  

Dr. Ford told her husband she was assaulted before they were married.  She told the therapist during couples counseling more details of the assault. They were meeting the therapist over an issue of whether to have an extra door in their home. Her husband and friends thought it was unnecessary until she explained the reason. She still was dealing with fear from Kavanaugh’s attack. She told other friends later.  

This information is highly credible. Dr. Ford took and passed a lie detector test. She asked for an FBI investigation. In contrast Kavanaugh has done everything possible to obstruct the search for the truth.

As part of the FBI Investigation, Kavanaugh may be given the option of taking a lie detector test.  Based on the information available, he can refuse to take the test, take it and fail or take it and change the statements he made to the Senate. His response to this conundrum will be revealing.

Just like Dr. Ford, I also received my education about sexual abuse in the 1980s. My professors were three children aged 7,5 and 4. Their reports of physical and sexual abuse were disbelieved by the professionals who should have protected them.

As attorney for their mother I did everything I could to protect them, but it was too late to stop the sexual penetration of the youngest child during the visitation ordered by the court.  After more evidence emerged the children were protected from their abusive father.

At a celebratory dinner the children had gifts for the heroic child protection caseworker and for me, but best of all was what they called us.

They called us believers because we believed them when all others were swayed by the non-probative information about their father who was an eye doctor.  There is no greater honor than to be called a believer. I am proud to say I believe Christine Blasey Ford and am so sorry that our country failed to protect her in 1982 and now again in 2018.

I hope when this dispute is over the legislators will all come together to pass what I hope will be called the Christine Blasey Ford Law.  It should put together laws and funding to fulfill our debt to Dr. Ford by making the prevention of sexual abuse the priority she deserves.

 

Barry Goldstein

Barry Goldstein

Research Director

 
Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence author, speaker and advocate; he has written some of the leading books about domestic violence and custody.
 
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