Dear Ms. Lisa Ling:
Your program on CNN Nov 12, 2018 on Father’s Rights sent shivers down the spines of thousands of good, loving mothers. It was a travesty for mothers who have witnessed devastation, destruction and trauma to their children. This CNN production set mothers who are trying to protect their abused, and often sexually abused children back by decades. We suspect that was not your intent, but it currently is the case.
These mothers are being subjected to our family courts where there is lack of training, gender bias, paternal control and male entitlement; the most heinous crime of all is that it is perpetrated in our family courts.
Ms.Ling, how can you refer to yourself as a feminist when the story flies in the face of what organizations like the BMCC know to be true. It’s not what significant research from the Department of Justice shows is true. That’s why organizations like the National Council of Juvenile Court Judges make education to correct this problem available to family courts. It is why Federal Resolution H. Con. 72 (2017-2018) to protect victims of child abuse and domestic violence in family court passed the house with bipartisan support and awaits senate approval. And it is why many states have introduced the Safe Child Act that prioritises a child’s health and safety and directs courts to use the research I mention below.
May we provide you with some background.
For many years mothers have complained that family courts are biased, unfair or even corrupt, because they often made outrageous decisions that favored abusive fathers and jeopardized children. These mothers were routinely dismissed as disgruntled litigants.The media rarely covered this scandal. Ironically, one notable exception was CNN’s coverage of Maralee Mclean’s case, in which the court ignored strong evidence of the father’s domestic violence and child sexual abuse and instead retaliated against Maralee, a mother protecting her child.
Family courts developed their responses to domestic violence before research was available. Courts assumed domestic violence (DV) was caused by mental illness, substance abuse or the victims’ actions. Courts relied on mental health professionals without expertise in DV or child sexual abuse.
Later research proved the original assumptions were wrong, but the courts have not integrated scientific research to make it easier for them to respond effectively to abuse cases.
Good Scientific Research Is Now Available
The Saunders’ Study comes from the National Institute of Justice. Part of the US Justice Department. Saunders’ found that many, if not most evaluators, judges and lawyers do not have the specific DV knowledge they need. This leads to decisions in which courts disbelieve or minimize true reports of abuse and place children in jeopardy.
Saunders’ found that many courts impose “harmful outcome” decisions as they did in Maralee’s case, in which someone who abuses their child is given custody. These decisions are always wrong because of the enormous harm they impose on children. Six years after Saunders’ was published these mistaken decisions are still common because the courts have been slow to integrate this research.
The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Studies are medical research from the CDC. They show how exposure to DV and child abuse is far more harmful than previously understood. It demonstrates that living with the fear and stress of abuse, rather than physical injuries, causes most of the damage.
The question that ought to be the most important for family courts; is there anything we can do now to save children from the consequences of ACEs?
Children exposed to one or more ACEs will live shorter lives and suffer a lifetime of health and social problems.
Abuse cases are the most dangerous type of family court case and often represent the last chance to save children from horrible consequences. Barry Goldstein interviewed doctors working with the ACE research for his book, The Quincy Solution. A successful and evidence based approach to stopping DV.
Barry asked the question that ought to be the most important for family courts; is there anything we can do now to save children from the consequences of ACEs?
The answer was “yes”, but it requires the exact opposite of what the courts usually decide.
Affected children need medical treatment and therapy to respond to problems as they develop, and to reduce stress. Children must be protected from further abuse or they cannot heal. And non-abusive parents must control health decisions, because abusers often prevent or undermine needed treatment. Abusers must be limited to supervised visitation for the health and safety of our children.
Twenty years after the first ACE Study was published, most custody courts still do not use this research. ACE also showed the alarming scale of child sexual abuse in the US. One in five children in the US will be sexually abused by the time they reach eighteen; The ACE study’s methodology eliminated the possibility of false reports of child sex abuse. However courts continue to be influenced by the myth that mothers frequently make false reports. Saunders’ found that professionals without the needed DV knowledge tend to believe this myth.
How often do family courts make decisions that endanger children? The National Institute of Justice provided a grant to Professor Joan Meier to determine the impact of using these flawed practices. The final results have not yet been released, but Professor Meier co-authored an article last year based on the pilot study for this research. The initial results suggest that alleged abusers are winning 70% of abuse cases and the courts disbelieve 94% of child sexual abuse reports. We know from other research like Saunders’ and Bala that mothers involved in contested custody make deliberate false reports less than 2% of the time. This means that courts are getting most abuse cases wrong. And researchers estimate that every year, 58,000 children are sent for custody or unprotected visitation with dangerous abusers.
In the last ten years over 600 children involved in contested custody and related cases have been murdered, mostly by abusive fathers. In many of the cases, the courts gave the killers the access they needed to murder the children. Dr. Dianne Bartlow asked judges and court administrators in the communities where the tragedies were committed what reforms were created in response to the murders. The answer, “none.” They all assumed the tragedy in their community was an exception.
The Media Response
In the last few years influential media outlets like The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and Pro Publica have published stories about the failures of custody courts and related systems based on good research. We believe it is the strong scientific research that has encouraged the media to finally expose this scandal.
For 30 years children’s lives have been destroyed by what your show called Parental Alienation or Parental Alienation Syndrome. CNN International News did an hour long program on “PAS” on Maralee’s case and covered it very well. Their investigative reporting found that Dr. Richard Gardner, who concocted PAS. lacked credibility. The American Psychiatric Association rejected PAS from inclusion in the DSM-V which is a compendium of all valid mental health diagnoses, because there is no scientific support. PAS is not based on research but only the personal beliefs, experience and bias of Richard Gardner that includes many public statements to the effect that sex between adults and children can be acceptable.
Gardner pushed his ideas, self-published his own books and sent them to every court in the nation in the 80’s. This is when women started losing their children to their abusers.
Dr. Richard Gardner stated, “We all have some pedophilia within us. It makes little girls and little boys better sexual partners. We need to have more pity for the pedophile than scorn. Let them come out of the closet and choose whom they want to love. It is God’s will.”
As CNN International News reported PAS is damaging to good mothers trying to protect their children. Gardner advised that we need to jail these moms, issue gag orders and alienate them from their children. Not surprisingly this is what happens today.
Courts currently assume the best interest of the child is served by the parent who is more able to nurture the child’s relationship with other parent. A mother trying to protect her children from abuse is not going to want to nurture that relationship. Most contested custody cases are domestic violence cases that often develop into direct child abuse.
Abusive fathers use Parental Alienation accusations as a weapon to pull unsuspecting mothers into court where they gain custody, and regain control of the woman who left them. Good mothers trying to protect their children find themselves on trial. Mothers losing their child to their abuser is a national crisis.
We don’t know if any of the fathers you selected for your show have been guilty of domestic violence. Men do get wronged in family court too. But in your programs discussion about contested custody you stated women get custody 80% of the time.
In context that statistic is simply not true. The 80% statistic represents cases when a mother and father agree to the arrangement. But in contested custody cases where there is abuse, fathers get custody 70% of the time. If there is sexual abuse, fathers get custody over 85% of the time.
Your program supported the myth that women are not to be believed and every father is a good father. The idea of 50/50 shared parenting makes a judge’s job easy and keeps them from looking at the health and safety of the child and mother. It also gives the abuser the control they lost when their partner left and the ability to use the courts to continue his abuse.
The list of good loving mothers who have been bankrupted, emotionally depleted, stalked and harassed by the father’s represented by the father rights groups is endless. Maralee testified before congress with 10 other mothers from every walk of life including lawyers and doctors, unable to protect their children. For three decades we have watched mothers suffer illness and suicide at the hands of abusive fathers.
They loved their children with their heart and soul, only to have them ripped from their arms and handed over to a father who is harming them.
Courts create a false equivalency between protective mothers and abusive fathers. Certainly there are exceptions, and it is possible you found one or two in your story, but overwhelmingly DV is a gendered crime. There is a long history of society allowing husbands to control, discipline and assault their wives. There is no equivalent tolerance of wives abusing husbands.
Forty states and many judicial districts have created court-sponsored gender bias committees that found widespread bias against women litigants. Common examples are holding women to higher standards of proof, giving women less credibility and blaming women for the actions of their abusers. The flawed practices strongly favor abusive fathers and hurt protective mothers and their children. Indeed, abusive fathers tend to be more successful than safe fathers.
Ms. Lisa Ling, your program will harm children.
We hope you will now present the other side of the story. An accurate picture that protects children not the abusers who have already harmed them.
This show did irreparable harm to women and their children.
“A Mother’s first instinct is to protect her child, and when the means and power to do this are stripped unjustly from a mother there are no words to describe the constant heartache that is felt as each day passes by.”- Maralee McLean
Child advocate, domestic violence expert, national professional speaker, and author of PROSECUTED BUT NOT SILENCED: Courtroom Reform for Sexually Abused Children.
Authors express their own opinions which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Stop Abuse Campaign.
Photo by Russ Hendricks