No Big Deal in Our Country   

Trigger Warning: If you are offended by criticism of people who deny and minimize or cover-up gendered crimes like domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, you will not appreciate this article!

 

Aside from murder, no group of crimes causes more harm than domestic violence and sexual assault. Nevertheless, no group of crimes is given less priority and more leniency. Frequently, those making the decisions on how to respond are people who have the least understanding of the enormous consequences.  

Although false reports are extremely rare, just like for other crimes, the victims are actually given far less credibility than their abusers. We often keep the names of victims secret because it is embarrassing and shameful that someone evil attacked you.  

Offenders seek to blame the victim and professionals who should know better allow this.

Many of these crimes do not involve the most severe physical injuries. Often it is the fear, pain, embarrassment and stress that causes most of the harm. Medical research about trauma helps explain the full extent of the harm that ignorant people, including professionals continue to minimize. These crimes can lead to mental illness, suicide, substance abuse and other bad decisions as victims try to escape from the pain. The crimes also increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune diseases and many other physical ailments. And the crimes rob victims of the joy of life, take away their potential and increase the nation’s health care expenses.

Minimizing Gendered Crimes Is in the Air We Breathe

Good people and bad people minimize the significance of gendered crimes without realizing they are doing so. And they are likely to be extremely defensive if anyone mentions their mistake.

The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Studies are medical research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The ACE study demonstrates that children exposed to domestic violence or child abuse will live shorter lives and suffer a lifetime of health and social problems. There is nothing that goes more to the essence of the best interests of children. More than two decades after the first ACE Study was published, most custody courts still make life and death decisions without the benefit of this vital research.

I recently testified in a custody case near Albany where the judge had not long ago taken a training about the ACE study. He was delighted to have an ACE expert in his court and repeatedly quoted my testimony in response to objections from the abuser’s attorney. The abuser had a long history of domestic violence and some child abuse which continued while the case was pending. The court gave custody to the mother and limited the father to supervised visitation. This is what current research demonstrates works best for children in abuse cases. It is also an extremely rare outcome.

Most court professionals have been taught to treat contested custody with a high conflict approach. This means they assume both parents are angry about the break-up and are acting out in ways that harm children. The research establishes that most contested custody cases are really domestic violence cases in which the most dangerous abusers, who often had little to do with the children during the relationship are seeking custody to regain what they believe is their right to control their victims.

The courts are promoting coparenting. This works great for abusers who sought custody to regain access after his victim left. They would otherwise have little chance for custody because the mother is the primary attachment figure and a superior parent even aside from his abuse. Many mental health professionals use a family systems approach which is based on forgetting the past (abuse) and focusing on working together in the future.  

If the mother seeks to protect her children, as good mothers normally seek to do, they are viewed as uncooperative. In many cases mothers lose custody and are even denied visitation if they try too hard to protect the children. Essentially the courts want to create a shared parenting arrangement and any reports of domestic violence are viewed as an obstacle to the desired result rather than a warning that shared parenting is completely inappropriate and dangerous.  

ACE demonstrates that the harm of maintaining a relationship with an abuser is far worse than losing the relationship with the father. The best outcome would be for the father to change his behavior. Instead courts routinely pressure mothers and children to cooperate with their abusers instead of forcing the abuser to change his behavior if he wants a relationship with the children.

Similar Harmful Approach to the Kavanaugh Hearings

A new book, The Education of Brett Kavanaugh by New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly was just published. The book examines credible reports of sexual assault by Kavanaugh when he was a high school and college student. During his confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court, Judge Kavanaugh forcefully denied the reports and attacked his critics. Republicans on the Judiciary Committee and Senate leadership sought to speed the confirmation through with a limited investigation of the serious charges.

Just as it looked like the confirmation was about to pass, Senator Jeff Flake was approached by two women to discuss the horror of sexual abuse. The Senator joined a few Republican Senators and partnered with Democratic Senator Chris Coons to obtain a one-week delay in the vote and a one-week investigation by the FBI. The investigation found no new evidence and the nomination was pushed through in one of the closest Supreme Court votes in history.

The new book demonstrates there was far more evidence available. It demonstrates that contrary to Republican talking points, there is substantial corroboration for two of the incidents and information about a third. Some Democrats have demanded impeachment of Kavanaugh. There is good reason to believe Kavanaugh does not belong on the Supreme Court, but I believe there is a more important issue that has not received as much attention.

The book demonstrates that the new investigation which was so important to the credibility of the process, the Senate and the Supreme Court was a hoax. The White House barred the FBI from doing a meaningful investigation and Republican leadership in the Senate supported this scam. Just as family court judges routinely view domestic violence as an obstacle to the shared parenting arrangement they prefer, President Trump and Senate Republicans viewed sexual assault as an obstacle to gaining an extra vote on the Supreme Court.

Christine Blasey Ford offered many witnesses who could confirm her story, but they were never interviewed. Deborah Ramirez offered 25 witnesses who could confirm her story and again they were not interviewed. Several made attempts to reach the FBI but received no response. Max Stier was a classmate of Kavanaugh, known to some of the Senators and believed to be credible. Senator Coons asked the FBI to interview Mr. Stiers, but they never did.  He described an incident similar but separate from the incident Deborah Ramirez reported. The alleged victim reportedly doesn’t remember the incident but this might be because she was drunk at the time.

The FBI was known for their meticulous and effective investigations. They were prevented by the White House with the support of Senate Republicans from doing their job and then the advocates for Judge Kavanaugh argued he should be confirmed because the FBI found nothing. This says a lot about the officials who stifled the investigation, but it also says a lot about how gendered crimes are dealt with in this country.

Conclusion

For most people, this episode was viewed as a partisan political drama in which each side wanted to “win.” For the millions of sexual assault victims and those who care about them this was an excruciating and painful reminder that we still do not take rape, sexual assault and domestic violence seriously. I work full time on issues concerning domestic violence and sexual assault. Every day, I hear these horrific stories made worse because victims are so often treated as liars and their pain minimized.  

Our failed response to gendered crimes has horrific consequences. They send a clear message to abusers and rapists that they have a good chance to get away with the worst possible crimes. This awful message makes women and children more vulnerable. We allow one-quarter of our children to be sexually abused by the time they reach 18. We spend over one trillion dollars annually, mostly on health costs and crime in order to allow men to continue to abuse their intimate partners. So many of the victims never reach their potential, spend their lives in pain and misery and are forced to live in a blame-the-victim society.

Decent people must never forget the enormous harm done by President Trump, Senator McConnell, Senator Grassley and the other insensitive misogynists who were willing to hurt women and children to score political points. They could easily have taken the time to investigate Kavanaugh and replace him with someone who would vote the same way on the court. But for them, sexual assault is merely an obstacle and not a moral issue.

These insensitive officials must be replaced, but that is not enough. Anyone seeking to replace the disgraced officials must be committed to taking gendered crimes seriously, working to end the scandal and believing women.

Barry Goldstein
Barry Goldstein

Research Director

Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence author, speaker and advocate.
Barry has written some of the leading books about domestic violence and custody.
Authors express their own opinions which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Stop Abuse Campaign.
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