The Booming Domestic Violence
All across Massachusetts, the social-work movement that fights domestic
violence is booming.
Only ten years ago, the women's safety-advocates were a small group of
idealists, operating on pennies. Today the movement has grown large on state and
federal tax monies.
Every month, it seems, it spawns new sub-programs, clinics, shelters, research
institutes, counseling centers, visitation centers, poster campaigns. The state
disbursed about $24 million for domestic violence services last year, but that
certainly is not all the money spent. Today domestic violence is a big industry
Mapping the full extent of the domestic-violence industry is not easy, because
it's a cottage-industry, spread out in hundreds of places. State and federal
money goes to well over a hundred institutes, clinics, programs for counseling
or outreach or coordination or training, computer databases, coalitions,
shelters, PR agencies and other groups.
Most would say that's just fine: Domestic violence is ugly and ought to be dealt
with. But others are beginning to wonder if the huge industrial cure is as bad
as the disease.
One of many critics is John Flaherty, co-chairman of the Fatherhood Coalition.
"This industry is an octopus," he said recently. "It's got its tentacles in more
and more parts of everyday life. It's a political movement. Many of its
employees are, directly or indirectly, damaging children. This industry doesn't
answer to anybody. They're in it mainly for the money -- and the children be
damned." The industry's problems may be about to increase, because it is
becoming clear through scientific research that the whole premise of the
movement and the industry it spawned -- that "domestic violence" means bad men
hitting helpless, innocent women -- is just plain wrong.
The truth about violence in the home is that it's pretty much a 50-50 thing.
Respected social scientists Murray A. Straus and David Gelles have been
publishing research for years that shows the standard Only-Men-Batter
story--probably visible on a billboard near you -- just doesn't match reality.
Women and men attack each other about equally in the home. Solid research now
shows that women begin the physical fighting in their homes about half the time.
Equally solid research shows that mothers are responsible for 65 per cent of
physical abuse of children.
Although the words "domestic" violence are commonly used, some commentators say
that a better description would be "shack-up" violence, because violence is most
common, especially where children are involved where the woman is living with a
boy friend. In a piece in the Weekly Standard last December by John A. Barnes,
he cited four studies which show "that the incidence of abuse was an astounding
33 times higher in homes where the mother was cohabiting with an unrelated
boyfriend than in a stable nuclear family."
The uncomfortable truth is spreading. The very liberal, if not PC magazine
Mother Jones ran a news story last month admitting as much. "A surprising fact
has turned up in the grimly familiar world of domestic violence," reported Nancy
Updike. She wrote: "Women report using violence in their relationships more
often than men. The research disputes a long held belief about the nature of
domestic violence -- that if a woman hits, it's only in response to her
The writer admitted that 20-year-old myths in the movement were starting to
fall. The study of 860 men and women, she said, "suggest that some women may be
prone to violence -- by nature of circumstance -- just as some men may be."
Looking at the Bottom Line $$$
In 1999, the state spent $24 million of its own and federal tax dollars
"fighting has grown large on state and federal tax monies violence." The budgets
have risen steadily every year. Slightly more than half of that money ($13.6
million) goes to pay for 37 battered women's shelters and to pay their staff.
There are no shelters or services for men who are victims of domestic violence
-- only women or homosexual men get these services.
About a fifth of the money ($5.3 million) is spent in and around the courts,
paying for prosecutors, legal representation for women, and training for court
Of the remainder, at least $1 million goes to posters, ads, and other "outreach"
campaigns telling people not to be violent. The high-school campaign gathers
teen-agers to watch a play called "The Yellow Dress." Its point is that dating
can end in murder, and men should not be trusted. It costs the state $500,000
"Massachusetts and the Boston region have been very successful in winning
federal money," said Clare Dalton, of the Northeastern University Domestic
"We've got some federal money here. The Police Department has also been very
successful in getting federal money."
Federal money for domestic violence programs flows into the state in several
streams. One large source is the Victims of Crime Act money, which is disbursed
by the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance. Another source of big federal
dollars is the federal Violence Against Women Act, which is administered by the
Executive Office of Public Safety (EOPS). Both MOVA and EOPS are located in
state offices at 1 Ashburton Place, next to the State House. MOVA's on the 11th
floor, EOPS is on the 21st.
Getting answers even to simple questions on how much money is being spent is not
easy. Three weeks of repeated calls and visits to staffers in the Cellucci
administration brought sluggish or no response. Jean Hurtle, the Executive
Director of the Governor's Commission on Domestic Violence, when asked
repeatedly for a fact sheet on how much money was being spent in this field
produced nothing. Jason Kauppi, an executive office press aide, failed to
respond to roughly ten phone calls requesting information on the domestic
violence budget. The figures above and in the accompanying box came from the
staff of Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, D-Lowell.
According to Cam Huff of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, budgets at the
Department of Social Services have risen almost seven per cent per year, since
1993. Compared with the overall budget, he says, this is "significantly higher
Restraining Order --How Many is too many?
If the domestic violence industry were an old-fashioned textile mill, the
central power-shaft turning all its machinery would be the 209A restraining
order. Judges issue them at the rate of 145 a day, according to the Boston
Globe. Without the steady roll of restraining orders, all the machinery of the
domestic violence industry would grind to a halt.
To the activists, the 209A law is almost a magic sword that saves women's lives.
"There's almost a religion of restraining orders among women's advocates,"
commented Ray Saulnier, a fathers' rights activist from Maine.
But a growing number of men, their relatives, and lawyers find the 209A law
grossly unfair -- almost a police-state tool that destroys families and saves
very few. Recent efforts to reform the law have gained sympathetic hearings in
On the books for 20 years, 209A became the tool of choice for the activists in
the early 1990s. Almost every year since then, that scope of the law has been
expanded, and the grounds for defense diminished. Activists have sought and
gained almost draconian powers for women, on the argument of a "crisis" in
As the law has expanded, its enforcers have multiplied. Today this state has
hundreds if not thousands of 209A specialists who have been trained. Training in
getting restraining orders, and in helping and urging women to get them occupies
a significant amount of the curriculum at Northeastern University's Domestic
Violence Institute internship program. Federally paid advocates in many if not
all district and probate courts in the state are also trained to assist women in
getting restraining orders. To the movement/industry, the restraining order is a
shining sacred sword of power that can never do harm, but magically protects
women and children at all times.
The restraining orders bring the police power of the state immediately to the
woman's protection, and the man she says she is afraid of is immediately thrown
out of his house, if not arrested.
Tool of Police State?
But to others, a restraining order looks an awful lot like the tool of a police
state. Attorney Sheara Friend, of the Wellesley firm Kahalas, Warshaw & Friend,
estimates that about half of all restraining orders are merely legal maneuvers,
where there is no real fear of injury on anyone's part. If she's right, about
20,000 of this state's restraining orders each year have nothing to do with
domestic violence -- other than to claim it. If each of those phony orders harms
seven people (a father, two kids, two grandparents and two other relatives) then
140,000 Massachusetts citizens suffer needless disruption and emotional pain
About ten years ago, some evidence was required. Someone had to show bruises, or
bring in testimony to support the accusation.
The legislature has loosened the standard. Now the person seeking the order need
only state he or she is "in fear" of the other person.
It doesn't take a cynic to point out that when a woman is getting a divorce,
what she may truly fear is not violence, but losing the house or kids. Under
209A, if she's willing to fib to the judge and say she is "in fear" of her
children's father, she will get custody and money and probably the house.
"Mediation and communication counseling are critical in a divorce," says Sheara
Friend. "The 209A non-contact order prevents that. Especially if it's a divorce
that involves children, you need the parties talking with each other. The 209A
completely stops that. It's a very divisive thing to do right at the time the
parties need to talk. You can't even get the parties in the same building."
Bad For Fathers & Children
Long-term emotional damage to children's fathers -- surely not good for children
-- often begins with a restraining order, she says.
"A man against whom a frivolous 209A has been brought starts to lose any power
in his divorce proceeding. They do start decompensating, and they do start to
have emotional issues, and they do start developing post-traumatic stress
disorders. They keep replaying in their minds the tape of what happened to them
in court. It starts this whole vicious downward cycle. They've been embarrassed
and shamed in front of their family and friends, unjustly, and they totally lose
any sense of self-control and self-respect. They may indeed become verbally
abusive. It's difficult for the court to see where that person was prior to the
This is a different era from the 1950s, she points out, and many fathers are
very close to their children, and bond closely with them from an early age.
"In this day and age, we have fathers who take an extremely active role in
parenting -- sometimes more than the mother."
"I call them mother-dads," she says. In many restraining-order cases, she says,
"These fathers are completely frustrated because they can't co-parent their
child because of a restraining order. They have been raped of their parenting
relationship with their child."
While Friend and others see false restraining orders as enormously destructive,
and permanently traumatizing, the $24 million domestic violence industry is
built on the restraining order. Most of the activities that people get paid for
in the domestic violence industry cannot start until a restraining order has
Permanent Lifetime Record
The restraining order is entered into the state's restraining order registry on
a computer in downtown Boston. It is never deleted. Police officers, probation
officers and judges have the right to check the database.
What will it do to someone's career if they are in there indefinitely and an
employer somehow calls in to check? "We can't respond to that question," said
Coria Holland, press person for the Mass Probation Service. "Probation is just
the conduit for getting the information into the system. We're just the
Supervised Visitation: Paying $120 for 90 minutes with your kid
"Supervised visitation" is a booming part of the industry today. In 1994, only
three visitation centers existed -- they were pilot projects in Springfield,
Roxbury and Brockton. Today, there are 13 state-funded centers absorbing nearly
a million dollars a year. These centers not only get state funding, they also
charge fathers for the privilege of seeing their own offspring. Rates go as high
as $120 for ninety minutes.
The assumption "is that a lot of dads are abusing their children and their
access to their children must be supervised," declares Michael Ewing, a
fatherhood activist. Though research suggests this assumption is completely
false, the supervised visitation industry has skyrocketed anyway.
The centers strongly assume that children's fathers are guilty of some unnamed
crime. Caring fathers with the bad luck to be accused often endure insulting,
exploitative treatment to see their children. They complain rarely, because the
social workers can and do end visitation for little or no reason.
Pamela Whitney, a social worker who came to the Massachusetts Department of
Social Services in 1986 as a consultant, has been Director of Domestic Violence
and Family Support Services since 1994. Her office is at 24 Farnsworth Street in
Boston. She supervises a budget that was $13.6 million last year, and may go
She says supervised visitation is recommended "where there has been a separation
between the parents and a history of domestic abuse."
When challenged, she backtracks and admits she meant to say "accusation of
She says her department pushed for visitation centers, beginning with three
pilot centers in the early 1990s. The department recommended expansion, "because
the courts found it so helpful and useful." Now there are 13. She said her goal
was to have at least one in every county. More are probably coming.
"The feeling on the part of the courts and others was it was often unsafe for
children to visit with their offending parent," she said. She acknowledged that
when she said "offending parent" she meant a parent who had been accused of an
Each state-supported visitation center is funded by D.S.S. to such a level that
it has at least $75,000 to work with. The money goes to fund staff and a "budget
coordinator." The coordinator "does outreach to the courts and other agencies."
D.S.S. funds also pay, she said, for "the people who are actually doing the
visit between the parent and child."
"Some visits don't need to be supervised," she said. "But in other cases where
there is higher risk involved...this provides supervision for those who are
doing the actual visit." The observers are trained according to "guidelines"
developed by the central nexus for DV policy in the state, theGovernor's
Commission on Domestic Violence.
She acknowledged that the same accusation that forces a man into a center, also
forces him to pay both his and his wife's fees. "If A says that B is abusive,
then B has to pay the money," she said.
Ms. Whitney said she thought the sliding scales ranged from $1 to $5, and that
an indigent parent could do community service to pay for his visitation time.
But in reality, at least in Robert Straus' center in Cambridge, the sliding
scale runs from $20 to $40 or $80 per hour, and any parent who cannot pay cannot
see his children.
Asked her reaction to the case of the father of three who recently had to pay
The Meeting Place $120 to see his children for 90 minutes, she said, "I've never
heard of such a thing. One hundred twenty dollars a visit is extraordinary."
"All these visitations have been ordered because the children involved are at
risk," explains Robert Straus, a lawyer and social worker, and currently
director of the Meeting Place, in Cambridge. Straus has been a key figure in our
state's development of professional supervised visitation. Asked to explain "at
risk", he says: "You have a range of physical and sexual abuse situations where
the parent is either alleged to be, or been proved to, abuse the child."
"As you know," he adds, confidentially, "there have been a number of deaths in
Massachusetts." When asked to name an actual child's death he was referring to,
however, he said he could not remember.
Straus has been part of an informal matrix of lawyers, judges, social workers,
academics and domestic violence activists since the early 1990s. These people,
some idealistic and some merely pragmatic, have networked, talked with each
other, served on various commissions, boosted each other' s careers, and helped
to expand the definition of domestic violence, and the size of state and federal
Straus is a leader now, and heads what is called the Supervised Visitation
Network. He described the growth of that group in glowing, emotional terms
during a phone interview.
"The Supervised Visitation Network started in 1992. A group of people met in New
York through the Ethical Culture Society, which had started a supervised
visitation program in New York City. At that point it was just 30 people from
around the country, most of whom had never met anyone else doing supervision. We
had all been working in isolation. It was an extremely high energy meeting. It
was very much an informal association of people helping each other out. It began
with a handful of members and now has over 400 members throughout the U.S.,
Canada, and Australia. It's a fascinating field...because when it began it was
virtually without funding."
But not any more. Though The Meeting Place began in 1991 with only a grant from
the Boston Bar Foundation, and continued to 1998 "without a penny of public
money" that public money is starting to flow now, Straus admits with a tone of
The major state source is through the state DSS Domestic Violence Unit, whose
budget of over $900,000 "has been an immense advance over the last few years.."
What if the father doesn't have enough money to see his kid in a given week?
"Difficult question," answers Straus, who pauses and then says the father gets
"a week's grace" and then the child-father contact is cut off.
His program never tries to get husbands and wives to talk out their problems
privately, he said, but urges them to go back to court instead. He said children
are in visitation for long periods, from nine months to many years. He said that
no matter how well, how happily, the father-child interaction is going, his
program never recommends to the judge that supervision should end and normal
parent-child contact resume.
These programs have sprung up all across America " entrepreneurial tricks and
ideas spread easily each summer at this industry's conferences. Wherever
supervised visitation has appeared, criticism has followed.
In Virginia, Michael Ewing, president of the Virginia Fatherhood Initiative, has
an unusual perspective. He is one of the few pro-father people ever to run a
"visitation center." His non-profit organization applied for and got a federal
grant to negotiate access and visitation issues between divorced parents. He
hoped to show that in situations of conflict between divorced parents,
supervised visitation was not necessary. He sees such programs as "designed to
humiliate men." In his program's first year, the Norfolk area courts made more
than 700 case referrals. "We solved all of the problems but two," Ewing said.
"Only two families required supervised visitation."
"There are many ways to handle the exchange of children without having parents
supervised. We ran a neutral pickup and drop off program and there were no
problems. We made clear to parents that they had to be 'model citizens' during
drop off, or they would be reported to the court."
He said the supervised visitation idea has been " beefed up with phony
statistics" and there is very little need for it.
Solid research shows that most physical child abuse is done by mothers, or by
mothers' live-in boyfriends. Ewing is one of many in the fathers' movement who
wonder why natural fathers " who in reality are quite unlikely to abuse their
own children " are targeted for the humiliation of supervision "I think there's
another agenda here," he says. "Some special interest women's groups think that
males in general are disposable. We're great sperm donors and paychecks " but
beyond that there's not much need for good fathers or good men."
He said he thinks supervised visitation came about "because women wanted to con-
trol the dad's access to their children, and to humiliate them by making them
see their children in the presence of a social worker and pay for the privilege
of doing so."
Perhaps because of its success, Michael Ewing's non-visitation-center approach
to family conflict lost its funding in the second year. He said he thinks a
local social worker who had lost clients due to Ewing's success complained to an
influential state senator.
How many of these supervision cases really require supervision for the safety of
the children? Michael Ewing doesn't think very many: he found two cases out of
But the domestic violence entrepreneurs and state officials live in a different
world from us. A sense of nameless vague threat is always in the background. To
hear the pros talk, all the men they deal with are batterers, sexual abusers, or
virtually time bombs of violence. Repeated cliches like "at risk" and "a safe
place" and "maintaining safety" pepper their sentences. Yet, in many cases,
there is no evidence of violence or any kind of serious harm to children "
merely an accusation by the mother. But in the DV industry, when the accusation
is made, the case is closed.
At least some of the men interviewed for this story are devoted fathers. It is
clear that some have heroically maintained contact with their children over a
period of years, despite having to pay a small fortune in cash and endure
repeated harassment by petty, vindictive state officials. During a dozen hours
of telephone interviews, not one supervised-visitation official spoke any word
of praise for any man's love of his children.