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The
Fatherhood

Coalition

Gardner 209A study making waves

Steve Basile presents study at San Diego conference, plans for local presentation

Mark Charalambous, The Record (CPF newsletter), March, 2003


The Basile study of Gardner District Court 209A orders issued in 1997 is making waves. On September 27 last year, Steve Basile presented the study at the 2002 Family Violence Conference in San Diego. Two articles derived from his groundbreaking study are in press at the Journal of Family Violence.

The event received local news coverage in the Boston Globe, Telegram & Gazette, Sentinel & Enterprise, and Massachusetts News.

Next, Basile and the North Central Fatherhood Coalition chapter are planning a public presentation in the central Massachusetts area. They intend to invite people from the domestic violence community, such as battered women advocates and criminal justice academics, as well as the fatherhood community, and are looking at a possible date in March for the event.

Groundbreaking Study

Why is this study "groundbreaking"?

Basile was not out to preach to the domestic violence community choir about the "politically motivated terrorism of women and children held hostage by batterers in our patriarchal social order" (refer to "Junk science proliferates in domestic violence research,"). Rather, Basile sought to do "real two-gender research, with a sound methodology that would include the male batterer and his victims and the female batterer and her victims."

Basile cites "a proliferation of advocacy research and questionable science which often paints a distorted view of domestic violence" as motivation for his study. "Typical domestic violence research systematically eliminates the female batterer from study," he adds.

Indeed, at a seminar held at Mt. Wachusett Community College in November 2001, presenter Denise Gosselin, a law enforcement officer specializing in domestic violence and author of "Heavy Hands," acknowledged that the government "will not provide any funding for domestic violence research that includes male victims of female domestic violence."

Basile decided to examine all 209A domestic abuse prevention order case dockets from one year, one court, and see what patterns, if any, emerge. The court: Gardner District Court. The year: 1997.

One measure of the success of Basile's efforts is of the pyrrhic kind: legislation was introduced and enacted purely to hinder any future such efforts by "hostiles."  Senators Therese Murray and Cheryl Jacques and Attorney General Tom Reilly introduced legislation to make all 209A docket contact information unavailable to the public very soon after the study's first publicity in a Telegram & Gazette article in September, 1998.

The legislation passed and the Public Records Law (Massachusetts' version of the Freedom of Information Act) has now been so amended.

Two analysis' done

What in this study is so threatening? Basile produced two separate abstracts from the data, the first to examine the quantity, nature, and scope of domestic violence allegations, broken down by gender. The results were not surprising. Of the entire population of 209A requests (plaintiffs), 73% were from women requesting protection orders against men. Male plaintiffs seeking protection from women accounted for 14% of the requests. Eight percent of the cases involved only female litigants and 5% involved only male litigants.

 

LITIGANT

MALE PLAINTIFF

FEMALE PLAINTIFF

 

Number

Per cent

Number

Per cent

Plaintiff

69

19%

288

81%

Defendant

298

78%

83

22%

Table 1. Litigant population by gender

It should not come as a surprise that women are far more likely to file restraining orders than men. The question of whether this means that men were far more likely to actually perpetrate domestic violence was beyond the scope of the study, and no such speculations are inferred.

Also not surprising and consistent with existing research (Straus, Gelles, Steinmetz), the degree of violence alleged was roughly equal, though there were several notable exceptions. “Alarmingly, 14 percent of cases involving a female defendant in an opposite-gender relationship also involved the use of a dangerous weapon,” says Basile. "This compares with 1 percent of male defendants in opposite-gender relationships."

The data also show that women were more likely to make harassing phone calls and threaten to contrive a protective order, as well as use a dangerous weapon and scratch or gouge their victims. The men were more likely to choke or slam their victims against a wall.

Bear in mind that these all represent unproven charges alleged by the victims in their requests for a restraining order. There is no jury trial where allegations are proved or disproved. 209A protective orders are civil in nature (as opposed to criminal). A single justice listens to the parties and decides based on the lowest standard of evidence, "preponderance," whether or not to believe the allegations and grant the protection order. Rarely is anything more than verbal testimony provided at hearings for 209A protection orders.

'Court Response' Component Reveals Preferential Treatment for Women

However, it is the second abstract that is creating all the controversy. Basile analyzed the court response to plaintiffs' requests for protection. Here, a clear bifurcation of responses was evident, strongly correlated with the litigant's sex.

When examining the court response, Basile discovered that men were granted protective orders during the initial hearing 66% of the time, while women's requests were granted 91% of the time (Table 2). Fully one-third of requests by men for protection were not immediately granted, compared to less than a tenth of women's.

RESPONSE

MALE PLAINTIFF

FEMALE PLAINTIFF

Deny

11%

5%

Defer

23%

5%

Grant

66%

91%

Table 2. Court response at ex parte hearing, by gender

Men were twice as likely to have their request denied (11% denied versus 5% of women's) and 360% more likely to have a decision on their request for protection deferred until a later time (23% of men's request deferred compared to 5% of women's). Having a decision deferred can be crucial. It may deter men from moving forward in the process because they believe the court won't take them seriously. A lot can happen to radically alter the legal and physical disposition of the parties before the 10-day hearing ¾ a male plaintiff can easily find himself on the wrong end of a counterclaim. For instance, the woman defendant can decide to seek her own ex parte order for protection against the man, which will probably be granted (91% success rate for women plaintiffs at ex parte hearings).

At the 10-day hearing, the data show that the pattern of preferential treatment for women continues (Table 3.).

 

RESPONSE

MALE PLAINTIFF

FEMALE PLAINTIFF

Dismiss

11%

23

Deny

16%

1%

Judge Vacate

8

3

Plaintiff Vacate

8%

6%

Grant

58%

67%

Table 3. Court response at 10-day hearing, by gender

Sixteen percent of requests by men for an extended order are denied outright, compared to only 1% of requests by women.

Several outcomes are possible at the 10-day hearing. The plaintiff may not show up, or decide that they don't want the order extended. The most significant results are gleaned by comparing what happens when the plaintiff actively seeks to extend the order (Table 4).  Requests by men are denied 19% of the time compared to only 2% of requests by women. Seventy-one percent of requests by men are granted, compared to fully 94% of requests by women.

 

RESPONSE

MALE PLAINTIFF

FEMALE PLAINTIFF

Deny

19%

2%

Defer

10%

4%

Grant

71%

94%

Table 4. Court response when request pursued at 10-Day hearing, by gender

In a comparison of how the court responded to a request for custody of a child under the protection order, women were granted custody 31% of the time compared to only 8% of the few men in the sample who requested it. However, none of the men received custody at the 10-day hearing, that is, the only cases where men were granted custody was on a temporary basis at the emergency ex parte hearing. In no case was custody preserved through the 10-day hearing.

Can you say "War on Fatherhood?"

Gender predicts court response

"Gender is the greatest predictor of court response," Basile says. "A lot of these fathers are locked into a violent relationship because of fear of court response. They are scared to lose custody, or even contact, with their children."

With respect to being forced out of their homes, the disparity was again, overwhelming. Male defendants were 110% more likely than female defendants to be evicted if the litigants had a child together. If there was no common child, male defendants were 29% more likely to be evicted.

"Male victims of domestic violence were not afforded the same protections as their female counterparts," Basile asserts in the report's conclusions. "This inequality in court response occurred even though male and female plaintiffs were similarly victimized by their opposite-gender defendants," he adds.

Implications for Children not Good

Basile is most concerned about what the data reveals for fathers who are locked in violent relationships. The data delivers a frightening message: Under the present circumstances, fathers will not be able to secure custody of their children. While battered women advocates claim that men who hit their wives will also batter their children, we believe that this argument is too loaded with gender politics to be convincing. Nonetheless, if there is some truth to it, children are clearly not being protected from violent mothers when their fathers turn to the courts for help.

Is the data wrong? In a Sept. 5, 2002 Telegram & Gazette story, Chief Justice Patrick Fox of Gardner District Court indignantly asserted: “The suggestion we favor one gender over another is something I'd categorically deny.” Naturally, spokeswomen for Jane Doe and Battered Women's, Inc. also objected to the study: "[The results] fly in the face of national studies,” said an unidentified spokesman in the same article.

Basile and the Fatherhood Coalition invite critics to examine the study, attend the presentation, and discuss the findings. The study shows that there is a double standard in effect at Gardner District Court. Men are not treated the same as women. Is Gardner District Court the exception or the rule? We believe that Basile's research should be repeated in at least several other representative courts across the state.

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