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Father's rights: Group fights to help divorced dads

By Kate Hogan khogan,  Sentinel & Enterprise, Friday, October 25, 2002

WESTMINSTER -- In modern times, statistics say about half of all marriages end in divorce, and many of those marriages produce children.

For Steve Basile, of Westminster, it was his divorce nine years ago that led him to the Fatherhood Coalition, a father's advocacy group that lobbies for the rights of divorced fathers to play an active role in their children's lives.

Co-director of the North Central Chapter, which is based in Leominster, he says hearing other fathers' stories about not being able to see their children made him wonder what was happening while these families were in court.

Basile began the process of gathering records of protective orders, domestic violence allegations from Gardner District Court, and compiling the data into a database in 1997. He used this data to write The Gardner Study, a two-phase study that focuses on domestic abuse and subsequent court response.

The first phase compares and contrasts male and female allegations of abuse. Basile tried to determine if males and females were similarly abusive, not only physically, but verbally and emotionally, to each other.

The second phase examined the court response to allegations of abuse. Basile wanted to determine if the courts treated men and women differently when they filed requests for protective orders. "We found out males and females definitely were similarly abusive, but the court response definitely favored female plaintiffs," Basile said.

Basile presented his findings at a Journal of Family Violence conference held the last week of September in San Diego. He said his study will be published by the Journal, but the exact date is "a long ways off."

Basile believes "research done by such groups as Battered Women's [Resources, a local agency] paints a distorted view of domestic violence by exclusively portraying males as batterers with innocent females."

He said he discovered through his research that in 25 percent of cases only the men were abusive, in 25 percent of the cases only the females were abusive, and in half of all cases both parties were abusive. "The overall assault rates were identical," he said.

One man who strongly disagrees with Basile is newly appointed Fitchburg Police Chief Ed Cronin, a former Gardner Police chief who formerly served as interim director of Battered Women's Resources.

"There are some studies that show women are equally abusive ... nobody's ever said a woman has never abused a man," Cronin said. "The difference is the degree of violence and the reason why. The level of dangerousness and murders are way out of proportion."

Cronin said while at a recent seminar he learned that approximately 33 women and three men from Massachusetts were killed during domestic-violence altercations in the last three years.

Basile said the data compiled during Phase I research he discovered that females were more likely to make harassing phone calls, and threaten to contrive a protective order. The men were more likely to be physically abusive and do things such as "slam victims against a wall."

He said women were more likely to scratch, and much more likely use a dangerous weapon, which may be attributed to the fact that most women are significantly smaller than men and need a weapon to protect themselves.

Cronin said that when women are violent many times it is out of self-defense, or they have been in a long-term abusive situation. He believes the bottom line of domestic violence is "power and control," and in most relationships it is the man who has power and control.

When examining the court response, Basile said he discovered the males were granted protective hearings during the initial hearing 66 percent of the time, while females were granted them 91 percent of the time.

"Gender is the greatest predictor of court response," Basile said. "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."

Basile feels that domestic violence laws and policies inhibit non-abusive fathers from having relationships with their children.

Cronin said while he was police chief in Gardner, a study determined that the No. 1 health issue for "under-served" women in the community was domestic violence, so he appointed a female to the force who would be there to help with domestic-violence incidents.

He also took his passion for domestic-violence prevention to the Gardner school system and classes were taught including teenage dating, and gender-respect courses. Counselors were put in the schools to find and counsel young children who came from potentially violent homes.

"My goal was to deepen the knowledge of domestic violence," Cronin said. "The main thing was 'The chief of police says domestic violence is wrong.' I tried to do that through programs and speaking out.

"All I'm interested in is protecting vulnerable people, (who) predominately women and children," he said.


Kate Hogan khogan@sentinelandenterprise.com

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