Restraint Decisions Studied
Basile describes court's unfairness
By Mary Jo Hill, Telegram & Gazette Staff, Thursday, September 5, 2002
GARDNER-- Male and female defendants in restraining-order cases in Gardner District Court were equally abusive, but the court's response highly favored female plaintiffs, according to a study commissioned by a fathers' group.
The study, focusing on 1997 cases, was done for The Fatherhood Coalition, a Milford-based group that advocates for divorced and unwed fathers in Massachusetts. The study was done by Westminster resident Steve Basile, and is expected to be presented at a California conference on family violence.
Judge Patrick Fox of the Gardner court disputed the study's results, saying, "The suggestion we favor one gender over another is something I'd categorically deny."
Jane Doe Inc., a Boston-based advocacy group for battered women, said the results "fly in the face of national studies."
Gardner was chosen as the focus of the study partly because of what Mr. Basile calls misinformation about domestic violence given by a former police chief. Gardner District Court was not chosen because of any particular problem at the court, he said.
Mr. Basile, who used to live in Gardner, said his former wife had a restraining order taken out against him several years ago.
The study looked at 382 restraining orders from the Gardner District Court in 1997. Mr. Basile did not have access to 24 orders involving juveniles or if the plaintiff had requested information be kept private, he said.
The orders included 288 female plaintiffs and 69 male plaintiffs, Mr. Basile said.
The first phase of the study compared male and female allegations of abuse, he said. Affidavits in the restraining order cases were examined to measure reports of physical assault, psychological aggression and sexual coercion, Mr. Basile said.
The overall rates of alleged assault were equal for males and females, he said but there were some differences.
Female defendants in opposite-gender relationships were much more likely to make harassing phone calls and to threaten to contrive a violation of a restraining order, Mr. Basile said.
Male defendants were significantly more likely to slam their victims against a wall or other object, he said.
Female defendants were much more likely to scratch or gouge, to throw dangerous objects or to use a knife, gun or other dangerous weapon, Mr. Basile said.
"Alarmingly, 14 percent of cases involving a female defendant in an opposite-gender relationship also involved the use of a dangerous weapon," Mr. Basile said. This compares with 1 percent of male defendants in opposite-gender relationships, he said.
The second phase of his study looked only at the restraining-order cases that involved litigants of opposite gender. It measured court response in two ways: what happened during hearings and what the restrictions were on protection orders that were granted, Mr. Basile said.
In general, male plaintiffs were far less likely to be granted an order and, if they were granted an order, far fewer restrictions were placed upon the female defendants, Mr. Basile said.
During ex parte hearings, emergency hearings held on orders when defendants are not present, male plaintiffs were granted orders 66 percent of the time, compared with 91 percent of the time for female plaintiffs, Mr. Basile said.
Mr. Basile said the inequality primarily arose because of judges deferring decisions. In a deferral, a judge says a hearing will be held in 10 days, but in the meantime no protection will be provided to the defendant, he said.
No male plaintiff received long-term custody of his children at a 10-day hearing, although two men did get short-term custody at the ex parte hearings after demonstrating a history of substance abuse by the mothers, Mr. Basile said.
Women were much more likely to get custody, Mr. Basile said.
During the 10-day hearing, male plaintiffs were 850 percent more likely to have their request for protection denied, Mr. Basile said. And male plaintiffs were 2.5 times more likely to have an existing order vacated, which means an order was not extended at a 10-day hearing, he said.
Toni K. Troop, a spokeswoman for Jane Doe Inc., said she needs to see the Basile study before she can make detailed comments. She said her organization is curious to see the methodology used and the definitions of violence.
"On behalf of Jane Doe, what I would be willing to say is, given the bias of this particular organization, i.e., The Fatherhood Coalition, we are not surprised that their findings fly in the face of every credible national and state study that is being conducted,"
Ms. Troop said.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey in 1999, women made up 85 percent of the victims of intimate partner violence, Ms. Troop said.
Women are reporting domestic violence in much greater numbers and are reporting more injurious violence, Ms. Troop said.
Judge Fox, who also had not seen the study, said he tries to handle the restraining orders on a case-by-case basis.
"I'm quite satisfied if I felt a male plaintiff was entitled to an order, he would receive it," Judge Fox said. "If a female was not entitled to a restraining order, she would not get one."
A third phase of the Basile study, intended to look at the possibility of false allegations in restraining order cases, was derailed. The Fatherhood Coalition had planned to do a telephone survey of litigants, but claims that after Jane Doe learned about the planned research the state attorney general got involved and filed legislation to protect the confidentiality of restraining order recipients.
Mr. Basile said he does not expect a sympathetic audience when he presents two papers on his study at the seventh International Conference on Family Violence Sept. 27. The Family Violence and Sexual Assault Institute, affiliated with Alliant International University in San Diego, and the Children's Institute International sponsor the conference.
"We tried to do honest research because we know there's going to be a lot of people questioning this research," Mr. Basile said. As a researcher, he is required to have the data available for verification for five years after publication, he said.
The conference is known for presenting controversial topics, and if Mr. Basile has something of use to society the goal is to get that information out, said Jae E. Marciano, executive director of the Family Violence and Sexual Assault Institute. If his information is not of use, that should be known as well, she said.
A lot of fathers groups are being formed that claim the way society handles domestic violence is unfair, Ms. Marciano said. The conference wants these concerns to be heard and to have these groups hear the audience's concerns about their work, as well, she said.
"It's a two-way conversation," Ms. Marciano said about audience interaction with the presenters. Groups representing battered women will be in the audience, she said.
Mr. Basile said his papers will be published in the Journal of Family Violence. Both the journal and the conference require submissions to be reviewed by experts in the field, he said.