Fathers Begin To Be Heard

Jane Doe Inc. Makes Money Fighting Fathers

By Edward G. Oliver, Massachusetts News


October 1, 1999--An ultra-feminist organization, Jane Doe Inc., is battling, with the help of politicians on Beacon Hill, to stop any documentation which would show that 209A Restraining Orders are being abused. 

At the same time, the controversial, feminist organization is benefiting from thousands of dollars in contracts from the state as a result of their battle. 

It has convinced the state to establish an expensive postal service for the many thousands of restraining order applicants even though this service is unnecessary because those persons can already request anonymity from the courts if they so desire. The vast majority of applicants do not do so because the alleged abuser already knows where they live. 

If an applicant does request anonymity under the present system, the court simply expunges their name and address from any public records. But under the Jane Doe Inc. proposal, the names and addresses will all be kept in a central file at the Secretary of State’s office. 

The state has already paid $100,000 in consultant fees just to plan the new system — with an unknown amount going to Jane Doe Inc. as one of the consultants. That group will also profit from the installation of the system because it is written into the bill itself that the Secretary of State is required to consult with Jane Doe Inc. 

This is a Fathers Must Use Volunteers

Steve Basile 38, a software engineer and Co-Director of the North Central Chapter of the Fatherhood Coalition, tells Massachusetts News about a year ago that the fatherhood organization was conducting a study using data gleaned from court documents. He says that the fathers must use volunteers to do their research while the feminists receive many thousands of dollars in aid from the state. 

The idea of a study originated back in March, 1997, after members of the fatherhood group attended a domestic violence seminar in Templeton held by Jane Doe Inc. (The group was then called Battered Women’s Resource.) The three men sought to open a dialogue by calling attention to the problem of 209A abuse. 

They did not question that domestic violence is a serious problem that needs attention, but they also said that the abuse of restraining orders can have devastating consequences for both children and their fathers. 

"It was sort of a success because we got a lot of good stories in the local press saying some of this stuff needs to be debated. Both sides of this issue were being looked at," recalled Basile. 

A couple weeks later, the police chief in the neighboring city of Gardner, Edward F. Cronin, who Basile charged "was trying to make a career on domestic violence," held a press conference accusing the group of spreading disinformation. Cronin cited a Quincy District Court study, which claimed that men who are the subject of restraining orders generally have lengthy criminal histories. 

Basile’s group looked for the study and found it was a doctoral thesis written by the Quincy Chief Probation Officer at the time, Andrew Klein. Basile says that after examining the research design and data in the thesis, it was clear that men who receive 209A restraining orders are not usually criminals. He says that Klein counted "complaints" against the men rather than convictions and simply excluded the possibility that the accusations were merely made to get an advantage in a divorce or custody case. Even counting this way, he says, "an alarming 23% had never been accused of any crime." In addition, the sample that was used for the survey came from a group of men who had been arrested for domestic violence. 

An Impartial Study Was Needed

"We decided that the only way to get the truth out was to go and do a study ourselves" by using Gardner court documents and conducting interviews with litigants, Basile says. In 1997, Gardner District Court issued a total of 416 restraining orders. In April of that year, Basile’s group began the task of compiling those orders that had been entered at that time, but they were denied access to the court records by the chief clerk who advised the group to seek permission from the chief justice of the state’s district courts, Samuel E. Zoll. After four months, Zoll apologized for the delay and issued an administrative directive to the court ordering them to allow access to the public records. 

In December and into 1998, Basile’s group began copying files and entering the information from most of the dockets into a database. They planned to also survey the parties in each case afterward by telephone about the circumstances surrounding the restraining order. Thirty-eight of the dockets were not available for various reasons. 

News of the study hit the papers. Soon thereafter, in December 1998, at the urging of Jane Doe Inc., State Senator Cheryl Jacques quietly filed Senate Bill 1418 (House 4281) which would "provide address confidentiality for victims of domestic abuse, rape, sexual assault and stalking." The bill provides for the state to provide a post office system whereby all first class mail which is intended for those victims who so desire would go to the Secretary of State who would then forward it to the victims.   

Jane Doe Inc. Gets Lots of Money

During the budget crisis on Beacon Hill, the Boston Globe printed an account each day of the suffering imposed on the elderly, the poor . . . and Jane Doe Inc. 

Jane Doe Inc. had not gotten $450,000 it had been promised! 

On day 61 of the crisis, the Globe showed a picture of Jane Doe Director Nancy Scannell in her office as the "latest victim" in the budget impasse.  

The Globe story said: 
"Meanwhile, advocates for teenagers affected by date rape await $450,000 approved by the House and Senate for programs to prevent this largely unaddressed problem. ‘The school year has already started in many areas,’ said Nancy Scannell, policy director of Jane Doe Inc. ‘We want these children to know there are resources in their communities.’"

The idea of a state-run post office system is politically popular with the legislature. However, the "protection" provided by the bills is redundant because under present law, a person seeking a restraining order can check a box on the application form directing that the address and phone information (and sometimes the entire docket) be withheld from the public. A clerk at Gardner District Court told Massachusetts News that the same form is used throughout the state. She added that if someone checks the box, the personal information is "impounded." Most persons have chosen not to do so, and no reported problems have arisen over the years. One of the reasons the Fatherhood Coalition was not able to access all the dockets from 1997 is because some people had requested anonymity. 

More Money for Jane Doe

Jane Doe Inc. has already made money from the state as a consultant in designing the system. If the bill passes, it will also make money in implementation and running of the system. Defending her organization’s inclusion in the Jacques bill, Jane Doe’s Public Policy Director Nancy Scannell explained to Massachusetts News, "We’re consultants on how the training should be done, what kinds of issues should be considered in terms of protecting program participants, safety issues, stuff like that." 

When Massachusetts News asked Scannell if Jane Doe Inc. would profit from consulting fees if the legislation passed, an upset Scannell replied, "The legislation hasn’t passed so nothing like that has been determined; so what you see in the legislation is what is there." She added," I’m curious why you’re interested in the finances of a bill that’s not financial?" A spokesman from Senator Jacques office echoed, "There’s no requirement for any sort of fee that would be unusual — this is not an appropriations bill." The bill is currently in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. 

Not to be delayed by waiting for the legislation to be passed, $100,000 from the budget of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services was sent to the Secretary of State in fiscal year 1999 (which ended last July) to set up a pilot, address-confidentiality program with the help of Jane Doe Inc. "It’s now awaiting full implementation" Scannell told Massachusetts News. She offered that some of that money was also paid to "a lawyer" to write the regulations and to employees in the Secretary of State’s office. Upon passage of the Jacques bill, the door will remain open for ongoing consultation with Jane Doe Inc. 

Meanwhile, the Jacques bill was still not known to anyone in February of this year when the fatherhood group began conducting its telephone interviews. "Some of the interviewees were extremely eager to respond," said Basile when asked about the willingness of people to participate in the survey. He said the survey was mindful of the dignity and privacy of the subjects by using female volunteers to call women and male volunteers to call men. He stressed that interviewers were up-front about who they were and what they were doing. They explained to subjects the survey was completely voluntary; people could choose not to participate or only answer whatever they felt comfortable answering. 

The fatherhood group had completed interviews in twenty cases by February of this year. The powerful feminist lobby retaliated by seeking help from Attorney General Thomas Reilly. He found no legal problems with what the fathers were doing but he also filed his own bill (Senate Docket 1845) with the sponsorship of Sen. Theresa Murray that would block public access to phone and address information in restraining order dockets. 

After that, although the fathers continued their interviews, they changed their procedure and first mailed a letter to prospective interviewees to determine if they wished to participate in the survey. 

Basile puts it this way. "When the chief prosecutor in the state puts you in his sights,’ your lawyers are going to make you be a little cautious even though you are not doing anything immoral or illegal. They told us that a man this powerful can cause you many problems if he desires to do so." 

It was specifically announced by the Attorney General that his bill was the result of a strategic move by Jane Doe Inc. and its allies to halt discovery of information by the Fatherhood Coalition. Reilly cited "documents" provided by Jane Doe Inc. which proved the fatherhood group’s survey was an "interrogation" which was re-victimizing women. 

Those "documents" consisted of an e-mail someone had forwarded to Jane Doe Inc. written by Basile when he was seeking volunteers to conduct the survey. In the e-mail, Basile, a software engineer, said that after all the data was entered into his computer he would be able to "interrogate" the database. This technical wording was seized upon by Jane Doe and the Attorney General to justify their push for legislation. Basile explained to Massachusetts News he meant he would be able to pose statistical queries to the computer after all the information is entered. 

Basile provided Massachusetts News with a letter he sent to Scannell this July offering to let Jane Doe Inc. conduct phone interviews for the study with certain safeguards. Scannell acknowledged receiving the letter but said she did not reply and was not interested in having her organization do the interviews because, "We are very concerned about the privacy rights of these individuals." 

Basile suspects the earlier Jacques bill was filed late last year for the same reason — to stop the survey — as the result of a front page story about his study in the Worcester Sunday Telegram. Scannell denies that was the reason. 

A New Postal Service

While the Reilly bill seeks to block out phone and address information for all applicants whether they request it or not, the wider Jacques bill, which appears most likely to pass, goes a giant step further by creating a new state bureaucracy handling substitute addresses, telephone numbers, and receipt of mail for restraining order applicants. Jane Doe Inc. also stands poised to make money from the program because the bill requires the training and registering of "application assistants," who can be state or local employees or members of women’s advocacy groups. 

On its web-site, Jane Doe Inc. boasts of its influence on legislation stating it "works closely with our members and the Governor’s Commission on Domestic Violence to ensure that current needs and issues are being addressed at the state level. Jane Doe Inc. staff and members hold strategic positions on all committees and working groups, allowing us to
have a major impact on the design, generation, formulation and approval of new initiatives." 

In a related development in July, a Jane Doe Inc. affiliate in Fitchburg, "The Rape Crisis Center," terminated the volunteer position of Mark Gilbert 44, a member of the Fatherhood Coalition. "You have self identified as a member of the group that organized an effort to deny survivor’s rights to confidentiality," wrote Executive Director Nassrine Farhoody to Gilbert. Gilbert told Massachusetts News he wasn’t a part of the study at all; he is currently seeking legal advice on the matter. Farhoody did not return a call from Massachusetts News. 

Basile, a resident of Gardner, says that the routine issuance of restraining orders is a major form of child abuse causing children to be kept away from their fathers. He said vindictive wives use easily-obtained 209A’s as a legal maneuver to gain the upper hand in divorce and custody battles. Basile observed that the system is tuned to a feminist mentality which blames fathers first and pushes them away in an attempt to solve a problem rather than looking to alternative solutions. "The solution to most domestic disputes is not a restraining order. Other less intrusive remedies may be possible such as remediation, counseling, etc., a lot of these disputes don’t involve any violence whatsoever," Basile told Massachusetts News.  

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