The Sun Chronicle, Attleboro, MA

Monday, September 16, 1996

Witch trials return to Mass.


Two volumes of 300-year-old court proceedings recently surfaced in a Massachusetts courthouse, providing a unique snapshot of the witchhunt era. By the time the Salem witch trials that began in 1692 ended, twenty innocent people were dead, 19 hanged for convictions stemming from "spectral" evidence of witchcraft (the vision of a witch appearing to a possessed person).

Accounts of adulterers, witches accused of making covenants with the devil, and other stories of sin and hypocrisy from our prurient past, are undeniably entertaining. But a modern-day equivalent of the witchhunt afflicts us, and has more far-reaching consequences. The proliferation of false and frivolous charges of domestic abuse against fathers in divorce and custody litigation is destroying good men and inflicting serious damage to the institution of fatherhood, already in a precarious state. No one is keeping track of the numbers of innocent men who have been driven to depression, homelessness, poverty, and even suicide. Accurately measuring the present and future damage to the children of these men may prove even more difficult.

The distinction between domestic violence and domestic abuse has become blurred. True domestic violence is independently and objectively verifiable. Domestic abuse is a politically correct term of infinite elasticity that allows virtually any man to be defined as an abuser. Like spectral evidence of witchcraft, domestic abuse relies on an atmosphere of hysteria, uncorroborated claims, and "expert" interpretations of events and behavior.

According to court protocols, at abuse protection request hearings "the court need not apply the rules of evidence." Furthermore, "Testimony that might qualify as hearsay should not be excluded on that basis." The 209A abuse protection request is a checkbox form, the provisions of which include custody of children, immediate removal of the "abuser" from the home, establishment of child support, and perhaps the most pernicious and destructive provision of all: no contact between the "abuser" and the "victim" and his children. Prohibited contact is defined as any contact, direct or third party, intentional, coincidental or even contrived by the victim. Incredibly, the request form does not require the "victim's" signature under the pains and penalties of perjury.

Whereas the judges of olde Salem were instructed on identifying the aura of witchcraft by the fanatical Puritans, today's judges receive their indoctrination on how to recognize the "aura of abuse" from a zealotry of a different stripe. Battered Women's Resources, Inc., a Boston-based organization with considerable influence in divorce courts and domestic relations law, lists the following as examples of "abusive and controlling behaviors:" such as claiming the truth, using logic; emotional withholding; interrupting, changing topics, not listening; not responding to others' needs; giving her an allowance.

These behavior traits may reflect feminist notions of annoying male behavior, but no one in their right mind would consider them to be criminally actionable. But they are treated as such in the courts. In response to the hysteria, the courts have adopted a guilty-until- proven-innocent policy for accused abusers. The following material is taken from training seminars required for Massachusetts judges. It shows just how successful the abuse industry advocates have been at implementing their agenda to define deviancy down to a level where no man is safe from the possibility of being branded with the present-day scarlet letter "A."

Here's how judges are taught to evaluate conflicting testimony from "victims" and "abusers": "Partners' (or spouses') accounts of physical abuse are usually the most reliable and accurate sources of information about the perpetrator's level of violence" and "The partner's description of the perpetrator's violence should be regarded as the most credible source of data on the perpetrators dangerousness."

Once labeled as "abusive," the classification of "batterer" follows suit. Analyzing the psychology of "men who batter" provides fertile ground for feminist flights of fancy.

But batterers programs hold the threat of imprisonment over their clients by virtue of the power to fail them: "State regulations require that batterer programs terminate batterers from counseling if they have inadequate attendance, poor attitude or participation..."

For men ordered into these programs, innocence is not a possibility. Denial of guilt shows a "poor attitude," and cause for termination. In such Kafkaesque circumstances, it's no surprise that batterers eventually emerge from "denial." Many accused witches confessed after the Court of Oyer and Terminer declared that admitted witches would no longer be executed. But not all accused batterers take the safe way out. John Carter refused to plea bargain and ended up serving 301 days for violating a restraining order. His act of abuse? Attempting to meet with his daughter's teacher.

The Salem witch trials only ended when spectral evidence was ruled inadmissible. Likewise, the domestic abuse witchhunt will only be ended with a return to due process of law: criminal penalties for false and frivolous allegations, and standards of evidence appropriate when the accused stands to lose his liberty, children, and property.

MARK CHARALAMBOUS of Leominster is co-chairman of the Coalition for the Preservation of Fatherhood.

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