Worcester Telegram & Gazette

Fathers' rights fogotten by laws

Tuesday, April 6, 1999
By Mark Charalambous
Worcester Telegram & Gazette

Political activists are often surprised when they stumble upon laws that are in clear violation of civil liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, such as freedom from warrantless arrest and search and seizure. Here in Massachusetts, the most flagrantly unconstitutional laws are those drafted ostensibly to protect women from domestic violence and sexual assault.

The rights of the men accused have not merely been relegated to the back of the bus -- they're no longer on the road.

Men who have been victimized by these laws are dumbfounded when they realize the flagrant injustice they experience is in fact entirely legal. How is it that a college student can be taken from his class in handcuffs, pilloried in the press and stigmatized in his community, yet his accuser, who partied with him and several friends the night before, has her identity kept secret while she levies a rape allegation to save her reputation?

HUSBANDS SUFFER

Cuckolded husbands wonder how legislators could write a law that strips them of their parental rights, throws them out of their homes and criminalizes any contact with their own children, merely on the say-so of their estranged spouses.

Why do legislators write laws with such disregard of constitutionally protected civil liberties? There are several reasons.

Some just don't understand the importance of the Bill of Rights. Others understand but don't care, believing that if a law is unconstitutional, a high court will eventually strike it down. Still others reason that these laws address a pressing social need that outweighs due process and the presumption of innocence. These politicians are, of course, the most dangerous of the lot.

It's not clear which category Gov. Paul Cellucci belongs in, but he recently filed legislation to make second violations of domestic abuse protection (209A) orders punishable with 5 years in jail. I doubt there is an adult in the commonwealth who by now does not know of at least one innocent man who has been “209A'd” by a vindictive woman.

FEMALE MONOPOLY

These men, many of them fathers who have been criminalized and cruelly separated from their children, need to convince legislators of the harm caused by 209A. However, the entire discussion on domestic violence is monopolized by the battered women's advocates. These are the people who propagate domestic violence “facts” such as: up to 35 percent of women's hospital emergency room visits are attributed to domestic abuse; women comprise 95 percent of all domestic violence victims; and the average sentence for a woman who kills her mate is 15 years, for a man, 2 to 6 years.

All of these “facts” are, in fact, false. According to the United States Department of Justice report (“Violence-related injuries treated in hospital emergency departments,” August 1997), in all hospital emergency visits nationwide in 1994, 0.3 percent of women's visits were due to domestic violence. The false statistic is then an exaggeration of two orders of magnitude, an inflation of 10,000 percent.

Most victims of domestic violence are children, and most perpetrators of child abuse are single mothers. The rate of male-on-female domestic assaults is roughly equal to female-on-male-this has held constant in all scientific studies of domestic violence since the late 1970s. And men receive longer jail sentences than women for spousal homicide.

Another United States Department of Justice report (“Spouse murder defendants in large urban communities,” 1995) reveals that men receive sentences of 16.5 years on average, women 6 years, and male conviction rates are likewise higher, 87 percent to 70 percent.

Faced with a disinformation campaign that demonizes men and that conditions girls and women that men are to be feared, not loved, what are men to do?

Every year concerned citizens draft bills to correct the flaws in these laws and submit them to their legislators -- who promptly take them. This year, the Massachusetts Legislature has the opportunity to change 209A by adding the word “intentional” in front of “violation,” so that men cannot be subject to 2.5 years in jail for a chance meeting with their “abused” ex's in the supermarket -- or for falling prey to a 'I'm sorry, dear, I didn't mean it, come on home and let's makes things right' violation ploy.

Chances are you won't read about the 209A Reform Bill in the press. But you have already heard Cellucci has filed pages of legislation to -- incredibly -- toughen 209A. Is the governor out of touch with reality? Perhaps.

In a similar vein, after giving testimony in favor of another of his bills for tougher penalties for sex offenders on March 14, he was described as “downright wrong on a number of things he said that provide the premise for his legislation,” by a former commissioner of the state Department of Youth Services who testified in opposition.

Faced with universal opposition, fathers' rights advocates are undertaking their own research project. Bear in mind that combating domestic violence is a multi-million dollar industry in Massachusetts alone; some of the principals in the battered women's movement are rumored to have six-figure salaries.

Yet Steve Basile, a software engineer with a masters degree in mathematics, and the Fatherhood Coalition are conducting the study on their own time with their own resources. And when word got out that they had copied 400-plus 209A court dockets from Gardner District Court and were busy inputting the pertinent info into a database and proceeding with a phone survey, cages were rattled.

Attorney General Thomas Reilly announced the filing of legislation aimed at inhibiting the study by restricting access to personal information in 209A dockets to those with legitimate need for the information. That of course won't include the Fatherhood Coalition, who apparently hit a nerve with the study.

According to Sen. Therese Murray (D-Plymouth), who filed the bill, there was “no purpose, besides intimidation, for this organization, or any uninvolved individual or group, to access this information.”

REASON FOR ACCESS

The Fatherhood Coalition has a very real and compelling reason to have this information. Someone from outside the domestic violence community has to look into actual 209A data to find out what effect ithas on families, because we certainly can't trust anyone in the domestic violence community to do so. Refer back to their abuse of statistics above if you need further convincing of their lack of credibility.

Truth is the best disinfectant. Every year tens of thousands of 209A restraining orders are given out in Massachusetts. They're now given out to schoolchildren.

What is the logical conclusion, a world where everyone has a protection order against anyone they find annoying? Fathers whose only crime was falling out of favor with the mothers of their children are being jailed for trying to telephone their kids.

The Legislature has been acquiescing to the battered women's advocates for years. But they have also been hearing from their constituents for years, so they all know what is really going on. Unfortunately, few have the spine to stand up to the victim-feminists and the powerful politicians who pander to them.

Mark Charalambous of Leominster is active with the Fatherhood Coalition.

©1999 Worcester Telegram & Gazette