Sunday, October 24, 1999
Daddy in the GUPI Gulagby Carey Roberts
The Washington Times
New research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says that much of being a good father is just being there. Unfortunately, a lot of Massachusetts fathers are finding it hard to be there."
Take the example of Harry Stewart, a Massachusetts lay minister and divorced dad of a 5-year-old boy. When Mr. Stewart spotted his son struggling to open the door to his motherís garden apartment, little did he suspect this would eventually land him a jail sentence. Stewart did what any caring dad would do he hopped out of the car and helped the child pry the door open. But Harry Stewart, a lay minister, was under a court restraining order. The order explicitly forbade him from exiting his car when returning his son to his ex-wifeís residence. Recently, Stewart was shackled and lead to the Dedham House of Correction to serve his six-month sentence.
But he must have been a batterer." No, Stewart was never convicted of domestic violence, in fact, his ex-wife had never accused him of ever hitting her. She took advantage of a provision in the Massachusetts law that includes placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm in the broad defintion of abuse.
Taking advantage of this loop-hole is not unusual. In fact, these "no-contact" restraining orders are the rule. A recent study found that the Massachusetts courts issued nearly 60,000 restraining orders in 1995 alone. Less than half of these orders were based on any allegation of physical violence. The majority were issued as a pre-emptive, just to be safe" measure.
Still, how could Stewart, and thousands of other Massachusetts dads lose their basic legal rights, and be treated as common criminals? Because family law has insidiously forsaken the principle of innocent until proven guilty," and replaced it with GUPI: guilty until proven innocent."
If that statement seems unbelievable, this is what womenís advocates have to say about men merely accused of domestic violence: The partnerís description of the perpetratorís violence should be regarded as the most credible source of data on the perpetratorís dangerousness." Sounds like theyíre talking about a serial killer, not a dad who refused to abandon his 5-year-old child on a street corner.
In order to rehabilitate domestic violence miscreants, indoctrination methods derived from Soviet re-education camps are employed. In Massachusetts, the camps are called battererís intervention programs." These programs require that the man to first sign a statement admitting to his crime. But Harry Stewart was not a criminal, he had only opened the apartment door for his son. So he refused to sign the statement, knowing full well that incarceration was the likely consequence. Shades of 1692, when the Court of Oyer and Terminer declared that witches who admitted to their crime would no longer be executed.
But society pays a steep price for the presumption of paternal guilt. Growing up fatherless has well-documented effects on childrenís academic, social, and emotional development. At last count, 24.7 million American children donít live with their father. Forty percent of children of divorce havenít seen their dad in the past year. Sadly, many of these children will end up blaming their dad for the neglect. Only too late will they come to realize how the family law courts had so casually treated their dads as throwaways.
Women are hurt by this state of affairs, too. They suffer from an exaggerated fear of getting in harmís way. According to Department of Justice reports, women are far less likely than men to be victims of homicide, assault, or robbery. But itís women who are feeling most fearful and paranoid these days.
So on September 7, 1999 six divorced men filed a federal anti-discrimination lawsuit against the Massachusetts judges. The suit claims the judges routinely violate their Constitutional rights by issuing restraining orders based on false allegations of domestic violence. The lawsuit has garnered unprecedented media attention for the nascent fatherís civil rights movement.
Ironically, as the Massachusetts suit revs up, federal lawmakers are now haggling over the final wording on the proposed Violence Against Women Act. In the law, definitions are everything. Under this bill, domestic violence is defined as acts or threats of violence." The word threats" is left undefined, so weíre back to...guilty until proven innocent.
Before long, a sizable proportion of husbands in America will be behind bars. Children will be deprived of meaningful contact with their dads. Men and women will learn to keep their distance. Women will wonder why they canít find a man who is willing to make the Big Commitment. But at least we wonít have to worry about domestic violence any more.