by Cathy Young
||Family violence--Laws, regulations, etc.; Social
policy--United States; Conflict management--United States
||(v29 n9) Start Page: p24(8) ISSN: 0048-6906
#Violating Rights of Men
Encouraged Click this bookmark to take you directly to an absolutely
outrageous quote in this article from a judge concerning the acceptability of violating
the rights of fathers.
Click this link for another article illustrating the abuse of restraining orders in
divorce and custody proceedings.
To punish spouse abuse, the law runs roughshod over common sense and the rights of both
women and men.
In the fall of 1996, Susan Finkelstein's live-in boyfriend was arrested and charged
with abusing her. Today, Susan, a 31-year-old free-lance editor in a small Midwestern
town, feels that she was abused by the justice system. "I felt so helpless," she
says. "I had no rights. Nobody listened to me, nobody wanted to hear my story."
The tale sounds familiar enough - except that what angers Susan is not that her
boyfriend was treated too leniently but that he was prosecuted at all.
It all started when Susan and her boyfriend, a 44-year-old college administrator whom
I'll call Jim, were having a heated argument on the way home from a party. Both of them,
Susan explains, were under a great deal of stress. The quarrel escalated, and Jim decided
it would be best to pull over. He wanted to get out of the car and walk, and Susan tried
to stop him. "I lost my temper, he lost his temper, and we got into a mutual
scuffle," she says. "I may have scratched him, he may have pushed me. It got
physical, but there certainly wasn't any beating."
Finally, they cooled down and got back on the road - only to be stopped by a police
car. Susan remembers thinking that Jim might have been driving erratically during the
fight and might have looked like a drunk driver. But it was something very different. A
passing motorist had seen their altercation, written down their license plate number, and
called the police.
Despite Susan's assurances that Jim hadn't hurt her and she wasn't afraid of him, he
was handcuffed and taken away. Under department policy, an officer told her, they had to
make an arrest in a domestic dispute. Says Susan, "I was very upset that they
wouldn't listen when I said that I was fine. They said, 'Well, we know that women who are
abused often lie out of fear.'"
After spending the night in jail, Jim was arraigned on a misdemeanor charge of domestic
violence and prohibited from having any contact with Susan, who had to stay with a friend.
Her efforts to convince the judge and the prosecutor that nothing had happened were
On a lawyer's advice, Jim pleaded no contest. He had to write a letter of apology to
Susan (which he wrote in her presence and mailed to the district attorney's office, which
forwarded it to her) and attend 10 weekly counseling sessions for batterers, a three-hour
drive away, at a cost of $400. He is acutely aware that his record puts him at risk:
"If Susan and I have a loud argument and a neighbor calls the police, I'll be
arrested immediately," he says.
What happened to Jim and Susan - who are still together as a couple - is not an
aberration. It's just another story from the trenches of what might be called the War on
Domestic Violence. Born partly in response to an earlier tendency to treat wife-beating as
nothing more than a marital sport, this campaign treats all relationship conflict as a
crime. The zero-tolerance mentality of current domestic violence policy means that no
offense is too trivial, not only for arrest but for prosecution. Consider these recent
In 1996, Seattle City Councilman John Manning, who came home one day and was shocked to
find his wife loading her things into a truck, was charged with assault for grabbing her
shoulders and sitting her down on the tailgate (causing no injuries). He pleaded guilty to
misdemeanor domestic violence, received a deferred prison sentence, and agreed to complete
a treatment program for batterers. (The Seattle Times editorialized that the case gave
"a public face" to the tragedy of domestic violence.)
The same year, Michigan Judge Joel Gehrke made headlines when he gave convicted spouse
abuser Stewart Marshall a literal slap on the wrist, citing the wife's adultery with her
husband's brother as a mitigating factor. This episode, which provoked cries about judges
who go easy on wife beaters, should have raised questions instead about frivolous
prosecutions. Aside from the fact that many of the jurors believed Chris Marshall had set
up the incident as a leverage-gaining divorce tactic, Stewart's assault consisted of
grabbing her by the sweatshirt and pushing her; she did not suffer a single scrape. A
woman juror who backed Judge Gehrke's decision explained that the jury "had to say
guilty" because "if you touch, it's battery."
In those cases, at least, the alleged victims wanted a prosecution. But increasingly,
women who don't - like Susan Finkelstein - find their wishes ignored. This issue was
brought into the spotlight by the 1996 Texas trial of football star Warren Moon, whose
wife Felicia was forced to take the stand against him. In a less famous case in St. Paul,
Minnesota, two years earlier, Jeanne Chacon, an attorney, tried not only to drop battery
charges against her fiance, Peter Erlinder, but to serve as his lawyer. Though Chacon
herself had called the police and accused Erlinder of"slamming" her to the
ground, she quickly changed her story: Abused as a child, she explained that she was prone
to violent outbursts, and that Erlinder had merely restrained her with a
"basket-hold" technique recommended by her own therapists. Her therapists
corroborated her story, and Chacon had several violent episodes while the case was
pending. Still, prosecutors insisted on going to trial - which, like the Moon case, ended
Like many crusades to stamp out social evils, the War on Domestic Violence is a mix of
good intentions (who could be against stopping spousal abuse?), bad information, and worse
theories. The result has been a host of unintended consequences that do little to empower
victims while sanctioning state interference in personal relationships.
The battered women's advocacy movement, which has led the campaign against domestic
abuse, is heavily influenced by radical feminist politics and tends to frame the issue in
terms of a male "war against women." The mission statement of the National
Coalition Against Domestic Violence links "violence against women and children"
to "sexism, racism, classism, anti-semitism, able-bodyism, ageism and other
oppressions." Booklets funded by government and by charities such as United Way
assert that "battering is the extreme expression of the belief in male dominance over
Such thinking is responsible for such widely circulated factoids as "domestic
violence is the leading cause of injury to American women," "battering causes
more injuries to women than car accidents, rapes, and muggings combined," or "25
to 35 percent of women in emergency rooms are there for injuries from domestic
violence." These patently false numbers (data from the Justice Department and the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that less than 1 percent of women's
emergency-room visits are due to assaults by male partners, and that about 10 times as
many women are injured in auto accidents) are complemented by increasingly expansive
definitions of abuse.
Thus, in her landmark book, The Battered Woman (1979), psychologist Lenore Walker
writes that "a battered woman is a woman who is repeatedly subjected to any forceful
physical or psychological behavior by a man in order to coerce her to do something"
(emphasis added). While Walker focuses primarily on women who have been physically
assaulted, she also talks about men "battering" their wives by, for example,
being inattentive. Pamphlets distributed by family violence programs stress that one
doesn't have to be hit to be abused and list such forms of abuse as "calling you
names," "criticizing you for small things," or "making you feel bad
about yourself." A booklet published by the state of New Jersey, Domestic Violence:
The Law and You, informs the reader that she is a victim of domestic violence if she has
experienced "embarrassment or alarm because of lewd or shocking behavior" or
"repeated verbal humiliation and attacks."
These ideas have consequences. By 1982, largely due to lobbying by advocacy groups, a
majority of states expanded police authority to make arrests in misdemeanor assaults which
the officers had not actually witnessed - a move applauded by most law enforcement
personnel and family violence researchers. But as the rate of arrest remained low, many
states and jurisdictions began to go further and mandate arrests, a policy viewed with far
more ambivalence. This trend has been boosted by the post-O.J. Simpson-trial attention to
domestic abuse and by incentives for pro-arrest policies in the federal Violence Against
Women Act of 1994.
Such policies have undeniably increased the number of arrests. It is far less clear,
however, that they have had a significant impact on spousal abuse. Christopher Pagan, who
was until recently a prosecutor in Hamilton County, Ohio, estimates that due to a 1994
state law requiring police on a domestic call either to make an arrest or to file a report
explaining why no arrest was made, "domestics" went from 10 percent to 40
percent of his docket. But, he suggests, that doesn't mean actual abusers were coming to
his attention more often. "We started getting a lot of push-and-shoves," says
Pagan, "or even yelling matches. In the past, police officers would intervene and
separate the parties to let them cool off. Now those cases end up in criminal courts. It's
exacerbating tensions between the parties, and it's turning law-abiding middle-class
citizens into criminals."
Many police officers agree - though all of those who were willing to discuss their
misgivings asked that their names not be used, given the charged nature of the subject and
their criticism of official policy. "We need domestic violence law but we need common
sense, too," says a veteran small-town policeman in New Jersey. The officer stresses
that he doesn't miss the days when a woman could be bruised or bloodied and you couldn't
arrest the man unless she was willing to risk enraging him further by signing a complaint.
But today, he says, the law has gone to the other extreme: "Sometimes the wife's
begging, 'Don't arrest him, the kids are here,' and you have to arrest."
It's not just male officers who chafe at having their hands tied. A woman I'll call
Sally Gilmore, a sergeant on the nearly all-male police force of a working-class New
Jersey town, feels that mandatory arrest rules often force cops to act against their
better judgment. She recalls responding to a quarrel between a woman and her ex-boyfriend,
who had come over to pick up his things. After being told that he couldn't be arrested for
shouting at her, the woman suddenly "remembered" that he had also hit her and
pointed to a bruise on her leg. "I asked, 'When did this happen?' and she said, 'Just
now,'" says Gilmore. "Well, this bruise was days old. He said he didn't hit her.
I basically knew she was lying, but I had no choice."
The effects of mandatory arrest are compounded by no-drop prosecutions. The assumption
behind no-drop policies is that when women recant or refuse to press charges, it is out of
fear or dependence. But reality is far more complex. The woman may feel, rightly or not,
that she is not in danger and can handle the situation better without the complications of
a legal case; or the lines between aggressor and victim may be blurred; or the charge may
have been false, made in anger, and later regretted.
A counselor with a family violence intervention program in Florida who generally favors
no-drop prosecutions saw this happen with her own daughter Angela - a troubled young woman
with a severe drinking problem - and her live-in boyfriend. One evening, says the
counselor, who also requested anonymity, an intoxicated Angela wanted to go out to buy
more liquor: "Her boyfriend won't give her the money. So she goes out to the corner
and calls the police saying he has locked her out - which he probably had because he
didn't want trouble - and fills out a report saying he threatened her, she's afraid of
him, and so on." The police took her home and arrested the young man. The next day, a
now-sober Angela was appalled by what she had done and tried to back out - to no avail.
With her mother's help, she hired a lawyer, and her boyfriend was eventually allowed to
plead no contest.
These policies apply not only to violence between spouses or cohabitants. Shortly after
Wisconsin's mandatory arrest law took effect, a Milwaukee mom was locked up for slapping
her misbehaving teenage son. In 1996 in Missouri, a father was arrested and charged with
assault because, after his 17-year-old son refused to get up early to mow the lawn, the
father pushed the lawnmower into the teenager's room and started it up.
Curiously, battered women's advocates (and journalists who take their cue from the
activists) continue to claim that police and the courts treat domestic abuse less
seriously than non-family assaults. In fact, this may not have been true even prior to
feminist-initiated reforms. In the 1992 book Policing Domestic Violence, University of
Maryland criminologist Lawrence Sherman concludes that underenforcement of assault and
battery laws was hardly unique to domestic violence. He cites data from the 1970s showing
that police were reluctant to intervene in any violent personal dispute, be it a marital
squabble, a neighborhood quarrel, or a bar brawl. All else (such as injury) being equal,
the rates of arrest were similar for domestic and non-domestic cases. Certainly, more
recent studies show no evidence of discrimination against battered women. Analyzing the
handling of violent offenses in 1987-88 in Arizona, feminist criminologist Kathleen
Ferraro found - to her own surprise - that while most attacks of any kind were either not
prosecuted or were charged as misdemeanors, felony assaults were less likely to be
dismissed if they involved spouses or partners (even though the victims in domestic cases
were much more likely to request a dismissal). Nor did the victim-offender relationship
affect the severity of the sentence.
Nowadays, however, some crusaders openly argue that domestic violence should be taken
more seriously than other crimes. In 1996, the sponsor of a New York bill toughening
penalties for misdemeanor assault on a family member (including ex-spouses and unwed
partners) vowed to oppose a version extending the measure to all assaults: "The whole
purpose of my bill is to single out domestic violence," Assemblyman Joseph Lentol
said. "I don't want the world to think we're treating stranger assaults the same way
as domestic assaults."
These arguments, however, are rooted in the paradigm of domestic violence promoted by
the battered women's movement: the woman, powerless and trapped by economic or
psychological dependency, is victimized by the brutal, domineering man who uses force to
impose control. Certainly, some cases fit this model; but many others do not.
For one, the feminist paradigm ignores mutual combat and female aggression. Surveys by
pioneering family violence researchers Murray Straus of the University of New Hampshire
and Richard Gelles of the University of Rhode Island have found that half of all spousal
violence is reciprocal while the rest is evenly split between female-only and male-only
violence (though men are more likely to inflict serious damage). Those findings are
confirmed by a host of other studies. Nonetheless, materials distributed by advocacy
groups and used in training for judges, prosecutors, and police assert that 95 percent of
domestic violence is male-on-female and dismiss mutual brawling as a "myth."
Because of this ideology, the War on Domestic Violence gets a bit schizophrenic when it
comes to female aggression. Ironically, mandatory arrest laws have led to a rise in the
number of women arrested for domestic assault, as sole perpetrators or together with their
partners; in some states, women now account for about a quarter of all arrests. According
to criminologist Lawrence Sherman, this "resulted in intensive lobbying [by battered
women's advocates] not to arrest women regardless of probable cause to do so." In
response, many jurisdictions have devised ways around formal gender neutrality.
In Michigan, for instance, when Susan Finkelstein told the arresting officer that she
was at least as much the aggressor in their altercation as Jim, she was informed that the
policy required arresting the larger of the two parties. More commonly, mandatory arrest
laws are amended with a "primary aggressor" clause, which can be interpreted
quite creatively: Sherman recalls an incident he saw in one of his field studies in which
the man was arrested because he had yelled at his wife - even though she was the only one
to actually strike a blow.
While battered women's advocates have had a major impact on the ways in which charges
of spousal assault are handled by criminal courts, the reach of the War on Domestic
Violence is still somewhat limited by constitutional protections for defendants. Perhaps
the worst excesses of this crusade are found in the use and abuse of civil orders of
protection, also known as restraining orders - which require lower levels of evidence and
can be issued without the accused having a chance to defend himself.
Court orders prohibiting one party not only from harassing but, in some cases, from
approaching or contacting another are not limited to domestic violence cases. Normally,
getting such an order is a cumbersome process. But under abuse prevention laws, on the
books in 48 states by 1988, restraining orders are easily available against current or
former spouses or cohabitants and some other family members. (Whether the relationship is
close enough to qualify - how about an ex-sister-in-law? - can become the key issue at a
hearing.) In the last decade, many states have strengthened this legislation, further
streamlining the process of obtaining an order, extending eligibility to people who had
dated but not lived together, and toughening penalties for violators.
The basis for a restraining order need not include violence. In Massachusetts, over
half of the 60,000 restraining orders in domestic cases issued every year do not,
according to a 1995 state report, involve so much as an allegation of physical abuse.
Elaine Epstein, past president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, recalls
"affidavits which just said someone was in fear, or there had been an argument or
yelling - not even a threat." In 1990, the state's highest court ruled that a
restraining order had to be based on "reasonable fear" of "imminent serious
physical harm"; but many judges don't like taking chances and are satisfied with a
positive answer to the question, "Are you afraid of bodily harm by the
defendant?" In New Jersey, abusive acts which qualify for a restraining order include
verbal harassment (which need not involve threats).
Moreover, temporary restraining orders are granted ex parte, without the defendant
being present or notified - much less informed of the specific charges. Supporters of
current laws concede that getting an order takes very little evidence. "I think
judges grant the restraining orders without asking too many questions," Massachusetts
state legislator Barbara Gray, a sponsor of the original abuse prevention statute, told me
in 1995. (Gray has since retired.)
Usually within 10 days, a hearing must be held to determine if the order will be
extended for a year or more. That's when the defendant can tell his side - in theory. In
fact, writes Boston attorney Miriam Altman, "the mere allegation of domestic
abuse...may shift the burden of proof to the defendant." Hearsay is allowed;
cross-examination may be limited; and, many lawyers say, the judge is unlikely to give
serious consideration to exculpatory evidence. "I don't need a full-scale
hearing," one judge told attorney (and Massachusetts state legislator) James Fagan
when he brought witnesses disputing a woman's claim of harassment by his client. The only
issue, the judge declared, was whether he felt the woman was fearful - "it isn't even
who's telling the truth," he said.
The consequences of a restraining order for the man on the receiving end (and it
usually is a man) can be quite serious. If he shares a home with the plaintiff, he will
usually be ordered to vacate the premises. Any contact becomes illegal - in many states, a
felony punishable by prison or fines (it doesn't matter if the "victim" agreed
to or even initiated the contact). This can have particularly wrenching consequences when
there are children involved.
Men who have had restraining orders issued against them on the basis of uncorroborated
or trivial allegations have been jailed for sending their kids a Christmas card; for
asking a telephone operator to convey a harmless message; for accidental
"contact" at the courthouse; and for returning a child's phone call. The
pressure on judges and prosecutors to be tough on violators comes not only from women's
groups but from the media. In Massachusetts, the Boston Globe has been crusading
tirelessly on the issue, while showing no interest in horror stories of restraining-order
While father-rights activists claim that most restraining orders are based on false
claims, defenders of the law say that no more than 5 percent of the charges are false.
That still adds up to about 2,000 a year in Massachusetts alone - hardly an insignificant
figure when it's a matter of people being evicted from their homes, cut off from their
children, sometimes jailed, and branded with the equivalent of a criminal record (their
names are entered in the abusers' registry) - all without the safeguards of a criminal
The policies in Massachusetts may be unusually tough, but they're hardly unique.
Connecticut attorney Arnold Rutkin, editor of the legal journal Family Advocate, writes
that judges tend to take a "rubberstamping" approach to protection orders, and
the "due process hearings" held later are "usually a sham." A New
Jersey woman whose estranged husband threatened to take "drastic measures" if
she didn't pay the household bills - by which he meant having her telephone disconnected -
was granted a permanent restraining order due to "harassment." When state
appellate courts moved to curb these excesses, resulting in fewer restraining orders, an
outcry from advocates was quick to follow.
When the advocates and their friends in the legislatures do acknowledge the potential
for the misuse of restraining orders, it is usually to say that no safeguards can be
adopted without endangering victims. As Barbara Gray told me, "You [would be] saying
to a judge: On an emergency basis, you have to look at this woman and see whether you
think she's telling the truth." Given the horrifying statistics on violence against
women, says Gray, one can't take the risk of not taking all accusations seriously.
Some judges seem to share that attitude. At a 1995 seminar, dispensing advice
to incoming municipal judges, Judge Richard Russell of the Ocean City, New Jersey,
municipal court declared, "Your job is not to become concerned about the
constitutional rights of the man that you're violating as you grant a restraining order.
Throw him out on the street, give him the clothes on his back and tell him, see ya
around....The woman needs this protection because the statute granted her that
protection.... They have declared domestic violence to be an evil in our society. So we
don't have to worry about the rights."
Judge Russell's comments, captured on tape and printed in the New Jersey Law
Journal, raised a few eyebrows. However, he suffered no consequences beyond a mild chiding
from the Administrative Office of the Courts. By contrast, recently in Maine, Judge
Alexander MacNichol was denied reappointment by Gov. Angus King after battered women's
advocates complained about his alleged insensitivity to women applying for restraining
orders - which, the judge's many defenders said, meant simply that he listened to both
sides of the story.
Beyond questions of civil liberties and due process, there is no proof that the
crackdown prevents domestic homicides, the ostensible goal of hardline restraining order
procedures. Nor is there evidence that it prevents serious assaults. A man who intends to
kill a woman and either plans to take his own life or knows that he will face murder
charges won't be deterred by the penalties for violating a restraining order, as too many
headlines show. A 1984 study by Janice Grau, Jeffrey Fagan, and Sandra Wexler has
concluded that the orders have a protective effect for women who were not severely
victimized in the first place. If so, peddling them to women in real danger is like giving
cancer patients aspirin.
"The restraining order law was changed to protect women who were really abused,
but it doesn't work," says Sally Gilmore, the New Jersey police officer. "All it
does is create an incredible amount of paperwork for the cops, and most of the time it's
just revenge, or just to get him out of the house."
Indeed, it has become a commonplace among lawyers of both sexes that restraining orders
are routinely misused as a weapon in divorces. It's hard to come up with reliable
estimates of how frequently that happens. But given the advantages conferred by a
restraining order, from possession of the house to virtually automatic custody of the
children, the temptation is certainly there.
Robert Byers, a Georgia contractor, found himself embroiled in a particularly twisted
saga. In 1993, his wife, Lori Anderson, left the state with their 8-year-old daughter. He
soon learned that they were with her relatives in Massachusetts - and that the police
there were trying to serve him with a restraining order. He went to Massachusetts for a
hearing; his request for a continuance so that he could get a lawyer was denied, and the
order was extended for a year, barring him from all contact with his wife or child.
Byers went home and filed for divorce. When the Georgia court had trouble locating
Anderson to notify her of the custody hearing, he returned to Massachusetts and went to
serve her with the papers. She called the police and he was arrested for violating the
restraining order; unable to make bail, he was locked up for three months. Finally, he
pleaded guilty to the violation in exchange for a suspended sentence.
In October 1994, Byers won custody in Georgia and went back to Massachusetts to
petition for the return of his daughter. The next day, Anderson filed a complaint,
alleging that he had loitered in her driveway and made threatening calls to her sister.
This time, Byers was held without bail. In February 1995, he was found not guilty by a
five-woman, one-man jury; the judge also threw out his earlier suspended sentence after
reviewing the evidence.
Two hours after Byers's release, Anderson got a new restraining order. It's hard to
tell how long this farce would have dragged on if a probate judge had not put an end to it
by ruling that Massachusetts had to honor the Georgia custody decree. Byers was able to
take his child home only after a total of nearly 200 days behind bars.
Stories like that of Byers, perhaps without happy endings, are likely to become
increasingly common. Spurred by the O.J. Simpson case, the War on Domestic Violence has
intensified in the past three years. The Michigan legislature, in a fit of O.J.-itis,
decided to allow restraining orders to take effect as soon as they are issued, before the
defendant has been served - which means that he can face criminal charges for something he
didn't know was a crime, creating great opportunities for entrapment. Last June,
California abolished a provision allowing defendants in misdemeanor domestic assaults to
have the incident expunged from police records if they compensate the victim and undergo
counseling - an option still available to the accused in other assault cases. In 1996, a
new federal law made domestic violence the only misdemeanor for which a person loses the
right to own a gun (with the spurious explanation that domestic assaults are more likely
to be prosecuted as misdemeanors than non-domestic ones of equal gravity).
Undoubtedly, there are cases in which victims of intimate violence are badly let down
by the system, sometimes with fatal results. But apathy and excessive zeal can coexist -
just as horror stories of children yanked from parental homes on flimsy suspicions of
abuse coexist with ones of abused children handed back to their tormentors. Indeed, when
apathy and excessive zeal do coexist, the policy implications are often disastrous.
Douglas Besharov, a child welfare expert at the American Enterprise Institute,
compellingly argues that overzealous probes of frivolous claims of child abuse lead to
underenforcement where action is needed most because the system is too bogged down in
trivial pursuit to single out the serious cases.
It's probably the same with domestic violence. The system, says sociologist Richard
Gelles, fails to differentiate between minor charges of abuse and cases rife with danger
signs - such as the events leading to the death of Kristin Lardner, the daughter of
Washington Post reporter George Lardner. (The former boyfriend who fatally shot her in May
1992 before killing himself had a long history of criminal behavior; yet after assaulting
Kristin, he was not jailed, despite violating his probation.) Indeed, manipulators may be
more likely to get the system to work to their advantage than real victims, too scared or
too unsophisticated to navigate its channels.
Even if the dangerous cases are caught early, some people are going to be badly hurt or
even killed by their mates. Such things are not always predictable. And we might ask,
without creating a new "abuse excuse," whether being denied access to his
children might not push a nonviolent person over the edge. "People with nothing to
lose are dangerous people," says James Fagan, the Massachusetts attorney and state
The most obvious casualties of the War on Domestic Violence have been men, particularly
men involved in contentious divorces. But it has also hurt many of the women who are its
intended beneficiaries. Part of the problem is the one-size-fits-all approach to domestic
violence. For many couples in violent relationships, particularly those involved in mutual
violence, joint counseling offers the best solution. But if they have come to the
attention of the authorities, it's one form of counseling to which they are unlikely to be
referred. Couples therapy is vehemently opposed by battered women's advocates - ostensibly
out of concern for women's safety, but also because of the implication that both partners
must change their behavior.
A few years ago, James Dolan, first justice of Dorchester District Court in
Massachusetts, warned that the system may be engaging in "benign abuse" by
"denying women the right to continue a relationship without submitting to the
authority of the court." Dolan may have been stretching the term abuse, but quite a
few women might agree with his assessment.
And then there are the women who, often on the basis of a misunderstanding or a single,
trivial incident blown out of proportion, are labeled as victims against their will.
"It was very paternalistic, even if women were involved in the system," says
Susan Finkelstein, reflecting on her experience. "At one point, I told a prosecutor
that I didn't appreciate being told what was best for me by someone who didn't even know
me. She said, 'It strikes me as odd that you don't appreciate the fact that we're trying
to protect you.' What I said didn't matter. It seems so ironic that in trying to give
women a voice, they are taking away their voices."
Contributing Editor Cathy Young (firstname.lastname@example.org) is vice president of the
Women's Freedom Network and author of the forthcoming book Ceasefire: Beyond The Gender
Wars (Free Press).