to the Fathers & Families "Critique
of the Scientific Basis for Key Assertions in Breaking the Silence:
by Dominique Lasseur and Joan Meier [note
On the morning of
Tuesday, December 12, 2005, we received a 21-page critique of Breaking
the Silence: Children's Voices, which had been submitted to PBS by
Fathers & Families (hereinafter "the Critique").
Apparently this review had been in the works for weeks. Our response is
being prepared in three days. We do not intend to respond to every statement
in this critique, particularly the minutia of the studies selected for
review. Many of our prior materials have
already addressed issues addressed therein. Nonetheless, at your request,
we hereby offer the following responses to the key issues raised.
We note that
this critique entirely neglects the central subject matter of the film,
which was to give voice to children who credibly assert that they have
suffered by being placed into the custody of fathers who are abusive,
whether physically, sexually, or emotionally. We find critiques such as
this -- that fail to acknowledge the tragedies portrayed in the film, and
the unacceptability of sending children to abusive fathers -- to be inherently
lacking in credibility.
Finally, we note
that this critique, like many others, repeatedly claims that the film and/or
the commentators are impugning "fathers" or "divorced fathers
as a class" (p. 2, #3; p.3, #10). Nothing could be further from the
truth. The film itself focuses solely on contested custody disputes in
which the father is alleged to have been abusive of the mother or the child.
[note 2] We find it striking that so many
fathers' rights advocates appear to equate discussions of men alleged to
have committed abuse with "fathers" or "divorcing fathers."
As members of families with loving and nurturing fathers (including some
who have been divorced), we do not share that equation.
regarding prior communications between Fathers & Families and
Professor Joan Meier
On p. 1, the Critique
states that it is utilizing, among other things, "communications directly
from.... Professor Joan Meier to Fathers & Families." This is
incorrect. Some time before the documentary aired on television, Professor
Meier received an e-mailed inquiry from "Professor Ned Holstein"
inquiring what she relied on for her statements in the video (both of which
were inaccurately described). She had no idea who "Ned Holstein"
was, but responded politely, as scholars in academia routinely exchange
information in this manner. Not until sometime later did she discover that
her communication to him had been shared with father's rights groups and
selected portions were being used as ammunition for attacks on the film
and Professor Meier herself. Only more recently did she learn that Ned
Holstein is the President of "Fathers & Families." As a scholar,
Professor Meier believes in the open exchange of honest views. Ned Holstein's
deceptive approach was not that, but it did comport with what we have come
to expect from men's rights advocates, from both our own and our colleagues'
Quotation and Editing
On p. 1, the Critique
quotes Professor Meier as saying: "When an advocate raises a claim
[of domestic violence], it enrages the court, the equivalent of throwing
a bomb..." But the actual quotation was "When an advocate raises
a claim of child sexual abuse, it enrages the court [etc]". Professor
Meier did not make this statement about domestic violence, nor would she.
She stands by her statement as to child sexual abuse.
-- of critics misquoting a comment and then attacking the misquoted statement
-- is troubling.
to the Critique's "Key Findings"
1. Rate at
which Alleged and Adjudicated Batterers Win Custody
The father's rights "critique" disputed the documentary's statements
about the rate at which alleged and adjudicated batterers win custody,
using misleading and flawed arguments, and also was written with an overall
tone that appears to be posturing as a neutral scholarly-sounding or even
official assessment, such as purporting in the critique to be making "key
findings." The bulk of the "critique" also went off at considerable
length into tangents, and focused for the most part on attacking persons,
materials, and documents that were, if at all, only minimally or incidentally
connected with the documentary, rather than addressing the documentary
itself, which gave the "critique" an appearance of having much
to say, Finally, the "critique" concluded with a litany of completely
unsupported and largely unsupportable statements. See liznotes.]
has previously compiled and submitted the existing research
on this point. It also is attached to this document.
This research summary
surveys studies showing alleged and adjudicated batterers receiving custody
at rates ranging from approximately 1/3 (Wellesley study) to the vast majority
(Meier's survey of appellate opinions), with the majority in the 50-70
We are not familiar
with the Neilson study incompletely cited on p.1 on this point. However,
the references to the APA Report, Kernic and the Massachusetts Supreme
Judicial Court's study are misleading and distorted, comparing apples to
APA Task Force
Report of the Presidential Task Force on Violence in the Family
The Critique cites
to the APA Report for data produced by a survey by shelters of their residents
during a certain period. The survey does not look at custody litigants
but a population of shelter residents -- hence it is not relevant to the
question of what percentage of custody litigants accused of battering receive
custody. Of course a far smaller percentage of all shelter residents report
this because the vast majority of them are not litigating custody, and
it is not even known how many of them had children. To compare this
statistic to the statistics used in the film regarding percentages of alleged
batterers awarded custody by courts, as the Critique does, is misleading.
its discussion of the shelter survey the Critique neglects to mention that
in addition to the 3% who reported batterers getting custody despite abuse,
another 2% of shelter residents reported abusers getting custody despite
child sexual abuse, 34% reported the batterer threatens kidnapping, 11%
reported that the batterer kidnapped the child; 21% reported that the kidnapping
threats forced them to return to the abuser, 25% reported verbal threats
during visitation, and 10% reported physical violence during visitation.
the Critique ignores the statement on the next page of the Report, that
"fathers who battered the mother are twice as likely to seek sole
physical custody of their children than are nonviolent fathers." APA
Report at 40. This same Report also contains substantial support for the
film's position on PAS. See Meier Statement regarding APA and PAS.
Supreme Judicial Court's Gender Bias Study of 1989
Apparently the Critique
(at p.1 and 4) looked only at the "Restraining Order" section
of this lengthy study. The statistics provided (18%) are, therefore, entirely
inapplicable. The relevant discussions of custody in the Massachusetts
study are contained in the "Family Law" section of the Gender
Bias Report, published in 24 New England L. Rev. 745 (1990).
Contrary to the
Critique's claim, this study indisputably found that "when fathers
contest custody, mothers are held to a different and higher standard than
fathers," and that "many judges and family service officers do
not consider violence toward women relevant." Consistently with these
findings, this study verified that men were obtaining custody at far higher
rates than women, without regard to the mothers' claims of abuse. The study
found that fathers who actively sought custody received joint or primary
physical custody 94% of the time (29% received primary physical custody
and another 65% received joint physical custody). In contrast, mothers
received primary physical custody only 7% of the time. The same report
also cited other studies finding over 70% success rates for fathers. See
24 New Eng.L. Rev. 745, 747, 825, 831-832, and 848.
Notably, even back
then, the Court researchers found that fathers' rights advocates were distorting
reality: "We heard testimony from George Kelly, a representative of
Concerned Fathers, that in contested custody cases, mothers are awarded
physical custody over 90% of the time. Mr. Kelly was unable to provide
substantiation, however, and our own investigation revealed a very different
The Critique miscites
this study (p. 1, #1) to imply that the study's finding that 9% of substantiated
perpetrators of intimate partner violence received "primary custody"
contradicts the film's and Meier's assertions that a majority of alleged
and adjudicated batterers receive joint or sole custody in court. Comparing
a statistic that represents only primary custody awards to a statistic
representing both "joint and sole" custody is once again comparing
apples to oranges. Joint custody is unquestionably awarded at a far higher
rate than sole custody in most jurisdictions where joint custody is available.
Moreover, Meier's statement addresses the broader population of "alleged"
abuse -- and the Kernic study expressly found the court was not even made
aware of substantiated abuse in approximately 3/4 of cases. Id. at 1016.
See Meier Statement regarding Custody Litigation with History of Domestic
2. No Data
... are presented... [liznote:
The Fathers & Families critique by Ned Holstein et al. made the rather
fatuous argument that a television show did not provide research citations.]
do not cite articles, authors and journals. Nor should they, because no
one would watch them.
The data supporting
the statement that 75% of custody litigation has a history of domestic
violence is laid out in Prof. Meier's previously issued (and attached)
Statement on that subject. In addition, Janet Johnston, characterized in
the Critique (at p. 12) as a "reputable" researcher, has stated:
Taken all together
these studies suggest that, in divorces marked by ongoing disputes over
the custody and care of children, both inside and outside the court, there
is often a history of domestic violence in the family and a likelihood
that the violence will continue after the separation."
Divorce," The Future of Children: Children and Divorce, Vol. 4, No.
1 (Spring 1994), p. 169
documentary] "will be harmful to children it if succeeds in
its apparent aim of casting doubt on the fitness of fathers who seek to
share in the care and upbringing of their children after divorce."
No support is offered
for this speculation. Nonetheless, this objection gets to the heart of
the fathers' rights advocates' protests against the film: They fear that
it will undermine their litigation strategies. However, this film was not
produced with the "aim" of affecting litigation. Moreover, this
claim misleadingly conflates "fathers who seek to share in the care
and upbringing of their children after divorce" with the film's commentary
on the small percentage of separating fathers who litigate custody (only
20% of divorcing families go to court; only 4-5% actually go to trial,
according to Johnston) [note 3] and
are alleged to have committed abuse. The vast majority of separating fathers
work out an agreement with the mothers, and many of them share parenting
responsibilities. The APA Report cited above indicates that batterers contest
custody twice as frequently as non-batterers.
to Professor Murray Straus... mothers pose greater risk to children than
fathers [liznote: This
claim by the fathers' rights arguers is nothing short of deliberately fraudulent,
given these men's scientific academic background.]
No citations are
offered for Straus' purported claim, so it is difficult to be precise in
responding. However, assuming the "federal statistics" referred
to are the "child maltreatment" data from HHS oft-cited by father's
rights advocates, this statement over-simplifies and misleads as to what
the data show. [note 4]
First, those data
actually reflect that only 20% of the incidents reflect physical abuse,
and 60% reflect neglect, with the remainder reflecting emotional and sexual
abuse. While the total number of incidents is broken down by gender (indicating
58.2% mothers and 41.8% fathers), there is no gender breakdown within the
different categories of incidents. There is no question that mothers are
overwhelmingly represented in neglect charges -- so these data actually
indicate nothing about whether mothers or fathers are more physically abusive
However, even if
we were to treat these data as reflecting physical abuse, as the Straus
quotation suggests -- they are still consistent with the conclusion that
fathers are more prone to be physically abusive than mothers. The federal
statistics take individual incidents as their unit of analysis. Since
mothers provide the vast majority of child care in this country, even if
the raw number of incidents of abuse by mothers is higher than the number
perpetrated by fathers, for fathers to commit 42% of total abuse incidents
suggests that the probability that they will abuse the children in their
care is far higher than the probability that a given woman will do so.
government source of data on child maltreatment, the Third National Incidence
Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, actually did break down the data by gender
of perpetrator and by type of maltreatment. This study found that perpetrators
of physical abuse were 58% male. [note 6]
This result did not adjust for the differing amounts of time spent with
children by men and women.
Experts on child
abuse support this conclusion and point to several other studies:
Evan Stark, a leading
researcher, and scholar in the domestic violence field, and lead expert
for the plaintiff mothers in Nicholson v. Williams, a successful
class action suit, [note 7] states
that "it has been known for some time that men are the overwhelming
perpetrators where children are severely injured or killed, accounting
for up to 80% of severe injury and child fataility in some studies [citing
a major Florida study]; and "that where men are present, they are
far more likely than women to be the source of children's injuries;"
and that "there is no debate about who is the major source of child
Stark points to
the following literature:
Abraham B. Bergman
et al., "Changing Spectrum of Serious Child Abuse," Pediatrics
77(1), 113, 114-15 (1986)(based on injury and fatality data from medical
examiner and hospital records... estimating that men are responsible for
up to 80% of child fatalities and hospitalizations for injuries);
Edleson, 'In the Best Interest of Women and Children: A Call for Collaboration
between Child Welfare and Domestic Violence Constituencies" http:///www.mincava.umn.edu/documents/wingsp/wingsp.html
("Looking more closely at these data suggests that men are the perpetrators
of the most severe forms of child abuse... Pecora... concluded that
'most families involved in child fatalities were two-person caretaker situations
where a majority of the perpetrators were the father of the child or the
boyfriend of the mother'")
David Gil, 'Violence
against Children: Physical Child Abuse in the U.S." (1973), (where
men are present, they are responsible for child abuse in 70% of cases);
For a very recent
addition to this literature, see
Serena Gordon, "Children
Living Among Non-Relatives at Risk for Violence", http://www.Forbes.com/lifestyle/health/feeds/hscout/2005/11/07/hscout528967.html
(describing recent study published in the journal Pediatrics which found
that "most of the perpetrators of violence against children were male
-- 71.2 percent. Nearly 35% of those who inflicted injuries on these youngsters
were their fathers... One out of five fatal injuries was caused by the
5. The APA
"has publicly repudiated... " [liznote:
The critique of the documentary by Holstein etc. incorrectly implied that
the APA either supports the theory of "parental alienation syndrome"
or else is still pondering it.]
The truth about
the APA and its statements is compiled in the attached statement regarding
the APA and PAS. The APA does not take "official positions" except
pursuant to a complex and formal procedure. Even the latest press statement
from the APA restates the lack of scientific basis for PAS. With regard
to the public relations office's denial of an "official position,"
the fact remains that an "APA Presidential Task Force" Report
published by the leading experts in the field, under APA copyright and
on the APA website, states, among other things, that PAS is without scientific
basis and is misused in domestic violence cases. See attached Statement
Murray Straus... [liznote:
The Fathers and Families essay held up Murray Straus as a domestic violence
researcher who has found that women equally perpetrate domestic battery.]
role in domestic violence research, Professor Evan Stark states:
was the lead investigator on a series of national population surveys that
purported to measure the extent of violence used by family members. Both
the method employed to identify violence in these surveys, the Conflict
Tactics Scale, and the findings from this work, are widely disputed.
For example, while other surveys indicate that women as well as men do
use force in relationships, the conclusion that there is sexual parity
in domestic violence reached by Straus and his colleagues is contradicted
by every other major data source in the field, including national crime
surveys, the widely accepted National Violence Against Women Survey
(which, unlike the original CTS, asked about safety), and
virtually all research on abuse conducted at criminal justice, legal medical
or other sites."
Family Violence Survey upon which Straus bases his major conclusions
about the relative rates of violence by partners and against children rely
solely on self-reported acts of force by adults, do not determine whether
these acts actually occurred, employ a definition of child abuse that bears
little or no relation to the definitions used in the child welfare field
or by the courts, and take no account of actual consequences, such as injury.
Moreover, the authors of the survey do not correct for the widely accepted
finding that women over-report and men under-report their own violent behavior."
has been cited by many secondary sources and is published under the American
Judges Association website.
The American Judges
Foundation is described on a page also containing a description of the
AJA, as being "comprised of people interested in and dedicated to
promoting education, fostering public awareness of the law and the legal
system and furthering community involvement with the judiciary in the United
States, Canada and Mexico."
The Critique neglects
to mention the fourth author from the Domestic Violence Institute, Denver,
Colorado. In addition, Professor Lenore Walker is incorrectly identified
in the Critique as an "activist." She is actually one of the
leading researchers and scholars in the field of domestic violence.
[liznote: See Trish Wilson's
The claims by Mr.
Loeliger against his ex-wife and child have been widely distributed on
internet and other media. The ex-wife and child's responses to his claims
are also publicly available.
Joan Meier... [liznote:
Apparently not finding sufficient material in the PBS documentary to criticize,
the authors of the Fathers & Families critique puffed it up with a
lot of discussion of irrelevant matter. The bulk of the critique veered
off into a number of tangents and ad hominems having little to do with
the documentary itself, such as discussing an article written several years
earlier by Prof. Meier, attacking Lundy Bancroft, another expert on domestic
violence who was shown in the film, and speculating about the author of
briefly mentioned other research.]
Apparently the Critique
is referring to an article Meier published several years ago. If the fact
that she works in the field of domestic violence on behalf of victims discredits
her, then, by the same logic, the fact that two authors of the Critique
run Fathers & Families thoroughly discredits them. Professor Meier
has extensive academic recognition and credentials, is widely published
and recognized as a leading scholar in the field, and has received awards
for her scholarship. There are few academics without points of view, and
most legitimate experts in the field of domestic violence are those who
have worked with victims.
No authority is
cited for this claim. We have spoken to Mr. Bancroft and he states that
it is false. With regard to the Critique's claim of "extremism,"
it is worth noting that Mr. Bancroft's book, The Batterer as Parent
(co-authored with Jay Silverman, a Professor at Harvard School of Public
Health) recently won the "Pro Humanitate Literary Award" from
the North American Resource Center for Child Welfare.
11. The grown
daughter of Amy Neustein...
research is not a key source for the film or Meier's position, it is valuable
insofar as it is compiling the extraordinarily high number of mothers who
are being denied custody and sometimes all contact with their children,
after their allegations of abuse are rejected by a court, usually on grounds
of "parental alienation" or "parental alienation syndrome."
Out of respect for
Ms. Orbach and awareness of the complexity of her situation, we decline
to engage the discussion about her. We note, however, that, contrary to
the Critique's assertion (p. 15) that the possibility of parental "brainwashing"
contradicts the film because it reflects "parental alienation,"
in fact the film addresses the misuse of the purportedly scientific Parental
Alienation Syndrome, which is typically used to justify removing custody
from fit mothers and awarding it to alleged abusers. It is precisely the
misuse of a scientific aura of validity that is the essence of the problem
with parental alienation syndrome. Professor Meier's position on "alienation"
as a factual behavior is not really at issue here -- but she has long stated
that "alienating" behaviors certainly exist (indeed, men who
abuse women and children are often skillful and aggressive in their denigration
of the other parent to the children). However, her critique of parental
alienation as a concept or theory as used in family courts, consistent
with the APA Report's critique, is that it is typically misused in a gendered
manner as a means of dismissing or denying abuse allegations brought by
mothers. See APA/PAS Statement.
12. The two
publications by Bancroft frequently cited by those connected with the film...
Neither the film
nor the commentators rely on any [only one]
single study or article for their opinions and statements.
Meier repeatedly [emphasis added] points for validation to an article in
an alternative newspaper...
cited to [the newspaper]
article once, in an article written by her in 2003
[discussed below], and once in a research
summary. She does not use it "for validation." Again, it is one
of many different sources of authority for her views. The libel judgment
against the Boston Phoenix is on appeal. More importantly, the suit
concerned only one person named in the article (out of many other stories
and discussions of research), who was determined by the judge to be a private
individual rather than a public official, and therefore allowed to prove
libel without meeting the standard (malice) required for public figures.
Responses to the Fathers & Family et al. Critique
Re Professor Meier's
article (2003): the Critique attempts to pick apart selected citations
in Professor Meier's 2003 article on domestic violence and child custody.
This article is not what the film is about. However, as a law professor
who both reads and produces legal scholarship she is far better situated
to assess what kinds of sources are "generally appropriate" for
We decline to defend
every citation in Professor Meier's article, as the article is not the
subject of the documentary nor is it the basis for the documentary. The
article speaks for itself. The research supporting Professor Meier's statements
in the documentary is compiled in the Statements attached hereto.
However, two specific
statements about the article require a response:
First, its use of
the term "radical" (for which the Critique offers no citation):
The relevant discussion in the article refers to two explicitly "experimental"
proposals included at the end of the article, in a section titled "Thinking
Outside of the Box..." The introduction to that part of the discussion
states "I call this a 'thought experiment' because I am well aware
that the practical realities of child protection practice may mean that
it would not work..." Later the text notes that one proposal is "less
radical" than the other. A.U. J. of Gender, Soc. Pol. & the Law,
Vol. 11, No. 2, p. 716, 723 (2003).
Second, the authors
yet again distort the APA's position on PAS, when they state (at p. 6)
that Meier's article misstates that position. The article accurately states
that the APA "has rejected PAS as a clinical phenomenon and states
that there is no data to support" it. The APA's "official"
statement responding to the film expressly emphasizes "the lack [emphasis
in original] of data to support so-called 'parental alienation syndrome.'
" A reading of the APA Report's statements regarding the misuse of
the "purported" (id.) syndrome confirms the article's
accuracy. It would not be consistent to recognize PAS as a "clinical
phenomenon" yet find that no scientific data support it. See attached
Statement on APA/PAS; see also Statement on Scientific and Professional
Rejections of PAS.
Despite the Critique's
repeated complaints that the film and its commentators have made "unsupported"
accusations (see, e.g., p. 2, #3), the Critique itself is fraught with
"unsupported" claims. In addition to the many noted above, just
a few additional examples include:
the claim that
restraining orders are "granted to virtually all who apply" (an
entirely unsupported polemic easily contradicted by the experiences of
the many women in at least the D.C. Superior Court who have been denied
"in many cases,
allegations of abuse are now used for tactical advantage" (a completely
unsupported claim, contradicted by the APA's Task Force Report and other
that 20 years of child-centered research has demonstrated that children
are suffering under the present legal custom of awarding custody to only
one parent, usually the mother" (no support is offered, and in fact,
research has demonstrated no such thing; but it has consistently demonstrated
that awarding joint custody to parents in intense conflict and/or where
violence is involved, is very damaging for children)
We trust that this
puts an end to the need to reply to further claims about the film.
On a small number of issues the authors were assisted
by Professor Evan Stark, PhD, MSW, MA, Director of Masters in Public Health
Program of the Department of Public Administration, Rutgers University-Newark.
He is cited where appropriate.
The broader statements by Professor Meier and other commentators
(e.g., about rates of domestic violence in custody litigation, rates at
which those alleged to have committed abuse win custody, and who poses
greater risks to children) refer -- at most -- to litigants for custody
-- at most 20% of divorcing fathers. Moreover, most such comments refer
specifically to litigants for custody who have been alleged to have committed
Janet Johnston et al., "Allegations and Substantiations
of Abuse in Custody-Disputing Families," Family Court Review, Vol.
43, No. 2 (April 2005), 284-294, p. 284.
U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth
and Families, Child Maltreatment 2003 (Washington, D.C: U.S. Government
Printing Office, 2005).
If one also considers that many incidents of child abuse attributed to
mothers are actually cases of "failure to protect" which are
lodged against mothers when fathers or other men committed the abuse, the
rate of actual abusive conduct by mothers shrinks even further.
Andrea Sedlak and Diane Broadhurst, Third National Incidence Study of Child
Abuse and Neglect, Final Report, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services,
Administration on Children, Youth and Families (Sept. 1996), pp. 6-9.
In Nicholson, federal Judge Jack Weinstein found unconstitutional
the practice by New York's child protection agency of routinely charging
mothers with neglect and removing their children solely because the mothers
had been victims of domestic violence. Judge Weinstein found a consistent
pattern of bias against these mothers in the family courts -- one of the
core issues raised by the film. 203 F. Supp. 2d 153 (E.D. N.Y. 2002), 2002
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4820, pp. 65-66.