Regarding the controversy over PBS's "BREAKING THE SILENCE: CHILDREN'S STORIES"
Below is the response provided to PBS by the producers of the PBS documentary. The response addresses the father's rights protestors' campaign of heckling and disinformation, which included, among other things, the father's rightsters' submission of a pseudo-scholarly document to PBS officials that was entitled "Critique of the Scientific Basis for Key Assertions in 'Breaking the Silence: Children's Stories'."

[liznotes -- in gray -- were not included in the response of Dominique Lasseur and Professor Meier, and are provided here to assist the reader who may not have the father's rights critique -- to which the statement responds -- readily at hand.]

The URL for this webpage is

Response to the Fathers & Families "Critique of the Scientific Basis for Key Assertions in Breaking the Silence: Children's Stories"

December 16, 2005
by Dominique Lasseur and Joan Meier
[note 1]


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.

Misstatement 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' experiences.

Selective 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.

This phenomenon -- of critics misquoting a comment and then attacking the misquoted statement -- is troubling.

Response to the Critique's "Key Findings"

1. Rate at which Alleged and Adjudicated Batterers Win Custody [liznote: 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.]

Professor Meier 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 % range.

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 oranges.

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.

Incidentally, in 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.

More importantly, 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.

Massachusetts 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 picture."


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 Violence.

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.]

Documentary films 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."

"High-Conflict Divorce," The Future of Children: Children and Divorce, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring 1994), p. 169

3. [The 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.

4. According 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 to children.

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. [note 5]

Another official 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 sexual abuse."

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);

  • Schecter & Edleson, 'In the Best Interest of Women and Children: A Call for Collaboration between Child Welfare and Domestic Violence Constituencies" http:/// ("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", (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 child's mother")

    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 on APA/PAS.

    6. Professor 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.]

    Regarding Straus's role in domestic violence research, Professor Evan Stark states:

    "Murray Straus 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."

    "The National 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."

    7. American Judges Association

    This publication 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.

    8. Loeliger [liznote: See Trish Wilson's website, here.]

    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.

    9. Professor 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.

    10. Lundy Bancroft...

    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...

    While Neustein's 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.

    13. Professor Meier repeatedly [emphasis added] points for validation to an article in an alternative newspaper...

    Professor Meier 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.

    General 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 legal scholarship.

    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 restraining orders)

  • "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 research)

  • "We believe 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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 abuse.

    3. 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.

    4. 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).

    5. 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.

    6. 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.

    7. 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.

    [End of Statement by Lasseur and Meier]


    Below are some more of the unsupported assertions (in order) made by Fathers & Families, Ned Holstein et al. in their "critique." These are particularly condemning inasmuch as the "critique" authors presented themselves and their document as, purportedly, a scholarly essay that ostensibly was criticizing the television show for, variously, not supporting its statements by providing research citations, or for taking scientifically invalid positions. Much of their nonsense comes at the tail end "in conclusion" in the "critique," where after reading pages and pages of argument over irrelevant tangents, the reader would be likely to miss them. The father's rights statements from the "critique" are in black; liznotes are in blue.

    FATHERS: "Breaking the Silence: Children's Stories" will be harmful to children if it 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.

      liz: This unsupported cause-and-effect speculation about the future also contains the illogical assumption that the documentary was about "fathers," and the political buzz phraseology ("share in the care and upbringing") of joint custody rhetoric.

    FATHERS: A painstaking review of 18 publications that those connected with the film have most frequently cited in support of their assertions finds a hodgepodge of unsupported and lurid accusations against divorced fathers as a class.

      liz: This is completely untrue, notwithstanding the implication that the statement has been arrived at after a "painstaking review." None of the 18 publications contain "unsupported and lurid accusations" against "divorced fathers as a class" (under any stretched or strained definition of these words.)

    FATHERS: The data in this study contradict other assertions of Prof. Meier. Alleged abusers received primary custody of the children in only 9% of "substantiated intimate partner violence cases known to court." This is inconsistent with Meier's repeated assertions that the figure is 70%, even taking into account that the Kernic article includes all divorce cases with allegations of violence, whereas Meier's assertion applies only to contested cases.

      liz: This is unsupported. The fathers here are comparing two different databases, and based on that, attempting to make the case that the documentary's 70% estimation is incorrect "even taking into account that the Kernic article includes ALL divorce cases." They have not taken appropriate data into account and have no basis for using the one to discount the other, and yet blythly proceed. Apples and oranges.

    FATHERS: Conclusions. "Breaking the Silence: Children's Stories" is exactly the kind of inflated and sensationalistic presentation that has created an environment in which loving fathers seeking to share in the upbringing of their children are regarded with suspicion and even hostility.

      liz: It is unsupported that "loving fathers" are in an environment in which they are regarded with "suspicion and even hostility." There is no basis for the assertion that "loving fathers" who are safe and not abusive do not get shared custody when they seek it. None at all. The only things "inflated and sensationalistic" here are the father's rights claims themselves.

    FATHERS: In our view, this film, if given credence, will have the effect of creating an environment in which judges are fearful of allowing perfectly good men from participating in the care of their children, and of creating the impression among the general public, custody evaluators, the legal community, legislators and others that it is dangerous to award any form of custody to fathers.

      liz: All speculative and unsupported. Speculative that judges will be "fearful." Unsupported and speculative that "good men" will be prevented from participating "in the care of their children." Completely imaginary regarding what "impression" will or will not "be created" among anyone. As for the old saw that "all men" will be viewed as "dangerous" -- if a program featured the point of view and experiences of rape victims, would it be necessary to interview the accused rapists, and would "all men" feel maligned because in the particular case, all the abusers were men? The father's rights critique is political rhetoric. The only group of persons who naturally could be expected to have an obvious agenda that would be served by "the general public's et al." confusing "good men" with "abusers" is the abuser defense lobby, and no one else. Ipse dixit.

    FATHERS: The Fathers & Families' Mission... We believe 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.

      liz: Research has demonstrated no such thing.

    FATHERS: Surveys of grown children show that what hurt them the most about their parents' divorce was the loss of an intimate relationship with their fathers...

      liz: Research has demonstrated no such thing. But... surveys? Surveys of... who, selected how? Isn't it a bit hypocritical to criticize surveys when when others use them, but cite to surveys when it otherwise suits one's purposes?

    FATHERS: This sense of loss persists well into adulthood, and affects their adult relationships...

      liz: For who... measured how, with what credible research? (And they continue to expound on their imaginative research or inconclusive, uncited-to "surveys"...)

    FATHERS: Even worse, divorce and the accompanying loss of close connection between fathers and children in the majority of cases have dramatically increased the frequency of seriously negative outcomes for children.

      liz: Absolutely unsupported. There is no such research, either as to these purported outcomes, or their purported cause, or even in the assumption that children lose close connections, etc., i.e. that the purported situation even exists in its own right. See the research, and related pages listed in the liznotes table of contents. Also see Sanford Braver's "real findings" from his moveaway study.

    FATHERS: Even in intact families, about 10% of children suffer serious negative developmental difficulties, including depression, suicide, educational failure, substance abuse, gang involvement, arrest, teenage pregnancy, and even total mortality. Children in families headed by single mothers have increased rates of sexual and physical child abuse, as well as neglect. All of these seriously negative outcomes are increased two-to-threefold in children raised with little contact with their fathers.

      liz: They conflate findings applicable to unwed and impoverished teenager homes with those applicable to divorced homes. In addition, the utterly unsupported implication that granting nonresidential fathers shared parenting rights, more visitation time, or custodial authority will correct these outcomes is ridiculous. No research ever has indicated that joint custody duplicates healthy two-parent, never-divorced homes. Moreover, children living with single fathers suffer 1.5 times the physical abuse. Children living with single fathers suffer many times more the incidents of sexual abuse. Children who are in joint custody have not been shown to be protected by going back and forth between mothers' and fathers' households, and "shared parenting" does not duplicate the well-being found in intact homes (even though researching this database largely eliminates the problem of conflating data such as from unwed inner-city teenager households with divorced households, and even though this database would contain all the non-abusive, amicable divorce cases.) See the research. Here's more research. And yet more research. And, re joint custody, even more research.

    FATHERS: When one examines the reasons for the loss of contact with fathers after separation or divorce of the parents, one finds death from a thousand cuts. While some fathers may take little interest in their children, the main causes include failure of the courts to award joint physical custody, failure to award significant parenting time ("visitation"), failure to enforce the parenting time that has been ordered, readiness to curtail contact between fathers and children when estranged wives make any allegation, child support orders that require fathers to work two or three jobs, thus leaving no time for parenting, moveaways, and other factors.

      liz: This is speculation, hypothesis, and unsupported. See the research

    FATHERS: Domestic Violence. Fathers & Families abhors domestic violence, and believes that children who witness domestic violence in many cases are harmed by the experience. We are eager to become part of the solution of the domestic violence problem, but find that mainstream domestic violence advocates are reluctant to include fathers' organizations.

      liz: Their words that they abhor domestic violence are not borne out by their actions. Their claim that "mainstream domestic violence advocates are reluctant to include father's organizations" is completely unsupported. (Perhaps their problem is which "father's organizations." Certainly not ones that include abusive men, or activists who decry laws against domestic violence!)

    FATHERS: Moreover, we find that many of these organizations actively resist even our most innocuous legislative proposals...

      liz: Unsupported. (Let alone what they mean by or think is "innocuous.")

    FATHERS: One example is that in Massachusetts, domestic violence advocates have succeeded in passing a law that requires all non-custodial parents to obtain annual approval of the courts before they can receive their child's report cards and other school records.

      liz: This "example" is not an example of "resistance" to father's "innocuous legislative proposals.

    FATHERS: Similarly, our experience has been that domestic violence advocates inflate and exaggerate both the prevalence and severity of domestic violence...

      liz: Whose experience? The two or three authors of the "critique?" "Their experience" is unsupported. So much for science...

    FATHERS: create an atmosphere in which oppressive measures...

      liz: What constitutes "oppressive measures" is undefined here and purely inflammatory.

    FATHERS: ... are enacted restricting the ability of fit fathers to provide loving and competent parenting to their children after separation or divorce.

      liz: Unsupported. There is no research showing that "fit," i.e. demonstrably safe, capable, interested fathers have had their abilities to "provide loving and competent parenting" restricted.

    FATHERS: Parental Alienation. We are also concerned about the matter of parental alienation.

      liz: A completely unsupported idea.

    FATHERS: For the purposes of this dialogue, we are not concerned with the arcane and technical debate as to whether there is such a thing as Parental Alienation Syndrome.

      liz: The currently popular trend among PAS afficiadanos to recast and rehabilitate Gardner's ideas as a non-syndrome concept of just "parental alienation" (to avoid the most obvious criticism that it's nonsensical as a psychological or medical diagnosis) does not thereby render the concept sound, or the way in which it is used scientific or appropriate (or fool anyone.)

    FATHERS: What is absolutely beyond doubt is the large number of children who previously had a close and loving relationship with a parent but who subsequently reject the parent, usually their father, after separation or divorce.

      liz: Unsupported. What's a "large number" mean? Ten? A hundred? A thousand out of a million? And what research is there that proved (not claimed, but actually proved to have existed) "previous close and loving relationships" have been destroyed (even granting, arguendo, that this characterization might apply to some relationships later observed to be bad)? None. None at all. There is no such research. No research at all substantiates father's rights claims that any particular number or percentage of prior demonstrably good relationships turned bad post-divorce, let alone that "parental alienation" did it. This is all propaganda.

    FATHERS: This phenomenon is a real one...

      liz: On their unsupported say-so again?

    FATHERS: ...and when considered in its full clinical spectrum...

      liz: "Clinical"? (Note they purported to have been eliminating, above, the medicalization "syndrome" aspect of parental alienation theory.)

    FATHERS: extremely common one. In some, but not all, cases, the rejection is actively cultivated, fostered and encouraged by the custodial parent.

      liz: Completely unsupported. Unsupported by research. Unsupported as to cause and effect. Unsupported as a concept. Unsupported as a construct.

    FATHERS: In other cases, there are other dynamics at work, including some cases in which the father's own parental shortcomings are the primary cause. There is much about this subject that is unknown. But it is important that when credible evidence is raised that a child has become seriously alienated from a parent with whom he/she previously had a normal relationship, the court must be free to evaluate this circumstance and act on it appropriately.

      liz: Unsupported that there is any evidence that in these cases (most, many, all) in which abuse has been raised, and then "alienation" claimed, there has been a "previous normal relationship" between the child and alienated parent. This is the broad brush, here for the purpose of discrediting claims of abuse, that the "critique" claims to decry repeatedly about "all fathers seeking custody." There is no basis upon which anyone should assume that previous normal relationships existed in these cases (or even what that undefined idea is supposed to mean.)

    FATHERS: The Future. Fathers & Families believes that this critique, as well as those by the Ombudsmen for PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting respectively, cast severe doubt on the quality of the reporting in "Breaking the Silence: Children's Stories." We believe that PBS and its affiliates owe the public a more thoughtful examination of the proper role of non-custodial parents after separation or divorce.

      liz: The film was not about "noncustodial parents" or their "proper role after separation or divorce" These are irrelevant subjects.

    FATHERS: The approach taken in this film is not helpful to children who are caught up in their parents' divorce, and they will actually be harmed by it if the one-sided views expressed in this film are widely adopted.

      liz: Their speculations, hypotheses, suppositions, and future predictions are unsupported.

    FATHERS: From the beginning our sole request of PBS has been that fatherhood advocates be provided a meaningful opportunity to present our side of this issue. Given, We do suggest, however that PBS consider: ceasing further airings of this film, removing the Viewer's Guide and other website material pertaining to this film, ceasing efforts to distribute the film to schools and any other institutions, and issuing a public statement of error in having aired this film.

      liz: They yammer about their so-called rights, but then demand censorship of other's opinions, and note...

    FATHERS: We would also welcome the opportunity for Fathers & Families and similar organizations to work with PBS to fund, produce and air a film that examines the issues of non-custodial parents in a more thoughtful manner.

      liz: ...but the film was not "all about fathers!" It wasn't about the "issues of noncustodial parents." It was about -- and at all times was presented to be about -- abused children made to live with abusers, giving them a forum, giving them a voice. A voice that -- just as the fathers' rights critique here does, is ignored in the courts all too often. In large part, the problems occur because of this kind of deliberate obfuscation and political rhetoric. This entire controversy over this film eerily echoes exactly what these men do when they get into court. Their entire campaign has been one to silence. Heckle and silence, and confuse the issue. And all of this has contributed to this problem. They drown out claims of abuse with nonsense, and they deliver it in a way that superficially sounds calm, scholarly and rational. But it's still nonsense. And they make a lot of noise. And threaten. Lissen up, guys: everything really and truly isn't always all about you.

        -- liz

    For more information on this issue, see:
    Barry Nolan: This is Really Hard to Believe


    Liznotes Table of Contents

    Joint Custody -- the Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions, liz

    Myths and Facts about Fatherhood: What the Research REALLY Says

    Myths and Facts about Motherhood: What the Research REALLY Says

    And... Why is this Advocate of Calling it "Adult-Child Sex" So Interested in Touting Joint Custody? liz debunks Bauserman's "Meta-analysis."

    What the Experts Say: A Review of the Scholarly Research on Post-Divorce Parenting and Child Well-being.

    Myths and Reality from the FREDA Centre for Research on Violence Against Women and Children

    Misplaced Blame and Simplistic Solutions: DC's Joint Custody Presumption, by Margaret Martin Barry -- Scholarly article by law professor discusses what's wrong with a statute providing for a presumption of joint custody

    When Paradigms Collide: Protecting Battered Parents and Their Children in the Family Court System, by Clare Dalton, 37 Fam. & Conciliation Courts Rev. 273 (1999)

    Margaret Dore, Esq. on "friendly parent" provisions

    Judge Gerald W. Hardcastle on joint custody and judicial decisionmaking, Family Law Quarterly, Spring 1998 (32:1)

    Attachment 101 for Attorneys: Implications for Infant Placement Decisions, by Eleanor Willemsen and Kristen Marcel

    Custody and Access: An NAWL Brief to the Special Joint Committee on Child Custody and Access, March 1998 (Canada) and, new:
    The Case Against Joint Custody (Ontario Women's Justice Network)

    Joint Custody: Implications for Women, by Renee Leff
    originally published on the internet at

    Understanding the Batterer in Visitation and Custody Disputes, by R. Lundy Bancroft.  Why abuse may be reported for the first time at the time of a separation or divorce; critique of Janet Johnston's categories of batterer; more.

    Spousal Violence in Custody and Access Disputes, Recommendations for Reform, Nicholas M.C. Bala et al. -- Scholarly article by Status of Women Canada Policy Research Fund (1998)

    The Truth About Joint Custody, by Trish Wilson -- Don't call it "Shared Parenting."

    Friendly Parent Provisions, by Trish Wilson -- What's Wrong With Them

    Comments by Trish Wilson; Testimony on SB 571 -- Rebuttable Presumption for Joint Legal Custody -- Family Law and Fathers' Rights Antics in Maryland

    The Abuse of Custody, an interview with attorney Ruth Lea Taylor

    Custody Order or Disordered Custody? by Joan Braun -- Law student article with research cites published in BC Institute Against Family Violence Newsletter

    The Psychological Effects of Relocation for Children of Divorce, by Marion Gindes, Ph.D., AAML Journal, Vol. 15 (1998), pp. 119

    Women's Law Project - Testimony Against a Presumption of Joint Custody

    What the Father's Rights movement really looks like, liz

    What the "Responsible Fatherhood" movement really is about, liz ... and

    Carol S. Bruch, Parental Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation: GETTING IT WRONG IN CHILD CUSTODY CASES


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