Accusations of False Allegations Result in Dangerous Consequences
“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes”
“Women are unbelievable!” Really. I mean that quite literally. Don’t believe me? I was prepared for that. I will share with you what I have learned over the past three or four years of my research: Women today are not believed in court. This is nothing new, actually. Women’s credibility has always been questioned, historically as well as currently. But today, with the aid of the Internet, the propaganda that fuels this bias can be churned out quickly and efficiently. Public perception can be changed readily. This includes changing the perceptions of the media, policy makers, law makers, and, yes, even judges, impartial as they’re supposed to be.
Domestic Violence Claims
When women allege domestic violence in family court, often, they are not believed. In fact, they may even be punished. In today’s courts where “friendly parent policies” and fathers rights reign, women that allege abuse appear “unfriendly” and unlikely to share parenting responsibilities. Heck, if they’ve been battered, they may even look “unfriendly.” They may have depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress syndrome. Battered women often present poorly, while batterers, on the other hand, may actually appear quite charming. If she seems “unfriendly,” though, the judge may decide to award custody to the parent most likely to share parenting: Often, the batterer.
If she cannot provide sufficient evidence of her abuse, she can be fined, jailed or lose custody for making “false allegations.” Of course, it can be difficult to produce witnesses or evidence of abuse. She may not have reported the abuse to the police before, and, when a woman alleges abuse for the first time in family court, a huge red flag comes up. They think she is a “vindictive liar,” trying to “manipulate the court.” The abuse, however, may have been the factor that pushed her into divorce proceedings. Moreover, separation is a dangerous time for women and it may be the first time the violence had taken place. None of these reasons point to vengeance.
If she alleges abuse and is not believed, she may take matters into her own hands. She may go to jail instead of turning her children over to an abuser. She may flee the state, or even the country to protect her children.
If she takes no action, further abuse or murder may ensue. Just recently, a case of a murder-suicide hit the news. The woman sought a restraining order from THREE different judges. None of them believed her. The result? The father killed their nine-month-old infant and himself.
Now, keep in mind, too, that this is family court we’re talking about. This is where couples with conflict and interpersonal violence come to settle their custody decisions. Most couples (~85%) don’t need family court; they make their parenting plans themselves. Thus, the cases that go to family court often have some kind of conflict, yet there seems to be a reluctance on the part of the family court system to admit this.
Child Abuse Claims
The allegation that women make false child abuse claims out of vengeance circulates widely on the Internet. An overlap exists between domestic violence and child abuse. Many batterers are abusive towards their children (and pets), too. And, just bearing witness to a mother’s abuse causes sufficient harm to children.
However, these days, if women make claims of child abuse in court, they are often countered with claims of parental alienation syndrome (PAS). PAS is the idea that one parent (typically the mother) poisons the mind of the child against the other parent. It has many flaws:
? It was created by Dr. Richard Gardner, considered pro-pedophilia
? It was self published by Dr. Gardner
? The American Psychological Association notes the “lack of data” and raises “concern” about the term
? Dr. Gardner thought “vengeful wives” and “hysterical mothers” were the cause of problematic relationships between fathers and their children
? It is far too simplistic and does not consider other plausible explanations for a relationship breakdown in divorce
? It can be used without any evidence in court
? It masks child abuse (Has the child been abused or has the child been alienated?)
So, the woman claims child abuse and the man counters with PAS (men almost exclusively use PAS). Who does the judge believe?
? Evidence from Harvard shows abusers use PAS and get away with it.
? The Leadership Council on Child Abuse estimates that 58,000 children each year come into unsupervised contact with parents that have physically or sexually abused them.
Research shows around 1-9% of child abuse allegations are deliberately false and somewhat more than that are mistakenly false. Research (see Bala & Schumann) also finds that men actually make more false allegations (the most common allegation being neglect of children) than women in family court. Nonetheless, stereotypes have more branding power than research.
Last and somewhat unrelated to family court but still pertaining to violence, women who allege rape are often not believed. When I attended a rape crisis training last year, the first thing we were taught was to believe the individual (man or woman) because one of their biggest fears is that they won’t be believed. Indeed, statistics bear this out.
In the US, only 13% of rape charges will end in conviction. (In the UK, it is only 5.7 %.) Rape survivors are aggressively questioned as if they were the assailants. They are generally mistrusted and often judged more by bias than by evidence. If she was married (and the perpetrator was her husband) or drunk, her odds of being believed plummet even further.
In cases of rape, which do have the highest number of false allegations, the rates, depending on who you ask, waver between 3-8%. Yet, we hear more about false accusations of rape than information on how underreported it is. Sympathy has shifted from the abused to the accused.
So, yes, women are unbelievable. I have studied this topic for several years now, seeking evidence of women being “vindictive liars” or “deceptive” or “malicious.” I’ve come upon plenty of anecdotal evidence from angry men. But, I’ve never heard anyone question *their* credibility. Why is it that they are believed when they claim that women falsely accuse them? Does anyone bother to ask: How many men would admit to using violence? Research shows batterers deny their abuse and it’s not until they admit it that, much like an alcoholic, they can change.
I’ve happened upon sites, and there are many, devoted entirely to “beating false allegations” or discrediting women. Most of them are downright misogynist, like this one that proclaims:
"False memory, false sexual abuse claims, vengeance, are all the diseases of women." (www.canlaw.com/rights/fathers.htm )
Even the Innocence Project, an expert in the area of helping innocent prisoners, does not mention intentionally false accusations as a leading cause of wrongful convictions. In contrast, they do list “false confessions” in their top seven list. If women were such vindictive creatures that “falsely imprison innocent men,” you would think the Innocence Project would be on to this, wouldn’t you?
Now, all of this is not meant to say that there are never any false allegations in court. (There are…and they are from both men and women…and they are not as common as they are purported to be.) What I am saying is that women’s credibility is being harmed, with disastrous consequences (for both women and children). We cannot give women justice in courtrooms that are heavily biased against them to begin with.
And, this is not to say that fathers don’t have their own issues with divorce and custody proceedings. Believe me, I have read all about them. Nor is it an opportunity to paint all men as abusive ? they are not. However, family court is handling allegations of abuse unjustly and this should be a concern to both men and women alike. None of us want to see children come into contact with a parent that physically or sexually abused them. And, nobody wants to see a parent punished for making a good faith accusation in order to protect their children.
All allegations of abuse should be taken seriously. They should be documented, investigated and given weight in court. And, even without the sufficient evidence, individuals who report in good faith should not be punished for failing to provide enough witnesses or evidence. Punishment deters reporting. This has horrific consequences for our justice system and the nation’s public health.
The majority of women are not intentionally fabricating stories to harm men. I have yet to see evidence of this. On the contrary, I have read research that states the majority of claims can be substantiated. And, moreover, I’ve heard from women themselves who’ve been abused and not believed. Women who have not only been battered but who have also been fined, jailed or denied custody. I’ve heard from women, who, like myself, don’t even bother to report rape. These women can be any one of us. Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The injustice of this unfair stereotype that women are unbelievable is an injustice to us all and can thwart any woman’s pursuit of justice in the courtroom today. Yes, women are unbelievable, but it should be for the many accomplishments and positive traits they possess!
For further information:
[wp angelzfury] Battered Mothers-A Human Rights Issue.