Society has the knowledge and ability to prevent a large majority of domestic violence crimes and especially murders. It is not like cancer or heart disease which would require some fundamental changes in human behavior to achieve massive reductions. We could easily put together a change in laws, policies and practices and quickly end the danger of domestic violence for most women and children. If we could as readily prevent most of the deaths from earthquakes, tornados, cancer or terror attacks, we would not hesitate to do so. Why should we continue to tolerate the enormous harm caused by abusers? Many of our leaders have spoken of and dreamed of a world without domestic violence. This is a worthy goal, but I am not naïve enough to believe we can end all domestic violence in our lifetimes. We can, however create a massive reduction in domestic violence crimes. I say let’s do it.
Our publisher asked Mo Hannah and I to prepare a second volume of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY. I decided to write a chapter for the book of a modern tale of two cities comparing Quincy, Massachusetts with Poughkeepsie, New York. I selected Quincy, Massachusetts because they had developed the Quincy Model which had resulted in a drastic reduction of domestic violence homicide. I selected Poughkeepsie, New York because they had been severely criticized for using approaches in custody court that strongly favored abusive fathers. The court system and particularly the judges reacted to the criticism in a defensive and retaliatory manner. Dutchess County has now had a series of domestic violence homicides including the last crime in which the abusive father also killed a police officer. The County Legislature created a committee to study and respond to the series of domestic violence homicides and I am interested to see if they make a connection between the murders and the pattern of mistreatment of protective mothers in the custody court system.
In the late 1970s around the start of the modern movement to end domestic violence, approximately three thousand domestic violence homicides were committed each year in the United States. The frequency of domestic violence homicides did not change significantly until society adopted policies and practices to hold abusers accountable, particularly with pro-arrest policies. The timing of the increased accountability with the reduction in domestic violence homicide supported the belief that these policies led to the reduction, but perhaps what was most convincing was the results in communities that were especially strict in enforcing domestic violence laws. Communities like Nashville, Tennessee and San Diego, California saw even more dramatic reductions in domestic violence homicide as a result of strong programs to prevent domestic violence. Quincy, Massachusetts adopted its model in response to a series of domestic violence homicides and for many years they had no domestic violence homicides in Quincy.
Achieving a Massive Reduction in Domestic Violence Crime
As part of the research for my chapter I have had the opportunity to read about the practices that were so successful in Quincy and elsewhere. I have also read some of the ideas for improving the conditions in Poughkeepsie. We also have the research to establish improved practices in the custody courts. This is particularly important for reducing domestic violence crimes because abuser rights groups have been particularly successful in using common mistakes and flawed practices in the custody courts to undermine the progress society had made elsewhere in reducing domestic violence. The result of the failures in the custody courts has been that more battered mothers are staying with their abusers because they are afraid of being separated from their children and some of them do not survive this decision. Although some have attributed the recent rise in domestic violence homicide after many years of reduction to the bad economy, I believe the problems we see in the custody courts is the more likely explanation. Based upon the research and experience, I believe it would be easy for a group of domestic violence experts to create a best practices model that would result in a drastic reduction in domestic violence crimes.
The basic reforms that would create a massive reduction in domestic violence crime should not be in dispute. Experts may differ about some of the specifics around the edges, but the decisions on those issues would not affect the positive outcome if we included the practices that have been shown to work. We are working on a more complete and detailed agenda for the second volume of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY, but we already know the basics of what is needed. Here is what any reform agenda would include:
1. Coordinated Community Response: The communities that were most successful in reducing domestic violence homicide developed a coordinated community response in which all parts of the community came together to do their part in ending domestic violence. The professionals worked together to coordinate their response and included the domestic violence community as a key resource in the response to domestic violence. The communities had regular meetings to monitor how the campaign to end domestic violence was going and to make adjustments as needed.
2. Make it Easier for Victims to Obtain Protective Orders: Some people disparage protective orders as not worth the paper they are printed on and sometimes it is true, but women with protective orders are safer than those without. Society needs to make it less of a burden on battered women to obtain needed protection by having specified times when the court handles only protective orders so women can get in and out of court quickly. At other times judges should take protective orders before other cases because of the safety concerns. This is important because women may have work or family obligations that make it difficult to wait around the court in order to see a judge. Many judges get frustrated when women seek a protective order and then don’t return for the next court date. Reducing the burdens on victims will encourage them to follow through. At the same time there should be special clerks that help women fill out the forms and prosecutors’ offices should brief victims on the procedures they can expect. Finally judges should take domestic violence allegations more seriously, receive better training and make sure women who need protection can obtain the orders.
3. Strict Enforcement of Criminal Laws and Violations of Protective Orders: The heart of the programs that created a substantial reduction in domestic violence homicide was taking domestic violence seriously. This requires strict enforcement of domestic violence crimes and protective orders. Research demonstrates that abusive men tend to use a cost-benefit analysis in deciding whether to abuse their partners. That is why accountability and monitoring are the best ways to prevent domestic violence. The strict enforcement not only sends a message to the men held accountable, and their children, it sends a message to the entire community. The programs are often launched with important media coverage and those involved in the coordinated community response also help spread the message.
4. Lethality Assessment: The most important purpose of the laws, programs and practices designed to prevent domestic violence is the safety of victims and their children. One of the first things domestic violence advocates learn is safety planning and how to assess the danger. There are several common behaviors of abusers that have been shown to be related to an increased level of danger that domestic violence experts look at in making lethality assessments. These behaviors include choking, strangling or putting his hands around his partner’s throat, assaulting her while pregnant, raping or attempting to rape his partner, killing or hurting family pets, availability of guns, threats of suicide, homicide or kidnapping and a belief she has no right to leave. Incredibly, court professionals rarely use risk assessments or even understand the significance of these behaviors in making judgments about alleged abusers. Criminal courts should be using risk assessments to inform decisions about bail, protective orders and sentencing. Custody courts should use this information in determining custody and visitation arrangements that are safe for the victim and children.
5. Give Domestic Violence Cases the First Priority: Communities that reduced domestic violence crimes gave these cases the first priority. As discussed earlier this means making sure victims can get access to judges quickly so they don’t lose jobs or have to spend a lot of money on child care in order to protect themselves. It means local judges coming to arraignments after hours rather than releasing alleged offenders with an appearance ticket, but no protective order. It also means that custody courts must recognize most contested custody cases involve domestic violence and place a priority on the safety of the children and alleged victims.
6. Best Interests of the Child Should Mean Safety is the First Priority: The most important issue in deciding custody should be the safety of the children, but states usually have a list of factors to be considered and shockingly courts often focus on other less important issues. The second priority should be arrangements that give children the best chance to reach their potential.
7. Use of Current Scientific Research: When domestic violence first became a public issue there was no research to inform professionals about the best way to respond. When professionals modified their practices based on new research it has helped protect victims. Police departments went from practices of separating the parties and having the abuser walk around the block to cool off to a pro-arrest policy. Communities that created more accountability for abusers saw domestic violence crimes reduced. Child protective agencies that have partnered with domestic violence agencies and consulted with their advocates on potential domestic violence cases have been better able to recognize domestic violence and forge arrangements that protect children better. Police and prosecutors need to be aware of the frequency in which abusers involved in contested custody make deliberately false allegations and avoid wasting their resources persecuting their victims before fully investigating the allegations and speaking with the real victims. Custody courts have been particularly slow to modify practices based on current scientific research. They need to recognize most contested custody involve abusive fathers seeking custody as a tactic to maintain their control. They need to limit the role of mental health professionals to their area of expertise which is mental health and not domestic violence. They need to avoid inadequately trained professionals who continue to believe the myth that women frequently make false allegations particularly in sexual abuse cases. The court must also stop permitting unscientific theories like Parental Alienation Syndrome.
8. Retraining Court Professionals: A lot of unfortunate events have combined to create widespread beliefs in a wide range of misinformation about domestic violence. Domestic violence is often counterintuitive which leads to misinformation. The lack of research when court professionals started responding also contributes to the problem. The widespread use of unqualified professionals has encouraged an undeserved confidence in false notions that make them harder to challenge and correct. The media has done a lousy job of covering domestic violence and often fails to understand who the experts are. Accordingly we need to retrain court professionals both to prevent the use of misinformation and to help the professionals learn about current scientific research, domestic violence dynamics and best practices. The training must have the active participation of genuine domestic violence experts such as dv advocates. Professionals working in criminal court must learn the importance of taking domestic violence seriously, prioritizing domestic violence cases and holding offenders strictly accountable. They should particularly learn how communities have dramatically reduced domestic violence homicide. Criminal court professionals must learn that accountability and monitoring are the only approaches shown to reduce domestic violence. Domestic violence is not caused by substance abuse, mental illness or anger management issues. Some offenders may have mental illness or substance abuse and domestic violence issues and each problem should be responded to separately. Custody court professionals must unlearn the myth that women frequently make false allegations of abuse. They need to look at the motivation of alleged abusers and understand the harm to children. They must learn that allegations of child sexual abuse have been totally mishandled and learn best practices to respond to these painful allegations. They also must learn that the way to include both parents in children’s lives that most benefits children is to require abusers to stop their harmful tactics instead of asking their victims to get over their fear and concern.
9. Use of Domestic Violence Experts: We now have a substantial body of specialized knowledge about domestic violence. Courts must stop relying on “experts” unfamiliar with this research and ignorant of domestic violence dynamics and instead listen to genuine domestic violence experts. Courts must stop refusing to listen to these genuine experts and especially until this information is better known to court professionals allow these experts to testify in order to educate the judge and other professionals.
10. Early Domestic Violence Hearings in Custody Cases: A large majority of contested custody cases are actually domestic violence cases. The research is very clear that unless the victim is unsafe, she should have custody and the abuser supervised visitation because that is what works best for children. Accordingly, custody courts can schedule an evidentiary hearing at the start of the case on the domestic violence issue. There is no need for evaluators or GALs as it is a factual issue. This will permit courts to resolve cases in a few hours or less that otherwise would take months or years and provide a huge savings in money and court time. Children also benefit because they don’t have to spend years worried about where they will live. This also avoids less important and distracting issues that only make it more difficult for the judge to understand the issues. This practice is likely to help courts make better decisions as well as quicker ones.
11. Use of Victim’s Advocate: The advocates are used by law enforcement to help and support the victim and provide information and training for law enforcement personnel. They are used in the prosecutor’s office for similar purposes and to acquaint the victim with the procedures. These practices should make survivors more comfortable and thus more likely to cooperate and press charges. In the court clerk’s office the advocate can help victims fill out forms and documents and explain the procedures. These procedures will help provide law enforcement and the courts with needed evidence while encouraging the complainant to continue to participate.
12. New Approach to Child Sexual Abuse in Custody Cases: Although most allegations of child sexual abuse made by mothers are true and deliberately false allegations are rare, 85% of sexual abuse allegations in custody cases result in custody for the alleged abuser and frequently little or no contact with the mother who sought to protect her child. This is a result of the difficulty in proving abuse of very young children and deeply flawed practices. Based especially on the new Department of Justice study led by Dr. Daniel Saunders, we should start by eliminating court professionals who believe in the myth that women frequently make false allegations. Professionals should be trained in best practices that would include understanding why a child might be reluctant to reveal sexual abuse or recant truthful allegations, use of play therapy for young children, avoid giving abusers additional opportunities to silence children and give children a chance to develop trusting relationships with therapists or other investigators before expecting them to discuss the abuse. We particularly need to abandon approaches that retaliate against mothers for good faith allegations.
13. Limit Role of Mental Health Professionals to their Area of Expertise: Mental health professionals are routinely used for evaluations and other services in domestic violence custody cases despite limited and often distorted information about domestic violence. This has contributed to the frequency in which courts place children in jeopardy. Mental health professionals have a role to play when a parent has a serious mental disorder that interferes with the ability to care for the children or other issues related to their field of study and practice. They should be limited to roles they are qualified for and at the very least consult with domestic violence experts on cases involving possible domestic violence.
14. Gender Bias: Over forty states and many districts have conducted court-sponsored gender bias committees that have found widespread gender bias. Other scientific research supports these findings. Women who kill their partner receive seventy percent longer sentences under similar circumstances as men who kill their partner. Women are given less credibility, higher standards of proof and are blamed for the actions of their abusers. Courts cannot do an effective job of responding to domestic violence as long as it continues to unconsciously favor male litigants. Court professionals must be trained about gender bias, attorneys and litigants must be protected and encouraged to raise concerns about gender bias, judges and other court professionals should be transferred, retrained or otherwise disciplined for continued gender biased practices and appellate courts must reverse cases based on gender bias.
15. Improved Police Role in Ending Domestic Violence: Police should make domestic violence cases a high priority and conduct an evidence based investigation instead of just relying on the victim’s testimony. Police must be trained to understand fathers involved in contested custody cases are 16 times more likely than mothers to make false allegations. This means they should take complaints from mothers seriously despite ongoing litigation, but have some skepticism of father’s allegations. They should always speak with the mother to understand the context before making a decision to make an arrest or bring charges. The police must also be aware that abusers tend to be very manipulative, but sometimes the police can use abusers’ sense of entitlement to encourage them to make statements that are actually admissions. Police departments must take precautions to respond to male officers who abuse their partners and particularly use their influence and relationship with other officers to undermine any investigation. There should be no tolerance for domestic violence or covering up domestic violence complaints. Departments should have a procedure for women to have someone in the department they can safely complain to about their partner’s abuse and any assistance other officers provide him.
Can Society Afford to Continue to Tolerate Domestic Violence?
Politicians sometimes justify their failure to do more to stop domestic violence by citing the costs, but the reality is the costs are much greater by tolerating domestic violence. In reviewing a report about the response to domestic violence in Dutchess County, New York, I noticed how often they undermined substantial parts of the plan to prevent domestic violence in order to save small sums of money. The problem is when they are budgeting; they fail to consider the extra money that will be expended as a result of the increase in domestic violence encouraged by the cutbacks.
Children who witness domestic violence are more likely to engage in a wide range of harmful and costly behaviors including crime. Large majorities of the prison population were directly abused as children or witnessed domestic violence. This creates huge added expenses in police, courts, prosecutors, defense attorneys and prisons. It also creates more expenses in substance abuse treatment. This is in addition to the extra similar expenses in directly responding to domestic violence crimes and custody cases based on domestic violence.
An increase in domestic violence crimes also increases health care costs. Not only is the health care system used to heal the immediate physical wounds, but it leads to other medical problems based on the stress of living with domestic violence as well as emotional and psychological difficulties. If the woman has medical insurance his abuse is paid by all of the policy holders through higher premiums. If she does not have insurance she may not be able to pay for the care so that the rest of the public and the government ultimately pays. Many of the health costs are borne directly by various governmental entities.
When victims miss work it harms the economy thus reducing tax revenues. The same is true when women lose jobs because of injuries or repeated court dates. Government programs like unemployment insurance and crime victim compensation may also be triggered. Significantly domestic violence interferes with the ability to reach their potential. It is hard for women to reach their potential when dealing with domestic violence even if the injuries do not prove fatal. Men who commit domestic violence crimes can’t reach their potential if they are in jail and even if they are not jailed the time they waste abusing and harassing their partners can interfere with the ability to reach their potential. Children who witness domestic violence are significantly less likely to reach their potential and if the children grow up to hurt others these third parties also lose the ability to reach their potential. We don’t know if society will miss out on someone who would have discovered a medical cure, developed a patent, created a major new business or is just a productive member of society. All of this represents a massive loss of economic activity that translates into a huge loss of tax revenue.
While the proposal described above would include some additional expenses, it also includes plans that would save substantial tax dollars. Conducting early evidentiary hearings on domestic violence would help courts make better decisions, but also save substantial sums of money and judicial time. A large majority of contested custody cases which are the cases that take most of the court’s time are domestic violence cases. Since mothers rarely make deliberately false allegations of abuse, a hearing for an hour or two will avoid cases that often take many months or years. There will be no need to spend money on evaluators, GALs or other professionals who provide no help in recognizing or responding to domestic violence. Furthermore, as the practices outlined in this article become better known, abusive men will be less likely to commit domestic violence crimes and children will be sent an important message that domestic violence will not be tolerated. This will save significant sums initially and much greater amounts over time as the message resonates.
We don’t have figures on the full cost of domestic violence or the amount of money this proposal would save, but it has to be at least in the hundreds of billions of dollars. In that context attempting to save thousands of dollars by cutting local programs or a few million on programs nationally is counterproductive based on the financial costs and insane based on the human costs.
How to get Started Ending Domestic Violence
It is common rhetoric to say we should end domestic violence. We may not be able to prevent all domestic violence tactics or even all domestic violence crimes, but we know how to quickly create a massive reduction in domestic violence crimes and especially domestic violence homicide. How do we get from here to there?
Just as people in Quincy, Massachusetts, Nashville, Tennessee and San Diego, California came together to make ending domestic violence the leading priority other communities can do the same and it is easier because they have the successes of those communities to look at and a lot of additional research. Individual states can take the lead by adopting the needed law changes and provide funding to implement a program like the one discussed in this article.
This can also be done on a national basis. The President can announce that we will no longer tolerate domestic violence and create a program to encourage communities to implement the practices that work. Grants and other support can be provided to set up pilot projects around the country to demonstrate that these practices will work. Eventually the federal government can make implementation of these practices a requirement if states wish to receive any federal funding for law enforcement and the judicial system. This should be done on a non-partisan basis. Democrats claim to be supporters of women so they should certainly wish to free women from the fear and risk of domestic violence. Republicans regularly propose spending millions of dollars to promote abstinence for children. If they don’t want children having sex with their peers they certainly will wish to protect them from sex with adults. The bills to end domestic violence should be House 1 and Senate 1 to make them the first priority.
Several years ago I gave a presentation with Mo Therese Hannah at the NCADV Conference in Atlanta. I spoke about the success of Quincy, Nashville and San Diego in implementing these practices. After the workshop, a woman came up to me and told me what I said was no longer true. It seems a new administration took over in Nashville, dismantled the successful program and the domestic violence homicide rate went back up. This was disappointing news, but it also confirmed that it was these practices that are the difference between a substantial reduction in domestic violence crime and requiring women’s lives to be impacted by men’s abuse of their intimate partners.
Domestic violence is not inevitable. It can be prevented. Our daughters and granddaughters can grow up in a world in which domestic violence crimes are rare. The worst crime would be if we take the knowledge, research and ability we have to substantially reduce domestic violence crimes and instead find some excuse to force women and children to continue to suffer.
Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence expert, speaker, writer and consultant. He is the co-editor with Mo Therese Hannah of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, ABUSE and CHILD CUSTODY. Barry can be reached by email at their web site www.Domesticviolenceabuseandchildcustody.com
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Labels: Abuse, Advocates, Assessments, Barry Goldsteins Posts, Child custody, Domestic violence, Lethality, Mental Health, Protective Mothers, Protective orders, Violations
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Listening to the Perps
By Barry Goldstein
At the same time the media fails and refuses to cover the crisis in the custody courts in which thousands of children’s lives are destroyed by the use of outdated, discredited and biased practices, the NY Model Batterer Program I work with is frequently invited for television shows and interviews with reporters if we would provide a “reformed” batterer. We always turn down these requests and explain that there is no way to know a batterer has truly changed and that in any event he would not be someone with the expertise to help their audience understand the issue. This is no problem for most journalists. They simply find a program with less ethics and a greater desire to appear on television.
I believe the idea comes from a common practice where former prisoners are asked to speak with at risk youngsters to tell them what a life of crime and time in jail is like. This can be an effective tool to provide that message because it is coming from people who once were where the young people are now. The same approach is often used in substance abuse programs. Those who have experienced life using drugs or excessive amounts of alcohol are perceived to understand the temptations and results better. These types of programs can be effective, but a mistake is made when people attempt to expand the program to offenses involving sexism, racism or other oppressions. For these issues, the experts are those in the marginalized groups and not the offenders who took advantage of the unearned advantages they enjoy in this society based on being a member of groups that are treated as if they are superior. One of the privileges members of advantaged groups receive is the ability to define so that men can define what is included in abuse and whites define what constitutes racism. An earned privilege is something earned through work such as a doctor allowed to perform surgery based on education and training in comparison to a man who has the privilege of walking anywhere without risk of sexual assault or having people pay more attention to what he says than they do to what women say which is an unearned privilege. Members of the dominant group are often oblivious to the privileges they receive.
A good, or perhaps I should say bad example of this common mistake occurred at Minnesota State University, Mankato last month. The school paid Adam Ritz $2500 to speak to the students about the dangers of drinking. The event was sponsored by the Residence Hall Association, a fraternity and Men Against Violence. The Women’s Center expressed its opposition to the presentation but was ignored by these organizations including Men Against Violence which claims to be an ally of the Women’s Center.
Adam Ritz is a former local media personality. He is also a convicted sex offender. He reveals this as part of his presentation, but only towards the end. Mr. Ritz came home and attempted to rape the young woman who was baby-sitting his children. He was convicted, but served only six months and is on the sex offender list for his crime. His presentation sparked a controversy on campus that has spread throughout the country. A Facebook page was created to protest the decision to invite him to the school. Rather than treating the student body with a modicum of respect and addressing these concerns Mr. Ritz and the organizers of the program made many mistakes and I would like to look at them in hopes they can be avoided in the future.
1. Take Leadership from Members of the Marginalized Group: Men are not the experts about rape, just as it would be foolish to look to the wealthy to learn about poverty or a heterosexual to learn about the risk of being outed. Men can go virtually anywhere they wish without worrying about being sexually assaulted. Women have to pay close attention to the behavior or men and carefully restrict their activities in order to reduce the risk of rape. Women and even young girls have to learn and pay attention to information needed for their safety and so become the experts. Accordingly when the Women’s Center objected to the program with Adam Ritz, the male organizations should have recognized the Women’s Center as the experts on campus and stopped the program. Even better they should have consulted with the Women’s Center before scheduling Adam Ritz. It is unsurprising that they didn’t because they were exercising their privilege. Maya Angelou, the poet, says when people show you who they really are, believe them.
2. Rapists are not Qualified to Speak about Addressing or Ending Sexual Abuse: The many egregious, inappropriate and downright hurtful statements made by Adam Ritz illustrates why it is a bad idea to have perpetrators of sexist or other crimes based upon oppression speak to these issues. Rape, like domestic violence, is committed because of a belief system of male entitlement and the common view that the value of women has to do with their appearance and sexual attractiveness instead of their intelligence, talent, hard work, character and so many other attributes that women possess. At most, Adam Ritz may have learned that there can be moderately negative consequences to him for sexually assaulting a young woman, but there is no indication that he understands the magnitude of the harm he caused and the wrongness of both his actions and his beliefs. Society tends to measure whether a sex abuser or domestic violence offender has reformed by determining if he has been arrested again. This is an ineffective approach to these crimes which have the lowest rates for reporting of any crimes. In other words, the fact he was not rearrested does not mean he has not committed further crimes. Furthermore domestic violence offenders may switch to legally sanctioned (as we live in a patriarchal misogynistic culture) domestic violence tactics and sexual abusers may continue to treat girls and women as if their main value is their appearance even if they do not commit further crimes. Accordingly the school should not use a rapist to discuss sexual abuse particularly when so many on campus object.
3. Substance Abuse does not Cause Rape: Substance abuse causes a lot of societal problems such as premature death, days missed from work, lowering the GNP and additional burdens on the health care system. Certainly colleges and universities are justified in creating programs to respond to a problem that causes absenteeism, undermines the academic work of students and too often results in deaths from drunk driving and binge drinking. That seems to be the genesis of this program, but the speaker attempted to use his excessive drinking as an abuse excuse for his attempt to rape the young woman who was watching his children. While alcohol can reduce inhibitions, it does not cause people to engage in activities they would otherwise never consider. This truth makes us aware that Ritz is an even bigger danger than people want to believe because he is inclined to rape. We know this because with inhibitions reduced this is what he tried to do. If this wasn’t already on his agenda he would not have committed sexual violence as alcohol does not a rapist make, though, some rapists turn to alcohol in an attempt to justify or minimize the violence and harm they commit If Mr.Ritz had a belief system that sexual activity is supposed to be mutually pleasurable and based upon consent his excessive consumption of alcohol would not have caused him to do something out of character. The same is true with domestic violence where many abusers mistakenly blame alcohol for their more serious assaults. Millions of people drink too much, but never abuse their partners or attempt to rape someone while under the influence. Men on and off campus often seek to encourage women they are with to drink alcohol in the hopes it will reduce their resistance to having sex with them. It is based on a belief system of men wishing to be able to do things to women often degrading, demoralizing or dehumanizing, instead of sharing mutually pleasurable and meaningful activities with women.
4. Sending the Message of Serious Consequences for Men who Sexually Assault Women: Adam Ritz could have put out a message that there are now serious consequences for men who abuse and mistreat women. That would have been a useful message because the fear of consequences to them might make men change their behavior even when they do not fully understand the harm they are causing. The message was profoundly undermined by the extremely mild sentence Mr. Ritz received. It was further undermined by his approach which was to minimize all his transgressions and instead focus on how much he had suffered and lost. His failure to acknowledge the tremendous harm he did to the young woman and others demonstrates his failure to understand the consequences of his actions and a complete lack of accountability for his crimes.
As men generally do not worry about being sexually assaulted it can be hard for them to understand the magnitude of the harm they cause. Our patriarchal culture structures privilege to shield men from the realities of the harm they cause. Newsweek ran an interesting article right after the 9-11 terrorist attack. They compared a variety of traumatic events in terms of what is most likely to cause Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD). This is a horrible experience commonly caused by the worst possible experiences such as war, earthquakes, kidnappings, hurricanes and killing sprees. The reason they wrote the story at that time was because the type of event second most likely to cause PTSD was a terroristic attack. At that time the closest example we had was the Oklahoma City bombing. Significantly, the type of event most likely to cause PTSD was rape. It may be hard for a man to imagine being raped, but they can certainly imagine what it would be like to be in the middle of a terror attack as it is a subject about which the media always provides comprehensive coverage. My purpose is not to compare rape and a terror attack, but to consider that rape is even more likely to cause PTSD. That should help men understand the magnitude of the harm they cause when committing rape.
5. Men Must be Open to Questions and Challenges: The organizers promised that there would be an opportunity for questions and comments. This was an absolute necessity after a discussion of such an emotionally charged topic and particularly one led by someone with unearned privilege. The organizers appear to have never intended to provide a question and answer session and just announced there was no time for questions and abruptly ended the program. This permitted wrong and disturbing messages to remain to further support a rape culture. An ethical speaker would have wanted to hear what community members had to say in order to make sure he had not caused further pain. Apparently, Mr. Ritz continues to be concerned only with himself and his needs.
6. Focus on the Impact on Victims not Offenders: Many of the women in the audience were offended because Adam Ritz focused on the moderate consequences he brought on himself by his actions instead of concentrating on the severe harm he had caused his victim. Supposedly he was paid to speak because he had learned some lessons that he could share particularly with the men in the audience. Instead it is clear that he has not learned the right lessons because he continues to focus on what happened to him which was more than deserved instead of the horror he inflicted on the young woman he attacked who did nothing and could not possibly do anything to deserve what Mr. Ritz did to her. Mr. Ritz discussed his shameful behavior as if he was a victim rather than the perpetrator. Too often in this society, perpetrators of outrageous and offensive conduct say something like “mistakes were made” instead of accepting complete and total responsibility and acknowledging the harm he alone caused. While society encourages such meaningless insincere apologies with a boys will be boys mentality, Adam Ritz must share the blame for his unaccountable message.
7. Consider the Impact on the Audience: The rate of rape and sexual abuse on college campuses is frighteningly high. This means there was a good chance that victims of this crime could be expected to be in the audience. This is especially true because there was no warning in the publicity materials that the speaker was a rapist. The approach of Mr. Ritz in minimizing his responsibility and focusing on the legal sanctions and consequences to offenders rather than the harm they caused their victims was likely to be offensive to caring people who oppose misogynistic messages in society and support the work to end men’s violence against women. His deeply flawed presentation has the potential for severely harming survivors who had been victimized by other rapists. Again this is why it was so crucial to get feedback from the Women’s Center.
8. The Focus Should be on Changing Men’s Behavior: Most programs and approaches to preventing rape and sexual assault are based on changing women’s behavior, and hence collude with rather than meaningfully address the rape culture. Certainly there are many actions women can take to reduce their risk and these can sometimes be useful responses, but the danger is that it promotes the blame-the-victim approaches that predominate as responses to sexual assault. Better approaches would involve holding men accountable for their own actions and putting the responsibility to prevent rape on men where it belongs. Only rapists can stop rape and to think otherwise is to accept the premise that men are entitled to rape if they can get away with it. This is exactly what Adam Ritz, still clinging to his privilege, refused to do and more importantly what the school failed to do when they selected such an inappropriate speaker.
What Can Colleges Do to Prevent Rape on Campus?
1. Hold Offenders Accountable: Schools should make it clear that there will be zero tolerance for sexual assault. Lesser offenses like harassment or verbal abuse must be treated seriously. Athletes should be warned that charges of sexual assault will result in suspension from the team and confirmed findings will result in removal from the team. When any charges are pending the alleged offender should have no access to the alleged victim even if he has to change classes. The strongest deterrent will occur when men see other men punished for behaviors they had always thought were no big deal. This is exactly what American Colleges and Universities fail to do when they impose gag orders or even expel survivors, fail to make required reports of sexual assaults and protect student, faculty and staff rapists.
2. Train Staff: Students tend to pay more attention to what they observe than what they are told. Therefore it is important for colleges to train staff about domestic violence and sexual assault. They need to know more than what the rules are and how to enforce them. Teachers and administrators need to set an example for treating women in a respectful manner. Sexist jokes and comments should be avoided and sexual harassment rules strictly enforced. Placing women in positions of authority sends a strong message about the value of women.
3. Consult Women’s Organizations: When colleges develop policy, practices and particularly programs aimed at preventing sexual assaults, the administration should consult with Women’s organizations with an interest in the issue. This will give administrators a viewpoint that will help them understand what coeds are facing on campus and what they think could help them.
4. Men Must Earn Ally Status: Men have an important role to play in ending men’s mistreatment of women. We certainly want men to become actively involved and to support women, thus creating a healthier humanity. At the same time the men must avoid thinking they have all the knowledge and that they can take the lead on this issue. I belong to the National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS). We aspire to be considered allies of women and organizations working on behalf of women. It is not up to us, however to proclaim ourselves allies, but to listen to the women and hope they will consider us allies.
Adam Ritz, without taking the time to earn the trust of women and without understanding the issues he speaks about, took it upon himself to create a for-profit business where he would be paid large sums of money to speak about very sensitive subjects that he is unqualified to address. In doing so, he caused tremendous harm and subjected himself to much deserved criticism. I also often speak when asked on behalf of women and for such organizations as the Battered Mothers Custody Conference and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The difference is that I worked a long time on these issues and earned the trust of the women who are leaders in these organizations. I learned the importance of taking direction from women which I must admit was not always easy because it is so different from what men learn in this society. Unlike Adam Ritz, women leaders asked me to speak on their behalf and I continue to listen to their feedback in order to be accountable to the women in the movement. Adam Ritz was never part of the movement so speaks for profit and to minimize his responsibility for his crimes instead of encouraging men to stop acting on their sexism and male superiority. Men in the movement to end men’s violence against women often receive undeserved praise for doing what ought to be normal. As long as men’s mistreatment of women is the norm, men have substantial unearned advantages over women and a substantial portion of the population provide misplaced sympathy for rapists like Adam Ritz because he spent six months in jail for his attempt to rape a young woman in his home, while minimizing the lifetime of pain, fear and trauma suffered by survivors of Adam Ritz and other rapists, it will be important for men to listen to women and be open to the idea that a lot of our beliefs must change.
I wish to acknowledge and thank Genevieve Brackins for her assistance in preparing this article.